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IMy wife and I are planning on living aboard a sailbost soon and was wondering what people's experience has been in using a laptop onboard. Much of my work is done virtually, I am a career coach, and assist individuals nationally. My questions are related to damage to my laptop in a salt air environment, battery utilization and the use of an "air card".

i would appreciate any feedback whatsoever in this area.

Glenn
 

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IMy wife and I are planning on living aboard a sailbost soon and was wondering what people's experience has been in using a laptop onboard. Much of my work is done virtually, I am a career coach, and assist individuals nationally. My questions are related to damage to my laptop in a salt air environment, battery utilization and the use of an "air card".

i would appreciate any feedback whatsoever in this area.

Glenn
Glenn, my own computer system is too complicated to go into without writing a book about it, but one thing you might think about is checking into automobile based computers and having a computer installed on your boat. Automobile computer systems have come a long way and include such things as 12vdc power supplies, automatic compensation for low voltage during ignition starts, event based power management strategies, etc. There are lots of custom shops online specializing in these things, it is an area of intense hobbiest research right now, much like custom automobile stereo systems were in the 80's. Advantages are that the computers are made for low power battery based electrical systems, that they are installed on the boat (not as easily stolen, etc), can be made to use solid state drives if you desire (no moving parts), and other features many of which I am sure you can imagine yourself. Best of luck.

This link might get you started but is not an endorsement, I have never done business with this particular company - Mp3Car Custom Car Computers!
 

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We've been living aboard for 9 months, and have 3 onboard. We each have a macbook for our personal use, and I have a PC that I use for programming and someday soon, navigation. No problems with any of them, but they stay below.

For the past 6 months we've been using a Verizon wireless card on one macbook, and then sharing that connection through the airport card. Works Fine. The speed isn't great, but it's tolerable. Sharing through the airport works great. The PC uses the connection just fine.
 

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I haven't had any issues on board with computer life other than when they go flying due to being improperly secured (lesson learned). I do think that the heavy humidity and salt air CAN be a problem so we kept ours inside a big zip lock bag when not being uses (with moisture absorbing packets inside). I think an external drive as backup is a sensible precaution as well as laptops are flakey enough even without adding the marine environment to the mix.
 

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I use a notebook because of the space saving and because they're cheap enough to replace every two years or so. I try to buy second hand because I don't need the latest technology to run my nav software. Your requirements are probably different.

Both notebooks and desktops suffer from the same design problem in terms of cooling and sea air. They both have cooling fans drawing salty air through the works. So neither will last as long as a computer in your home.

But if it's cutting edge techonology you're looking for on your on-board computer, the hardware will endure long after the software has become redundant.:p
 

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I've been living aboard with laptops for three years. Work fine. I have a quad-band datacard with AT&T that works domestically, in the Bahamas, BVI, UK, Sweden, and Denmark. It should work throughout most of the Caribbean and Europe, but I haven't done it myself.

I have a docking station, two external hard-drives (one back-up, one for big stuff like charts and iTunes library), and a 12V power supply so I don't have to run the inverter to charge. My phone and iPod both charge off the laptop so the 12V supply for the laptop supports most of my personal electronics.

IBM/Lenovo laptops have been very robust for me, except for the one I managed to dump an entire cup of coffee into. Don't do that.
 

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I pull charts down while sailing, check email and do many other things with my Lenovo T60 and a verizon broadband card. (It actually hits almost 1Megabit/second speeds sometimes.) With Skype it works as a cell phone too.

Most importantly, I check weather, including composite radar at intellicast.com. Last summer, we saw an intense front approaching while we were off Cape May, NJ. We headed in to the harbor at best speed, then watched at anchor when it hit. Reduced visibility down to 100 feet, intense rain, you know the deal. We ate some hot soup and kicked back. Very different than if we had not had the storm information.

I use the plactic bag method of protecting it when transiting in the dinghy (a kayak, last summer).

All-in-all the set-up is excellent to have.
 

