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Go Back   SailNet Community > On Board > Gear & Maintenance
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  #1  
Old 02-09-2009
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Wifi

I'm looking into options for getting long range Wifi on the boat. I was going to order a 5milewifi based on the PS report, but then discovered that it won't work with my Macbook. Did an internet search and came up with a couple more possibilities and I'm wondering if anyone has any feedback on them before I order one. My son has Radio Labs system and it seems to work, but it's a little fussy to set up and I'm not sure about the range. He's in the Bahama's and it's working OK for him but I'm not sure it works with Mac. The other poss. is Wifi Signal King, the 4 watt and the 3.8 watt systems which do work on Mac and and Windows and seem to be plug and play systems. Anyone have one? Any other possibilities out there? Thanks.
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Old 02-09-2009
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We've got a Port Networks MWB-250 wifi unit. It's definitely expensive, but I absolutely love it. We get wifi signals at a great range with the antenna permanently mounted on our spreaders and the software is pretty easy to use. We combine it with a Kyocera KR2 wireless router for the inside of the boat allowing us to 1) Use Verizon Wireless Broadband as a backup connection, and 2) Connect multiple wireless laptops to everything.
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Old 02-09-2009
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Thanks for the info. Labatt. I'll check those out. Do you think it would work very well mounted at deck level in the cockpit, I don't see the spreader option working for us right now. Hey, Ben and Kristen are in the Exumas near Georgetown having a blast and your Autohelm is working great!
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Old 02-10-2009
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Glad to hear the Autohelm is working well. I was disappointed to see it go - I should have bought a new wheel mechanism for it, but I didn't think about buying it used - just the $450 price tag that Raymarine wanted for the repair of my unit. As I was walking out of Bacons a few days after Ben and Kristen bought it one of the guys tells me that he would have sold me his wheelpilot for $75! Oh well, live and learn.

We're still stuck in Velcro Beach, but we're ripping ourselves out of here early next week after the Miami boat show.

With regards to the wifi unit working at deck level - any unit will work there, but the higher you raise the antenna the better the signal will be. I've talked to a few people who raise the antenna on a halyard. Port Networks also makes a "portable" unit called the MWB-200 which is meant more for a single computer and is half the price of the 250. I wanted the permanent mount and looked at a bunch of options, and liked this particular unit.
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Old 02-10-2009
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Our friends in Mexico have had good success using a wifi antenna "Sigma 6" purchased at Custom Marine Electronics in San Diego, around $200USD, I believe.
I get the impression, though, that you're trying to set up something more sophisticated.
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Old 02-10-2009
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Faster- no, not looking for anything sophisticated, just reliable and powerful enough to connect when at anchor in a harbor (and it has to work on my Mac). I'll check out what your friends have. Thanks for the suggestion
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Old 03-07-2009
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If you're willing to noodle around with router software, you can do this with cheap, off-the-shelf wireless router.

My boat is about 400M from a commercial wi-fi access point on the bluff above our marina. My laptop couldn't pull in the signal reliably so I bought a Cisco/Linksys WRT54GL at Fry's for about $70.

Most consumer routers are designed so that the "internet side" of the router is hardwired to the internet and the "home side" of the router is wireless. On my boat, I needed the opposite. This isn't a limitation of the hardware. It's a limitation of the software that Linksys includes with the router.

The great thing about this particular line of routers is that there is an active community of people who have created new software to run on them. One of the most popular is called DD-WRT. The folks who have contributed to DD-WRT have expanded the capability of the router far beyond what Linksys provided. And it's free.

So I downloaded and installed DD-WRT on my Linksys Router and set it up so that the wireless side of the router connects to the wi-fi service on the hill, and the mac just plugs into the normal ethernet hub build into the router.

I'm happy with the results. The small dual antennas on the router are enough to get the job done with the router just sitting down below on the nav station. About a week after I got it working, I improved the system so that the "home side" of the network is also wireless! So my private network on the boat is wireless, and I'm connected to shore-based wi-fi. I'm surfing just fine!

So these are the advantages for me: It's cheap. I learned some new things and now I have an intimate understanding of how it works thanks to the DIY nature of the project. It attaches any number of computers to the wi-fi service. The router's wall wart outputs 12v, so I have the option draw router power off the battery. I can also add a "real" antenna for extra signal strength if needed later. (Haven't needed it yet).

Disadvantages? It took a couple evenings to get it working. You can't call Linksys if it doesn't work and it might require some basic computer networking knowledge or the desire to learn.

