Monday, July 12, 2021

The Marina WIFI sucks here! Or does it???

I hear this all the time, "the wifi sucks here!"  Almost every time it's not the marina causing the problem.  Looking back I have been in the computer networking field for over 30 years!  From the very beginning really.  Most sailing topics I would not consider myself proficient enough to write a blog like this one.  However this topic is very different - I know it well.  So let me offer you some advice on how to have a better experience when traveling about the world and using different WIFI networks.  Let's get going.

Let us start with some of the basics and build from there.  First, WIFI is a collection of networking standards controlled by the IEEE 802.11 family of standards.  Don't fall asleep yet!  You don't need to read these, but there are some things you should know. 

  1. Although the standards are written to ensure interoperability, it doesn't mean every WIFI network is "configured" the same. 
  2. WIFI, for the most part, is a line of sight technology.  Meaning your antenna/device must being in sight of the marina's antenna.  Things like hulls (fiberglass or metal), walls, floors, water just about anything can effect the strength of your connection.
  3. When you "connect" to said marina network your boat system or device is talking to an access point (AP).  These devices are power sharing devices.  This means that if your are the only device on the access point you will get full power and full throughput.  Once another device connects to the same AP things can change.  So if everyone is connecting to a networked named "Docks," in my view this will create a bad situation in terms of providing great service.  But you don't have a choice, this is where the configuration comment above ๐Ÿ‘† comes in.
  4. Most commercial WIFI services, like a marina, will want to be the boss.  This means they want to assign you an "address" for you to communicate over "their" network.  This is very important!  Whether you are use a mobile device, computer, router or whatever they need what is called an IP address.
So without getting super technical, I will try really hard, let me give you some recommendations.

  1.  You should install a "powered" WIFI extended.  What does this mean?  It means you have an antenna that is outside your boat (see point 2 above) that has a powered amplifier connected to it.  They do make passive gain antennas but most of them are not OMNI directional.  So that means you have to be lined up pretty well with the marina system, physically.  I use a system called a Halo WIFI Extender.  I have connected to WIFI as far as 7 miles away from land.  As I write this blog I am in a mooring field and the only boat able to connect to the marina WIFI from out here.  Make sure when you install the antenna it has no obstructions, 360 degrees, and is as high as you can get it.  There are many powered extenders on the market, they all work pretty well.  Just make sure you buy one that has a powered amplifier.  I know this takes power, but you won't have it on all the time. 

  2. This extender will typically connect to a router, kind of like a cable modem at your house.  The purpose of this device is to first talk to the service provider - the marina.  Second, it is there to talk to your devices on board your vessel, assign them addresses and much more.  Third, they typically have what is called a "firewall."  This is security software that can be VERY problematic if not used properly.  Keep in mind this device will also use WIFI to communicate with your onboard devices, in most case.  So it is important that you do not bury it in the bilge, see point 2 above ๐Ÿ‘†.
  3. The marina's that offer WIFI will have slightly different configurations.  This "service" will almost always like to assign your router and IP address, so you must allow this to happen.  Very often, on private vessels and especially super yachts, I find what is called a "static route" or "static IP address" programmed.  This is ok, expect you will almost always have to reprogram the route to work with the marina you are at - yep it will likely need to be changed at every marina.  The other thing to keep in mind is Marina "lease" these IP addresses to you.  Don't panic, it is not like leasing a car you are not paying for this, it just means that the marina system will reclaim the address after a predetermined period of time.  Sometimes it is as little as 24 hours and can be for months.  However at some point suddenly your internet connection will drop BUT your WIFI connection will be up. What do you do ๐Ÿ’, call the marina?  Hell no, you're educated now.  when you first sign into the marina your "authenticate" on their web page.  You are going to save this to your browser favorites.  When this happens, you simple open that page and reauthenticate.  Done deal.
  4. Sometimes you arrive and connect your boat to the marina and only one device will work.  I bet it is the very first device you used to authenticate to the marina.  This is a marina problem and you have to call them in to fix there end of the deal.
  5. Ask the marina is you can have a "wired" connection to the boat.  This is not only better for you but it better for the marina.  First you will get the the best service they can offer because the WIFI outside your boat will no longer be part of the equation.  Let's face it, there is a ton of interference, at marinas, within the frequency spectrum WIFI uses, this creates problems.  If wired is not an option and you must use their WIFI I would recommend trying to force your connection to a specific channel and not use "auto" channel selection.  You may have to experiment to find a good channel, but in the long run you will be happy.
  6. I disable my router firewall!  "What!  Are you f***ing kidding me" Yep I do.  The reason why is most people have no idea what they are doing with them and just leave them default which could interfere with the other systems at the marina, their firewall for one.  Second, firewalls security methodology is decades old.  Today's bad guys get around this quickly because they want to steal your credentials, your login, your "IDENTITY" info and a firewall really does nothing to protect you from that.  Identity protection is a bog deal and should be taken very seriously.  If someone can impersonate you, using your identity, that firewall is useless and it is useless in preventing them from stealing your identity.
  7.  I have found that some marinas miss manage their networks, shocker!  In some cases they do not offer enough IP address for the demand of the users.  If this happens you can not connect.  This is why it is important to use you WIFI extender and leave it on.  This approach, once connected, will keep you connect even when other are trying to get on the network.
This blog is meant to be a working guide and a point of discussion - please comment.  I am happy to answer questions.  You can also reach me via our Face Book page, should you want to ask something privately.  Happy web surfing!!!

PS - I am not sponsored by any of these companies I have mentioned.  Their products are simply what I use.  In our travels, have helped many people with completely different systems and they work fine also.


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  2. Denki, sorry for the late reply we have been a little remote for a while (no mobile coverage at all) Glad the article was useful for you. I'm am already planning the first update. Take care and please come back and read some more ;). shameless plug, ok take care!

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