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Satellite TV for Vandwellers

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This is the tripod and dish in my camp. It comes apart easily and the tripod folds up to travel. Finding the satellite is easy.

As I told you in a previous post, I signed up for satellite TV, however, I haven’t told you how I liked it. There are two reasons I have been waiting: 1) I wanted to install solar power on the van so I knew how much power it would require and 2) I wanted to wait until I moved camp so I could set up the tripod alone. I installed the solar power system on the van a few weeks back and set up the tripod and satellite dish for the first time two nights ago. Now that I have that information, I’m ready to give you my feedback.
Do I Like Having TV? We’ve all heard it said, “150 channels and nothing to watch!” Well, there is a lot of truth in that. The great majority of stuff on TV is just fluff and not worth watching. But so far I haven’t had any problem finding something I wanted to watch. After we moved, it took me a couple of days to get around to setting up the tripod and dish, so I didn’t have TV. At the end of our first day in our new camp, I went into the trailer as usual to make some dinner; I automatically reached over to turn on the TV and remembered that the dish wasn’t set up and it wouldn’t work. I was very disappointed! That’s when I knew that I had made the right decision in getting the TV and I was really enjoying it. So, yes, I like it a lot.

The dish mounted on it’s tripod and staked down.

How Much Power Does It take? This was a big concern of mine. Would I have enough solar power? The answer is yes. One thing you have to remember is that I am writing this on December 14, and it is only one week till December 21st, the shortest day of the year. That means I am getting the least amount of power out of my panels that I will get all year. At first I just used the 190 watts on the roof of my trailer and the two golf cart batteries inside it. I found the Satellite system took too much power and my batteries were going down too much at night. I think it would have been fine in the summer when there is full sun but right now it just wasn’t enough. I already had an extra 140 watt panel and had just been waiting to get to Quartzsite to install it, so I bought two golf cart batteries and installed the system on the van. I have an inverter in the van and run an extension cord from it to the trailer. The only thing running off it is the satellite TV. It has almost no effect on the batteries. Even after watching TV for 4-5 hours in the evening the batteries have never dropped below 12.5 overnight. So I have a total of 330 watts of solar and 4 golf cart batteries and that easily meets all my power needs, including the satellite TV with an abundance of power left over.
Who Do I Sign Up With? The first thing I had to do was decide how to get service. I had three choices: 1) Sign up over the internet, 2) Sign up with Best Buy who would give me a $150 Best Buy gift card just for signing up with them. 3) Sign up through a local dealer.
I had too many questions to even consider signing up over the internet. I am not a quick learner when it comes to electronic stuff so I wanted to deal with a person face-to-face. I seriously considered signing up with Best Buy so I could get the gift card, but I hate the learning curve of new things so I decided I would rather go through a local dealer who totally understood satellite on RVs and would hold my hand while I learned what was going on. If I lived in a house, it would not be an issue, but being mobile raises lots of little problems that very few dealers are familiar with or understand. So I decided to wait till I got here in Quartzsite and go to a dealer who specialized in RVs. I am so glad I did. The dealer I went through answered all my questions and when he came out and set up the tripod and dish he explained the process very clearly. He made it so clear that I was easily able to do it alone a few weeks later. This is the dealer I went through:

 Satellite Electronics, Inc.


 If you go to and then to the RV page, ( you will see they are the only dealer that DirectTV recognizes as a partner who specializes in RVs. They have branches in Yuma and Quartzsite, and travel around the country giving seminars. This isn’t just theory to them, they are full-time RVers themselves. When you go into the Quartzsite office, the owner will be there answering all your questions and her husband is the one who will come out and install your system. If you ever have a question or problem, they encourage you to call them (they answer in person!) instead of DirectTV because they know the right answer for RVers and DirectTV Customer Service probably doesn’t. They are the ones you want to get your system through!!!
Should I Sign Up With DirecTV or Dish? Once you contact a dealer, you have to decide who to get your service from, Direct TV or Dish. The dealer I went to made it clear that for RVers, DirectTV was far better. Their equipment was much better and finding the satellite with a tripod was much easier with them than with Dish. My philosophy is if I don’t know much about a subject, I find someone who does and who I can trust. I had complete confidence in this dealer, so I just followed her recommendations. I have been very happy with it so far!

