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Chart plotting software..

While researching my 7 part article on Routing Software I came across a number of packages that just amazed me in their sophistication or some aspect of their functionality that I thought was particularly good. Some of these packages are very low cost or even free. Many will run on handhelds or netbooks. Some will import and export waypoints, routes and tracks to the big name chart plotters.

The thrust of my previous article was of course Weather Routing NOT chart plotting. In other words taking into account all the data inputs such as GPS, Wind, Weather, Obstacles, Dangers, and boat characteristics in order to calculate an optimal ROUTE.

For the sake of my sanity I had to omit the packages listed below in that review – but they really do deserve a mention as they would all be great aides to navigation and are all extraordinary value for money – and some also do Weather Routing as well as Chart Plotting!

I have created a small table of these software packages that you may consider looking into.

Icon Name Cost Description
image WinGPS
Voyager
€ 379.00 WinGPS4 was released in 2004, and probably the most popular navigation program in the Dutch market. It now incorporates weather routing and is available in all the main European languages. It uses DKW charts and can also use BSB charts from Maptech and BSB4 NV. Digital charts from NV-Verlag.
image PolarView NS $39.99

Slick modern interface.

PolarView NS is available for Apple Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows and Linux operating systems. It combines marine chart planning, tides and weather with live GPS navigation and AIS capabilities.

It supports the following charts:

  • NOAA S57 ENC charts
  • US Army Corps of Engineers S57 inland charts
  • NOAA BSB raster charts
  • Worldwide S63 ENC coverage by ChartWorld
  • S63 charts are available from many hydrographic agencies worldwide, including United Kingdom and Canada
image PolarCOM FREE ! From the same authors as PolarView NS above comes this free software to display all your NMEA0183 data on your laptop including AIS !.

NMEA sentences supported include:
GLL,VTG,RMC,GGA,GSA,GSV,DBK,DBS,DBT,
DPT,HDG,HDT,HDM,VHW,VWR,VWT,MWV,
MWD,MTW,ROT,RSA

What about that for value for money!

image PCPlotter £250 PC Plotter 5000 will run on Apple Mac as well as Microsoft Vista,and XP It can read Navionics Gold and Platinum charts from SD, MMC and CF cards and can also read/write route/ waypoint files from Raymarine, Lowrance, Furuno Navnet, Eagle, Geonav, Hummingbird and Northstar plotters.

It is unusual in that in can support all Navionics chart media so is particularly useful for those who already have Raymarine plotters and need a laptop based system for planning or as a backup or ancillary system.

image TidePlan2 £26

Excellent value…

Tidal routing calculation

TidePlan2 can calculate a route using tidal flow information, and give you the correct Course to Steer. It is aimed at English Channel and Bristol Channel sailing in particular. Multi leg passages can be calculated and the arrival time, rather than the departure time, can be specified. Once a route has been calculated there is a facility for optimisation of the start time. This will find the start time, within 6 hours of the initial start time, that produces the fastest passage. The recalculated route is then displayed.

The list of trackpoints produced by the program can be viewed, printed, saved and exported to the OziExplorer program, the Chart Navigator Pro program, the SeaClear II program or to your GPS receiver. They can also be exported in formats suitable for  the G7ToWin and Waypoint+ GPS management programs.

image OziExplorer € 75.00 OziExplorer can be used on land or sea with  the appropriate GPS and scanned maps e.g. BSB, USGS DRG, ECW, SID, TIF, PNG, etc. 

It has direct support for most Garmin, Magellan, Lowrance/Eagle, Brunton/Silva and MLR GPS receivers for Uploading and Downloading Waypoints, Routes and Tracks.

It also has a 3d version and a half price CE version for handhelds.

image Tiki Navigator PRO and GOLD $179.00 TikiNavigator comes in two version – one for Navionics charts and one for NOAA/BSB charts.

Again – like PCplotter above the Gold version could be invaluable for those who already have Raymarine equipment.

image

SailRouter

€ 400.00

or Charter versions for 8 or 15 days.

*Weather
Routing

SailRouter™ is software that calculates the quickest sailing route relative to the weather forecast and sailing boat polar diagram data, i.e. it calculates the quickest sailing route in terms of user-defined departure and arrival points, boat type and departure time according to the weather forecast for the specified sailing area.

