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Headsets – The Next Generation…

Jeff Seigel, founder of ActiveCaptain, writes…

For years, we've talked about the advantages of cruising couples using headsets for communications. There is no substitute. While hand signals may work in many conditions, we've found good communications is most needed when both hands are busy. And nothing compares to the ability to calmly and reliably talk between crew members while docking, anchoring, and during other maneuvers. In stressful situations, great communications removes much of the stress.

We bought our first headsets, the original toy models, in 2003. They became so important, we bought a second set in case there were problems.

They used the AM radio band and eventually started to pick up interference with the new electronics we were putting onboard.

About 5 years ago, a new generation appeared, characterized by the Eartec Simultalk 24G Multi-Station Wireless System. These used more professional audio equipment and radio bands to deliver a better solution. When we delivered Red Head from New York to Deltaville, those Eartec's were the first things we put in the pilothouse.

Five years in consumer electronics is many lifetimes. And today there is another, newer generation of headsets for boating. The two new models available are the Sena SPH10 and the Eartec UltraLITE. 3 months ago we were offered a set of each model for evaluation. We had one rule – if we evaluated them, everyone agreed we would release our honest findings in writing.

Both models use Bluetooth which means they can also connect to phones and other devices. We never used them for that – we only used them for docking, anchoring, and general communications (running wires, etc).

Bluetooth requires a pairing process to connect the devices together.

This provides a level of security so no one can overhear your communications. For both products, we found the pairing process to be annoying. The combination of pressing, holding, tapping, and standing by seems ridiculous. The instructions were not great for either product. We found the best way to get them to pair was to find YouTube videos and watch the procedure carefully.

Once they are paired, they remember their connection making real use much easier. Again, if you have procedural problems, look to YouTube for help.

So what did we find? We used both sets for all operations in different weather conditions. They are surprisingly similar and we can say that either model will do a great job. This new generation doesn't require a pack – everything is in the headset itself. That makes it a lot nicer than the previous generation. We do have our favorite and we'll explain it through a list of plusses and minuses for each product:

Sena SPH10:

+ They are small and comfortable although comfort is a personal thing A
+ USB cable charges each headset They have longer talk time
– It is difficult to talk in heavy wind conditions
– They are more expensive (especially this week)

Eartec UltraLITE:

+ They work amazingly well in heavy wind
– They block more outside sound on one ear – don't get the two ear model
– Batteries have to be removed for charging
+ A single battery charger charges the batteries for both headsets

Either device will work well and both are excellent for docking and undocking situations. But the Eartec's were significantly better when deploying and retrieving the anchor in the wind. And for whatever reason, we seem to frequently anchor in windy conditions. To make the comparison fair, during the anchoring tests in the wind, we switched headsets back and forth. Perhaps the Sena's need a windscreen or some type of mic that is less sensitive to wind. But there is a difference and for us, we're sticking with the Eartec's.

If you're a couple in a cruising boat and still believe that hand signals are all you need, borrow a set of headsets from someone and give it a try. Once you do, you'll never want to give them up.



Keeping Track of Everything–part 3 …

Jeff Seigel, founder of ActiveCaptain, writes…

This series has generated a lot of interest so we’ll pick up the pace and continue with it. After today’s newsletter, there’ll be one more segment and then we’ll provide templates for all of the databases. We’ve been in contact with the HanDBase developers and they’ll host the templates on their own website so boaters everywhere can use them as a starting point.

If this is the first time you’re seeing this series, you might want to refer back to the index of newsletters to see the other segments.

All newsletters are archived here: https://activecaptain.com/newsletters


The most important database in the Keeping Track set is the Captain’s Log table.

This is the main log where all actions are recorded. Although there are about 10 different categories of items, most of the entries fall under two categories – destination travel and maintenance.

Here are all the fields we use in our Captain’s Log:

  • Date/Time – the date and time of the entry.
  • Category – a popup of categories. The categories we use are: Maintenance, Repair, Equipment, Misc, Boat Movement, Water, and a category for each "cruise" we’ve done. Equipment is the log for every new piece of equipment added to the boat. Boat Movement is when we’re moving the boat not associated with cruising. Water is when we’re tracking water usage.
  • Desc – a title description for the entry. For the cruising categories, this is the city, state where we arrived.
  • Location – this is a more descriptive entry of exactly where we arrived. It’s an ActiveCaptain marina or anchorage name in 99% of the cruise entries. This item is also filled out for maintenance and other log entries. It’s very valuable to know where particular projects were done. Here at Chesapeake, VA, we’re having our salon settee re-upholstered this week. We’ve record that as a maintenance item with a location of Atlantic Yacht Basin. This allows us to recall where we can get this type of work done in the future by looking back in the records.
  • Lat/Lon – the latitude/longitude. This is most often only recorded for destination entries.
  • HrsToday – this records the number of hours it took to arrive at a destination. Surprisingly, we often look back on this. It lets us know how long it has taken to go from one location to another over more than a decade of traveling along the waterways. It has been very valuable in fine tuning our planning.
  • Notes – this contains paragraphs of notes appropriate to the entry. It will contain the upholstering company we used in the example above, contact information, pricing, and our (hopefully positive) impressions. For cruising log entries, it details any issues we faced, weather encountered, and other things we’d like to remember about the destination. We often put the names of people we met or experiences we had at the location. These notes also end up as reminders for us when we write a review about a marina or anchorage.
  • EngHours – the hour meter reading of the engine hours. This gives backup timing on many of the entries. For the engine oil change maintenance entries we made last weekend, it’s an important record of the hours for that work. Whenever maintenance is done on our generator, this field is used for the generator engine hours (also done last weekend).
  • NMToday – a record of the nautical miles travelled for destination entries.