This little satellite finder makes zeroing in on the satellite much easier. You just screw it in-between the dish and the receiver and it squeals whenever you are on the satellite. After it squeals you turn down the gain and move the dish until it squeals again. Then you turn down the gain and move the dish very, very slightly until it squeals again. By then you should have a very good signal. Piece of cake! The dealer sells then for $25.

How Hard is it to Set up the Tripod and Find the Dish? This had been my greatest fear. I’d heard many stories that it was very hard to find the satellite and it could take many frustrating hours to finally get it. Nothing could be further from the truth! I won’t go into detail about how to do it, but the first time I did it alone it probably took me 15 minutes to get a great signal and next time I think it will take me even less. The reason it was so easy is that I didn’t get High Definition (HD) TV. The signal coming from the regular TV satellite is very broad and finding it is a breeze. The signal coming from the HD satellites is much narrower and much more difficult to find. If you really want the better picture that comes with HD, you may want an automatic, self-locating dish. With those, all you need to do is provide the dish with power and it searches for and locks-on the satellite all by itself, you don’t have to do anything. However, they are expensive, starting at $600 and going up. You can get cheaper ones, but they are poor quality, you want to buy a Winegard dish!

I was concerned about the strong desert winds blowing the dish over. In this picture you can see how I staked it down. That is a 2 foot stake I pounded into the ground under the tripod. There is only about 8 inches left above ground, so it is not going to be pulled up by any wind I can expect to face in the desert. I just tied the tripod on to the stake with some rope and then drove it a little further into the ground to take up the slack. Being somewhat anal, I also staked each foot down into the ground. Today we had some very strong gusts (we estimated them at 50 mph) and it didn’t even budge a little bit!

Can I Get Local Channels? Yes you can. But if you move a lot, it can be a hassle because you have to call Customer Service every time you move very far and have them switch you to a different local channel. I just moved 20 miles from Quartzsite, and I didn’t have to call because I am still in the area. If I move 120 miles though, I will have to call. If you only move that far a few times a year, you may just want to call every time. You just tell the Representative that you have moved to your summer or winter home and give them your zip code. But if you move a lot, it can become a problem. There is a solution though. DirectTV will let you pick a location to be your permanent local channel no matter where you are in the country. On the East coast that is New York, and on the West coast it is Los Angeles. I don’t want to have to call all the time so when I leave this area, I will set up L.A. as my permanent local channel. The beauty of signing up with a dealer who is also a full-time RVer is they understand these issues. So when I am ready to make L.A. my permanent local channel, I won’t call DirectTV, because the Representative probably won’t know what I am talking about, I will call the owner of Satellite Electronics Inc at 480-288-1111 and she will do it for me.
How Much Does it Cost? I have a two year contract and the first year it is $30 per month and the second year it jumps up to $55 per month. I wanted to be able to record programs, so I got the DVR which is an extra $8 a month. My total out-of-pocket expenses were $65: $40 for the tripod and $25 for a meter to help me find the satellite.
The bottom line is, if you are interested in living mobile, but have some favorite TV shows you don’t want to give up, you don’t have to. I think it is reasonably priced, easy to set-up, and money very well spent!! Bob


  1. John Lamb

    Hey thats great Bob!! Wish I had went thru those guys last year instead of bothering with Dish Corporate!! Well, live and learn right? Enjoy it!

    • Bob

      Hi John, you are so right, life is just one big learning opportunity. I’m trying hard to convince you all that I am smart, but the truth is I have just made the most mistakes! Yeah, I’m so glad I waited till I got here and found that dealer. It made my life much easier. Bob

  2. Greg

    Hi Bob, I had DirectTV for 2 years. I think it is the better choice also. I used it when traveling and no matter where I was always got my home zip local channels. Unless things have changed you probably don’t need to call if you don’t mind using the LA networks everywhere. Glad to hear it isn’t using up too much of your battery power. I was moving around enough that I didn’t get fix on how many AH/day it really used. See if you can find LWN (Live Well Network) and check out a show called “Motion”, I think you would enjoy it!

