Why are satellite dishes for RVs and boats so much more expensive?

Not everyone who has a boat or RV is Mr. Moneybags. Some people just really want to be part of that lifestyle and sacrifice a lot of other things to get it. For hard-working folks who want to enjoy a life on the water or on the open road, the cost of a mobile satellite receiver must seem like a kick in the pants.

Because it’s true, a mobile satellite system starts in the five figures if you want it to work while you’re moving. In an RV, you have a choice… a simple dish setup that you aim every night isn’t that expensive. But on a boat, there’s no choice because the boat is always moving. There’s no getting around it. So if you want to watch satellite TV on the water, you need a system that can compensate for that.

What’s the difference?

Under those big, white gumdrop-shaped domes that form the heart of a mobile satellite system is actually a fairly conventional satellite dish. Of course, there’s quite a bit more than that. Aside from the weatherproofing that goes into the thing, there’s a whole bunch of sensitive electronics.

A satellite receiver can lose signal if it’s only one degree off, and keeping it aimed when it’s moving is quite a trick. You almost have to be psychic… able to guess where the dish is moving before it moves. That takes gyroscopes and computers and lots of processing power. And of course, that takes money.

DIRECTV’s own dishes are actually a wonder of modern technology but they’re inexpensive partly because they’re made by the millions. On the other hand, mobile satellite dishes aren’t really a big industry and so every part carries a larger part of the research cost and startup cost. That’s another reason they’re so expensive.

We’re coming into the fourth generation of mobile dishes now. The first generation followed only one satellite. The second generation followed multiple satellites, making HD possible. The third generation dishes made it possible for DISH’s and DIRECTV’s latest hardware to run. The latest generation will support 4K as well. They’ll take advantage of all the latest thoughts in technology while taking advantage of mature dish designs. I predict costs will actually come down a little in the coming years. Not enough that you should “wait it out” but enough that you’ll eventually start seeing growth in the mobile satellite industry. That’s going to mean more pieces produced and as that happens, unit costs will come down. Until then, yeah, you’ll pay a lot… but look at everything you’re getting.

Get what you need from Solid Signal

Solid Signal, and our Signal Connect division, handle more marine activations than anyone else. We speak your language… and we’re happy to help with as much free tech support as you need! Call us at 888-233-7563 during East Coast business hours and we’ll connect you with an expert! If it’s after East Coast business hours, fill out the form below and we’ll get back to you, usually within one business day.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.