Internet access on a narrowboat

Internet access on a narrowboat is a hot topic as most people want to remain connected when on the move. We are no different.

When we were preparing for our first holiday on the narrowboat, I wanted a flexible internet solution that meant I could try out different network providers before committing to any long contract. This meant that I needed a device that wasn’t locked to a network so I could use any sim I wanted.

My solution for internet access on a narrowboat

I ended up picking a Huawei E5377s-32 mi-fi (mobile wireless) device ( which has been replaced by a newer version Huawei E5577C ). The reason for my choice was because of the capability to also use an external aerial.

I tried pay as you go sim cards from O2, Three and EE network. Three had a reasonable deal on at the time – 12GB of data that would last for a year (or less if you used it quick). This worked well for us until Anna decided that we were going to upload daily vlogs while on the trip! Which lead to me finding I had no coverage issues with EE either.

EE Mifi - Internet access on a narrowboat

When we moved on board, I took out a data contract with EE, which included a 4G mi-fi device. This device has been fine for general internet usage – browsing, uploading videos, watching YouTube, etc. However, when it comes to working from home and connecting to my employers network via a VPN, it has been less than great.

Basically, when the device is inside the boat best you get is 1 bar of signal. When it is in the window, this might go up as high as 3 bars. As I said, this is fine for general internet usage but seems to not be consistent enough for me to maintain a workable connection back to the office.

So I switched my sim card into the Huawei device. This had similar signal results (1 bar – 3 bars inside the boat) but I did find that the VPN drop outs were less frequent. However, when you are trying to actually do work, it’s really annoying having to re-connect every 30 minutes. Especially when you lose everything that you have open.

When we were at Crick in 2017, I got chatting with the people of a company called “Wifi on board” about connectivity. I had previously come across their website when I was researching internet connectivity options so I hoped to get some useful advice. I ended up walking away with this: – an antenna to sit on my roof.


What’s in the bag

  • A highly magnetic antenna connected to two long cables
  • 2 x short T9 connectors

The cables are long and can go inside via a mushroom vent. The T9 connections are required to plug the cables into my Huawei device (which has two sockets free for external connections).


The comparison

Huawei E5577C - Internet access on a narrowboat

Huawei with no antenna running on EE 4G data plan – 1 bar of signal – VPN drop out’s every 20-30 minutes.

Huawei connected two antenna running on EE 4G data plan – 5 bars of signal almost immediately and a constant connection for the whole day.

The other cable in the middle of the device is the USB charging cable. When we are on shore power, I leave it plugged in all the time to avoid the battery dying unexpectedly.


The user experience – perfect!

This was a lot of money to spend on internet access as the aerial and mi-fi device were not cheap. However, it has definitely improved the quality and speed of internet access on the boat. It was worth the money for me just to be able to spend more time working from home without having to worry about my connectivity dropping in the middle of a conference call.

The real test will be when we go out cruising and moor up in an area with poor mobile coverage. The device is supposed to be strong enough to pick up signal “from the next tower”. In theory, even when the phone signal is poor, we should be able to pick up a better signal using this antenna.

Watch this space!!

One thought on “Internet access on a narrowboat

  1. Hi Kath,
    Incredibly helpful thank you.
    I’m looking at the Three plan as we already use Three for our mobile phones.
    As a vlogger and internet user what average Gb usage do you have?
    We have 4Gb on one phone and 8 Gb or our other phone but cannot decide for laptops etc.

    I work in IT, have a lot of emails to outlook, use the internet o my laptop as phone so small etc.
    I thought of going whole hog 20Gb but wondered if you would recommend starting with less as I’m sure they are always happy to increase you plan.

    I know it is hard to decide but would appreciate any guidance. My husband will become a vlogger so need to think of weekly uploads.

    Once again thanks for your invaluable advice to date and we both LOVE your channel – totally addicted

  2. I had a vodafone dongle for a few yrs & it was pretty awful constantly had to plug and unplug, then I got a giff gaff sim & bought a tp link router, switched the sim to EE was generally happy with the router but the sim data disappeared fast. Looked in to a dongle type alternative hoping to find something I could take with me so I could get a cheaper sim in my phone without much data and got a recommendation to try Worth the money as it works as well in my narrow boat as it does in my 5 bedroom house, got rid of my home broadband and now only pay £23 per month

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