    • Bob

      Greg, so far, DirectTV is working great for me. Truth be told though, I’m sure they are both great with their respective pros and cons. In the spring I will have to figure out the local channel thing since I should be within 100 miles of Phoenix until then. When it starts to get hot I will move north.
      I’ll check out LWN, I’m not sure I get it though. Bob

  3. Livinfree(randy)

    Great post Bob!! I really appreciate the hands on info from you . GREAT BLOG…as usual!!
    Have a great day!

    • Bob

      Randy, oddly enough I am not a very handy guy, so I can understand how hard doing these things can be for many people. I figure if I can show them that it really is within their capability their lives will be improved.
      Now let me tell you the real truth. I hate learning new things and I am always so proud of myself for having done it I want to show off!! Just kidding (well, maybe there is some truth to that). Bob

  4. David Thoreau

    Thanks, Bob. Finely calculated reason, backed by razor sharp logic, for having satellite TV in a boondocking scenario. Keep up the good work.

    • Bob

      Thanks David! I tend to over-think everything and I’m afraid this is one of them. The truth is I just really like TV! Bob

  5. HoboBerg

    Glad your enjoying your new dish! Your place for sunday football? 🙂

    • Bob

      HoboBerg, you are always welcome!! One of the people in camp loves “Survivor” so she comes over and we watch it together.
      I think I am going to suddenly become very popular when the Super Bowl gets here!!!!!

  6. Kitty

    Hello Bob,
    Good for you getting what you want. I am more like the small liver who posted above. As an urban boondocker, I am able to get to a library for internet. I have a crank radio which provides me with music, news and weather reports. My cats keep me occupied with cat chores and purrs and petting. I am a classical music geek, so TV holds no interest for me. (One or two concerts a year isn’t enough to pay all that money) I would rather spend money on a live concert! But urban and rural boondocking is a bit of a different animal.

    • Bob

      Right you are Kitty! We are all different and our situations vary tremendously. There is no right or wrong way to do this. The only way to do it wrong is in some way that makes YOU unhappy.
      And let’s be honest, there is nothing better in life than a purring kitty! Makes me wish I had one! I’m just too afraid of the coyotes and hawks. Bob

  7. Kitty

    *are two different animals*

  8. Nelda

    Yippee-tv at BOB’S! I’ll bring the popcorn!

    • Bob

      You know that you and Jerry are always welcome!!! It’ll be a tight fit in my tiny trailer, but we will figure it out! Bob

      • Charles

        This brings to mind a possible way to earn money while traveling, get a big screen, weather tarp, charge admission, super-bowl, march madness…

        • Bob

          Charles, I have to admit that idea has crossed my mind. But I camp with friends and I can’t charge them for that. They are all welcome to what I have.

  9. margo

    i don’t live small and mobile to give up luxuries. i do it so i can travel and afford luxuries!! i find as i get older (i’m 70) that tv noise makes up for the lack of children and a significant other and lends a cheerful feel to a quiet setting when i need it, plus there are times when i’m to tired to read and it’s a comfort to just watch tv. you gave a very good discription of what is involved in getting hooked up and i for one appriciate(sp??) it. thank you bob

    • Bob

      Margo, you said that very well!! You managed to say in one brief paragraph what I tried to say in two blog posts. Only you said it better!
      I think that the background noise does a lot to ward off loneliness. It took me a long time to come to the point where I could live without background noise. After my divorce I went to bed with the radio on for a long time because it comforted me and gave me the idea that other people were around. Over the years I have learned to embrace alones-ness without loneliness and I no longer need the noise. But I still enjoy it and it brings me comfort so I am glad to have it again with the TV.
      You are one of the lucky ones, the years have made you very wise! Bob

  10. Cyrus Palmer

    Half the fun of moving into a van is the rejection of modern luxuries and decadence. I’m looking forward to living w/o tv. My dad has spent most of his life parked in front of the TV, and I hate it. I live in the real world. I spend my free time training in Brazilan Jiu Jitsu or parkour, or improving myself in some other way.

