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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.

ActiveCaptain

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GPSGate Express for Windows

BluNextGPSOn a recent delivery trip from Liverpool I had the chance to use a small piece of software called GPSGate. This enabled my bluetooth GPS (BluNext 65 Channel Dongle ) top connect to my laptop correctly when all other attempts had failed. The problem was the useless bluetooth software built into Windows XP – it may be different with Windows 7 I haven’t tried. But I encountered all sorts of problems trying to get my MaxSea software to recognise the virtual comm port that the GPS data was streaming in to from the GPS dongle.

The built in communications port wizard in MaxSea was of no use either and I even had MaxSea tech support guiding me through editing various config files using notepad – all to no avail. Finally GPSGate fixed the problem and even allowed me to share the GPS data with two different chart plotting programs.

GpsGate Client Express lets multiple applications share GPS data simultaneously on a computer with a single GPS device. GpsGate Client Express supports built-in GPS devices, Bluetooth GPS devices and GPS devices connected via serial and USB ports. It also adds stability to the GPS connection, with automatic re-connection when required.

The free GpsGate Client Express can:

  • Split one GPS to two virtual COM ports
  • Handle most GPS devices, Bluetooth, Serial and USB
  • Stabilize Bluetooth GPS connections
  • Automatically re-connect lost connections
  • Support Garmin GPS devices
  • Connect standard GPS to nRoute with Garmin protocol
  • Show GPS position in Google Earth
  • Make GPS position available to web browser
  • Connect to a GpsGate Server for GPS tracking
  • Run on 32 and 64 bit Windows (7/Vista/XP/2k/NT/98)

Why not give it a go if you have problems connecting your GPS or any other bluetooth device with your laptop – its free – download here…

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Accesing the internet while sailing..

DSC01794Of course you can simply browse the internet directly using a modern phone with GPRS. But even my Samsung i780 is a sloth when using Internet Explorer or oven the Opera browser to do this. Stick the phone into a laptop using the USB cable and suddenly browsing the internet becomes bearable – even “acceptable” – its magic…see the picture – my phone is the tiny display behind the laptop.

You can of course use bluetooth to connect the phone and the laptop – if the GPRS signal is weak try putting the phone in a (dry) place in the cockpit while using the laptop in the saloon. This will give a better GPRS signal to the phone but the bluetooth signal to the laptop is slightly slower than having the phone wired directly in using USB. Experiment with both methods.

So on my recent sailing holiday to the Normandy coast I thought I would try out the possibility of using this combination. I can happily report that both in the marina at Fecamp and even sailing along the coast – while in proximity to the coast of course – you can access my weather page – and all the weather links and the UK Met Office 24hr forecast.

What I do is then copy and paste the forecast, and right click on images like the barometric charts and save them to a table in a Word document that I keep as a passage plan. Very useful for reviewing as the passage develops – and the possibility of having to change plan dawns on you!

If you want more information about using your mobile phone on board check out my dedicated “phones page“….

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Mobile phone confusion !

My little venture into experimenting with mobile phones and their use on my boat has stirred up a lot of readers of this blog it appears see comments here

Questions include:

– Can I use my smartphone to connect my laptop to the internet?
– Can I use my phone as a chart plotter?
– Which software and maps can I use on my phone?
– How can I improve the interface on my phone? – I cant get to the Bluetooth and other settings easily because they buried under so many menu options…
– Can I get the Met Office weather forecast and barometric charts on my phone?

I had not realised that so many of you are as frustrated as I am in getting more out of my expensive smartphone when they seem to promise so much….

Just to make one point absolutely clear I am referring to the latest crop of smartphones “not the common or garden phones” – and I dont care if you have 3G, MP3, or any other acronym – I mean a phone that is running a real mini operating system such as Windows Mobile 6 or Symbian.

As a result of all this interest I have decide to create a whole new section dedicated to mobile phone use on boats – look across the tabs at the top of the page….and you will see a tab called “Phones”.

I have only just started, but please – come back and check because I will be trying to answer the questions raised as best as I can on this new section.

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Garmin for Windows Mobile and Smartphones – For Land not Sea !

I have had emails from number of people saying that there are heaps of mobile chart plotters out there – but I beg to differ!

There are heaps of mobile chart plotters for the Land but not the Sea 🙂

Garmin XTFor example even Garmin only cover the Land ….Garmin Mobile XT transforms your GPS-enabled smartphone into a full-featured street navigator. Routing software and detailed mapping are preloaded on a microSD card – just plug it into your phone and you’re ready to navigate – on foot or in your car. With no subscription fee or additional equipment required, Mobile XT works anywhere, even outside your phone’s network coverage area.

Minimum requirements for Windows Mobile®, Palm® and Symbian® devices: 16MB program memory, 128MB storage card minimum (256MB or more recommended), 2GB storage card for full coverage

You get :

  • City Navigator® NT street maps …one of:-
    • Garmin Mobile™ XT North America
    • Garmin Mobile XT,Europe
    • Garmin Mobile XT,UK & Ireland
  • Garmin Mobile XT navigation software
  • miniSD and SD adapters

…so when will the Sea version come out – well …never me-thinks – why should they when they have so many solid and reliable handheld plotters already. It is the new entrants into the market that may be motivated to creep in via the backdoor of the smartphone devices. Not the incumbents like Raymarine or Garmin.

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