[New] Cellular & Wi-Fi Antenna Installation Guide for RVs and Boats

Once you've decided on your Wi-Fi and cellular signal enhancing antennas, the next challenge will be installing them on your motorhome, travel trailer, 5th wheel, motor yacht, trawler or sailboat.

Installation of mobile antennas can be tricky, especially since the components must be secure, unobtrusive, weatherproof, and abide by any height limitations.

Additionally, running the necessary wires in an RV or boat can sometimes be difficult, and might force tradeoffs due to cable length limitations.

Directionality can also be an issue since a mobile installation is, well, mobile! The "best" alignment at one location almost certainly will not be ideal at the next.

Unlike a fixed location, mobile antenna installations need to account for all of these unique challenges!


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Overview

Interior MIMO cellular antennas hung in a window are great for temporary use, but often a more permanent roof-mounted solution is desired.

Mobile internet users often find they need signal enhancing gear in order to get more reliable internet access, particularly out in the boonies where cellular or Wi-Fi signals can be weak or even nonexistent.

Most signal enhancing gear is not a simple plug-and-play affair. Often, you need to find a way to mount an antenna outdoors, which might require a bit of creative thinking.

The majority of boosters and antenna systems require equipment to be placed in multiple locations, split between the inside and outside of your RV, vehicle, or boat.

Since your rig is (hopefully) designed to be weathertight, it can be daunting to determine not only where to place your shiny new signal-enhancing gear on the roof, but also how to get the wiring from the outside to the inside without damaging the rig's weather envelope.

What seems pretty simple at first can turn out to be very complex, which is why we highly recommend you develop an installation plan before beginning. A good, detailed plan will help you identify where your installation may run into trouble before you start drilling holes and running cables.

In general, your plan should consider five basic questions:

  • Where will the antenna(s) be located?
  • Where will the interior components be located?
  • Where will the cables enter the RV or boat?
  • How and where will the cables be routed inside and outside the vehicle?
  • How long do the cables need to be?

Every installation will have different answers to these questions - and there are no universal 'correct' answers.

Get the Book

In this guide, we'll give you options and ideas to consider when answering these questions for your own installation.

Let's get started!

We extend our gratitude to contributor Jack Mayer. This guide is a vastly updated and adapted version of the chapter he provided for the 2014 - 2016 editions of The Mobile Internet Handbook. Many of the RV graphics in this guide are provided by him (and please forgive the low res nature of some graphics - we are on a hunt for the original graphics and will update them as we can.).


Antenna Placement

Power boats frequently have "radar arches" that provide a great platform for mounting antennas.

The first thing you'll need to determine is where to place your antennas on your boat or RV.

Usually, this will be somewhere on the roof or a mast, but there are other options to consider that may better fit  your particular situation.

We've split up the considerations to include common factors, factors relevant to RVs, and factors relevant to boats.

Common Antenna Placement Factors:

  • Antenna Type
    • Cellular? Wi-Fi? Directional? Omni-Directional?
    • How tall is the antenna?
    • Do you have multiple antennas you are installing? Will you be mounting them near each other?
  • Cable Length & Routing
    • Do you have existing holes to route through? What about conduits? Other options?
    • How long are your cables?
    • Can you avoid needing any cable extensions or various cable adapters?
    • What type of signal is going over your cables? Roof-mounted Wi-Fi gear often uses ethernet or USB cabling, transmitting digital signals between the indoor and outdoor components which do not degrade over distance. But cellular boosters and antennas typically use coax antenna cable, and every additional foot of distance further weakens the signal. In this case - shorter IS better!
  • Antennas on your roof can be an essential part of any connectivity arsenal. Though most people will manage with a lot fewer than we are showing off here...

    Interior Equipment Location

    • Where will the interior components be located?
    • Will they be located in a central tech cabinet, or dispersed throughout your boat or RV?
    • How much separation do you need between the indoor and outdoor components, if any?
  • Your Travel Style
    • How often do you move? If you have some regular extended seasonal stays, it might be worth investing in gear optimized for that fixed location - perhaps even permanently installed there.
    • What kind of places do you stay? Do you have permission to mount antennas on nearby buildings, docks, or even trees?
    • Are you planning a permanent or temporary installation?
  • Obstacles
    • Try to have at least a few inches (more is better!) of space between different antennas to avoid potential interference. Vertical separation is also an option.
    • Avoid placing omnidirectional antennas behind obstacles that can block your signal (like air conditioners). This is often unavoidable, but the more separation the better - especially from any metal obstructions.
    • If you have solar panels on your roof, be careful with antenna placement to not cast shadows on the panels. Even a tiny shadow can drastically cut down on power production!
  • Usage In Motion?
    • Do you need gear that works in motion, or only while stopped? The FCC has strict limits on mobile cellular boosters, but gear designed to be used while stopped is allowed to be more powerful. However, the smaller spaces of RVs and boats may make that gear too power to avoid oscillation issues.
Additional Member Only Content

If you're a MIA member, please log in to see the rest of this guide - which contains additional information on:

  • Antenna Placement for RVs and Boats
  • Mounting Methods and Examples
  • Cable Routing and Management
  • Member Submitted Examples
  • Video Overview with The RV Geeks

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