auto-updating navigation charts

Fugawi X-Traverse Now Compatible with iPad

Fugawi X-Traverse

Fugawi X-Traverse

Well, here is reason number 967 why I probably should get an iPad. Northport Systems Inc., recently announced that itsFugawi X-Traverse online map management system is now compatible with the iNavX Version 3 app for the Apple iPad. Fugawi X-Traverse was designed to ensure that map users had ready access to their up-to-date cartography subscriptions and the enhanced mobile access means that iPad owners can have the functionality of their color chartplotter, with the advantage of knowing they always have the most up-to-date charts available from their supplier.

If you haven’t checked out the X-Traverse service from Fugawi, it’s worth a look. X-Traverse is basically an online storage system that allows you to upload, retrieve and transfer across platforms — PC to iPhone, for example — your waypoints, tracks, etc., assuming you’re using compatible software, such as Fugawi’s Marine ENC or Global Navigator or iNavX. You can also purchase Navionics charts through X-Traverse, some of which can be simply downloaded.

We recently reviewed Marine ENC here and thought it was a great PC-based system for the pilothouse, either as primary or backup navigation.

Copyright © 2010 by OceanLines LLC.  All rights reserved.

Posted by Tom in Electronics, Technology

ActiveCaptain Launches Major Website Upgrade

ActiveCaptain X Screen Shot Showing Marina Details in Damariscotta, Maine

ActiveCaptain X Screen Shot Showing Marina Details in Damariscotta, Maine

Jeffrey Siegel said this week that the ActiveCaptain “X” beta website, under development for the past year, is now fully launched and live, providing everything from a new user interface to NOAA charts and Microsoft Virtual Earth cartography.  The website benefits greatly from having been available in beta form for the last several months and many of the final features were suggested or enhanced through user feedback.

Here’s a rundown on the updated features, provided by Jeff Siegel:

– New interface. We have redesigned the interface to make it easier and faster for you to find information and make updates. The interface is based on a deck of cards to allow for expansion of ActiveCaptain features.

– NOAA charts. The ActiveCaptain website can now display markers on NOAA US charts making it easier to evaluate that anchorage or judge an approach.

– Microsoft cartography. ActiveCaptain now uses Microsoft Virtual Earth for the map and satellite images. We find that these images load faster and are higher quality.

– Expanded location search. A dedicated card now lets you find rivers, harbors, canals, islands – anything with a location name.

– ICW interpolation. You’re no longer limited to selecting ICW locations by NOAA’s 5-mile increments. Selecting ICW interpolation will approximate the location of any mile marker (435.6, 1072, etc).

– In-place detail updates. When you update a detail item, the data is edited right in the detail window. Submitting updates shows them right in the edited section so you know they are pending. This makes it much easier and quicker to update the data.

– Marker filtering. There’s now more control over which markers are displayed. Choose to limit your marina display to ones carrying gas, diesel, or pump out services. Turn on only certain types of local knowledge markers.

– Optional sorting. You can also choose to have fuel or slip pricing displayed with the marina list items and sort the markers based on pricing.

– Marker move/delete. Changing the location of a marker or deleting obsolete markers is now simpler. Select the More link in the marker balloon and a popup menu appears to guide you.

– Adding a new marker. It’s faster and simpler. Press and hold the mouse at the position for the new marker, select the marker type, and fill in the form.

– Permanent link. Quickly create a direct link to a location or marker in ActiveCaptain. Select More in the marker balloon, or press and hold your mouse at a location, and select Permanent link from the popup menu.
It’s easy to include the link in blogs, emails, forums, or websites.

– Hazard markers. One of the most significant additions is the new hazard marker. You can easily find problems areas, find out what cruisers are experiencing, and let others know what you’ve found.
This is especially nice for ICW migration in the Spring and Fall to alert you to the changing ICW conditions.

Siegel says ActiveCaptain gets more than 1,000 updates a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, from its participants. In my opinion, there is no better place to get detailed, reliable information on everything from marina dock rates, to fuel prices, to local market knowledge.

