Bright Sparks 430 - Office Afloat

Escaping the madding crowd to hole up at your favourite quiet anchorage to write-up that major business proposal or even to actually run your business is a viable option nowadays thanks to advances in communications, computing and more efficient power systems.

Even simply retreating to the marina berth, where you can snuggle down for few nights while still managing that teleconference over the internet with Skype, is easily done. Alternatively, some folks may create more business opportunities by building a functional floating office or may want to home-school the kids.

Of course long-term cruising folk have been doing this sort of thing for a while, although most of us can only leave the madding crowd for so long, but we can prolong it if we are able to keep the business at least ticking over.

The devices that can unchain us from our desks include Wi-Fi and mobile phone boosters and broadband satellite (or less powerful and cheaper satphone handsets). Firstly, it’s best to establish where you’re going to be — coastal cruising or offshore. After all trolling for that illusive blue marlin 20nm offshore, while remaining with both hands on the proverbial office reigns, takes more technical oomph than swinging on a mooring with line of sight to your marina berth.

Next, it’s a good idea to think about what your working habits are going to be in the new floating office. You may need to send faxes, print out reports or maintain your website and blog. You may be an architect, who needs to download large graphic-based files so require a fairly large broadband connection.

Many corporate workers heavily use the internet for services, data and communications — the so-called ‘cloud computing’ —which can have advantages for us boaters, assuming we can login. Keeping your diary, data and software up in the internet ‘cloud’ allows you to travel light on the boat, with perhaps only a laptop and smartphone. Data uploads can be minimised by using compression software and services such as, while email providers such as MailASail are popular with long-term cruisers who combine it with HF radio.

The same applies to faxes — with internet fax service providers such as allowing you to send digital documents. But they may have to be scanned first so choose an all-in-one printer unit that scans, prints and faxes. Ideally the unit should be wireless — using Bluetooth — to reduce cabling and for flexibility onboard.

Gadgets that boost a laptop’s Wi-Fi power are great for the marina, for example, or nearby anchorage. Access point boosters have much higher output power than internal laptop signals and their antennas can be elevated. Typically a laptop’s Wi-Fi aerial will put out 35 to 50mW but connect to a booster antenna and this can be increased to 4W.

So, with the addition of a high-gain antenna and Wi-Fi device, a laptop’s range will be dramatically increased, perhaps for several miles if a clear line of sight remains available.

Stepping up a notch, perhaps the kids need Wi-Fi access too, if so a Wi-Fi hub can be established with a normal consumer router. Mobile phone coverage is usually another necessity and again coverage is increased with a booster antenna from the likes of GME, and I noticed Aquatronics supply all-in-one systems for multiple communications.

Powering all the gear can be done from an average boat’s alternator/battery system with the addition of a Pure Sine Wave AC inverter — for converting the onboard DC power to run all the 240V-DC devices. Solid state computers such as the iPad require very little power, but most business users need a laptop for typing in information. A Bluetooth keyboard allows input to the iPad, although for trained typists it’s rather slow and lacks response. The latest portable laptops are the ultrabooks, made by all major manufacturers and like tablets need very little power.

Returning to the anchorage, avoiding spoiling the tranquillity with the engine running for battery charging may be an idea. Options include increasing stored power by adding house batteries — or changing them for more efficient AGM or the newest (and expensive) lithium ones — or consider other power sources. Popular options include solar and wind turbines. For smaller boats with outboards a petrol generator may be the most viable solution assuming you and your neighbours can stand the noise.

Efficiency is the key word afloat, so minimising power needs a holistic approach — for example replace tungsten lights with LED, fit equipment with power-saving modes and turn the water heater down. Hopefully this will keep the business afloat, swinging gently at your favourite anchorage.

Top photo: Keep the business afloat while swinging at your favourite anchorage.

About 40 per cent of consumer laptops will be ultrabooks (above) by the end of 2012, according to Intel. Slim dimensions (21mm thick), low-voltage with five hours battery life, yet with powerful processors, these laptops are ideal for the truly mobile worker.

A combined charger and inverter such as this unit from Victron is ideal for powering peripherals such as laptops and printers that require 220V-AC.

AGM batteries are more efficient than traditional lead acid. 

Six 80W solar panels on this Catana 47 will run several laptops during the day.

Whip-style aerials for mobile phones typically emit around 8dBi, while similar Wi-Fi versions can output about 4W, 10 times more powerful than an inbuilt laptop version.

From Trade-a-Boat Issue 430, Aug-Sept 2012. Story: Kevin Green. Photos: Kevin Green; Lenovo; Shutterstock.