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Under the Mini Dome

KVH’s small but powerful LTE-1 allows total web access for up to 20 miles offshore.

The LTE-1 allows music streaming and communication services like FaceTime to be accessed while well offshore.

The LTE-1 allows music streaming and communication services like FaceTime to be accessed while well offshore.

I stood on an upper floor of the Bahia Mar Hotel and looked west at a Ft. Lauderdale boat show in full swing. Earlier I had walked the docks with my colleagues, carefully scrutinizing and discussing the myriad vessels. Now from my perch I noticed something we didn’t discuss: Every big motoryacht had massive radar arches replete with pairs of satellite communication domes, while the sportfish boat hardtops were graced with open-array radar. They’ve become so common, with some crossover—the larger sportfish tend to have both—that we essentially ignored them.

For the remainder of the show I sought to learn more about the former, asking builders and brokers about the sat coms aboard their vessels. A handful of names came up, but none more frequently than KVH; later, I found the Middletown, Rhode Island-based manufacturer’s booth and spoke with Media Relations Manager Jill Connors about their omnipresence in the industry.

KVH’s stateside-built satellite antennas (“We do all the design, engineering, testing and manufacturing of our antenna products here,” said Connors) were first to market over two decades back. Since then, they have dominated the niche with constant innovation, earning broad appeal—their TracVision line of satellite television products have won an NMEA Product of Excellence award 21 years in a row. And their domes are ubiquitous. “Regarding market share, we can confidently say our TracVision products own 80 percent of satellite televisions on U.S. recreational boats,” Connors told me.

A starting price point of about $13,000 for the smaller TracVision HD7 (plus monthly data plans) is a sizable investment for high-def programming. The market trends and boater preferences—particularly on vessels under 50 feet—are skewing away from sat TV and more toward streaming music and shows, communication services like FaceTime and WhatsApp and texting and posting on social media via phone and tablet. With this in mind, KVH launched the $1,700 TracPhone LTE-1.

“We put one on and it was a game changer,” Kirk Beattie told me. “[KVH] is the best of the lot.” As part of the Pompano Beach, Florida, Preferred Marine fishing team, Beattie runs an Invincible 36 up and down the South Florida coast and uses LTE-1 to text, check in back on shore, email and stream music.

The approximately 13- by 13-inch dome is ultra-compact and self-contained: It includes a high-gain dual antenna array, modem, GPS and WiFi router in the dome. “It’s small and looks good on the hardtop,” Beattie said, adding that the TracPhone is an ideal fit for his crew. “In South Florida, the bulk of the fishing is less than 20 miles offshore. As long as your phone is charged, you’re good.” KVH claims their LTE service is faster than 4G for HD streaming and internet access.

While the system is not designed for making phone calls per se, the antenna array can double the range of your phone when offshore. Beattie told me that on his frequent fishing trips to the Bahamas, the LTE-1 vastly improves his phone’s coverage. And when he has kids on board it helps fill the long gaps when the fish aren’t biting.

A data plan for 10 GB per month is $99 and if you go over, each additional GB is $10. To keep track of usage, KVH’s app monitors data usage and can send push notifications via text or email. Seasonal boaters can suspend service for a nominal fee ($10/month) during those stretches when not on the water.

Many of us go boating to disconnect and loathe the idea of surfing the web while waiting on a hot bite. On the other hand, it’d be great to tell those expecting you on shore that you’re hooked up with a giant swordfish and are going to be late. The TracPhone LTE-1 gives you the flexibility to do so, and then post that once-in-a-lifetime catch on Instagram before you reach the dock.

This article originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.