Well, where to start?! Ever since we came aboard in the middle of May we have had WiFi issues. Enough to drive an iPad slinging toddler crazy. It does not help being docked at the furthest part of the marina from where the WiFi transmitter is located. I have been able to jump on a couple free open networks with my laptop, but being so far out I could not even see the SSID of the actual secured marina network. I had to take action and it had to be done fast. Cadence was throwing little fits because her iPad would not play Youtube video’s and Shawna was about to go crazy trying to get her Mac online with a stable connection. We live and work on the internet so this had to be nipped in the bud. This blog post may not be the most interesting, but for people researching the same thing I was it should be helpful.
I have been researching the whole WiFi thing for cruisers for well over a year before we made the liveaboard jump. There are a bunch of packages sold by third parties using Ubiquiti’s Bullet device’s and some use the Alpha flavor of WiFi products. These packages come with cables, mounts, antenna’s and electronics packaged up and installed into PVC tubes or what seem to be generic Pelican boxes for protection from the elements. The pricing on these pre-packaged units can get pretty steep for what they are. They can save the average user some time by having everything sent to you all at once. Being a “techie” and past IT admin I knew that I could do this by just buying my own parts and cut the painful deflation of my wallet by about half.
I chose the Ubiquiti BulletM2 Titanium Ubiquiti 2.4GHz 802.11n/g Outdoor Radio device and a Outdoor High Gain 8dBi Omni Antenna Outdoor High Gain 8dBi Omni Antenna. The titanium version of the bullet is Ubiquiti’s newest version of their popular Bullet device. The Titanium version has airMAX support (note the “M” in the product name) and built in weather protection using gaskets and such. It is also made of aircraft-grade aluminum. They even removed the LED signal level lights that are found on the other Bullets. I don’t believe it needs any additional protection from the elements, it seems very well sealed. The Engenius antenna is not the best antenna out there but it is said to be weather proof and I figure was a very cheap way to get my wifi solution executed. I can always upgrade it and even try other dbi gain antennas to see which work best. Only one Cat5e Ethernet cable leaves the boat and no coax so no signal loss caused by a long wire run. I am still deciding where I am going to permanently route the cable leaving the boat. There is an old unused hole for an old antenna that I may re-purpose for getting the Cat5e cable out to the deck. The Cat5e cable uses POE injection to power the actual Bullet. The Titanium Bullet comes packaged with a 24v POE injector. One less thing to buy.
Between assembly, hardware resets, Bullet config, and the Linksys WRT54GS router configuration it took me about 2 hours to get up and running. The Linksys router I brought from home and it had to be factory reset and secured. It is working great alongside the Bullet. Once it was up and running Shawna and I got to watching another episode of “Fringe” on Netflix streaming after we put Cadence to bed. Currently I am running the Ethernet cable out of the aft cabin hatch into the cockpit, through the bimini and out strung up hanging upside down from the mizzen boom. It’s own weight acts like a plumb-bob keeping it mostly vertical so that the beam spread stays in line. I have heard of others doing this also while at sea. It is said to help counter any rolling and pitching a boat will do keeping the signal intact.
Now for some Bullet configuration tips. I am attaching this .pdf file for configuring the Ubiquiti Nanostation M2. It is generally exactly the same as the Bullet and had me up and running pretty quick. The file shows how to config things so that the Bullet is being passed to a router for your own whole boat network. As a side note, I used the exact same IP addresses from the document for configuring NAT and setting the static IP of the Bullet itself. With the given addresses I am able to wirelessly access both my Linksys WRT54GS router and the Bullet. It is very easy to switch WiFi sources using the Bullet’s airOS software. You can even lock in on the MAC (machine) address and not just the SSID. If anyone reading this has any setup questions feel free to contact me.
Now I am really starting to feel right at home.