• Published:April 29, 2019
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Almost all of the new MFDs have Wi-Fi built in.

But that leaves a lot of us wondering, should we care and how can we use Wi-Fi to help in our angling endeavors?
A decade ago Wi-Fi add-on black boxes began appearing on boats but they were a costly endeavor. Five short years ago Wi-Fi began popping up as a feature included in high-end MFDs, and today you’ll be hard-pressed to find even a mid-level unit costing $1,000 or so that doesn’t offer internet connectivity built-in.

Wi-Fi on boats takes on several different forms. In its most comprehensive state, it’s the same Wi-Fi that we all know and love. Your boat has its own Wi-Fi umbrella, which is connected to the outer world via a public host like a marina, an onboard system, or a hotspot set up via your cell phone. With high-end systems you can check your email right from the helm station.

Of course, if you want connectivity off the dock you’ll need a Wi-Fi extender like those from Winegard or Wave Wi-Fi, which cost a few hundred dollars and can tap into Wi-Fi from a few miles away or when cellular is employed, up to 15 miles. Manufacturers of products like these are careful to caution that range can vary quite a bit depending on conditions.

To get beyond these distances, you need some form of satellite connection. There are several modern systems which deliver this sort of functionality at what we’d consider a relatively low cost, as compared to traditional satellite communications. The Iriduim GO!, for example, provides a Wi-Fi connection for up to five mobile devices at a hardware cost of under $1,000 and service fees starting at $59 a month. IsatHub costs a few hundred dollars more but has slightly expanded capability.

What does a system like this really do for you, fishing-wise? One benefit we know everyone will put at the top of their list: you can tap into FishTrack at any time, any place and pull up the latest water temps, water color and more. That means no more checking the SST charts before you leave the dock or saving imagery to your FishTrack App to use when out of range.

Much more often these days, however, you’ll encounter a limited Wi-Fi system that doesn’t communicate with the wider world once you get offshore, but does keep the devices and systems on your boat connected with one another. Essentially, your Wi-Fi-equipped display on the helm sets up its own mini-network to talk to the other Wi-Fi-capable bits and pieces of your boat.

Although this is obviously a more limited use, there are a lot more of those bits and pieces than one might think. Most all marine security and monitoring systems, stereos, entertainment centers, and VHF radios have Wi-Fi capabilities. And on larger boats you’ll even encounter items like marine lighting systems, generators, refrigeration and climate-control systems that can tap in for access. If it runs on electricity and requires some level of operator input, there’s a good chance someone out there makes a Wi-Fi-enabled version. Even some marine toilets are connected! Then add in all the cell phones aboard (usually via marine-oriented apps), and it becomes clear that a connected boat has a lot more capabilities than one without any form of Wi-Fi.

In some cases, there are also specific units designed to interact with one another utilizing Wi-Fi, without communicating with the rest of the boat. Furuno’s 1st Watch, for example, is a radar antenna that needs no connection beyond a power cord, and beams its display onto your cell phone or iPad. That means you don’t have to route those thick radar cables, and you can carry your radar display in your pocket.


In all of these cases, one of the strongest advantages of having a Wi-Fi-equipped boat is that you can “talk” to just about anything via your phone and an app. This simplifies interfacing with everything from your chart plotter to your stereo, because unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have a phone and are intimately familiar with how to use it.

Another big boost that comes with this form of connectivity is seamless updating. Even if your boat is only connected with the wider world when sitting at a marina or on a trailer in the driveway, your MFD can update as seamlessly as your computer and phone do with little to no effort on your part.

As time goes on, your marine display will begin operating more apps thanks to this connectivity which opens up entire worlds of new possibilities. The Raymarine Axiom UAV integration is a great example. The Axiom offers several applications, including a drone app so you can operate a drone and see the images on the Axiom screen as it’s recording. As developers come up with more and more unconventional ideas like this, you can bet that quick and easy downloads will be the key to enjoying them. And having Wi-Fi aboard is the only way to make it happen.