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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



Polar Diagrams ….an update

I have had a number of requests for sources of polar diagrams for cruising sailors following my previous post here. Unfortunately the link I gave in that post to a free polar diagram app no longer works, but there is a great little replacement that is worth looking at – iPolar

  • iPolar generates sailing yachts polars of cruising yachts and cruiser racers from a very simple set of data
  • Mandatory Input data: Length Overall, Displacement, Mainsail area, jib area (units can be set to metric or imperial)
  • Optional data: Symmetrical Spinnaker area, Assymetrical spinnaker area

Its available in the Apple App Store.

As a fallback click here for a Google search


Is it the year of the Watch?

During his Fall COMDEX 2002 keynote address, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates briefly unveiled the company’s Smart Personal Object Technology (SPOT) initiative, in which everyday devices such as alarm clocks, wristwatches, key chains, and even refrigerator magnets are made more intelligent through a new hardware and software platform that is small enough to scale down to the sizes required by such devices…it never caught on… and SPOT bit the dust in 2010. Since 2002, we have seen the records in small smart devices set by Apple – first with iPods then iPhones then iPads….but whatever happened to the humble wristwatch?

Recently WIMM Labs launched WIMM Wearable Platform – again aimed at very small devices – but they too seem to have gone quiet – their web site says “During the summer of 2012, WIMM Labs entered into an exclusive, confidential relationship for our technology and ceased sales of the Developer Preview Kit….”.

I though the smart wristwatch device would be made redundant by better and better smartphones – how many young people today even wear a watch?

Garmin_WatchNow along comes Garmin with the quatixtm.

It looks like Garmin are using their ANT technology to connect up this watch with other Garmin nav equipment – this is low power RF technology. The ANT protocol is designed and marketed by Dynastream Innovations Inc. a wholly owned subsidiary of  Garmin.

The quatixtm is a high-sensitivity GPS navigator marine watch.

It’s the only GPS-enabled device that provides an incredible range of marine navigation features including automatic MOB detection, remote control of Garmin equipment, and streaming NMEA 2000® data to a navigating marine watch.

A highly accurate watch, it also includes sailing features never before combined into 1 watch, such as race countdown timer, virtual starting line, tack assist and tidal information.

It’s also equipped with an automatically calibrating altimeter and barometer, a 3-axis compass, temperature sensor and tide information.

Plus, it shares data wirelessly with other compatible Garmin apps.

  • Stream NMEA 2000 Data to Your WristWhen paired with a Garmin GNT™ 10 NMEA Transceiver (sold separately), you can wirelessly stream and view NMEA 2000 data, such as wind speed and direction, water depth, and more right on your wrist.
  • Specialized Sailing Features – The quatixtm combines advanced sail racing tools for unparalleled awareness and a competitive edge during a racing competition. quatixtm can easily set up a virtual starting line between 2 GPS waypoints. It then combines the starting line with the built-in countdown timer to calculate both distance to the line as well as desired speed and burn time available, which enables the vessel to cross the line at maximum speed at the exact starting time. Once the race has begun, the watch then switches to Tack Assist mode and indicates whether the vessel is getting headed or lifted based on the optimal tack angle provided and makes for a more efficient and controlled sailing experience.
  • Autopilot Remote Control Functions – This amazing watch also features built-in remote capabilities. It allows you to control a Garmin autopilot so you can move around on the boat while having information and control on your wrist.
  • Automatic Wireless MOB Activation – Should a crewmember wearing a quatixtm fall overboard, quatixtm will automatically send an MOB alert to the chart plotter (requires GNT™ 10 NMEA Transceiver sold separately).

Watch this space Smile


$10 app puts Navtex on your Android Phone!

Now and again you see a really good bit of programming.

Check out DroidNavtex.

DroidNavtexThis brilliant little app can decode NAVTEX messages from any SSB, amateur radio, or shortwave receiver.

So you need two things – an Android smartphone and an SSB receiver.

Smartphone – At the moment there is only an Android version of the app so good news if you have an Android smartphone like the Samsung Galaxy Note, Samsung Galaxy SII, or an Android tablet like the Asus Transformer TF101

SSB receiver – I have a Tecsun PL660 on board – but judging by user feedback, people have also used the Sony ICF-SW100 and the Sony ICF-SW7600 successfully.

NAVTEX (Navigational Telex) is an international automated medium frequency direct-printing service for delivery of navigational and meteorological warnings and forecasts, as well as urgent marine safety information to ships. It was developed to provide a low-cost, simple, and automated means of receiving this information aboard ships at sea within approximately 370 km (200 nautical miles) off shore.

NAVTEX broadcasts are primarily made on the Medium frequencies of 518 kHz and 490 kHz. The international NAVTEX frequency is 518 kHz, and these broadcasts should always be in English. Regional transmission of NAVTEX uses 490 kHz specifically for broadcasts in local languages. In the USA NAVTEX is broadcast by the U.S. Coast Guard District Broadcast Notices to Mariners affecting ships outside the line of demarcation, and inside the line of demarcation in areas where deep draft vessels operate.

DroidNavtex is able to decode NAVTEX messages from your receiver through the phones/tablets microphone or through a connected interface. Special audio filters even decode very weak signals through the microphone and make DroidNavtex a very affordable alternative to high priced decoders.

Even if you already have a dedicated Navtex receiver on board, you can use this app with your smartphone or tablet while in the marina cafe, or at home when you are planning – brilliant.

  • An “Auto mode” finds the frequency and the sideband of the Navtex signal automatically. With “Auto mode” turned off the frequency and sideband can be adjusted manually
  • Special audio filters decode very weak signals
  • A built-in database stores the received messages which can then be filtered, sorted and shared. Messages can be deleted individually, in groups or by age
  • To save battery power 7 timers can be set to start DroidNavtex at a given time to decode messages. All timers can be set in local time or UTC

I hope they bring out an Apple OS version they really deserve to sell a million! Smile