If all good things must come to an end, then it had to happen sooner or later. After 7 years and nearly 400 tips, DIY projects, yarns, and wordy expressions of opinion, we have decided to end our Monday posts and shut down the website. We will still be sharing tips and great information on our facebook page, and pictures of both the practical and eye candy variety on Instagram. So as we and technology move along, please move with us and like and follow us at either or both of those locations. And as always, feel free to swing by and say hi when you share an anchorage with Eurisko. Thanks for all the support. See you out there.

Cell Booster

March 13, 2017

For someone who has prided herself on her lack of cell phone for so many years, it was nearly painful for me when I discovered that the best way to get wifi in the Bahamas was by using a phone as a hotspot. (See Working Aboard: Wanderers' Internet.)

Once we reached the Caribbean, I was under the impression that I could simply use available wifi from land sources in order to work. I was shocked to discover that these were woefully unreliable. Within a few weeks in the Virgin Islands I was taking my "old" Bahamian phone to ATT and asking the lady to, "Fix it. Make it work like it did in the Bahamas." She pushed a few buttons, and BAM, the second most reliable internet I've had since we left the continent. (I'm starting to believe NOTHING compares to BaTelCo for cell service!)

But like many other things in the islands, cell signal cannot be taken for granted. I can watch the dBm signal go from -59 to -113 and back again in a few seconds. The bars go from 5 to "Emergency Calls Only" just as quickly. When my means of filling the cruising kitty depends on having reliable internet, this is not acceptable. I had to find a solution.

After many weeks of research (while tolerating intermittent signal), I settled on a Wilson weBoost. Though they say it is not for use in cars and on boats, I believe if you are at a dock it will work just as well as in a house, if not better. (And if not, they have an excellent return policy.)

Their biggest concern with using the booster on a boat is that you are moving, but we all know that at a dock the line from your booster to the tower does not change. At anchor, you may have issues.

Here's how it works (as I understand it, in language that I understand). The antenna is omnidirectional, so the theory is that it will pick up the signal that is the strongest, in any direction. It then boosts that signal and rebroadcasts it in a small area as a stronger signal. It does help if you can point the antenna in the general direction of the tower whose signal you want it to boost, which isn't necessarily the strongest. We discovered that our strongest signal was the least reliable. About 4:00 every afternoon the bandwidth was jammed and I had to quit working. When we moved the antenna to pick up a slightly weaker signal, it was not as affected by an increase in traffic. Probably because it is not necessarily the strongest signal for a lot of people. Not as great of a signal, but MUCH more consistent, so we have left it there.

What it means for me is that I have consistent, adequate signal to use my phone as a hotspot. I use ATT's 10 gig for $50 plan and generally get kicked over to "unlimited, but slower" wifi after about 20 days. If I'm not in the middle of a big project, I don't care. I deal with slow internet. If I am, I pay $20 for 3 more gig and get on with it until my month renews and I get 10 more gig. The beauty of this system is that the extra data rolls over with the new plan, so I risk nothing by adding a package if I need it.

The downside of the booster is its price. Once I thought about how much time it would save me, to not have to fight with spotty internet, however, it became an easy investment to make. Since it seems that most of us who live simply do so in remote areas, it seems like a good fit the readers of this site. And while it means I now have a cell phone, I've decided that's not entirely bad. After all, how else is my grandson going to talk to me when he just wants to say hi? That alone is worth having a signal that doesn't cut out in the middle of his 4-year old giggles.

MONDAY we'll share some radio scripts that may lessen stage fright for new cruisers.

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Connie McBride's work has been published in Good Old Boat, Sail Magazine, Small Craft Advisor, Cruising World, All at Sea, and Blue Water Sailing. As a full-time liveaboard cruiser for over 15 years, she has written several books and in her spare time, well, who has spare time?

It's here! My latest book, Years of Ideas from a Simple Sailor is now available on Amazon.

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