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Vol 47 | Num 2 | May 11, 2022

The Offshore Report Ocean City Report Delaware Report Virginia Report Chum Lines Ship to Shore The Galley Issue Photos
Ship to Shore

Article by Capt. Steve Katz

Reaching for the Stars

The stars have been a navigation tool for mariners since the inception of offshore navigation. The sextant was first used in the mid 1700’s. Satellites in the sky’s above have replaced the reliance of the stars. Overhead, we have more than 4,000 satellites orbiting the earth, with a handful of them of major importance to mariners, the GPS satellites which provide position information to our navigation equipment. Satellites also provide communications, such as the Iridium satellites that powers the Garmin InReach, GOST boat tracking, telephones and other communications systems. Other satellites provide voice and data services to dedicated stabilized VSAT antennas on the boat from KVH and Intellian. Let us not forget the Dish and DirecTV satellites that provide TV programing to vessels though KVH and Intellian TVRO antennas.
Most of the satellite services available to mariners have not change significantly over the years, until now. Elon Musk, the world’s wealthiest person, creating innovative companies such SpaceX, Tesla, The Boring Company, Neuralink, OpenAI and others has created The Starlink satellite internet service, a true game-changer in worldwide internet connectivity.

Starlink is significant development to mariners and people on the go who desire to stay connected to the internet without traditional wires. Starlink is a satellite internet constellation operated by SpaceX. Its goal is to provides satellite Internet access to users around the world. As of April 2022, Starlink constellation consists of over 2,100 mass-produced small satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO), which communicate with designated ground transceivers. Starlink has requested approval from the International Telecommunication Union for as many as 30,000 satellites. Each compact Starlink satellite weighs 573lbs and features a solar array for power, an ion thruster propulsion system, navigation sensors, and four powerful antennas for beaming internet to Earth.

How Can Starlink Service Mariners?

While Starlink internet is not yet geared to service on vessels, many fans of the service expect that the service and equipment will be available to boaters in the future. Starlink does not currently offer an in-motion antenna system for mobile use, the antennas are designed for fixed mount land use only. These antenna systems combine with GPS capabilities, allowing Starlink to know where each subscriber is located and therefore knows when the antenna terminal is moved away from its contracted subscription address.

One step towards marine service is that Starlink has just announced portability feature add-on, “Portability enables customers to temporarily move their Starlink to new locations and receive high-speed internet anywhere Starlink provides active coverage within the same continent,” SpaceX says that portability does not mean mobility and indicates “Using the Starlink Kit in motion will void the limited warranty of your Kit”
If you are looking to travel out of the country with your Starlink, International travelers are restricted to using Starlink dishes “within the same continent as the registered service address.” Starlink indicates “If you use Starlink in a foreign country for more than two months, you will be required to move your registered service address to your new location or purchase an additional Starlink to maintain service,”
Additionally, when it comes to Portability, SpaceX indicates that “Starlink prioritizes network resources for users at their registered service address. When you bring your Starlink to a new location, this prioritization may result in degraded service, particularly at times of peak usage or network congestion”.

While the above service restrictions and limitations doesn’t seem geared for marine use, the service and guidelines are constantly changing and even enforcement is spotty, there is much hope that Starlink will be able to provide a service geared to boaters and other mobile users.
If you are looking to get started with Starlink, many areas, such as most of Ocean City, Maryland are already at capacity and new subscribers are told “order now to reserve your Starlink. Starlink is currently at capacity in your area, so your order may not be fulfilled until 2023 or later” indicating a $99 deposit is needed to hold a spot.

For those boaters who like experimenting, there are a handful of boaters who have installed their home Starlink system on a boat and successfully used the internet service at dock and while underway. The newest Starlink $600 antenna is a 9lb rectangular satellite dish 19×12 inches that connects to a specialized Starlink Wi-Fi router. It does seem that many of these experimental users are coastal and not significantly offshore. Currently the Starlink satellites need to communicate with a nearby ground station, once the satellite-to-satellite laser mesh network is completed, it is expected to allow service from satellites that are not in range of a ground station.

The Starlink system and service is constantly expanding, just last week, on May 6th SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket with 53 Starlink satellites from the Kennedy Space Center. If you are an early adopter, it is not too soon to get on the list for service and if you already have a home Starlink system, there are a lot of resources and information sharing on the internet by fellow boaters on how they adapted the antenna system to their boat. §

Coastal Fisherman Merch
CF Merch



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