How Much Data?

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2014 • all rights reserved

How Much Data Will We Use

Prior to coming to the boat, one of the big unknowns for us was how much data we’d use on our mobile plan.

The boatyard doesn’t have wifi, so anytime we’re online, we’re using our Verizon data. I have a Windows tablet with a full desktop and Dave has an Android tablet, plus we have a smartphone.

Our data is shared and we can increase or decrease it as often as we want (backdating to the beginning of the billing period). But we had no clue for budgeting purposes if we’d use 5 gig or 25 gig a month.

Assuming others are in the same position, I thought I’d share our usage and ask others to do the same.

In our first full month, we’ve used almost exactly 9 gig. A little background on our usage:

  • We’re using this as our full-time internet connection. Maybe a few minutes of free wifi at a McDonald’s, but not even much of that.
  • We’ve turned off all the auto updating for apps and programs, with the exception of our antivirus/internet security programs. NOTE: It took probably half the month to find all the settings to stop the automatic updates. On none of our devices is there one single place to turn them all off.
  • Photos only get saved locally, no cloud storage. Most photo editing is local; occasionally I use PicMonkey.
  • I write posts for The Boat Galley offline using Windows Live Writer, then upload them and tweak the final settings online.
  • We don’t watch movies online (or download them), but we have watched some YouTube video related to work we were doing on the boat and Dave occasionally watches sports highlights videos for the teams he follows.
  • We’re both on Facebook, but have it set to NOT autoplay video.
  • We also both read USA Today online, and Dave follows his St. Louis sports teams via their web sites and the St. Louis newspaper.
  • Yes, because of The Boat Galley, I use more data than I would otherwise – writing posts, uploading photos, replying to comments, answering emails and so on. But TBG is not the data hog you might think.
  • The big use of our data? Getting technical help and buying stuff. Google searches and reading through a maze of material related to the work we’re doing on the boat. Then finding materials we need and price comparing. Since some of the information is in videos, and we end up watching several videos before finding one that really shows what we need, this can eat data. I’d guess that “tech support”  and “researching boat issues” accounts for half our data usage. Hopefully, in a few months this will go down.

Another note: so far, for us, it’s working to just use our smartphone as a wifi hotspot. We had thought we’d need to get a separate hotspot device and so far are doing fine without it. We have a wireless printer, and I have no problems connecting to it over the hotspot network on the phone.

I don’t begrudge our data usage – it’s our only “entertainment” here in the boatyard as well as our information source. Sure, I wish there was free wifi here – but my experience with wifi in marinas tells me that usually there just isn’t sufficient bandwidth for the number of people trying to use it. So I don’t know if our usage will go down over time or if it will fluctuate as we’re in various locations and doing different things.

So how much data do you use? Is it your only internet or do you also get wifi? Or spend part of your time at a land-based home with internet there? What types of things do you do online?

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  1. We only use or Verizon data unless we happen to be where there is free wifi. We only watch some youtube but otherwise use it similar to you but we did often go over do ended up with a plan of 15 gb. We just switched to the 30gb special that Verizon and ATT are offering for the same price as the 15. We are also in a boat yard with no wifi.

  2. Mary Dixon says:

    we have a wifi antenna from It’s password protected. The owner is very helpful. We also use cloak app for data encryption on all mobile devices. We also use Verizon. Data usage varies.

  3. We have a number of access methods. Offshore we use Winlink and Sailmail for e-mail over SSB. Inshore we use WiFi as much as possible (I use a Ubiquiti Bullet and internal WiFi router like that offered by Bob Stewart at Janet has a Verizon smartphone and I have one from AT&T. Only Janet’s is set up with a hotspot. I would have to give up my legacy unlimited data to get a hotspot.

    We do e-mail, web browsing, and a goodly amount of Netflix (mostly on my phone or over WiFi). Our cell phone data totals about 6 GB per month.

  4. We gave up US phone service three years ago when we first started cruising and use cheap Mexican cell phones for actual phone calls. On sv Harmony we have a Rogue Wave wifi antenna that we use less and less simply because in Mexico we’re finding that wifi is locked up, so fewer freebies are available in anchorages, and as you know, marina wifi is troublesome. We have purchased a USB modem from Telcel (a Mexican phone company) and buy bandwidth on a pay-as-you-go plan. I’m a heavy user of the internet, not with videos very much, but with general surfing and staying in touch with family. I can buy 30 GB [edit: should say 3 GB, see note below] of usage for about $30 USD, and it’s available for 30 days before any unused time expires. This gives me something in the neighborhood of around 100 hrs of internet time. It’s not as speedy as internet at home in the States, but it’s dependable, and except for some areas in the northern Sea of Cortez, it’s readily available. I would heartily recommend it to anyone planning to cruise in Mexico.