We’ve changed the fields collected for the Captain’s Log many times over the years but there hasn’t been a change in about 4 years.

This list of fields works for us. It’s probably a good starting point for others.


One more simple database to describe – the Fuel Log. This database logs every drop of fuel we have ever purchased for our boat. We always make entries when we fill all tanks.

This allows the database to provide a running gallons-per-hour tracking which gives us a view into possible issues with the engines.

The fields in the Fuel Log are:

  • Date/Time – when the fuel was purchased.
  • Location – where the fuel was purchased.
  • Gallons – how many gallons were purchased.
  • PerGallon – the cost per gallon paid (the first entry was 5/8/03 for $1.25 per gallon).
  • Total Cost – a calculated field we use to check the math of the charge given to us.
  • CurrentEngHrs – hour meter reading for the engines at the time of fuel purchase.
  • PrevEngHrs – hour meter reading for the engines at the previous fuel purchase.
  • CurrentGenHrs – hour meter reading for the generator at the time of fuel purchase.
  • PrevGenHrs – hour meter reading for the generator at the previous fuel purchase.
  • GPH – a computed field that takes all the hours fields and the number of gallons and computes the gallons-per-hour for this last fuel usage. It automatically removes the generator gallons used to give a better efficiency indication for just the main engines.
  • Notes – any notes we want to remember about the fuel purchase.

This has been a dry look at a few more of our databases used.

Next time, we’ll finish up with the Maintenance, Parts, Spares, and Engine Room Logs.



Keeping Track of Everything – part 2 …

Jeff Seigel, founder of ActiveCaptain, writes…

A couple of weeks ago we wrote a newsletter segment about how we keep databases of projects, logs, parts, and fuel purchases. It generated a lot of emails and responses. So we thought we'd dig into the subject a little deeper and give the next set of ideas about the things we've learned by keeping these databases at our fingertips over the last 13 years.

We're using off-the-shelf database tools to create our solution. While there are many solutions that are laptop or web-based, they have severe limitations. Our databases are used almost every day because of one incredibly important feature – they are fully functional on our phones. Laptops and online solutions aren't good enough because there are too many advantages to having the information accessible and with us all the time.

For example, just recently we found ourselves in one of those "Dollar" stores. The same thing happens in every store we visit – out pops the phone to open the project database. That database is a catch-all place listing the projects we're working on and a reminder list of the things we need. Opening it on this day reminded us that we wanted a couple of those large cellulose sponges for the engine room. There is no better place to buy them than a Dollar store. And there's no way we would have remembered we needed them. But having the entire list of projects in a pocket? Now the sponges are off the list.

Online usage is a problem too. We want full access to all the data when offshore, in remote locations, or in our engine room where cell phones rarely work. The solution has got to be mobile and that means it must run on iPhone and Android, somehow.

A lot of people had the idea to use Google Docs for the platform today. Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Forms are a web-based word processor, spreadsheet, slide creator, and form processor. It's collaborative between users or locations. It's free. And there are free apps for Android and iOS from Google that synchronize the data and keep it offline on the mobile devices. We've used Google Sheets for online task lists with other developers and it has worked incredibly well.

If we were starting over with our databases, we'd likely try using Google Docs first. It's something you should be aware of for many different reasons. So let's dig deeper into a couple of the databases to show how simple this whole thing is.

First, that Projects Database currently has 20 projects listed. There are some simple things – we need 5 more hose nozzles because we have no more spares after having 2 go bad in the Bahamas. Then there are longer-term projects – we want a bow eye installed at the waterline to significantly reduce the rode we need when anchoring because of our 10 foot bow.

The project list usually grows to about 50 items in the fall when we typically start our "season" of cruising. The database is a simple list of records. Each record stores fields of data. We used to have about 8 fields for all types of special data collection. But that has filtered down over the years to records with only 3 fields now:

Item – the name of the project. This is used for sorting the list of all projects. Whenever the Project database is opened, the list by item name is displayed.

