Some of us go boating to get away from TV. Some suffer from an addiction to the tube and must satisfy their habit regardless of where they are. Others like to see a broadcast program at the end of a fine day on the water.
Some means for TV watching on your boat are obvious. You can use a VCR. You can watch DVDs on your TV or on a lap-top computer. If you are close to a TV transmitter a TV set’s built-in antenna will work well. If the signal is not strong enough to produce a clear image you can use a marine TV antenna. For less than $100 you can buy a circular aluminum antenna that can be hoisted in the rigging when needed, provided you have rigging. Fixed-mount omnidirectional antennas costing between $100 and $130 can be used when anchored or moored.
Either type will also serve your FM radio, allowing you to claim that the antenna is there so that you can listen to the opera on Saturday afternoon, not for watching TV. (Being politically correct can be important!). Plug into the marina’s cable system and you can surf through 100 channels before settling down to watch that "educational" program.
TV watching gets to be a bit more involved when your TV needs can’t be met from a nearby source. You can receive satellite relayed TV signals from almost anywhere south of about 70 degrees N. and north of about 50 degrees S. In most of North America you can use a house-size satellite dish, provided you mount it on something stationary like the piling next to your boat. Mounting a dish on your boat will not work well - even docked boats move about a bit too much to keep it properly aimed at the distant satellite. (Remember to ask the dockmaster if it’s okay to nail the antenna base to the conical copper piling cap before driving the spikes. )
The next step up in satisfying your onboard TV addiction requires a stabilized, automatic tracking antenna. In relatively strong signal areas the most basic of these systems, a one-axis (azimuth only) system costing about $1,000, may be sufficient to compensate for the movement of a boat moored or anchored in very smooth water. To receive a viewable image when things are not totally calm, you will need a more capable automatic tracking antenna system.
For about $3,000 you can buy a multi-axis satellite tracking system. Enclosed in a dome, the smallest units are only 32 inches in diameter and 15 inches high. If your voyaging includes more remote areas where the satellite signal is less robust and if your TV watching must go on even when the seas are up you will need a more capable type of antenna system. The antenna will be a bit larger, about 20 in diameter and 21 inches high. The system will contain a more sophisticated heading sensor as well as more advanced tracking and stabilizing circuits. Somewhat larger and more costly systems, ($6,000-$9,000) will keep you supplied with your favorite programs even as you enjoy your own perfect storm.
The most capable and costly stabilized automatic satellite tracking systems include precision magnetic sensors that can deliver superior quality heading information for use by other instruments on your boat. Giving your autopilot precise and stable heading data will significantly improve its performance, especially in rough water. Those who use chart plotters that overlay radar information on the chart will particularly appreciate the value of the enhanced heading information.
You might be able to stretch things a bit and justify the satellite TV setup as a vitally needed navigation safety enhancement. Having the antenna dome topsides can also come in handy when the IRS auditor visits your boat to discuss your deducting all the costs of your boat as a home office. Point to the dome and tell him that is your communication terminal. Just be sure the TV is locked away where it can’t be accidentally turned on and change the label on the antenna dome from TV to Satcom.
Don’t forget to subscribe to the satellite company of your choice, without it all you will see on the screen is a remarkable snowstorm.