“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

WiFi Antenna on the Cheap(well cheaper)

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Two big thanks on making this post happen.  Travis on s/v Party of Five helped me put together the list of components and the basic installation and setup.  Huge thanks to Jay on s/v Doctor’s Orders, fellow C310 sailor, who purchased these components for us.  The support we have gotten from the C310 owners is unbelievable but Jay took it to a new level.  Thanks again. 

The list of components is as follows:

  • Bullet Titanium (2.4 GHz)
  • iCreatin Passive POE Injector or Gigabit POE Injector (B0135STO2S)
  • Trendnet 8dBi Outdoor Omni or Amped Wireless High Powered Outdoor 8dBi (he said 8 dBi is better than the higher powered ones for this use, so don’t go bigger)
  • TPLink AC1200 wireless router (you can just cut off the power cord at the inverter box and wire direct to the 12 volt system on the boat with a fuse in line)
  • ethernet cable (length depends on install but a 100 foot cord would be fine with all the components)

All can be purchased from Amazon for under $250. 

Assembly is fairly straight forward.  For the Bullet, open the box and only remove the Bullet.  There are other components in there but you will not need them for the assembly as a wifi antenna on a boat.  Attach the antenna to the top of the Bullet.  Next attach the ethernet cable to the bottom of the Bullet using the waterproof housing on the Bullet. You could put up the Bullet and antenna assembly as is or you could add some additional weather proofing.  For instance many boaters will use electrical tape or Rescue tape on their VHF antenna connections to make them more weather proof.  You could do the same here. Personally I like Rescue tape because it doesn’t leave an adhesive residue when you remove it.

Now you have a choice to make: do you fix mount the Bullet and antenna or do you have it go up on a halyard?  Fix mounting has the advantage of being always out and ready to use.  But if you put it on a halyard you can adjust the height.  Travis on s/v Party of Five describes wifi signals like a cone.  So as they progress out from the source they have different heights that will offer the best signal strength.  So being able to adjust the height will give you the best possible signal strength.  I went for the halyard style install but I did run a second ethernet cable to the stern so that I could actually have the ability to install it on the stern rail and then take it down to put on a halyard for a better signal when needed.

The next big install question is 12 volt or 120 volt for the power over ethernet (POE) point and router.  Both the POE point and the router in the list above are actually 12 volt units.  There is a converter in the boxy plug that converts the 120 volt wall outlet power to 12 volt.  You can see that by looking at the writing on the plug.  So if you are only going to use the antenna on the dock you could just plug into an outlet.  But if you want to use it at anchor or you just like having everything on 12 volt like me, you simply cut off the plug end and wire the ends into your 12 volt system.  The tricky part of this approach is knowing which side is the positive and which is the negative.  Luckily the manufacturers of these two pieces made it easy. There are white/gray dashes on one of the lines going into the plug.  That is the positive wire.  There are a couple of ways you can test this to find out which is which but thankfully the manufactures made it easy here.  So I cut off the plugs, added ring terminals to each end and then connected them into a Blue Sea System terminal block.  I often use the terminal blocks to put multiple lines together for one power run to the panel. 

IMG_20160811_151509IMG_20160811_151525

Next I had to find a location to mount the router.  I chose to mount it upside down on the underside of the decks above the port settee.  I used 3M double sided tape to mount the router.  I cleaned the surfaces with isopropanol and let it try for 30-60 minutes before applying the tape.  Then I ran some 12-2 tinned copper wire from the terminal buss to the electrical panel.  The 12-2 wire is actually a bit of an overkill.  The router draws 2 amps and the POE point 1 amp (you can get that info from the plugs that I cut off to make them 12 volt) and the run from the panel is approximately 20 feet so a total of 40 feet of distance there and back.  Using a wire sizing chart, like the Blue Seas Systems one here (large PDF), you only needed 16 gauge wire.  But 12-2 wire is what I had on the boat so I used that.

