Today’s boaters want the ability to download, stream, email, video chat, play in multiverses and more. And they want this ability when they’re docked at a marina, cruising offshore or anchored in a remote cove. And they want it more than ever, with a lot of couples and families spending more time on their boats since the Covid-19 outbreak. People figure that if the adults can do their paid work remotely, then why not do it all from the boat with a swim afterward?
Creating that kind of connectivity became one of Robert Kinney’s areas of expertise when he took ownership of Alcom Marine Electronics in California back in 1993. Since then he has seen things change quite a bit among boaters. “They started out 25 years ago buying $40,000 worth of stuff,” he says, “and now if it’s not a quarter-million dollars, people are asking, ‘Is everything OK with your family?’”
Kinney says his recent work on the Nordhavn 68 Sunday Morning is an example of the “upper edge” of what midrange cruising boat owners are now starting to consider.
Nordhavn delivered Sunday Morning in April 2021 to owners Van and Tracy Anderson, who previously owned a Nordhavn 55. The Andersons spent 22 months aboard that first Nordhavn, cruising not just in the United States, but also in Mexico and Central America, where Van Anderson realized the importance of constant connectivity. “I had meetings every day,” he says. “But there were some times when we had to wait for weather or wait for work. Having connectivity was really important, not just for work but also for safety. If you need someone’s help, God forbid—you want to have somebody available on more than just a VHF radio. That’s the way we like to travel.”
After that experience, Anderson decided to work with Kinney to spec out Sunday Morning with a system that would give him peace of mind. While many boaters cruise only with a cellular modem on board, Anderson wanted to be able to connect to the internet over cellular, Wi-Fi or satellite, depending on what’s available wherever Sunday Morning cruises. “He has the ability to select one of those things depending on where he is,” Kinney says. “When you jump into the satellite communications deal, you’re talking about a piece of hardware that starts at $15,000.”
It’s the kind of setup that previously might have been installed only aboard yachts starting at 100 to 130 feet in length, Kinney says, but it’s likely to become more common aboard midrange boats, if things keep going the way Anderson has seen them go with marine electronics to date. Owners outfitting boats in Sunday Morning’s size range today look at whatever the last owner did and then say,
“I want that, but add in this other new thing, too.” Then, the next guy comes along and sees that boat and says the same thing. A snowball effect ensues, with owners realizing what’s possible and then trying to add the latest technology to it.
The trick to making smart equipment choices in this kind of situation, Kinney says, is figuring out what you’re actually going to want once you get on board. “Do you need to be able to get a giant spreadsheet when you’re out in the middle of nowhere?” he says. “Do you just need to make a phone call? What exactly are you trying to do? We can custom-make a package for everybody. If one guy wants a nuclear power plant and another guy wants a Bunsen burner, it’s OK.”
One thing that Anderson figured out, for instance, is that he didn’t need to download every single thing that people sent him while he was offshore. He learned that he could get a KVH plan with unlimited low bandwidth and limited high-speed connection, and then make changes on his email settings so that only the email subject lines, or headers, downloaded quickly. “You can tell from the header who it’s from and which ones you want to download,” Anderson says. “There are a lot of ways to manage your bandwidth.”
He also uses Microsoft OneDrive, a file-hosting service that lets users access files from any device. For that service, he knows he has to decide before leaving on a cruise whether certain files will be housed on his local computer or in the cloud. “You don’t want to get offshore and realize the folders of documents you need will take hours to download and cost you a fortune,” Anderson says.
If he were buying a system today, he says, he’d be looking at hardware that can support 5G, depending on the price. He likes his SureCall cell-signal booster, which he can connect to his Poynting antenna. The combination seems to work well, if only in some locations. “I haven’t figured out all the areas except by trial and error,” he says, “but we get a good signal.”
Anderson says he also likes his Pepwave Max Transit router. It, too, offers him options. “You can select one of three priorities. One is a 5 gigahertz Wi-Fi, that’s number one,” he says. “Number two is a 2.4 gigahertz Wi-Fi. Number three is the cell, and number four is the satellite. You have the ability to put any of those into your priority one, priority two, priority three. It does a really simple DNS check, and if it doesn’t get a reply back, it automatically fails over to the next one.”
And, he says, he’s able to maintain good connectivity even when he’s off the boat, for things like sensor systems. “I have a Maretron system that monitors everything, and I also have cameras so I can view things and watch things,” he says. “Even if somebody doesn’t need it for work, the same connectivity is just as important from a security management perspective. You hear stories all the time about people getting back to the boat and their batteries are dead. That just shouldn’t happen anymore with the systems and technology that are out there.”
Thinking on these levels—and working with somebody like Kinney, who also thinks on these levels not just in terms of system installation, but also in terms of future service needs—makes maintaining the actual level of connectivity simpler today than it used to be, Anderson says.
That feeling of assurance should be achievable for all boaters, Kinney says. The best way to start is by finding an installer who understands your cruising locations and needs, as well as the equipment and service options.
“Each area is a little different, and each place has a different deal,” Kinney says. “At the end of the day, you’re hiring a systems integrator. It’s not just some electronics guy. You’re creating a whole system, and you need a relationship with this person. You have to have confidence that the people you’ve invested with are going to take care of you."
This article was originally published in the February 2022 issue.