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Using WiFi on your boat

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Wireless communications bring a number of benefits to a boat and its Networks. The main reason for using it, is, well… because it’s wireless! No wires/cables means no messy cable runs and no tight spots where it might otherwise be awkward to run physical cable. This is great in terms of saving time and money.  

However, there is one fundamental problem with using wireless communication as the chosen method, and that is interference and connection stability. It is recommended to use Wi-Fi as an additional ‘nice to have’, rather than the primary data transfer method on-board. Some data shared between devices on a network is considered safety-critical, meaning it’s pretty important!  

Data such as AIS targets, Radar, GPS, Depth which are key to keeping the vessel and passengers safe should always have a constant connection (i.e. a physical connection such as an NMEA 2000 network). An ideal scenario here for wireless communications is having a phone/tablet on board. The primary location for data like AIS Targets to be sent to is the Chartplotter / MFD on the NMEA 2000 network, however, it is perfectly acceptable to have this on a secondary display such as a tablet as well as the MFD.  

If this data was being shared over Wi-Fi, and then the connection drops out, or the signal suffers from interference (which is quite common with devices such as compasses and microwaves on board), then you can potentially lose AIS information. In a situation where the NMEA 2000 network is displaying this data on your MFD, and you lost targets on the wireless connection, this is fine as you can return to the MFD and keep track of all targets. However, if you were to only have the tablet on board then lost wireless connectivity, you’ve instantly lost AIS targets along with position and depth all in one go.  

We aren’t suggesting that Wireless connectivity is bad, because in general terms it isn’t, and it does prove to be a very useful addition to most networks. However, it’s important to note that using wireless as the primary communication method can cause major issues. A physical connection should always be the main method of data transfer.  

If you are looking for a wireless gateway to add onto your NMEA 2000 network, then our W2K-1 makes for an excellent choice. With logging capability and support for a variety of data formats, including NMEA 0183 which is powered by our award winning NGW-1 conversion engine, the W2K-1 can help expand your system.  

Our wireless gateway has been tried and tested with a number of NMEA 0183 applications on both iOS and Android, including the industry’s favourite Navionics. We are always looking to add more apps to the tested list, and if you have any you would like tested then please let us know. 

Download our NMEA 2000 E-book and discover everything you need to know about building an NMEA 2000 network.