When – a popup list allowing selection of any month, season, "now", or "long term." This field designates when we'd like the project to be completed. With a couple of taps, the list is sorted by this field allowing us to make sure that all, let's say, Fall and October projects have been completed by the time we start heading south.

Notes – a free form text field where we type notes about the specific project. For things like sponges, there's not a lot of need for notes.

But for the bow eye project we've been thinking about for 4-5 years, it's a great place to store tidbits as we learn new things.

And that's it. It's ridiculously simple. The goal is to eliminate all small pieces of paper. A secondary goal is to make it so easy to use that it actually gets used. A complex record structure with all types of computed fields might seem highly functional. But simplicity makes it highly useful.

Another requirement for the database is Searching. In our database, any field can be searched for text. Having that capability is a time saver by forcing the CPU to look for things in the database instead of manually scrolling and looking. Search "Bennett Brothers" in Projects and up pops the quotes they gave us on two of our larger projects. Search "River Dunes" in the Captain's Log and up pops a list of every time we visited, all personal notes, and what our trip was like to get there. It's pure value to us.

The Projects Database is the simplest one. It's a good one to show how easy this whole thing is to put together. You don't need to buy an expensive yacht management system. Instead, create requirements and build the simplest record structure possible. Usability matters.

In the next continuation of this series, we'll explore a couple of the other databases. They all have more fields while still being simple.

By the end, we'll provide templates of all the databases for HanDBase if you haven't been tempted by Google's apps.



Keeping track of everything…

Jeff Seigel, founder of ActiveCaptain, writes…

One of the most common questions we've been asked over the years revolves around the ways we keep track of our ships logs, maintenance reminders, projects, and other boating lists. It shouldn't surprise anyone that we use technology to solve these needs. We've learned some valuable lessons and will split them into a few newsletter segments to help others keep track of, well, everything. First, an overview of the things we database.

From the first moment we stepped onto our current boat in 2003, we've used the same databases. This provides us with an incredible wealth of information including every maintenance project, service, problem, destination, and many more details. Every time we've moved the boat, a log entry was made. Every drop of fuel we've purchased in 12+ years has a similar record. Every new piece of equipment that came onboard and every service task performed was logged. Our databases include every part on the boat including serial numbers, part numbers, manufacturer, and additional information we've learned about each part.

Although we've changed software products about 4 times in the 12+ years, the data has always been able to be moved ahead to the next generation.

That is the most important lesson – make sure any database you use has the ability to export into some type of open spreadsheet or database format like CSV or Excel. Being able to then import that data into the next tool means the data can continue to live on. We're reminded of how important that is whenever we wonder how long it has been since we've been to a particular place, where we first met friends like Don & Cindy, or how to pair the Garmin autopilot remote (it's a note in the Garmin parts record).

Another important lesson we've learned is that the data has to reside on our phone. A normal spreadsheet on a laptop is adequate, but having the data with you, in your pocket, provides numerous benefits. First, adding and editing records is trivial. There's no writing down information on pieces of paper for data entry onto the laptop. Your phone is always around you. It's incredibly convenient to make frequent additions at the exact moment you think of it.

Another advantage of having the databases with you all the time is that the information is available wherever you are. When we were in Salem, MA a few years ago, there was a marine supply store going out of business and selling their huge inventory of zincs. We pulled the phone out and had all the part numbers we needed to take advantage of hundreds of dollars of savings. Whenever we're in a Walmart or Home Depot type of store, before we leave, we check the phone to see what items we need to complete current or upcoming boat projects.

So here are the 7 databases that are always with us:

– Projects: a list of the o

utstanding boat projects being worked on. It has a list of projects including items that need to be purchased alongside the tasks that need to be completed. Each item has a month providing a "deadline."

– Captain's Log: the major database containing every action that has been done on the boat. Boat movement, maintenance performed, new items added, and much more all have individual records.

– Fuel Log: a special database that lists every time fuel is purchased.

It uses the previous purchase to automatically provide a running gallons per hour display. This is a great way to check on any changes to engine efficiency. The first entry was made on May 8, 2003 when we purchased

515.17 gallons of diesel at Herrington Harbor North for $1.25/gallon.

– Maintenance: this database lists all the maintenance items that need to be done by elapsed time or by engine hours. It's the place to put reminders about common things like oil changes or uncommon things like rudder post check reminders. The items are sorted showing the things that need to be done next. Once an item is completed, its date/hours are incremented and an entry is made in the 

Captain's Log.

– Parts Database: a list of every part on the boat that we need to keep track of. Over the first couple of years, we spent many hours poking around the boat to record serial and part numbers. We also write notes about any part along with phone numbers and vendors who have the part.

When something new is purchased, it goes into the database before it is installed on the boat.

