Getting good TV Reception

When we first started owning a boat, back in 1996, we did without TV. We didn't have mains supply and portable TVs (not flat screen) appeared a bit of a hassle. We eventually succumbed but it took some time. Longer cruises and boating during the short days of early spring and late autumn influenced us.

When we bought Albert she was already was equipped with a decent mains supply and the previous owner has fitted her with a conventional TV aerial system because they spent some time living aboard . Because we had successfully used an omni-directional  aerial on our first boat, and we cruised  regularly, we dispensed with the large directional that came with the boat and used an omni-directional aerial with a matched amplifier (Maxview). This worked successfully for many years, particularly since the aerial was mounted on an extending mast and we could raise it quite some height to improve reception.

Omni-directional aerial and mast

However, the switch to digital TV in the UK started to impact on our viewing and the omni-directional started to become a problem; we found it increasingly difficult to get good signal, even after the analogue switch-off when there was a boost in digital signal strength. As a  result we began investigating other systems. We first went to an semi-directional amplified system.

Semi-directional amplified aerial
This was a little better than the omni-directional but having to orientate the aerial towards the transmitter was a a bit of a hassle. The next step was a log-periodic aerial, recommended by a retired TV engineering. Although this was fully directional I discovered the web site that gives direction and strength  information for Freeview. This worked quite well although finding your location postcode so the software could calculate our position, and therefore the direction of the transmitter, was a bit of problem. It was also difficult when the signal was relayed by a repeater because signal polarisation was vertical and we had to rotate the aerial. 

Log-periodic aerial 

Then finally this year we went for a satellite system, Freesat that is. Our friends, the Kinnings, recommended it for boating and we haven't looked back. We use Freeview at home and have resisted choosing satellite, but the difficulty of getting good reception on the move finally caused us to take the plunge. The system we went for is inexpensive and also easy to use. We purchased a Maplin camping and caravan system that was reconditioned. Earlier in the year they were retailing for £69 but they appear to have gone up slightly in price. 
Camping and Caravanning Satellite Suitcase System
Maplin Portable Satellite TV System

The system came in  a suitcase and contained a receiver and "set-top" box with a SCART interface. It was easy to install first time around and we have now got familiar with it. To operate the system you need to orientate the receiver to the 145 degrees azimuth for the Astra 28.2E satellite that transmits Freesat and then carry out some fine tuning using the set-up system on your TV (basically a combined bleeper and on screen bar-graph system). The instruction leaflet supplied explained the process quite well. 

Of course, you need open sky in the direction of the satellite - no trees or buildings. We didn't find this too much of a problem during our recent spring cruise, there was only one location where reception was not possible - a large warehouse was close by. We even managed to get suitable reception right in the centre of Birmingham, although we were a bit lucky with the location of tall buildings. It helps to have a compass to orientate the dish but I also found the DP Maps App very useful. Although the App is just a simple overlay onto a Google map of your local area, local landmark information is very handy particularly since a magnetic compass is difficult to use near a metal boat.

Maplin satellite dish (operating in the cold!)

We stow the dish back in its suitcase when cruising, which helps a lot. In use it is normally mounted on the former aerial pole fixed to the cratch-board. This means the dish can be raised to see over a hedge or bush. On one occasion we used the suction-cup mount supplied with the kit because we needed to avoid a tree and it was easier than moving the boat a few feet. 

If the boat is orientated in a general east-west direction the elevation of the dish can alter when the boat rocks causing the quality of the signal to be reduced. This means TV reception can deteriorate a little when someone moves around the boat. If the boat is oriented generally north-south then reception is very stable because it is insensitive to the skew angle of the dish. However, this problem and the requirement to accurately align the dish are minor difficulties compared to the problem of finding and getting good terrestrial digital TV on a boat. We are certainly glad we went down the satellite route.