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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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Using MARPA instead of AIS…

Returning to Brighton from Dieppe recently I realised that the AIS was not working, but had not time to fault trace or fix it so I thought I would revisit using the radar in earnest.

This is crucial given that the Traffic Separation Scheme that separates the Channel into two one way traffic streams for large vessels adds to the excitement for a yacht – as they say a “tortoise crossing the motorway” – gives you some idea of the experience.

DSC01864The rather shaky photo here – sorry but we were bouncing up and down a bit! – and I didn’t want to leave the helm too long just to take a photo! – shows the MARPA targets acquired on the Raymarine (C120 + Raymarine Radome 2kw) – click on the image for a larger view.

 

Just like the AIS you must take the heading, speed, and collision DSC01865avoidance data with a pinch of salt. I have seen a moored cross channel ferry registering 17kts on the AIS – and so it is here – this screen shot shows variable quality of data eg. was the second vessel in this MARPA list really doing 33kts ! – also the vessels were all clearly on a heading of about 250 degrees magnetic, but the heading data on the display shows the vessels going in all sorts of directions…

The bottom line is that standing in the cockpit with a pair of binoculars and taking bearings was my chosen primary source of data…and although we had bowled long from Dieppe for some 8 hours on a close reach doing 6.5 to 9kts with only the occasional sail trim adjustments… I was forced to reel in the genoa and come to a standstill to let an imposing cargo vessel from Iran thunder past.

Good decision as it turned out since it took a good 10 minutes to cross the wake after it had passed by!.

Track MARPAThis screen shot shows our track as we took avoiding action and then tried to get underway again before the next charging container vessel came barreling down the track.

 

 

 

 

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“No Ais” – on Raymarine C and E Series

DSC01879It is annoying that the Raymarine C and E series which have an AIS interface have no displays to show whether AIS is actually working but has no data to display.

Both these displays simply say “No AIS” in the top right hand status corners of the screen. From the software developers point of view they probably would say indignantly that this language is consistent with the message displayed before the GPS Fix is obtained – in other words “No Fix”.

But the difference is this:

1. “No Fix” means the GPS is still obtaining satellite and the chartplotter is calculating the position of the boat. After few minutes if no fix is still displayed you know the GPS is not working and you need to fault trace. So the passage of time adds another piece of vital data that helps you decide that something is wrong (assuming the USA has not declared war and switched off the whole GPS system!)…whereas…

2. “No AIS” means two different things –
a. the AIS is fully functional, is receiving transmissions, but there are none to display, or
b. the AIS is NOT fully functional, is NOT receiving transmissions, and you need to due some fault tracing…straight away

This means you can set sail unaware that the AIS is faulty – but you would be totally aware if the GPS was faulty.

Please Raymarine, do something about AIS error detection – a suitable button could live nicely on the MARPA/AIS settings toolbar.

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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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GPS Terminology – nanu nanu :-)

After the last post I had a few emails asking me what PRN 32 means so I thought I would list a few terms that you may come across if you start looking into the GPS system..

SV – Space Vehicle
PRN – Pseudo Random Noise
NANU – Notice Advisory to Navstar Users – there is a free mail list service run by the US Coast Guard to send GPS watchers an automatic status report.

For the latest nanus see the US Coast guard site here.

BTW its called Navstar because that is the correct title of the US military GPS system

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