How to get the internet at sea when sailing

A sailing boat with internet at sea
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One of our main problems living this ‘off grid’ lifestyle has been how to get internet at sea while cruising on a sailboat. Obviously, the ideal would be if we didn’t need the internet. When we set off on this adventure we loved the idea of cutting ties, being free from social media and living a simpler life. The reality is that, although no one actually needs internet (we survived without it for centuries right?) it is incredibly useful. What do you do when you realise you have to use a long line to shore but you have no idea how-look it up on google. What do you do when you’re in the middle of nowhere and out of water-find a supermarket on google maps. What do you when you’re missing your sister and newborn niece-skype them. The internet really isn’t the enemy we sometimes think it is, it’s such an amazing thing that we found we really didn’t want to live without!

What we have done is cut down massively on the amount we use, and that’s proven to be a great thing. We no longer spend several hours in front of netflix every evening. We find other ways to entertain ourselves and a film is a real treat. We have cut down binging on facebook or instagram and we don’t have as much time in front of our screens.

Using wifi in the beach bar

But what do we do when we have work to do or need to look up how to fix one of the many parts of the boat that have broken since we bought her? We’ve listed some of the ways to get internet at sea while cruising on a sailboat that we researched intensively below, so that hopefully you won’t struggle to get that all important internet hit.

A great excuse to have a drink

Perhaps the most obvious, inconvenient and expensive option is to rely on wifi from bars or restaurants. We spent the first month of cruising without an inverter, and being too scared to med moor anywhere we were stuck without mains power for a long time. To get round this we spent a lot of time (and money!) in bars, charging our laptops and using the wifi. It’s not always easy to find bars when you’re in remote anchorages so you will need to plan accordingly if this is the option you choose. You will also need to be prepared for slow internet and be happy to part with well earned cash for drinks in return.

Using the internet at sea from a beach bar

Get sneaky getting the internet at sea!

We have heard of some sneaky cruisers who buy a Wi-Fi aerial. These are little boxes you mount on your mast, backstays, or spreaders that can catch shore wi-fi directly from your boat. You can usually spot this type of cruiser in an anchorage – they scout the whole area checking where the connection is stronger. If you want to try this option out, you have to keep a few things in mind:

Sailboat with a town with internet behind
  • You will need to be somewhere close to bars or restaurants so that you can reach their Wi-Fi, and you will need to choose where you anchor based on where you can get strong enough signal. As we find anchoring a stressful enough exercise as it is, this wasn’t the best option for us!
  • You will still need to get the Wi-Fi password, so you will have to buy at least one drink (or try asking other cruisers if they know the passwords) This may be a good option if your budget is really tight!

There are some booster models which can be coupled with a SIM card, meaning you can boost your phones Wi-Fi if you can’t find somewhere on shore.

Hotspot from your phone

A laptop with internet at sea on a sailboat

UK contracts let you use your phone in Europe as you would back at home, and many are now offering contracts that cover much more of the world too. Which means you can use the data from your phone to get internet at sea, and hotspot it so you can have internet on your laptops etc too. This is a great option if you fly back to England semi regularly, as many of the plans have a fair usage policy that means you need to be in England for a certain amount of time, or your data gets slashed or cut off. Many people we have met while sailing have found that if they keep quiet they can get away with longer, but taking out a new contract and hoping for the best may be risky as you will be tied in for the contract term.

Buy a router to get the internet at sea

We both need access to the internet while we work from the boat, so we bought a router that accepts a sim card and took out a pay as you go contract with a big data plan that we use as dedicated internet. That way we can both use the internet just as we would at home. Adam wired up the router to run on a drill battery, so that if our internet signal is weak we can run it up the mast and get much better signal. So far it works a treat!

This is the one we use and was the best one available at the time. It’s an expensive investment but well worth it, and we’ve been lucky to have internet when cruisers around us can’t pick up signal. But since we bought ours these cheaper routers have been released so you might want to give these a try instead-we have no idea how good they are but we wanted to show you can do it cheaper!

Satellite phone for ocean crossings

Weather updates from the internet at sea

When you’re out at sea none of these options are going to work, so if you want internet in the deep blue then you have very few options. You may want to invest in a satellite phone. These are very expensive, and data is extremely costly so you’ll only want to use it for the most basic of needs, such as downloading weather grib files or sending a little message home (your mum will love you for it!) every now and then.

Satellite Wi-Fi hotspot for internet at sea

A satellite wi-fi hotspot, such as the Iridium Go!, is a cheaper option than the satellite phone (but still by no means cheap!). Although we have never used one before we have heard good things from others who have (bar complaints on the price!)

This device will generate a wifi hotspot from anywhere in the world….up mountains, through deserts and across oceans! You can get an unlimited data plan, so if you HAVE to keep connected while sailing across oceans then this may be your best option. But expect to pay for it!

A sailboat at sea

In summary there are actually many different options for getting internet at sea. Not all of them are easy or cheap but if you are determined to make this lifestyle work, then you will find a way! And having that spare bit of data for the odd netflix film every now and again can really brighten a wet and windy evening!


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