– Spares: a list of all major boat spares and where they are located.

We always go through every item in this database before taking off on longer trips to make sure we have all filters, pumps, hoses, and a hundred other items. When something is used, it is removed from the list. This database also has the location of each spare since these types of parts tend to be hidden away and hard to find just when you need them most.

– Engine Room Log: measurements taken at each engine room check. To be honest, we stopped logging these measurements after 8 years of doing them every hour while underway. We found it very valuable during those early years – it let us know when coolers needed to be cleaned and pointed to other minor problems before they became major ones. By now, we know every reading to within a degree and immediately know when additional attention is needed. Still, this was an incredibly valuable tool in figuring out what to measure along with giving real data to help us learn about our boat.


Those are the only 7 databases we use. For the last 7 years, we've been using HanDBase for iOS, Android, and Macintosh. The Mac version is used to back up the phone data. All real data entry and viewing is done on phones.

Future posts will look at the design of each database. The tools for creating and using these types of record storage are very simple.




When the series is complete, we'll provide blank databases for each of our personal ones as starting points for your own use.

By Jeff Seigel

Guest Author & Founder of ActiveCaptain



Anchoring Mathematics – again!

Jeff Seigel, founder of ActiveCaptain, writes…

This week we decided to reach into the archives and pulled out one of our most popular topics, an article from almost two years ago. Of the 250 newsletters we've written (which amazes us), the subject of anchoring math was in the top 5 for comments, arguments, and discussions. Since there have been so many new ActiveCaptain members in the last 2 years, we thought we'd revisit the subject to get everyone thinking about what really happens when you anchor using an anchor alarm.

Some of you will think there are logic and mathematics errors in this article. There aren't. Read it all and study the linked reference document. If you want to debate it, make sure to reference the linked graphic document and show how it's not correct (it is correct though!).

It should be simple. Pick the spot to anchor; come to a stop; drop the anchor and set the anchor alarm. Then pull back until the anchor sets.If you pull away further from the anchor set point than the distance you specified, alarms should go off. Simple, right?

Well, not exactly. The mathematics are surprisingly a lot more complex.

We know. It seems easy and obvious. We've been involved in many debates until the pencil and paper come out and then, "oh yeah" is heard.

Here's the missing magical point. You've got to notice that the point where the anchor position is set in the alarm is the position of the GPS and not the position of the bow/anchor. That one small point ends up bringing a whole bunch of trigonometry into the calculation.

When the boat swings 180 degrees, the error created by that offset equals twice the distance from the bow to the GPS. (Honest, twice.)

Let's take an example for a typical 42 foot sailboat with a GPS on the stern rail. This is the worst case scenario but is very typical and demonstrates what happens very well.

Assume you're anchoring in 10 feet of water with a bow that's 5 feet off the water's surface. A good scope for a night without much weather expected would be 5:1. This means 75 feet of rode will be let out and pulled back to set hard (we call that power setting). Then the anchor alarm is set at 125 feet, far more than the 75 put out. And since you power set the anchor, you couldn't possibly move 50 feet, right?

At 3 am, because these things always happen at 3 am, the anchor alarm goes off. You're 127 feet back. You remember that you way over added to the 75 feet so you start planning what you're going to do in the total black of night with the moderate wind that's now blowing. But in reality you don't need to do anything. Your anchor is not dragging.

What really happened is that the tide changed at 1 am. During the next 2 hours you slowly swung around and moved back. Not knowing this new math for anchor alarms you didn't realize that the GPS displacement caused 84 feet of position error in the anchor alarm. Your alarm went off after moving back only 52 feet. In reality, your anchor alarm should watch you move back another 32 feet without your anchor moving 1 inch on the sea floor. The anchor alarm should have probably been set at about 75 + 84 + 10 + 10 = 179 feet. The two 10's are for GPS accuracy error and slop since the anchor doesn't set immediately. Can you imagine setting an anchor alarm at almost 200 feet with only 75 feet of rode out? And yet, that's the right number for this boat.

This unexpected error is the reason we wrote DragQueen (available for free in the Apple app store and Google Play). Since the anchor alarm is on a phone, the GPS position is the phone itself. When deploying the anchor, we stand with the iPhone at the bow to eliminate one half the GPS position error. There's still another position error based on where the GPS is located while we sleep at night (25 feet back in our stateroom).

Remember too that this positional error happens at all angles. Swing about 90 degrees to the side and the error is about 1 times the GPS displacement distance. Even that can be significant. Given a heading/fluxgate sensor and a few configuration settings, 100% of this GPS positional error could be eliminated (DragKing?).

If you're still saying, "wait a second – there's not a 2x error in the position" – check out this graphic proof of what happens. We'll wait to hear the "oh yeah":


Happy anchoring!

By Jeff Seigel

Guest Author & Founder of ActiveCaptain