By Eleanor Snite
The CellBoat Co. thinks it has the perfect plan for communities that fight against towers – the “not in my backyard” contingent. But there is one catch. It will only work in communities that are near water with marinas – oceans, bays, rivers, lakes – you name it, but there has to be water and a marina or boatyard. Since 2008, The CellBoat Co. has been working on taking a sailboat and turning it into a completely self-contained communications facility with virtually no visual impact on the surrounding community. The equipment is housed within the boat’s hull and antennas within the mast. “There is nothing less objectionable than a sailboat in a marina,” said Andrew Overton, president of The CellPhone Co. “We tried to get towers in The Hamptons in New York, but couldn’t come up with anything. We knew we had to find something nobody could say ‘no’ to. Sailboats are the answer.”
The necessity for marinas to make the plan work does not mean it will be difficult to find sites. Overton said there are 20,000 miles of coastline, including the Great Lakes, in the United States. Plus all the inland waterways. “We did some trial runs with old sailboats and it worked pretty well,” Overton said. The plan is to put the tower boats in marina boatyards, storage areas or in slips. It didn’t take long for the team to figure out that buying and renovating even old boats could get expensive, so they designed their own, working with Persak & Wurmfeld boatbuilders to come up with the most efficient and visually pleasing design. The boats are real boats and can go out on the water.
The CellBoat Company’s concept makes installation easier. Everything can be installed on the boat and delivered to the marina ready to go at a lower expense than installing a traditional tower. Overton is also excited about the emergency disaster recovery aspect of the boat towers. He was living in New York City when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, and there was no power, no cell sites working, no communication. With that in mind, The CellBoat Company’s boats can have a generator and can quickly have an outboard motor installed. A satellite back-haul would provide service when the wireless back-haul was down. The company recently moved its headquarters to Kingsport, Tenn., and is interacting with manufacturing companies to build the boats. Overton said the community has embraced The CellBoat Co., and manufacturing is expected to start in January. Overton said the company has already attracted the interest of several of the major carriers. The business plan includes selling the boat/towers outright or licensing them and continuing to maintain them. “It’s a simple solution to a very real problem,” Overton said.