Digital TV Antenna for Boats
Television on boats is no longer only in the domain of megayachts. Everyone can get reception at sea.
Boat? Check. Chips? Check. Flatscreen? Check. (Photo: Regal Boats)
Long before that Internet thing smacked us in the societal face, television shocked the world in a similar fashion. And while web access hasn't yet become the norm on boats — though it's growing by leaps and bounds, year after year — TV is now a standard item on just about every boat with a cabin large enough to weekend in. That could mean anything from a small flatscreen on the bulkhead to a 40-inch television that silently rises out of an innocent-looking tabletop at the press of a button. Either way, if your boat has enough interior space for a galley and a berth, chances are there's space for a television aboard as well. No matter where or how the TV is mounted, picture quality and channel choices depend entirely upon one thing: reception. And reception at sea is a bit different than it is on land. If you're getting ready to shove off the dock and head out into open waters, you'll need to make the right choice — or all you'll be seeing is static.
The simplest and least expensive way to get reception aboard a boat is, and always has been, to mount an exterior TV antenna. Naturally, this only gets you broadcast TV, which by today's standards is rather limited. On top of that, picture quality can be expected to be erratic and grow worse the farther you get from metropolitan areas. On the plus side, it will only cost a few hundred dollars to go from watching snow to watching "Snow White."
The most basic version of a marine TV antenna is the omni-directional, non-amplified variety. These look more or less like a Frisbee or pie plate, can be found for as little as $100, and don't need to be pointed in any particular direction. As you might expect, they also don't produce shockingly good results. Omni-directionals with amplifiers and/or gain control are a small step up, as they give the signal a bit of a boost. Directional antennas, which can be pointed to focus reception, are a bit better. Sort of. If your boat is static, focusing on that signal can help. But if it's swinging at anchor or bobbing around in the waves, your "improved" picture may fade in and out as you move back and forth.
Obviously, unless your boating grounds are near metropolitan areas, you do most of your watching from the slip, and you don't care too much about your program menu, a regular old antenna isn't going to be your first choice. In most circumstances range is limited to 20 or 25 miles (of the station, not of land) and conditions can have a big effect on reception quality. Still, it's the easiest option to install, is very economical (even the best antennas don't top $500), and for many boaters out there, it will suffice.
If you want to see the big game on TV while trolling for big game at the canyon, one of the best options is satellite TV. You'll need an antenna, receiver, and service. Naturally, this can get expensive. Very expensive. But it doesn't necessarily have to be a big-dollar investment, depending on your needs. Some satellite systems incorporate a dual-band (Ka/Ku) antenna with auto-changing low-noise block converters (LNB), which receives the initial signals gathered by the antenna and sends them to your receiver and multi-switch modules. And if you want to watch TV while in the middle of a transatlantic crossing, enjoy TV when you get to the other side of the pond, or watch multiple stations on multiple TVs aboard your boat, you'll need all this stuff. You'll also pay dearly for it, to the tune of at least $20, 000-plus for an antenna alone.