    • $30 for 30 gig is ridiculously cheap compared to the US! Sounds like coverage has gotten very good in the Sea also.

      • Oops Carolyn, that should say 3 GB, not 30 GB!! I can’t edit the post, so feel free to fix it if you can. I apologize for not catching that before posting!! Just to be clear it’s 3 GB/30 days/~$30.

        Coverage in the Sea is pretty decent when you consider the lack of population density. It’s fairly available from La Paz north to Santa Rosalia, especially around the towns along the way. After that, there’s nothing at all until you get clear up to San Felipe at the top end of the Sea.

  5. Love TBG, I wanted to add some of my knowledge here:

    You can get devices, gateways, that can accomplish all your data control needs. Here is an example:
    You take this device (I’ll post an example at the end) and attach a booster antennae to one of its ports, then you attach a USB Verizon/AT&T modem to it as well.

    Then you connect all your computers, iPads, etc to it (most have integrated Wi-Fi for this purpose). Then you start to configure, you can create situations such as, use Wi-Fi booster when available, otherwise fall back to Cellular, while on Cellular, disable all updates, patches, video, etc. If signal strength on Wi-Fi is great than x dB, then allow updates, otherwise do not. And so on. This means you can do all the control of updates and bandwidth intense applications on one single point.

    The main issues I see with this, is the complexity to set these devices up.

  6. Heavy data users, or users who want access while outside of cellular or municipal wifi services may find the IridiumGo! to be quite affordable. At $124 for an unlimited monthly plan, it’s competitive with similar offerings from AT&T and Sprint cellular plans while affording near-global coverage.

  7. We have Verizon and they send us a text warning and if we do go over we just up grade and than no over charges.

  8. randy Arthur says:

    I bought a freedom pop burst wifi hub That gives you 1 GB free and you can buy 10 GB for $19.00. It supports 5 wifi devices and 2 Ethernet plug in’s. If you are cruising the coast line of the states it is almost unlimited 4and3 G service. hocked it up and it dose what it claims. We run a small inverter for it and it has about a 100-150 ft. range on wifi and you can hook up an outside antenna for stronger signals. They have smaller single devices also. I just bought mine off of yugster on line $30. with shipping normally $98.00 on amazon. great for coastal cruising.

  9. Ernie Lorimer says:

    There is a free Android app called “My Data Manager” that tracks smartphone use of wifi and cellular data, summarizes it by date and app, graphs it and keeps track of where you are on your plan. I suspect it won’t tell you which device is using it when the phone is in hotspot mode, but I dont use it that way because it uses the battery so fast and heats up the phone.

    • Randal Arthur says:

      The account can be set up to notify you before you go over and you can review your usage anytime to see how much you are using. You may also upgrade or buy more data cheaper than paying for using more than your plan. Mine has been working very well so far. I was a bit skeptical when singing up so I opted for the 1 gig free ($0.01) or almost free. I am looking for a good deal on an outside antenna with signal booster for my mast. I plan on upgrading to 10 Gig’s after the refit when we move back aboard. They were clear Channel before and served only Mac devices now they work for PC and Mac. All I can suggest check out the coverage map and see if will work for your coastal cruising itinerary..

  10. Many thanks for all your fabulous articles and tips. I have just followed your directions for copying one of your valuable articles, but don’t seem to be able to copy the Comments section that follow. I have often found that people’s comments also include tips I would like to have onboard. Do you have a solution for copying this portion of your webpages as well? Besides having to re-type them all?

    With my gratitude for all that you are doing,

    Heather Fredericks
    s/v Northern Mustang

  11. June Coombe says:

    I was wondering what wireless internet antenna you use?
    How does this work? Do you subscribe to a company?
    How far out does it work? any other info would be helpful.

    • I only use my cell phone and cell phone data as a mobile hotspot (I use Verizon). I don’t have a WiFi antenna — some people do, but most wifi is now secured so you have to get the password by being a paying customer at a store or restaurant.

      You can get a cell phone booster antenna, and they will extend your range quite a bit (particularly if you put one at the top of the mast) but I haven’t done this yet.

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