I didn't know if this would work when I started, but at $70, even complete failure wouldn't have broken the bank. At worst I would have to forgo a couple bottles of good wine. Thankfully that didn't happen. :-)

Last edited by normdeplume; 04-06-2010 at 11:49 AM.
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Old 03-07-2009
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Quote:
Originally Posted by labatt View Post
We've got a Port Networks MWB-250 wifi unit. We combine it with a Kyocera KR2 wireless router for the inside of the boat allowing us to 1) Use Verizon Wireless Broadband as a backup connection, and 2) Connect multiple wireless laptops to everything.
I don't understand the connection of Verizon broadband and wifi?

Are you using the wifi antenna with your verizon broadband service?
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Old 03-07-2009
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Norm- I'm still trying to decide which way to go on this, what you did sounds interesting. I don't understand how just the router gained the extra range you needed. I'll google the software, but do you know what range people have been able to pull in signals from? Thanks very much for the info.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jrd22 View Post
I'm looking into options for getting long range Wifi on the boat. I was going to order a 5milewifi based on the PS report, but then discovered that it won't work with my Macbook. Did an internet search and came up with a couple more possibilities and I'm wondering if anyone has any feedback on them before I order one. My son has Radio Labs system and it seems to work, but it's a little fussy to set up and I'm not sure about the range. He's in the Bahama's and it's working OK for him but I'm not sure it works with Mac. The other poss. is Wifi Signal King, the 4 watt and the 3.8 watt systems which do work on Mac and and Windows and seem to be plug and play systems. Anyone have one? Any other possibilities out there? Thanks.
I ran across this article recently, and am in the process of making one for myself. Don't know if it works for Macbook or not, don't see why it wouldn't.

Voyages of Sea Trek

Simple and Inexpensive Wifi



Quote:
More and more cruisers, be they just weekenders or long distance travelers, are wrestling with the issues of staying connected and yes, I mean to the internet. My first boat had nothing more than a VHF radio and I was able to sail from the US mainland to Bermuda. Later on as the boats got larger and communications improved, a marine SSB radio was added. Then a famous person, I can’t remember who, invented the internet. With that, the ease of email crept into our lives and grew like a weed along the banks of some of the rivers we have traveled. We were hooked and began the search for the latest and greatest technology. Our first device was a hand held unit that was called Pocketmail and needed to be held up to a phone after calling a special number and it would send and receive your emails. It was a pretty neat device and very popular in the cruising circles. Next we added a Pactor modem to our SSB radio and after acquiring a Ham license, used the Winlink system to send and receive email and get that all important weather information. We still have and use extensively the Winlink system. But the more we were exposed to the internet itself, the more important it became and the more functional we found it to gather information on weather, emails and the areas we were traveling- something the Winlink could not do for us.


Quote:
With the availability of WiFi hotspots to connect to, the possibilities grew considerably. Again, we would have to evaluate our needs and how to meet those needs with the changing technology. For the cruiser today there are now some great choices depending on the areas you plan to cruise, the space aboard and power requirements for additional equipment and that all important dent in the monthly cruising budget. Starting at the high end is a satellite system that can be used on a large part of the planet, even the watery parts. A satellite dish mounted inside a dome and engineered to track and hold the satellites position will give full access to the internet and all it contains. If coastal cruising is in your plans, or even some of the more developed islands, than another option is a wireless phone card modem attached to your computer that will connect and receive anywhere you can get a cell phone signal from your provider. For simple email via text format only a satellite phone will provide this almost anywhere in the world although some folks are finding the coverage is spotty on some oceans. Finally, many cruisers are finding that with a computer that has WiFi capabilities and a device to reach out and grab those free WiFi signals found in more and more locations the costs are relatively low and the installation is fairly easy. Most importantly, after that purchase of equipment, access is free. There are pay services sprouting all along the coast that will provide access via this same system in larger ports. After considerable research we decided on the WiFi method with the free access. Free is always good for most cruisers. Once the decision was made on the what, we now needed to decide on the how.


Quote:
It is no surprise the internet provided us with the answers. Research, research, research, using mostly cruising website that we have found in the past are frequented by actual cruisers willing to share their knowledge and experience. Two such sites are the SSCA Discussion Board and the great site at Cruisersforum.com. A common name came up over and over again with lots of positive input. Some cruisers also had their own way of putting the system together to improve performance and protect the equipment. We decided on a WiFi unit Made by Senao. The Engenius UEB362 EXT long range USB adapter was recommended over and over again. Another key piece of the equipment is the antenna. Like any over the air receiver, the antenna can mean the difference between success and failure. We try and match our equipment as much as possible and decided in the Engenius 8db outdoor omni-directional antenna. A small pigtail adapter is needed to attach the much larger antenna to the unit. Your choices will be either omni-directional or directional. The omni-directional will look like the antenna you are used to seeing and the directional antenna will look sort of like a small dish that needs to be aimed directly at the WiFi access point. This works great at the docks but swinging on the anchor as most of us do would present too much of a challenge. The omni-directional does not care whether the boat is swinging so naturally that was our choice.