Moreover, if the customer wants to avoid a strong wind, the SailRouter can calculate the optimum sailing route, i.e. the quickest sailing route with weaker wind strength than the user-defined maximum wind. It can also calculate the waiting time, if necessary to avoid a too strong wind.

image SailPlanner $89.00

*Weather
Routing

SailPlanner incorporates its own sophisticated route optimization tool to find the best route for your boat in the taking into account the current weather data.
image SailFast $269

*Weather
Routing

SailFast™ is a PC-based navigation program used to predict optimum routes for offshore racing and cruising. Weather information is imported directly from Grib forecasts of wind, current and sea level pressure. Built-in Gulf of Maine tidal currents are already included.

Taking into account vessel speed characteristics and predicted wind and current, SailFast™ determines the fastest course from start to finish, or between any 2 waypoints. “Isochron” methods are used to find a globally optimized route. A typical isochron solution from start to finish takes about 3-5 minutes to compute.

image OpenCPN FREE ! OpenCPN is a free software project to create a concise chart plotter and navigation software for use as an underway or planning tool.  OpenCPN is developed by a team of active sailors using real world conditions for program testing and refinement.

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EPIRB Update

 SART Last year I did a quick summary of the EPIRB products then available because I had come to replace my old 121Mhz EPIRB.

The 406 MHz units were designed specifically for satellite detection and Doppler location, and provide the following:

  • improved location accuracy and ambiguity resolution;
  • increased system capacity (i.e. capability to process a greater number of beacons transmitting simultaneously in field of view of satellite);
  • increased probability of detection (higher power);
  • global coverage; and
  • unique identification of each beacon.

System performance is greatly enhanced both by the improved frequency stability of the 406 MHz units and by operation at a dedicated frequency.

These beacons transmit a 5 Watt RF burst of approximately 0.5 seconds duration every 50 seconds. The carrier frequency is very stable and is phase-modulated with a digital message. Frequency stability ensures accurate location, while the high peak power increases the probability of detection.

For a treatise on the whole Search and Rescue topic you need go no further than good old Wikipedia of course, and it was here that I looked for explanations of what legal or international standards our EPIRB products should adhere to. They all seem to claim a variety of compliance certificates! The definitive list of standards can be found on the actual COSPAS-SARSAT web site here.

Also, when it comes to the actual operation of the SAR service, training, response type etc…there is also some international variability according to this Wikipedia article ….”…With or without formal underlying foundations, numerous SAR organisations develop their own proprietary training curricula and operational protocols, which are available and applicable only to their own members.  In the US SAR standards are developed primarily by ASTM International and the US NFPA which are then used by organizations such as the Mountain Rescue Association (MRA), the US National Association of Search and Rescue (NASAR), and the US NFPA to develop training that will meet or exceed those standards. Within ASTM International, most standards of relevance to SAR are developed by Committee F32 on Search and Rescue. Formed in 1988, the committee had 85 current members and jurisdiction of 38  approved standards. ….”

Obviously you will want to get your EPIRB registered – something that most good dealers will do for you. If you are in doubt then I recommend looking at the excellent COSPAS-SARSAT web site FAQ’s for information about your country’s registration process and the unique country code identifiers.

 

COSAPAS

 

You will also want to buy an EPIRB that has the correct approvals – not just a long list of acronyms that look impressive – again check out COSPAS-SARSAT – they provide a list of products by manufacturer here.

From this web site it is of note that:

  • A particular beacon model may be sold under several different names. All alternative beacon model names provided to the Cospas-Sarsat Secretariat by the beacon manufacturer are listed in the detailed report. Detailed reports can be accessed via the table listing beacon models by Cospas-Sarsat type approval number.
  • Some manufacturers use the same beacon model names for beacons with different type approval numbers.
  • Cospas-Sarsat Numbers (No.) starting at 700 identify special use beacons. These beacon models are compatible with the Cospas-Sarsat System; however, they do not satisfy all Cospas-Sarsat technical and testing requirements as detailed in Cospas-Sarsat documents C/S T.001 (406 MHz beacon specification) and T.007 (406 MHz beacon type approval standard). Therefore, they have not received a Cospas-Sarsat Type Approval Certificate.
  • In the maritime domain, EPIRBs are designated as either float free (FF) or a non-float free (Non FF). FF EPIRBs are designed to float away from a sinking vessel and activate automatically, whereas Non FF EPIRBs can only be activated manually.

I am ashamed to say that I didn’t actually get round to replacing my old EPIRB –  so I am looking once more at the options on the market, and have whittled it down to three possible contenders. So I looked them up on the COSPAS-SARSAT web site for approved products, to see if they had actually got the correct approvals…

  1. McMurdo Smartfind Plus G5 406 MHz GPS EPIRB – COSPAS-SARSAT report here
  2. STANDARD COMMUNICATIONS PTY GME MT403FF  – COSPAS-SARSAT report here
  3. STANDARD COMMUNICATIONS PTY GME MT403FG – COSPAS-SARSAT report here

Thankfully the three I had shortlisted appeared to be correctly approved, including the excellent Australian GME products.

