Working from a boat is a wonderful experience. You can type away while listening to the gentle sound of water lapping against the hull and take regular breaks sunning yourself in the cockpit or going for a quick swim.
If your workday ends after a tough client call or heavy deadline, you don’t have to sit in rush-hour traffic to go home. Not only are you home already, but when you shut down that laptop lid, it’s just you and the sea.
But boats are off-grid and off-grid working can be challenging. Here are some things to consider:
Boats typically have three types of power available to them:
- Shore power – When you’re in a marina, you can plug into shore power. Most modern yachts have shore power connections where you can plug the power directly into the boat systems. I have an old yacht, and use a 25 metre extension cable that I lead from the shore, along the deck and down into the saloon. I can plug my laptop and phone into the sockets and bypass the boat entirely.
- Fuel Generator – These can be noisy and, obviously, use fuel. Unless you have a particularly large power consumption the boat in general, a generator is probably overkill for the average digital nomad.
- Solar – Solar power is a common type of power generation for yachts and is especially good in the tropics where panels can provide a lot of power even on overcast days thanks to the powerful sun. Solar panels are increasingly affordable and built resilient to marine conditions. They are also silent, which makes them even better.
- Wind – Wind power is ideal for boats in regions with reliable wind. They are noisy though and can produce distracting vibrations.
- Inboard engine – If you need to motor somewhere, this is a good time to charge things with an inverter. Running your engine purely to charge is not very efficient, adds wear and tear to your engine and is noisy for nearby boats.
Once you know you can always power your laptop, you’ll need the internet. Again, there are three types of internet generally available to the floating digital nomad:
- Mobile (Cellular) Data
Most marinas will have WiFi but whether it’s fast or slow will entirely depend on the marina. If you’re planning on living afloat in a permanent marina berth, check out WiFi speeds at a range of marinas in your desired location.
A WiFi booster aerial is definitely useful if you use marina WiFi.
If you anchor close to a town, cafe or hotel, you can often pick up WiFi if you have a booster aerial. However, this is rarely a longterm solution and obviously there’s a moral issue with using a business’ WiFi in this way. It’s great for a weather forecast though!
Taking your laptop ashore to use WiFi is another solution although inconvenient if you have to do this every day. This can work well if you get working WiFi onboard but need a better signal for sending large files occasionally.
Mobile (Cellular) Data
Getting a local SIM card with a large amount of data on it is an ideal solution if the SIM lets you hotspot. Check out our article How to Buy a Data Sim Abroad to find out more. I work well on just 12GB of data a month but data packages are increasing and you usually no longer have to wait until a month is up to buy a new package.
Mobile signal can often be used up to a couple of miles offshore, making it doubly useful for getting weather forecasts when coastal sailing.
Satellite data is prohibitively expensive for working with. While many cruisers have it to communicate and get forecasts while sailing, it’s currently too expensive to use for every day working. Unless you’re super wealthy….wanna hang out?
Backing up your work is important for everyone but even more so on a boat. The salt air environment does nasty things to technology and you may find yourself in places where replacement parts are difficult to find.
With the affordability of flash memory, there is no excuse to not own flash drives and back up on these and online. Flash drives are also shockproof and you can buy waterproof ones.
Recommend technology for boat working:
• Solar panels + charge regulator
• WiFi booster aerial (I use Alfa AWUS036AC with an USB extension cable to get it up high)
• Good size flash drives
• Shore power connections that will be compatible with the country or continent you’ll be working in
• An unlocked phone that can take foreign SIMs
• A laptop that has at least one, preferably more, USB ports
• Power adaptor and USB plugs
• USB sockets wired into the boat system for charging without an inverter
• Spare leads – USB, mini USB, micro USB – whatever you use. These have a tendency to rust over time.