IMG_20160901_081449.jpg

Final assembly is to plug the ethernet cable from the Bullet into the POE point, plug the POE point into router and power up the system.  An important thing to note here is that the POE point actually comes with two pieces.  One is for the router end and the other for the Bullet end.  You don’t need the Bullet end, just throw that away. When you plug the POE point into the router, use one of the spots labeled “1-4”.  Don’t use the spot for internet source.  Seems a little wrong but trust me.

Now that you have it assembled, the hard part starts: you need to configure the Bullet and the router.  I am going to give this in the easy way, which involves plugging the Bullet directly into your computer first.  I actually couldn’t do this because we have a MacBook Air and those don’t have ethernet ports.  So I did mine through wifi and the router which is harder.  If anyone needs this breakdown I can give that later, just email or PM me. 

The first step is to set you computer to have a Static IP address. This is different than how your computer will be setup for most people.  Here is how to do it on a Mac and here is how to do it on a Windows computer.

Once that is done, connect the POE point to your computer’s ethernet port. Now open up your favorite web browser (I prefer Google Chrome but IE, Firefox, etc. will do).  In the address bar type in “192.168.20.1” and hit enter.  This is the factor address setting for the Bullet.  That will bring you to an address screen that will ask for your username and password.  The factory setting is “ubnt” for both.  Once you enter that in and gain access to the Bullet the first thing you should do is change the username and password.  Click on the “System” tab and change the username and password. 

Program 1

This is the first place you will hit the quirk of working with the Bullet.  After you have changed the username and password you will need to go to bottom of the page and click the “Change” button (bottom arrow above).  Once you hit “Change” a new line will appear at the top of the screen asking if you want to apply the changes. You need to hit “Apply” before moving on to the next step. 

Program 2.png

This will come up often and was a big source of frustration to me when I would forget to hit “Change” then “Apply” after making some programing errors and I couldn’t figure out why my programing wasn’t working.

Next step is to click on the “Network” tab.  There are several changes that need to be made on this tab.

First, under “Network Role” change the “Network Mode” to “Router”.

Second, under “WAN Network Settings” change the IP Address to “DHCP”.  Also, make sure the “NAT” is enabled.

Program 3.png

Now under the “LAN Network Settings” is where things can get a little tricky.  Start by enabling the “DHCP Server” (red box in the middle of the screen shot).  Next go to the “IP Address”.  You need to choose your new IP address for your network.  This could be almost any numbers.  Most networking gear comes with 192.168.1.1, or some small variation on this number, as standard.  I am sure there is a reason for this but I am not a computer guy enough to know why that is.  But you will need to set the number for the Bullet and later the router to similar numbers.  You can see I used 192.168.50.1 while doing this write up.  I did change it after I did all these screen shots.  Someone could conceivably crack into your network if they knew these numbers (not sure how as this is way above my head).  My recommendation is to keep with the 192.168.XX.1 where the “XX” could be any number from 1-99.  This will just make things easier.  The “Netmask” can stay with the default of 255.255.255.0.

Program 4

Next you need to set the “Range Start” and “Range Finish”.  These are the numbers that are available to be assigned to your computer latter when you actually log onto the internet.  It needs to have the same first 3 sets of numbers you used for the IP address above.  Keeping with the numbers I used for this setup that was 192.168.50.  The last sets of numbers actually defines the range.  For ease of programing just use 100 to 200 here.  So the start is 192.168.50.100 and the finish is 192.168.50.200.  Remember to change the 50 to what ever number you choose for the IP address above.

****Now make sure to hit “Change” then “Apply”.

That completes the programing of the Bullet.  Now go back to the beginning and change your computers IP Address from Static back to automatic.

Next step is to program a Static IP address into the router.  You need to give your router a static IP address in the same range as what you gave the Bullet. So using the address of 192.168.50.1 for the Bullet, I used 192.168.50.2 for the router.  For the TP Link here is a link on how to do this programing.