    • Bob

      Been there, done that Cyrus. Like you, I greatly enjoyed the 2 1/2 years I lived in my tiny home-built camper without any modern luxuries or decadence. I look back on those times fondly and sometimes I miss them. But for now I have added quite a few luxuries into my life and so far I am really glad I did.
      But I don’t see it as either/or or as black/white. I’ve arranged my life so I can go back and forth. I can live in the trailer with all my luxuries or I can put it in storage and take off in the van and spend 3-4 months traveling (in Alaska for example) in total simplicity and without any decadence.
      I love this quote and try to live my life by it’s message:

      “Pain and pleasure, good and bad, right and wrong; these are relative terms and must not be taken absolutely. They are limited and temporary.” Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

    • ILDan

      Cyrus-Don’t discount a television as a means to self-improve. Yesterday’s library and public square is moving to a screen near you. Just think of the power that a 30-minute infomercial on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu could have on an MTV kid who needs purpose and discipline. It could save his life. Isn’t your blog just a newer incarnation of public media?
      BTW-In his quest for “comforts,” Bob has learned the ins & outs of a mobile solar installation. He’s coordinating w/ geosynchronous orbits… I’d imagine that in a month or so, Bob could easily promote himself as an expert in the RV “creature comforts” field.
      Everything in life, Cyrus, is a learning opportunity.
      My best, ILDan

      • Cyrus Palmer

        I prefer the Internet over tv for self improvement. I have like six different YouTube playlists, and all of them are full of tutorial videos for all kinds of topics that interest me: Brazilan Jiu Jitsu, parkour, sailing, machining, etc. Whenever I want i can learn whatever I want. Tv generally isn’t like that. It’s full of commercialism, materialism and brainwashing propaganda. There are a few good shows, but that’s what Netflix is for. Ten bucks a month, and I stream any show I want, right on my smartphone.

        • Bob

          Cryus, I tend to agree with you, the internet is a preferable source of learning. however, with only 5 gigs a month, streaming videos aren’t a good choice for me. But, I’m not looking for learning, I do plenty of that against my will, I’m looking for mindless entertainment. The TV does that very well. Bob

          • Charles

            Thanks Bob, some people forget that TV isn’t a learning tool, it is entertainment, when taken to seriously, it can become dangerous.

          • Bob

            Charles I agree, TV is almost entirely for entertainment but sometimes it can be somewhat useful for teaching.

  11. CAE

    Bob, do you think you could pick-up any local TV with just a very good antenna?

    • Bob

      CAE, yes you can get local channels with an antenna. But it varies tremendously from place to place. One place you get great TV, the next you will get none. It’s always a crap shoot! In the National Forests it’s pretty unlikely you will get much if any at all.
      Wish I had better news, I finally just gave up on over-the-air as a boondocker. Bob

  12. ILDan

    Bob- First off, Merry Christmas! In your earlier post, I commented that for me, a full life includes both sugar-candy and “mind-candy.” Anyone who doesn’t understand the need for this type of mental escape should talk to the ancient Greeks.
    Further, isn’t it interesting how much you have learned (simple balast=>power supply=>dealers=>locate/coordinate w/ geosynchronous satellite) in your endevour to have some “down time?”
    Stay warm.

    • Bob

      That’s a great way to look at it IL Dan. I have to tell you though, my poor old brain is getting pretty tired of all this learning and is demanding some time off!! After working so hard I am going to reward myself with some “dumb-down” time. Bob

  13. Martin Hamilton

    Bob there is a dish that is really small that you can even put in your windshield but most people put it on their roof as it has a magnet on it. Of course when you drive around you take it off. Real simple and stealthy and super easy to set up. Some rv dealers have a similar dish but not as good as the one i’m speaking of. I do believe however it’s only available through dish network.

