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Starlink: 5 Months of Experience

We have been using Starlink for a few months now and thought it was time to share an update as we now head across the Viking Route.

Our overall experience with Starlink has been excellent. We use it to work from our boat, streaming, social media, passage planning, weather routing, and keeping all our systems updated. Our installation is an addition to an existing network that uses a Digital Yacht 4G router, bypassing the Starlink router. We haven’t modified Starlink. We run it with a dedicated Victron inverter with a remote switch, allowing us to easily turn it on and off as needed (We have programmed the battery cut off voltage fairly high so there is no chance of Starlink draining our house bank should we ever forget to turn it off). More details about our installation can be found on our earlier post – starlink and updating our onboard systems and network

We are on a regional roaming subscription, registered to a UK address (£85/month). So far, we have used Starlink while cruising in Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, and the Faroe Islands (technically out of Starlink coverage). We had Starlink running with priority data (£1.98/GB) switched on for our passage from Scotland to the Faroes, turning it off again upon arrival.

What have we Learned

Location and Obstructions

Initially, we were concerned that our various antennas, wind generator, Hydrovane, boom, mast, etc., would cause problems with obstructions. However, this has not been the case. We run the antenna flat and often power it off and on. In harbour and at anchor, we are typically back online within 90 seconds. At sea, this can take 5-10 minutes depending on the sea state. The videos below shows the clutter around the antenna and the resulting “clear” obstruction map.

One recent modification to our use of a fishing rod holder as a bracket is the addition of a rubber seal to stop water running down the tube to where the connector is located. We used a short length of bicycle inner tube as the seal.

Rubber Seal

Power consumption

With the Starlink router bypassed and the antenna flat, our average hourly power consumption is 5 amps. It uses a bit more power when starting up and during heavy file transfers, and less when we are just browsing the web or using social media. We turn it off at night, for some time out, and when a 4G connection is available, our digital yacht router fails over and automatically switches to that.

While Starlink is somewhat power-hungry, we generate ample power on board with dual Balmar alternators on our engine outputting 250A, a 600W Watt & Sea hydrogenerator, 180W of Solar and a 200W Air Breeze wind generator. We have plenty of power while moving and only notice the impact on overcast, windless days at anchor.

Usage while in motion

We have had no problems using Starlink while in motion. Even in swell with the boat rolling and pitching up to 30 degrees, it remains connected. There are occasional dropouts, but considering it’s a small antenna array on a gyrating boat moving through the water connecting to satellites orbiting the planet at 17,000 MPH, it’s astonishing that it works at all.

Network Stability and speed

Overall, we have stable connections with a typical latency of 70ms, which is very workable. Speeds are more than sufficient for our needs. We are not on Priority, so occasionally things slow down, but this is only noticeable when uploading or downloading large media files. We have no issues with simultaneous videoconferencing, streaming, and sending emails with large attachments.

Priority Data Toggle and Cost

We activated Priority Data prior to our crossing to the Faroe Islands. First also ensuring all data-hungry devices were either switched off or on “low data mode.” As part of our overall setup we have two wireless networks on the boat: one configured by the Digital Yacht router for full unlimited access and one configured by the PredictWind data hub that only allows access to PredictWind services, tracking, PredictMail, and a few weather, tide, and ice chart websites that we have specified. This setup helps us manage our data usage when metered priority starlink data is switched on or we are on metered roaming 4G data.

During our 40-hours at sea, we checked weather updates and routing at least every 12 hours, sent and received a few emails, checked our social media, and posted a couple of updates on Facebook. Tracking data was uploaded every 15 minutes, and we transmitted our AIS position over the internet while receiving AIS data for a 50-mile radius. The total cost for priority data was £5.05, which we find excellent value.

Out-of-Country Use and Future Plans

Looking ahead, our main challenges will be the duration of time out of the country and our time spent in out-of-coverage areas, such as Greenland. There is some ambiguity in the T&Cs regarding the two-month clause. Our interpretation is that if you spend two months in another country, you may be denied service and asked to return to your home country or move the contract to the new country. Others interpret this as two months out of your home country, which doesn’t make sense for a regional or global roaming plan.

starlink availability map for viking route crossing

As for Greenland we understand it’s technically illegal to use Starlink but we know of many boats that have used it successfully. Our main use while there will be for safety, to report and track our position, download weather data and the all important ice charts.

We don’t know when we’ll need to change our contract but are prepared to do so if necessary. If required today, we would reluctantly move to the 50GB mobile priority plan. However, we hope to stay on regional roaming plans and switch to different continents as needed. Our next continent will be North America.

We will maintain our Iridium GO contract for the foreseeable future because we still see this as our go-to long range emergency communication device and backup should starlink stop working. We will also probably increase our solar capacity with some flexible panels for use at anchor.

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