Vote for the Best U.S. Coast Guard Video of 2009

U.S. Coast Guard Video Contest Logo

U.S. Coast Guard Video Contest Logo

The following is from the official blog of the U.S. Coast Guard, The Coast Guard Compass.  It describes the annual video contest the service holds and this year’s collection of videos are as dramatic as ever.  I’ve picked my favorite.  Now it’s your turn. Have a look at the compilation below and then visit the YouTube channel and rate the individual videos.  This is the official description of  the contest:

Everyday, Guardians are involved in amazing rescues, national security operations and drug interdictions. Whenever possible, Guardians capture those Coast Guard operations on video. The videos truly highlight the missions and stories of America’s Guardians. Sometimes you see them on the evening news, but often you don’t.

For the past several years, the Coast Guard has been recognizing the top videos of the year. We’ve narrowed it down to 11 finalists (a tribute to the Coast Guard’s 11 statutory missions), but we want your help in deciding which one is the “Coast Guard Video of the Year” for 2009.

The link above will take you to a first look video compilation of the 11 finalists for video of the year. Starting next Monday (December 21, 2009), the Compass blog will highlight one video per day together with audio from a member of the Coast Guard unit involved in the mission. You can then follow the link to the Coast Guard YouTube “Video of the Year 2009″ playlist to use the rating and comment feature to cast your vote.

Votes will be accepted until January 8, 2010. The units with the top three videos will receive a Flip video camera to enhance their ability to capture and share imagery of their operations.

Here’s the collection, edited into a single package.  You can see the individual videos and vote by rating them, on YouTube itself.

Copyright © 2009 by OceanLines LLC

Posted by Tom in Boats, Cruising Under Power, Environment & Weather, Industry News, Passagemaking News, People, Powerboats, Sailboats, seamanship

Time to Pay Attention to Hurricane Season


NOAA NWS NHC Track Map and Forecast for Hurricane Bill as of 19 August 2009  -- Image: NOAA/NWS-NHC

NOAA NWS NHC Track Map and Forecast for Hurricane Bill as of 19 August 2009 -- Image: NOAA/NWS-NHC

We’ve been lucky so far.  The 2009 hurricane season on the east coast of the U.S. has started just a bit later than usual, although it’s gone from nothing to a Cat 4 Hurricane (Bill) in what seemed like no time at all.  So, if you haven’t already incorporated hurricane planning, get going.  The image above was taken from the NOAA National Weather Service’s National Hurricane Center and represents the current location and forecast track of Hurricane Bill, which, at the time of the forecast, was already a Category 4 hurricane, with top sustained winds of 115 knots.  A fairly dramatic start to the season, I’d say.

BoatUS Hurricane Resource Center Website Screen Shot

BoatUS Hurricane Resource Center Website Screen Shot

There have always been lots of separate websites with useful information on weather, planing and preparation strategies, but now the Boat Owners Assocation of the U.S. (BoatUS) has put much of it together into one well-organized website.  You need to add this one to your favorites; perhaps even consider making it your temporary start page if you are cruising in hurricant waters.  This link takes you to the extremely comprehensive site from BoatUS.

According to BoatUS Director of Damage Avoidance Bob Adriance, “The time to think about storm preparations is now, before a hurricane watch is posted for your area.”  Adriance notes that typical storm preparations include hauling boats from marinas or removing them from boat lifts and securing them ashore with tie downs, reducing windage by removing things like biminis and sails, adding extras lines and chafe protection to boats in a slip, and other measures.

At the online BoatU.S. Hurricane Resource Center , boaters can find a downloadable 12-page Guide to Preparing Boats and Marinas for Hurricanes, a hurricane preparation worksheet, and current hurricane tracking charts with up-to-the minute storm tracking tools with landfall strike probabilities, wind band information and “spaghetti” models showing forecasters’ predicted storm paths,  “Our goal with the web site is to give everything you ever wanted to know about hurricane preparation, and it’s open for anyone to use,” adds Adriance.

Copyright © 2009 OceanLines LLC

Posted by Tom in Destinations, Industry News, Passagemaking News, People, 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