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Cheapskate Wifi Extender

AaronD

.
Aug 10, 2014
537
Catalina 22 9874 Newberg, OR / Olympia, WA
Here's something I found useful on our recent cruise in the San Juans. I started to post it in my boat thread, but thought it might be of more general interest.

I've found that even relatively good marina Wifi setups often have dead spots. I found myself trying to telecommute from a dock in Friday Harbor with really poor Wifi signal. So out came my cheapskate extender. There are really good Wifi extenders available, if you're going to use them full time. But for a few days a year, I can't justify ~$300-600.

So I bought a USB wifi adapter - the kind you might plug into an old laptop that doesn't have built-in Wifi. The model I bought a couple years ago is discontinued now; it looks like this is the current one (~$13). I combined that with a long USB cable, so I can run the adapter up a flag halyard. USB has a 5m (16') cable-length limit; that length lets me raise the antenna about 10' while sitting in the cabin. We found that we went from not enough bandwidth to download email to streaming Netflix.

I just discovered that you can get active USB cables, which use the USB power to drive a mid-cable repeater, allowing a 32' length(or even multiple repeaters if you need to go longer). That cable only cost $15 at Amazon, so now I have an (untested) 30-foot version that should let me raise the Wifi adapter to spreader height and still have some slack for reasonable routing in the cabin.

IMG_1700.jpeg

From there, you can have your laptop share the Internet connection to other devices via its own Wifi; presto, everyone's phone's and tablets are happy (and, importantly, so is the crew).

I won't use it often, so I'm not routing it permanently, but if it lets me work a few more days from the boat, we all get more water time!

Total cost: ~$30
Perhaps someone else will find that a helpful tip.

PS - I normally try to post links to our SBO hosts here, but to my knowledge, they don't stock Wifi adapters and powered USB cables. Sorry @Dave Groshong :(
 
Last edited:

AaronD

.
Aug 10, 2014
537
Catalina 22 9874 Newberg, OR / Olympia, WA
What I have been doing for many years is turning on the WiFi hotspot on my phone, and connecting a Bluetooth headset, and then placing my phone in a waterproof case and hoisting it up a flag halyard. Works great. No wires.
Good idea, if you have a big data plan. I'm a cheapskate on data usage too, and often need quite a lot for my work.
 
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Likes: Jean McRae
Apr 23, 2007
5
- - Chicago
If you spend a little bit more, you can get a more professional and permanent installation. In our harbor, WiFi is great if you take your laptop on top of the boat, but signal is poor inside the boat. I used the USB remote antenna trick for years but it was a pain. This year I invested in an RV WiFi solution that has been awesome. It has a weatherproof powered long range USB antenna which I mounted to my inside stay and ran the cable in through the top of my window to the included access point (pro tip - wrap some electrical tape around antenna and stay so you won't catch a sheet on it). You then broadcast your own boat WiFi. I run a TV, multiple laptops, tablets and phones simultaneously. And none of the devices are tethered to a cable we were always climbing over with the old solution....

 
Sep 1, 2014
32
Catalina 30 MKII Gulfport, FL
If you spend a little bit more, you can get a more professional and permanent installation. In our harbor, WiFi is great if you take your laptop on top of the boat, but signal is poor inside the boat. I used the USB remote antenna trick for years but it was a pain. This year I invested in an RV WiFi solution that has been awesome. It has a weatherproof powered long range USB antenna which I mounted to my inside stay and ran the cable in through the top of my window to the included access point (pro tip - wrap some electrical tape around antenna and stay so you won't catch a sheet on it). You then broadcast your own boat WiFi. I run a TV, multiple laptops, tablets and phones simultaneously. And none of the devices are tethered to a cable we were always climbing over with the old solution....

Glad it worked for you. I bought that unit, and tested it under an ideal environment, and speed was MUCH less than without it. Simply returned it.
 
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Likes: Jean McRae