Quote:
Having the antenna be weatherproof and outdoor suited is a big plus. Keep in mind these units are not designed to be used in the manner we have planned. The unit itself is not waterproof and the attached antenna is very small. But it is removable and many of these units on the market do not have a removable antenna. That ability limits or extends the range of the unit. We would need to either find a way to weatherproof the unit or move it in and out as needed to keep it dry. Both will work but we prefer to keep it outside while underway since we can often connect as we pass a hotspot without stopping. The final short coming of the unit as is was the short cord that attaches the unit via USB to the computer. It is only about three or four feet long and won’t get it outside unless the computer is outside and we did not want to do that for obvious reasons. But this too is easy to overcome.


Quote:
Once we had the adapter and antenna in hand, the search for the additional bits and pieces began. We found that a 6X6 plastic electrical box with no holes in it would make a very good weatherproof box to mount the adapter. We purchase a weatherproof gland to pass the cable through and some coax sealer. We found we would need an “active” USB extension cable to get the unit high enough to have some range with it. Having an active cable is important because the unit gets its power from the computer via the USB cable. Be sure it is NOT a passive cable or it will not work. We have received reports that we should not exceed 20 feet for the extension cable but others might find longer will work. Finally, a bit of silicon caulk to seal everything rounds out the material.


Quote:
The electrical box has plenty of room to mount everything inside and a smaller box will probably work but this was what we used. First you will need to drill a hole in the top to accept the antenna. It slides into the hole and a locking nut on the inside holds it just fine. The hole around the outside and inside should be sealed with a bead of silicone caulk. Next a hole should be drilled into the bottom to accept the weatherproof cable gland and also sealed. Remove the antenna that comes on the unit and use some double stick tape to hold the unit on the back of the box. The first thing we noticed with this unit was its size. It is not much larger than a business card. Before mounting it, attach the pigtail to the antenna and the unit itself. Pass the USB cable from the unit through the hole in the bottom and attach the weatherproofing portion of the cable gland and add some silicone sealer to help keep moisture out. Once all of this is finished, add silicone sealer around the perimeter of the box and attach the cover. The box we purchased had tabs on the corners with holes in them so we could attach different methods of hanging it. We plugged the 20 foot active USB extension cable to the one that is attached to the adapter. Here is where the coax seal comes in and makes the plugs completely waterproof where they are joined together. The seal is sticky and stays that way so be sure and cover it with electrical tape to keep it from sticking to everything (and everyone) it comes in contact with. You will be almost finished but there is one final step before you start connecting.


Quote:
Before you plug in the unit, you will need to set it up on your computer. There are two methods to do this. The adapter comes with a CD with the required drivers and a program to help make your connections. If your computer is not WiFi capable you will need to install this program. If it is WiFi capable you have a choice. In our research many complained about problems using the program that came with the adapter. Your Windows operating system has a service called Windows Zero Configuration which will manage all of your WiFi connections. Many users, including ourselves, let Windows handle the WiFi with few issues, but the drivers for the adapter need to be installed. Simple - go to the disk, find a folder called drivers, open it and click on set up. It will install the drivers and ask you to plug in the unit. Once installed you will need to restart the computer, and that is should be about it. It should not take a whole lot longer than it did to read this article. Once everything is done and the unit is hung as high as you can get it with the cable attached to your computer, you will be connecting any time an open access point is within range. We have been truly amazed at the range of this set-up and how well it performs.

And now for our total expenditures:

Engenius EUB-362-EXT $45.50
Engenius EAG-2408 Outdoor antenna $24.99
CA100 –NM-RSMAM-12 RPSMA Male to N Male 12” cable $9.00
RJ45-FT Feed-thru adapter $1.10
104 Coax seal $2.29
Plastic Junction box with lid $12.16
20’ Male to Female USB active extension cable $12.99
Silicone caulk $5.95

Total cost: $113.98

We did find a couple of sites on the internet that sell these same units already made up for a bit more money, but we like to build these things and install them ourselves. We get not only the feeling of accomplishment, but the knowledge that the parts are of the quality we expect. This has been a great addition to our equipment list and if your needs will be filled with this kind of set up, you will surfing before you know it.
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