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Where in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle….

Apologies to Lewis Carroll for the mis-quote above, but we are so accustomed to knowing exactly where we are – or at least having smartphones and chart plotters telling us.

I have noticed that some power boat skippers and even sailors (hrmphh) plot routes perilously close to hazards or marker buoys. As if the GPS is so accurate that it can help you miss a hazard by metres; that the hazard marker hasn’t drifted since the chart in the plotter was last updated; or that the hazard itself hasn't moved – a sandbank for example.

Chart plotter and smartphone manufacturers like to re-enforce the myth by claiming accuracy “less than 2m” for example…hmmm.

Lets just remember that GPS isn't a collective noun it is only one system. So where is all this data coming from? There are two live systems and several planned ones to consider:

1. United States NAVSTAR Global Positioning System (GPS). 24 satellites operational.

2. Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS) operated by the Russian Space Forces. 31 satellites operational.

3. The Chinese BeiDou Navigation Satellite System is a regional system being expanded into the global Compass navigation system by 2020. 15 satellites operational, 20 additional satellites planned

4. Galileo positioning system of the European Union planned to go live by 2020. 4 satellites operational, 22 additional satellites planned

5. Indian Regional Navigational Satellite System (IRNSS) is an autonomous regional satellite navigation system being developed by Indian Space Research Organisation. 4 satellites operational, 3 additional satellites planned

6. Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS), is a proposed three-satellite regional time transfer system and enhancement for GPS covering Japan. 1 satellite operational.

7. The Doris system designed by Cnes, the French Space Agency.

To all intents and purposes its only the GPS and the GLONASS that we need to worry about at the moment. You may have spotted that the forces at play behind these networks are on opposite sides of a significant political divide  but lets not worry about that…for now…

In order to get a fix on your location, your chart plotter or smart device needs an unobstructed view to at least four satellites.  Four out of the GPS system’s 24 sounds like a lot, but the satellites are spread around the world and can’t always be accessed where you are. Access to a larger blanket of satellites supplies your devices with more accurate location data. If your chart plotter or smart device can access the additional 24 satellites of GLONASS (not all 31 are operational at all times), then it will acquire satellites up to 20% faster than devices that rely on GPS alone and allow your location to be pinpointed to as close as 2 meters. Not so with GPS alone.

GLONASS compatible devices include many Garmin devices (see here), all iPhones since the iPhone 4S, and the Digital Yacht GPS150 external antenna.

When it comes to Raymarine the situation is more complicated – what did you expect! The ‘a’ series units (a95, a97, a98, a125, a127 & a128) have the GPS/GLONASS acquisition built in. On top of that you can enhance this with an external GA150 antenna. If you stupidly bought the other hybrid chart plotter, the e series (I bought the e125), then they have GPS only….even if you add the recommended Raymarine RS130 external antenna…..go figure.

Search & Rescue

One last word in support of Galileo. Galileo is planned to provide a unique global search and rescue (SAR) function. Satellites will be equipped with a transponder which will relay distress signals from the user's transmitter to the Rescue Co-ordination Centre, which will then initiate a rescue operation. At the same time, the system is projected to provide a signal to the users, informing them that their situation has been detected and help is on the way. This latter feature is new and is considered a major upgrade compared to the existing GPS and GLONASS navigation systems, which do not provide feedback to the user. Tests in February 2014 found that for Galileo's search and rescue function, operating as part of the existing International Cospas-Sarsat Programme, 77% of simulated distress locations can be pinpointed within 2 km, and 95% within 5 km.

So check out the spec for your chart plotter; iPad or other smart device – and give those hazzards and marker buoys a wide berth !

 

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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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Tracking GPS for £149 and 3G bundled in …

WPT250 facing left

We’ve all had those niggling worries about tying up our boat whilst we head ashore for a bite to eat and the thoughts of it not being there when we get back!

Tetra Boats are launching a new product called TenderTrack at the 2011 London Boat Show. TenderTrack is about the size of a box of matches and incorporates a highly sensitive 50 channel GPS and GSM data modem to allow the location of your tender to be constantly monitored on your smart phone. It’s waterproof and has an internal rechargeable battery that can offer up to 72 hours of operation.

Simply mount the unit on the tender or outboard (it can take temperatures of up to 70C, so can even sit inside an outboard cowling) and access its functionality through either sending SMS commands to the unit or through a simple web interface.

I don’t see why you couldn’t use this on your car or motor bike or even on your prize pot plant in your front garden – what a great gadget!


Tracking GPS for £149 and 3G bundled in … → Click here to continue reading →

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