Working While Boating


Working From Your Boat

By Tom Neale
Published: June/July 2012

Sometimes, being able to take care of professional and personal business while on your boat can give you more freedom and peace of mind. Here's advice about improving communications aboard.

Photo of a woman on a laptop computer aboard a boat
Getting online while onboard is relatively easy and reliable these days.

We've lived, cruised, and worked aboard our boats since 1979, so our office capabilities are probably more complex than those of other cruisers. But through trial and error, we've learned solutions to many communications issues that arise while working aboard. More and more boaters are doing it, whether it's a flex day, weekend home work, or just keeping up while on vacation. What we've learned may help you to tailor your "onboard office" to fit your needs.

Office Power

I've found that a stable, pure-sine-wave power supply is critical for my office "equipment" such as computer and printer. This may be somewhat less of an issue with a laptop because its battery provides some buffering protection from power failures and surges, but you'll still have issues with peripherals such as a printer/scanner or router. Even power from the dock is suspect. If somebody trips over your power cord or unplugs or jiggles it, the resultant surges can be devastating to equipment you have plugged in and turned on. Generator power, even from good units, is likely to have surges. On Chez Nous we address this problem with what has proven over the years to be a very effective system.

My office "station" is supplied by current from a dedicated true sine wave inverter. An inverter will change DC current from a battery bank to AC current. Some inverters (less expensive ones) put out AC current in a modified sine wave. While this type of current will run many things, it won't run some equipment (most scanners, for example), and it could be, in the long term, damaging to other equipment even though it seems to be working satisfactorily at the moment.

The inverter is "dedicated" because when external AC (shore or generator power) becomes available, some inverters will automatically and almost seamlessly stop inverting and begin passing through that external AC power. To avoid passing through potentially corrupted AC from the docks or the generator to our sensitive office equipment, we use a PROsine inverter by Xantrex exclusively for the computer station. It's wired only to the batteries, not to a feed from our AC system. We use another larger PROsine 2.0 as our primary battery charger and the supplier of AC throughout the rest of the boat, when there is no generator or shore power. It also passes through dock or generator power, when it's available, to that less-sensitive equipment.

When purchasing an inverter, check for its efficiency rating during the inversion process. The more efficient it is, the less battery power it'll consume. Some inverters use a transformer; some use other more sophisticated technology. The transformer inverters are generally heavier and less expensive. They may have a higher surge capacity, but this probably won't be needed for office usage.

Photo of man using a desktop computer aboard his boat
Tom prefers desktops onboard as in this USACE survey vessel. They're easier to get into to change components such as memory, drives, video cards, and powerpacks.

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