Copyright © 2010 by OceanLines LLC. All rights reserved.

Posted by Tom in Boats, Cruising Under Power, Cruising Under Sail, Destinations, Industry News, Passagemaking News, People, Powerboats, seamanship, Technology

VIDEO: Active Captain Integrates with MaxSea-Furuno

ActiveCaptain Will be Integrated into MaxSea Time Zero Chart Software

ActiveCaptain Will be Integrated into MaxSea Time Zero Chart Software

Jeff Siegal of ActiveCaptain recently notified users of the fabulous online cruising database that the information from ActiveCaptain will shortly be available inside MaxSea’s Time Zero charting software. The MaxSea folks were demonstrating a beta version of the software and Jeff did a short video of the demo, which is below.

An impromptu demonstration at the Miami Boat Show showing the very latest ActiveCaptain support in MaxSea/Furuno Time Zero.

I don’t know for sure what kind of computer the MaxSea folks had in their exhibit at the Miami Boat Show, where this demo was filmed, but the chart zooming and panning are perfectly seamless.  And switching from vector to raster charts is literally just a click of a button. The best thing is that anytime the system has an Internet connection it will check, then download and cache all the updated info from ActiveCaptain.  All of this is done in the background.  Eventually, MaxSea will build in a feature so that users can simply enter their own ActiveCaptain updates right into the MaxSea software and it will be sent upstream to the database.

In this demo video from MaxSea, you can see how the software works. The video has a music soundtrack for some reason, but you get a good look at the functions. I guess it’s time to have a closer look at MaxSea’s Time Zero software, which, by the way, integrates seamlessly with the Furuno Navnet products and so would be a logical choice for a PC-based nav solution that includes black-box sensors from Furuno. Naturally, MaxSea also includes NMEA 2000 connectivity, so other brands should be usable as well.

Jeff is going to have the MaxSea software available for ActiveCaptain users (ActiveCaptain is free to use, by the way). He expects the price for the non-Navenet version to be less than $350.

If any of our readers are MaxSea users, I’d love to hear from you in the comments as we begin a review of that software. And if you’re not already an ActiveCaptain, you should be. There is no better way to find the kind of information you need to more easily enjoy your cruising, whether it’s the latest fuel prices, a marina recommendation, or info on hazards provided by the locals who know.

Update: I’ve just learned that my friend and colleague Ben Ellison of Panbo actually helped get ActiveCaptain and the MaxSea folks together. You can read more about his assessment of the new confab on Panbo.

Copyright &copy 2010 by OceanLines LLC. All rights reserved.

Posted by Tom in Cruising Under Power, Cruising Under Sail, Electronics, Industry News, Passagemaking News, Powerboats, seamanship, Technology

The Wish List: Auto-Updating Charts

Auto-Updating Charts — It’s time recreational mariners had broad access to, and used, auto-updating technology to ensure that the charts they use in their chartplotters are continuously up-to-date.  Offered by a single company to-date, it’s an important safety enhancement and one within the reach of current technology.  This is the second in our occasional series called “The Wish List.”

Are Your Charts Missing the Key Piece of Information?  -- Illustration

Are Your Charts Missing the Key Piece of Information? -- Illustration

I have two chartplotters on my boat — a Furuno NavNet unit that uses C-Map/NT charts (on a proprietary chip format), and a Northstar 6000i that uses Navionics charts on a compact flash card.  Once a year I have the opportunity to update these charts/chips, at a fairly modest cost; well, one more modest than the other.  What has always bugged me is that there is no practical way to update the charts in the interim period.  Why can’t I simply connect my chartplotters to the Internet — or bring the chips home and connect them to my PC — and get updates as soon as they are available via the NGA or Local Notices to Mariners (LNMs)?

Interestingly, this type of chart-updating is widely available to military and commercial mariners.  There is, however, only one company (to my knowledge) that offers this capability to recreational boaters and that is the Jeppesen Marine MAX Pro brand of cartography.  More on that later.