    • Bob

      Hi Martin, that’s good to know, I’ve never heard of it before. What I have is working pretty good for me though. Thanks again, Bob

  14. MichaelinOK

    When I think about the idea of subscribing to pay TV, there are two prominent considerations:
    1. The financial and administrative bonds it creates–the type of bonds and expenses our modern-day luxury-and-entertainment-dependent culture pushes on us, and which many vandwellers have found oppressive.
    2. The mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual influence TV tends to effect. The very society many vandwellers are trying to become somewhat independent from, has no more powerful “propaganda” tool than the TV. In other words, though I don’t believe it to be any orchestrated conspiracy, TV is saturated with the values and lifestyle of the conventional masses…with their large houses and mortgages, peer pressure for fitting in, etc., etc. Plugging in so regularly to the dominant culture can make it harder to maintain one’s resolve and clarity on one’s unconventional lifestyle.
    And simplifying life is what so many vandwellers have chosen. It worries me that all that noise and chatter and mental and emotional clutter that tumble out of the TV into our vans and minds and hearts…is a way to lose so much of the simplicity that was won at the high price of leaving Sticks ‘n bricks behind.
    Furthermore, one of the greatest health risks–associated in many recent studies with disease and early death–is being sedentary, mostly from sitting and watching TV.
    And psychologically, TV watching is generally passive, in contrast to doing something creative or active, whether writing a poem or carving a wooden spoon or taking a walk…or even watching how-to videos on YouTube. Passivity tends to not be as good for the spirit.
    Having said all that, it’s of course true that TV is not damaging for everyone, and that each individual should be able to make his lifestyle choices, those which affect him alone, without reproach from others.
    It’s also true that a little distraction and entertainment–in other words, TV in small doses–is probably healthy for many people. It can take the edge off loneliness, boredom, sadness, etc. (The trouble is that it’s very difficult to use such a powerful medium in moderation.)
    In conclusion, for myself I would weigh the pros and cons–both in terms of financial and administrative freedom and in terms of health and well-being, physical, emotional, and spiritual.
    I’m sure the right decision will vary from person to person, and depending on their stage of life and other individual circumstances. And, after all, perhaps the most prominent feature of vandwelling is being one’s own person, and making one’s own choices.

    • Bob

      As always, Michael, very well thought-out and reasoned argument leading you to make the very best decision for you. But, I tend to agree with what Margo said:
      “I don’t live small and mobile to give up luxuries. I do it so I can travel and afford luxuries!!”
      There are many luxuries I gave up and have never even slightly regretted. I don’t need a shower or a toilet or even a small house. Don’t miss them even a little. However, I missed TV, and so now I have it. My goal wasn’t to live in simplicity and poverty, it was to be happy. TV makes me happier. Bob

  15. Charles

    Some folks don’t seem to get it: People come to van-dwelling for many reasons. We’er not all broke, escapist nor someone looking to change the world. I just wanted to quit working full time and travel.

    • Bob

      Charles, you are so right, there are as many reasons we live in a van as there are vandwellers. But I think your reason is probably one of the most common.

    • Bob

      RV AJ, I am really glad I got satellite TV. Whenever I move I don’t setup the dish until the next day and I miss not having TV that evening. I usually turn it on at about 7:00 pm and watch till 10:30. O probably watch the History channel more than any other except maybe CBS. I have the premium channels for free for 3 months and they have many series I really enjoy. I may pay for them after they start charging. But they are a lot of money. Setting up the dish is not that hard, you get used to it.
      I have no regrets at all in getting DirectTV!

  16. Al Christensen

    I’m less interested in TV via satellite than I am internet via satellite. I’d like to be able to connect anywhere and have unlimited data. And without paying an arm and a leg.

    • Bob

      Hi Al, I have friends with Internet Satellite, but they don’t recommend it for the general public. They have given me a long-list of its problems and it doesn’t sound good. He is one of those guys that can make anything work so he gets around all the problems. But if you don’t want to have to fight it to get it to work, it really isn’t for you. I wish I had better news for you.

  17. Scott

    We use Excede satellite internet, it takes about 30minutes to setup, and works well. Just point south with a clear view of the sky and you are set! It’s great to have if you are RV’ing and are in the middle of nowhere as it’s a great distraction.

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