Once you have programmed the router, now you can plug the Bullet into the router.  Remember, you don’t use the “Internet” source ethernet port but any of the ports labeled 1-4.  Doesn’t matter which one. And its the POE point that gets plugged into the router, the Bullet is plugged into the POE point and you have power to the POE Point and the router. Now power up.  Give everything about 5 minutes to startup and get ready for use.

Log into the Bullet by opening a web browser and typing the IP address into the top bar (i.e. 192.168.50.1). Then put in your new username and password. Now click on the “Wireless” tab. This is how you will go to use the WiFi antenna anytime you want to use the internet from your boat.

Operation 1

Click the “Select” button next to “SSID”.  This will bring up a list of available networks. 

Operation 2.png

The two columns on this page that I pay the most attention to are the “Encryption” and “SSID”.  If you find “None” under “Encryption” that means this is an open network and you can join without a password.  Unfortunately you can see that there are no open networks near Maho Bay on St. John.  This is one of our favorite spots but unfortunately when we are here I have no communication.  No WiFi and no cell signal.  That means very little ability to check weather or hear if I have a new charter coming in that I have to get back to St. Thomas for. But such is the price to pay to swim with hawksbill turtles and catch lobster for dinner along some iconic beaches.

If there where an open network you simply click on the little circle next to the MAC address for the network and then hit “Select” at the bottom of the screen.  You will then go back to the programing screen and need to hit “Change” and “Apply” again like we discussed above. Give the antenna a few seconds and you should be online.

To verify that you are online you can check the “Main” tab.  If you go down near the bottom and click on “DHCP Client” you should have an IP address listed and the status should be connected.  Also there is a “Signal Strength” bar that will tell you how good of a signal you have.  If you opted for the halyard installation you can move the antenna up and down on the halyard and see where you get a getter signal strength.  It will change with height and higher is not always better.

Operation 3.png

Now sometimes you might have a specific network you want to connect to.  This could be your marina or a local bar.  We will sometimes put up the antenna and see what bars have a good signal.  Then we go over to that bar and have a drink and ask them for the network password.  Most of the time they have no problem giving the password to a customer but don’t want an open network.  Some places have caught on to this and will take your phone to put in the password so you can’t log on from a WiFi antenna. Once you have a network name and password you log in a little different.  You go to the “Wireless” tab and hit “Select” next to SSID, but now you are looking for the network name.  Note the security type “WPA” or “WPA2”.  Select the network and connect.  But you have an additional step on the “Wireless” tab before hitting “Change” and “Apply”.  Down at the bottom of the screen you should see a section for “Wireless Security”.

Operation 4.png

In the “Wireless Security” section, select the correct security type and put in the password.  Now hit “Change” and “Apply”. You should be connected and can check it the same as described above.

Now I will have to admit, the programing side of this was a little harder than I expected when we started this project.  The very first time we set up everything I had Travis from s/v Party of Five with me.  But the original Bullet I got from Amazon was defective.  So by the time I got the replacement Bullet, we were in St. Thomas and Party of Five had moved on to Grenada. So I had to spend some time researching how to do all the programing. But once you get through it once the operation becomes pretty simple.

Here is another downside, I have had this post in draft for almost two weeks.  But in the USVI finding an open wifi or even a bar’s wifi that can work for posting pictures was nearly impossible.  Everyone is shutting down their networks and a lot of bars are figuring out ways around making their network available to cruisers.  But in the US you will likely have much better luck.

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7 thoughts on “WiFi Antenna on the Cheap(well cheaper)

  1. Thank for taking the time to write this post .. lots of great info! Makes my head spin, but will want something like this when cruising.

    • haha. Yeah my head was spinning for a bit figuring this stuff out. But its up and working now. Posted this while anchored in Cane Garden Bay, BVI over the wifi antenna.

      Any departure date set yet?

