Full disclosure I do get paid to sell marine accessories to boat builders and distributors, but when luck will have it, I also get to use these products in real the real world. What I’m sharing here are some items in the company quiver that I absolutely loved onboard our own boat SV Magic Bus.
So, I’ll start with the Stream from Shakespeare Marine. Funny that one of the first products I’m sharing is a cell booster from a well known VHF Antenna company. And for those of you who are thinking this makes sense as mobile phones are replacing VHF’s, I’ll challenge you with this image. A tug is towing a barge and looking to make a 90 degree turn in five minuets. The barge pilot does not have you on his mobile speed dial, so he is calling you on CH16 to advise you to alter course to help you maintain a safe distance from his pending inescapable turn towards you. Your cell phone is streaming Spotify and your VHF does not work… yeah a VHF radio is a safety tool no one should leave the dock without knowing how to use properly.
So you’ve got that good VHF, great… yet in this new world of work-aboard/school-aboard/live-aboard times where your boat can be your Covid safe bubble… what we also need is reliable data! That’s where the Stream from Shakespeare fits in making the boat an effective office/classroom with the same connected comfort of your home. My real-world example follows, but the short of it is… you can be in an area with almost NO access to cellular service, and with the Steam installed, you get bars of workably fast LTE, 4G, 5G, etc and your family is rocking Netflix while you’re Zooming with clients.
How do I know? Well the location was Wardwick Wells… also known as heaven on earth, in the middle of (nowhere) the Exumas National Parks in the Bahamas. This was the type of place you could just sit and watch the tide flow in and out for days, but the agita of knowing your mobile phone was useless would eventually drive you to cut your stay short. Wardwick Wells is infamous among boaters as being so remote there is no way to connect without a slow and expensive satellite, and we were told stories of people hiking up hills and hoisting up phones as hotspots to get even a hint of 3G data to send a text or call.. always failing more then connecting.
Knowing the kids were getting close to finals and the Buffalo Bills were making a run to the AFC championship game, it was either stay connected or skip the dream destination. I got to work on the install and one hour later I can say that was easy. All the cords, connectors, and even the fasteners needed were in the box. We ran the antenna about 10’ off the deck with the supplied cable, connected the power cords up to the same 12v circuit our VHF was connected to, and plugged in the black “helm” antenna (we led this down below near the nav station). Flipped on the switch and the lights started blinking…
I’m not from the “show me state”, but sometimes seeing is believing, and when I set our cellular router on top of the helm antenna pad… it was like magic. We went from two bars of H+ (aka inconsistent Bahamas 3G) to five full bars of high-speed LTE. In the place known to be so remote all the guides warn you to not expect any communications to work – we were streaming the NFL, hosting Monday MS Teams meetings, and Zoom was full on for the kid’s school.
We even invited other cruisers around us to tap into our hotspot to get a few messages out. It was so easy, our friends did not have a mobile routers (or Mifi’s) so they just put their cell phones on top of the antenna pad and boom – LTE service from their carrier. They then turned on the phone hotspot and it worked just as well as our dedicated router for anyone nearby who connected. Next time out we will probably just use an older mobile phone as a hotspot and dedicate it to the antenna pad, as most sim card style plans included free calling minuets we could not use if the sim was in the router vs a phone.
So at $600 I was a little leery of the value of this device before I saw the magic happen, but now this is my top tool for assuring were always connected (when we want to be). I’ll be asking my customers to take another look at what this little package can do, and suggest they promote it to all the boaters who are trying to float away… while also wanting to stay in touch with home and work.
P.S. if you’re looking for the best options for data plans in the Bahamas check out this page.