Wednesday 12 October 2011

Living Aboard - Part 7 Computers and Internet

When I first started living on a narrowboat in the year 2000 my computer connected to the internet very slowly via a blue tooth connection to my mobile phone, but technology has improved a lot since then.
If you're looking for a used boat to buy as a live-aboard home then you're probably already using the internet to browse sites like Boatshed Grand Union, where there are up to eighty photos of each second-hand boat, barge and narrowboat for sale.

When you're using a computer on board, a laptop or net-book is a good space saving idea and can be run off a 150 watt inverter, (although you may have a much bigger inverter depending on your personal domestic requirements aboard.) A good sized domestic battery bank is important if you wish to use your computer a lot. However, if you have a mooring with a mains electric supply you could choose a full sized desktop computer, perhaps selecting a flat screen monitor to save space. When you're on the move a desktop PC runs best from a pure sine wave inverter. A small uninterruptable power supply (UPS) maybe be a good investment if you are depending on an unpredictable electric supply for a desktop PC.

A printer will work off your usual mains supply or from an inverter if you are cruising, but make sure that you store your paper reams in a completely dry place. A laser printer has particular power requirements, so check this when you are buying one.

If your boat has a permanent residential mooring with electric shoreline and a standard telephone line then your internet connection can be arranged the same way as it would be in a house. This could be perfectly adequate for you if you feel that you won't require internet access when the boat is out and about cruising.

Mobile broadband is provided by mobile phone companies, who will also sell you an internet dongle as part of the package. This is a small piece of hardware which is inserted into a USB port on your computer. Price packages offer a variety of data usage allowances which you will select depending on whether you want to just send an occasional email, or, at the other end of the scale live stream TV and music.  Your mobile broadband connection speed will depend on network capability, modem capability, signal strength, and the number of other users on the network at that time. There are booster antennas available for all types of dongle, but a cheaper solution is to first try using a 3 meter length of USB extension cable, male one end, female the other, and mount your dongle in a different place, away from your computer, perhaps in the window or in the cratch of the boat.

Alternatively, you may be happy to simply access the internet via a smart phone, such as an iPhone. It is now even possible to create a mobile WiFi hot spot on your boat, where your phone, computer and other devices can connect wirelessly to the internet with something like the Three Mifi device.
You might also consider the T-Mobile Wireless Pointer. This does the same thing, but can also accept an external antenna, which is useful in poor signal areas. The Boaters Phone Company can supply a suitable aerial.

Technology and the internet has improved so much since I was first looking for a boat to buy.

The Boatshed formula of traditional brokerage using local knowledge and world beating technology  has proved very successful on all of the Grand Union, including the London Canals, as well as the River Lee Navigation.

The Boatshed Grand Union website offers a search facility to make it easy to browse live-aboard boats for sale within your price range, and you can contact James or Phil directly if you have any questions about a particular boat. Use search terms such as "narrowboat", "broad beam" or "Dutch barge" and register on the website to see the full range of photographs of each boat.

Thanks to Andrew Denny of Granny Buttons blog for recommending the T-Mobile Wireless Pointer.
You may also like this post: MiFi changed my life!

Disclosure: I wrote this post for the Boatshed Grand Union website. It was my choice to re-publish it here where I hope it is of interest to you.

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