      • We’re hoping this coming Spring! We’ve pretty much sold everything but our vehicles and renting a place while we get Nirvana ready. Soo much to buy and do! Your posts really help out. Trying to decide on davits or a sling, as well as amount of chain. Thinking a sling and 50 ft. of chain may get us through the first year? Already decided against a watermaker, but maybe an ice maker! =)

      • Davits are a tough call on your boat. The beam is pretty narrow near the stern so you can’t put that big of a dingy on them. What size and type of dingy do you have?

        Never rule out towing. We have towed our dingy through some rough weather. What type/make of dingy you have can play a big role in how best to store it. We have the Highfields aluminum hull RIB. The tubes are huge and the hull is a very deep V for a boat of 9.5 feet. I can put all my weight on one side and the boat won’t flip. So we aren’t concerned that it can be flipped by most wind. We have had it out in over 50 knots of wind without issue.

        Personally I don’t think 50 feet of chain will be enough. What size and type of chain are you looking at (i.e. 5/16 inch, 1/4 inch, ACCO G4, BBB, etc.)? I would think 90 feet of 1/4 inch ACCO G4 would work for your boat. I wouldn’t worry about putting too much line backing that up and I would be fine with a total rode length of say 150-175 feet. We have never put out more than that because the biggest problem is having swing room for that much rode. For the Bahamas we typically had between 50 and 100 feet out. We found that even at 60 feet of chain we would get keel wrapped in areas with strong currents. But at 130 feet its not an issue anymore. You could have a storm rode stored in the bilge or laz or someplace not on the bow if you ever needed longer length then your primary. But we know people who sail with primary anchor rodes as short as 125 feet.

        If you go with the longer chain, get a Mantus chain hook. Its the easiest way to attach a snubber or bridle. We do a bridle because I like the redundancy of having two lines incase one brakes.

        And I would recommend having at least 2 if not 3 danforth style anchors. They don’t self reset like the modern anchors but they have the highest strength pull in a single direction. The Fortress or Guardians are the best because they are light weight and can be disassembled to store flat. If you every have to prep for a storm those are the best thing to have. You can set them easily from the dinghy and can have anchors protecting you from many different wind shifts. My perfect setup would be 4, two of the correct sized anchors and two really big Fortresses for big storms.

        If you are not going to get a watermaker, get a 20-30 gallon bladder tank. Set it up with a water pump that can be plugged into a twelve volt outlet. I put the bladder in the dingy, go fill it up. Then I can offload the water into our tank by connecting the pump and letting it pump the water from the dingy to the tank. Its a lot easier and quicker than jerry cans. We do have two 6 gallon jerry cans on deck too.

        Hope to see you out in an anchorage soon. Good luck and fair winds

  2. I will make a comment on one other column that is important. The “Signal/Noise, dBm” column is useful if you have multiple connections you are trying to decide between. The Noise number is the WIFI background noise on that particular channel (how loud everyone else around in yelling). The Signal number is how strong the signal is at the bullet (how loud the WIFI device on shore is yelling). Lower numbers are louder. The further distance between these 2 numbers the better. i.e. a 71,92 signal would be super and you should get a great connection. On the other hand an 85,87 signal would be pretty poor. You might get a connection but it will be spotty and slow.

    Finally, the other reason to have the antenna vertically adjustable is to avoid the WIFI cloud of other booster devices. Since MOST other boats have the devices mounted at deck level, the background noise at deck level will be very noisy. However you move the antenna up or down (sometimes only 1 foot) and you will watch the background noise number drop as your antenna leaves the WIFI cloud created by other cruisers boosters!

    We have been using our setup here in Prickly where many other cruisers can’t get a connection even with boosters.

  3. Thanks for this post – great walk through of how to set one of these babies up. It’s one of the items on our list to think about adding to the boat one day.

  4. I’ve seen similar write ups before, I like yours the best it does make a heap of sense. I was thinking about setting this up on land before I cross over to live aboard, thank you again. driftingsailor.com

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