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We have two laptops aboard. If I can make one suggestion - look very closely at the power/recharging requirements of any laptop you are thinking about. I didn't, and our HP multimedia laptop will take upwards of 14AH when charging, and 10AH when it's just being used. If I was to redo our purchase, I'd definitely be looking for a laptop that consumes less power so I don't drain my batteries as much.
 

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I've used laptops on boats for years, for navigation planning/moving map/GPS receiver upload/download, for processing digital camera photos, for Microsoft Office work, and for Internet (email, weather, googling, website maintenance). Here are my top 10 thoughts on laptops in boats:

1. Watch the power requirement. Laptop cords take 110V power and convert it to about 14 V, depending on the model. Power is not a problem if the boat is plugged into shore power, but is a critical issue when shore power is off. If one powers the laptop from an inverter, then the sequence is this: 12V boat supply, converted to 110V by inverter, then converted to 14V by the laptop's adapter. (amps = watts/volts.) My first IBM Thinkpad running Win98 only required 1.8 amps. New laptops are power-hungry. Without thinking, I bought one that required 9 amps, which was just too much for the boat. I now have a smaller laptop (13" screen) that does everything, including graphics, and draws 4 amps. That's still a fair junk, equivalent to running a water pump constantly, but low enough for most wiring and alternators. It will draw down a battery bank if there is no charging going on, and it makes a small boat inverter work.
2. Keep the laptop small and light as possible: reduces weight, improves storage, and makes carrying easier. Heavier laptops have more inertia, so they are harder to get moving, and harder to stop moving. Things move in boats.
3. Get a laptop toughened for motion, like some of the Toshiba models. Think of the screen hinges and hard drive.
4. Consider screen brightness. Although I never, ever take the laptop on deck, sunlight can stream into a cabin.
5. A swingarm RAM mount to secure the laptop is a good idea, if there is room on the boat. Store in a padded bag. I used to worry about engine vibration, but an ordinary galley place-setting pad seems to take care of that.
6. Backup devices are essential: External hard drive, cards, or thumb drives.
7. For Internet, if the laptop cannot pick up a marina network, I carry the laptop to an Internet cafe. Different wireless devices have different sensitivities (range), but I never worried about that much.
8. Designate a small bag for cords and laptop accessories.
9. "Salt air" corrosion is a real phenomonon, but in my experience if the laptop stays in a dry, ventilated location in the cabin, it does not seem to be a significant problem. Thinking about other electronics I've monitored in various parts of the boats I've had, my guess is that after 5-10 years a laptop opened up after spending a lot of time in a dry boat cabin probably would show more signs of corrosion than one that never goes to sea, but I'm not sure how significant that would be. Depends on whether a tiny critical part is affected, I guess.
10. Consider buying a spare power cord and a spare battery, if going on a long trip. Lose either one and the laptop is dead. Replacements are not always easy to obtain.
 

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I second the spare charger suggestion. I like to have a charger wherever I use the laptop. That way, I exercise the battery less, which can help it last longer.

Also, buy a high capacity battery. For the Lenovo T60 it makes the battery pack stick out the back about 3/4 inches. It seems like the extra 50% battery capacity makes the laptop last 2 times as long when not plugged in. Must have somehting to do with the voltage that the laptop automatically turns off (voltage under load), since it couldn't be simple capacity thing.
 

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I use a laptop and GPS for my charts as well as a 15" built in flat screen in the cockpit. I can use a wireless mouse to control the laptop in the cabin and still see everything out side. At the same time always have paper charts. Not only is it the law (at least here in Canada) but it will be well worth it when (not if) the laptop crashes.
 

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Just adding a note to this thread:

I haven't tried it myself but apparently, if you have one, you can use your Blackberry as a modem. This is only available for certain models of Blackberry.

If you're cruising within Blackberry range then this could come in handy.
 

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This is actually true of a lot of the 3G cellular phones, with the notable exception of the iPhone. :)
Just adding a note to this thread:

I haven't tried it myself but apparently, if you have one, you can use your Blackberry as a modem. This is only available for certain models of Blackberry.

If you're cruising within Blackberry range then this could come in handy.
 
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