November 19, 2015
Shakespeare's Aura,left, and Halo cellular phone signal booster kits can improve signal reception to sea going vessels.
Reviews are mixed on whether or not cellular phone boosters give an adequate increase in range to justify their price, but there's no question that an additional antenna connected wirelessly to the tiny one inside your phone can perhaps double your range, and that can make a big difference to those of us who depend on cellphones to stay in touch inshore and nearshore.
And while those who operate regularly far from shore deny claims of 50-mile reach with boosters, it's likely you can make and receive calls at 15 to 20 miles, a considerable improvement over what you'll get with most phones without the extra boost. (The range from fixed towers ashore is typically 1 to 5 miles, though in flat rural areas where systems transmit at maximum power it might be up to 25 miles.)
And, boosters within their range usually increase clarity, reduce dropped calls, and increase battery life, so if you regularly run into calling problems in your fishing area, boosters may be worth the investment—assuming you don't need added range often enough to justify buying a satellite phone and the accompanying service.
Internet connection can be particularly difficult at maximum range from land-based towers, so some sort of boost might help you to read your email on your phone while you're out chasing swordfish or en route to the islands.
The simplest fix—which can work in an emergency—is a basic cell phone antenna which plugs into your phone's mini-usb via an adapter you can get at most electronics stores for an added $15 or so. These antennas run from as little as $20 to about $75 and give a solid increase with most cell phones in most—but not all—areas. Add extra wire length to this device and boost it up on the end of a long-handled gaff or pvc pipe and you can considerably increase your range for very little cost, without the fairly pricey booster system; www.ampedwireless.com; www.hawkingtech.com; and www.wilsonelectronics.com.
When it comes to booster systems, note that some “marine” boosters are designed only for interior use. Unless it specifically says it's a waterproof, marine booster, it's not. While interior boosters work fine if mounted in enclosed cabins of larger boats, they'll have a short life on a center-console. The antenna
of these systems is built for outdoor use, but the unit itself must be mounted in a protected area. (Of course, all electronics, even those designated waterproof, do better if mounted out of direct contact with the elements, so keep that in mind when you seek a mounting location.) In any case, you need to have a somewhat protected spot to mount the “interior” antenna that broadcasts the signal from the exterior antenna to your phone.
Most booster kits include a 25- to 30-foot cable to allow you to mount the antenna remotely from the system—as with a VHF antenna, the higher you can position this antenna—typically just 18 to 20 inches long—the better reception you're likely to get. Most are screw-in, an advantage in a skiff or small CC where they're likely to get in the way of casting; you can stow them until you need to reach out and touch somebody.
Shakespeare's recently-introduced Aura and Halo cellular booster kits are designed to improve AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon cell phone and internet reception, and all aboard can take advantage of the wireless
The Aura model (about $615) delivers 2G and 3G reception to up to five users, while the Halo (about $1,430) adds 4G reception for up to eight users. Both systems are designed to be user-installed and include a two-year warranty; www.shakespeare-marine.com.
Wilson's SOHO 60 kit (about $400) is designed to provide wireless cellphone connection in a single cabin. The unit is not designed for exterior mounting, but it comes with a screw-in saltwater-proof antenna
and 20 feet of cable, plus a control to allow it to be turned down when you're in port and close to a tower; www.wilsonelectronics.com.
To be sure, none of this gear is going to make your iPhone 5 do sat-phone tricks, but it's likely you can extend your range while still keeping the familiar features of your do-everything phone afloat. FS
First published Florida Sportsman September 2014