How To Get The Internet At Sea When Sailing

getting the internet at sea when sailing

One of our main problems living this ‘off grid’ lifestyle has been how to get internet at sea when sailing. We knew that to make this lifestyle work longer term we would need to work from the sailboat, and that internet would be essential. What we didn’t know was how we were going to get affordable internet regularly.

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. But even without trying to work, 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!

A sailing boat with internet at sea
How to get the internet at sea when sailing
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When we moved onto our sailboat one of our first jobs was working out how to get the internet when sailing. Luckily, we bought the sailboat from a marina full of helpful full time cruisers who couldn’t wait to share their internet hacks with us. 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.

Using wifi in the beach bar
Finding internet in the beach bar

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. We’ve regularly gone to a cafe to use their advertised internet, only to find it’s basically non-existent. It’s pretty time consuming and annoying!

Using the internet at sea from a beach bar
Working with a view (and the sought out internet!)

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’ll need to be moored up near a town if you want to try stealing the internet!
  • 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
Working from the 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.

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!

Top Tip: Adam wired up our 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. Just chuck it in a waterproof bag, attach it to a spare halyard and run it up to the top. So far it works a treat!

Satellite Phone For Ocean Crossings

Weather updates from the internet at sea
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
Getting the internet at sea is not cheap!

The Benefits Of Cutting Down On Internet When Sailing

We have cut down massively on the amount of internet 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. This has given us way more time to get on with the important things – snorkelling, exploring, fixing problems with the boat!

We have found that although we still rely on the internet to help us figure stuff out, and to enable us to work, we aren’t relying on it for entertainment. This has been a great thing about having only limited internet when sailing.

Great Websites And Apps That Need Internet When Sailing

That being said, there are always times when having the internet is a literal life-saver! Although there are alternate ways to get the weather, we really do rely on getting the wind forecast twice a day. There have also been many times when we’ve made last minute decisions to change anchorages and internet based websites and apps have saved the day. We’ve put together a list of our top 12 apps and websites for sailing here and listed below are a few of our go tos!

Navionics – We have Navionics on our phones and tablets and use it for navigation. It is amazing. And so cheap compared to chart plotter charts!

Predict Wind – Our go to app for the wind forecast, we tried windy but didn’t find it as accurate. Apparently it can differ in different parts of the world, or even different parts of the Med, so try both and see which one works best for you before you stick!

Blitzortung – We check this website every day alongside the weather. It maps out every lightening strike in the world with astonishing accuracy. So you can basically track whether a storm is heading your way. It’s been so much more reliable than the weather forecast and we’ve always known when a thunderstorm is approaching!

No Foreign Land – Here you can read reviews about anchorages and you can map your journey and see the journeys of your friends. Sailors who want to can add where they are, so you can see other boats that you’re sharing an anchorage with!

Navily – Reviews of anchorages from sailors who have used them. We’ve found it to be pretty accurate most of the time, but don’t let one or two grumpy reviews put you off!

Google Maps – Go to satellite view to get a pretty good idea of the holding in your anchorage!

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!

Let us know in the comments below how you get internet at sea, or how you find life without it.

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5 thoughts on “How To Get The Internet At Sea When Sailing”

  1. Pingback: Sailboat Storage Ideas For The Organised Sailor! | Two Get Lost

  2. Nice article… I don’t know about you guys but we all can’t wait for Starlink!! If you haven’t already you can go register on the the Starlink website for news and info about how the system is progressing (Canada and Northern US first, then world-wide later). Can’t imagine what it will be like; say, watching a Netflix movie half way to Hawaii. HAHA!

    Fair winds, stay safe…

    Marty & Katherine
    sv “Lucky Spin” (Beneteau 473)
    Ventura Harbor, CA

    1. I just took ownership of S/V Serenity an Aries Roughwater 33. It was actually given to me by the city of Port Aransas Texas where I am born and raised. I am disabled so have a very limited income but it is my true passion to sail around the entire Gulf of Mexico before I get to old or health makes it impossible. I really enjoyed reading you guys posts and would absolutely love to hear your advise to me as I pursue my dream. Please if it is anything to advise me on how I can never afford to live my dream as so many people rich ones at that have advised I would rather not hear it. But I am very passionate about my dream and need good advise. Thank you both most kindly for sharing your story. May GOD Bless you and keep you safe always. Trey Olsen Port Aransas Texas S/V Serenity and my doggie “Skipper”.

      1. What an exciting dream. If you want it badly enough then I have no doubt it will come true! I think it’s very possible to live on a strict budget while cruising, you just have to be determined and make some sacrifices when it comes to creature comforts. I’m not sure about sailing outside of Europe as we’ve only sailed here so far but we have managed without spending crazy amounts (you can see what we spend money on here https://twogetlost.com/how-much-does-it-really-cost-to-live-on-board-a-sailboat) Our advice would be to start watching lots of tutorials on boat jobs…the more you can fix yourself the more money you’ll save! It sounds like you’re very passionate about this dream and we can’t wait to hear how you get on. Whatever happens it will be a huge adventure and you won’t regret it (and neither will skipper!)

    2. We’ve been watching this very closely! It would open up a whole lot more possibilities for us as to where we could sail, as we’re currently stuck in Europe due to the cost of internet further afield! Would be such an amazing thing to have…and I could certainly get down with watching netflix half way across an ocean!!! Thanks for reading, hopefully we’ll bump into you at some point (once starlink is up and running!)

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