The Problem

Unless you’re a MAX Pro customer, you can update your charts at most twice per year, and usually just once.  Not only that, but by the time you get the updated chart cartridge it’s guaranteed to be out-of-date; since LNMs update these areas weekly. 

Commercial operators, who are required to have updated charts onboard at all times, use auto-updating services to stay current.  For example, in the U.S., the Jeppesena NavData update service ensures commercial captains always have the latest charts.  There is a little bit of irony, though, in the notion that a freighter plodding its way across vast, featureless stretches of ocean knows exactly where the buoys in every port are, while the recreational boater, who is navigating the coastal waters that are strewn with aids and hazards to navigation has only outdated information available to him.  Who actually has the greater need?  Even when the freighter gets to port, the odds are it’s going to get a harbor pilot aboard with years of experience and real-time local information to get him safely to the pier.

Of course, when I say the recreational captain doesn’t have updated chart info “available,” I’m really saying that he or she hasn’t taken the time to get it.  Local Notices to Mariners and updates from the National Geo-Spatial Intelligence Agency are issued weekly and every boater can manually update paper charts — if they have them, that is.  U.S. Coast Guard crews have told me they rarely find appropriate charts aboard boats that are randomly inspected.

There are plenty of examples of auto-updating technology out there.  Your personal computer is probably the most obvious one.  If you use a Microsoft operating system, your PC probably automatically installs the latest security and operational fixes while you sleep.  Unless you’ve disabled the feature, you never have to worry about having the latest patches in your system.  Many applications on your computer can also update themselves.  All that’s required is a connection to the Internet.  And more and more boats have some kind of Internet capabilities these days.  High-end passagemakers often have satellite access to the Internet (remember, good update technology only sends relatively small-size files that have the changes, not the whole chart or program).  Many smaller cruisers have Wi-Fi antennae aboard and can make use of that connection any time they’re near a port or marina.

It is a relatively simple task to add Internet capability to most of today’s chartplotters.  Most have the guts of a PC-like computer anyway, so adding Internet connectivity shouldn’t be that big of a challenge.  And with more and more of these devices networked, often via Ethernet protocols, the ability to update ALL of your devices this way, whether for firmware or software enhancements, should be possible.

MAX Pro Charts

I mentioned earlier that Jeppesen Marine, under the brand C-MAP by Jeppesen, offers its MAX Pro Cartography product for use in both the Northstar 8000i and Simrad GB40 chartplotters (the latter a black-box system).  It is also available to run on the latest versions of the Nobeltec VNS and Admiral nav software packages, known as VNS MAX Pro and Admiral MAX Pro, respectively.  If you’re running Nobeltec software now, you should be upgrading your software to the MAX Pro versions because you’re already on a PC of some kind and that nearly always means Internet access.  Most MAX Pro users will plug in a USB thumb drive to their nav unit, tell the unit to update the licensed charts; and then the unit will place the update request on the USB drive.  Plug that into an Internet-connected device and it will automatically go get the updates, which can then be downloaded onto the nav computer.  A typical update might take from 30-60 seconds; only the update information is being retrieved, not the whole chart.

New Navico Broadband Radar Overlay on MAX Pro Chart -- Image Courtesy of Jeppesen Marine

New Navico Broadband Radar Overlay on MAX Pro Chart -- Image Courtesy of Jeppesen Marine

We will have a follow-on piece in the near future on the Nobeltec software with some demonstrations and discussions of how to do the chart updating, so stay tuned.

Another option for PC-navigation users is with the products of Rose Point Navigation.  Its ECS (used more by commerical mariners) and Coastal Explorer programs feature easy updating of the charts, including all the raster and vector charts available from NOAA.  Watch for our review of the Rose Point programs in the upcoming series on PC-based navigation.

In the meantime, if you use Navionics or Garmin-brand cartography, get after them to speed this capability to market.  I hear whispers that Garmin may be close to such a capability but the company won’t specifically confirm it.  Auto-updating of your navigation charts is an important safety enhancement and a technology already demonstrated to be ready for prime time.

Copyright © 2009 OceanLines LLC

Posted by Tom in Technology