To download a PDF of my comparison chart click here….

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5in. All in one chart plotter + AIS receiver for less than £500!

SC500_00The Digital Yacht SC500A GPS Chart Plotter with built in AIS Receiver is really the sort of thing that the ill fated Raymarine RC400 could have evolved into.

To be fair I have used the RC400 mounted at the helm of my 32ft yacht, and despite all its faults and initial hiccups in getting it to work at all I must say that it has withstood both hell and high water and worked very well for the past 4 years. The trouble is that it doesn’t link to anything and connecting it to PC based chart plotting/planning software is useless- er, yes I do know about RNS…!

So the Digital Yacht range of 5” colour chart plotters caught my eye especially when you see some of the sophisticated things it can do.

Firstly it is a modern device unlike my poor old RC400 and benefits from all the technical hardware innovations of the past 5 years – for example there is an ultra bright display with 256 colours and a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels.

The unit also uses the C-Map cartography which means that you get all of the following features…


5in. All in one chart plotter + AIS receiver for less than £500! → Click here to continue reading →

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Raymarine a global British Brand - shame about the Directors!

Another sad day for the British marine industry May 14, 2010.

….”Raymarine plc (the “Company”), a global leader in the supply of electronic products to the leisure marine market, has today reached agreement to sell its shares in Raymarine Holdings Limited to a subsidiary of FLIR Systems, Inc. (“FLIR”) a world leader in thermal imaging products. The sale represents the entire business operations of Raymarine and its subsidiaries. On 29 April 2010, following an extensive M&A process, the Company’s directors announced to shareholders that they were in advanced discussions with a third party regarding the sale of Raymarine Holdings Limited. It was envisaged that this transaction, once completed and following repayment of the group’s bank borrowings and other creditors, would result in approximately 17.5 pence per share for the Company’s shareholders.”….

What can I say …

From FLIR’s web site …“The acquisition furthers FLIR’s strategy in the marine market by dramatically increasing its maritime distribution network with the addition of Raymarine’s 1,000 dealer outlets and 400+ marine OEMs, nearly all of which are additive to FLIR’s existing distribution. FLIR plans to expand Raymarine’s product line breadth by integrating thermal imaging cameras with Raymarine’s display, radar and autopilot product lines to create the broadest, most effective, and easiest to use suite of products in the marine electronics industry”….

Good luck FLIR – lets see if your Directors have the brains to take a global brand and – er – keep it a global brand !

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Which smartphone for your nav software?

PhonesI havent updated my page on Phones here for sometime – for one thing the market innovation has just raced at such a speed it is almost impossible to keep up!

There can be no doubt that small handheld devices, more powerful than todays laptops will become commonplace – connected to huge datacentres like Amazon Cloud Front, Google, or Microsoft Azure and across the web for the provision all sorts of services from weather to location to social networks.

By the way this does raise all sorts of global warming issues that Greenpeace and others have highlighted. These mega datacentres use enormous amounts of power for chilling as well as for running the equipment. Google for one has begun a “follow the moon” strategy so that loads can be swtiched to centres across that world that will have cheaper power at night and also climates where chilling is less important.

Anyway, back to phones, the question is simply – if I was to buy a phone today in order to run some of the nav software available for boats – which one would I choose? hmmm….tricky, everyone hates to buy something that is out of date by the time it is delivered !

I have prepared a spreadsheet with the phone models that I am considering and of course the choice between Android v Apple OS v Windows Mobile 6.5 is absolutely fundamantal to the choice of phone. Then there is Windows 7 for mobile…..

One big issue so far for iPhone is that its operating system did not do proper multi-tasking. In other words it would not allow more than one application to share the memory space available in the phone and operate together. This is pretty important if you are running nav software!.

Apple have launched OS-4 which does do multi-tasking BUT it will create priorities for applications based on the Apple iStore classification that might not allow an application as much processing power as you’d like it to have.

I would refer you to these interesting posts on the subject:

There are thousands of comments like those above on the web – but you can see how this may impact on the choice of phone for your chartplotting / nav software 🙂

I will be doing a post on navigation software for phones “soon”…

But, in the meantime I have summarised my phone comparison so far… To download a PDF of my spreadsheet just click here…this is a work in progress 🙂

I would be interested in comments from developers as well as sailors on this subject.

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