Sunday, January 17, 2016

Smart Chart AIS

Application: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android phones an tablets
Function: Marine Charting, AIS and Points of Interests
Rating: *****
Cost: Free

The Smart Chart app has been around for a while but has been recently upgraded to the Smart Chart AIS app in the App Store. The addition of some exciting new features make it worth taking another look.

Features:
  • Free NOAA Raster charts of the United States
  • Puerto Rico and the USVI charts included
  • Satellite map views
  • Internet based AIS A and B targets
  • Nexrad Radar
  • Active Captain Points of Interest marinas, services, reviews, ratings and anchorages.
  • Augmented Reality Display
  • Chat Feature
  • Center on location
  • Picture and Video Mode selection
Registering:

Once you download and open the app you will notice that you will need a user name and password. This is easy and free to register.

Once logged you will need to select a vessel. You can select a trial vessel until you get yours set up. The Smart Chart AIS website also has resources and tutorials about the app.

The app's main screen has a world map and if you view the United States you will see colored boxes on the display. As you zoom in the chart data will fill in automatically.

It does not appear that the charts are downloaded for offline use. If you zoom into the same area later on it appears the charts have to be downloaded again.

I turned WiFi and may cell service off and sure enough, no chart data displayed.

The Active Captain points even disappeared which is confusing because that database should reside on the device itself and be available for offline use. 


Charts:

The app uses the NOAA digital ENC charts for navigation purposes.  These charts covers just the continental US coastal waters, the Great Lakes, Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.  These charts provide detailed soundings, channel markers and lights. The charts automatically download as you zoom into a particular area. 

I found that there was a slight delay as the charts were downloaded and displayed.  Perhaps that was my slow cell or WiFi connection.  The charts do not appear to be saved on the device which is a bummer because that means the charts will not display if I am out of cell range.

Most apps download the charts to the device so they can be used offline away from WiFi and cell coverage. 

Navigation:

There are six soft key icons across the bottom of the main display for app navigation. The latitude and longitude are also displayed just above the navigation icons. If your position in displayed in red that means the accuracy is reduced. If it is displayed in green, you are good to go.  

The far left icon that looks like a bullseye, is for centering the display and chart on your present location. The next icon to the right is for adding and deleting points of interest. The Delete all POIs selection will remove any POIs that you add manually.  To add a POI, select POI icon and then the Points of Interest tab.  Tapping on the chart adds a pin to mark your own POI.  

The next icon is the Chat icon. Selecting this bring you to the chat page. Mine was empty and the only selection at the bottom right was New Chat. I selected that and it gave me a No Users to Select error. Evidently there are no Smart Chart AIS user in my area or within range of the display. Once a user is selected you can then start a chat conversation.

The next selection to the right is the Camera icon.  This is a quick way to start your devices camera or video without having to leave the app.

The next icon labeled AR is the augmented reality display which will superimpose important information onto a real time image. The AR selection is only visible if your device has an accurate GPS location.

The app accesses the devices rear facing camera and overlays buoys, markers, points of interest and other users on the real time camera display.

Active Captain POIs are also displayed on the AR screen. Click on these points for more detailed information. The devices compass direction is shown at the top for added navigation. I works much like a hand bearing compass.

Active Captain POI:

The last icon on the far bottom right accesses the settings of the app. Settings include logging into your Active Captain account and selecting map layers.

Map layers include the NOAA ENC charts, NEXRAD visible radar, Smart Chart and AIS displays.

To display the Active Captain POI's you will need to log in to your Active Captain account. If you don't have one, go to the Active Captain website and sign up for free.

Active Captain provides crowd sourced information on markers, marinas, anchorages, local knowledge, and hazards. These are all color coded for easily identifying them on the map.

All pertinent marinas in the area are marked by red icons, anchorages are shown with green icons, local knowledge are shown with blue icons and hazards are shown with yellow icons.

Click on any of these to access a wealth of knowledge from the Active Captain database.  This data resides on your device so you should be able to use it offline away from cell or WiFi service.



AIS:

AIS stands for Automatic Identification System.  The actual commercial Class A and non commercial Class B systems are broadcast and received over marine VHF frequencies.

The Smart Chart app utilizes land based AIS receivers that rebroadcast this data over Internet connections to your device. So this feature will only work if you have an Internet connection.

The purple triangular icons are ships that have AIS transmitters. Tapping on the ships icon will bring up the name and location of the vessel.

Tapping on the info box then brings up additional information about the ship. This data can be use for collision avoidance and closest point of approach calculations.

Well, final thoughts about the Smart Chart AIS app are that it does the functions it provides fairly well. To be honest, It would not be my go to app and I would probably not use it myself.

If your looking for a basic app with charts, some navigation, POI and AIS features it may work for you. It is free and available for both Android and iOS devices.

~~~ Sail On ~~~ /)
Mark



Saturday, January 9, 2016

i-Marine Apps Whats it all About?

i-Marine Apps BLOG, What's it all about?


I stared this blog site in about 2010, it was developed because smart phones and tablets were just starting to hit the mainstream. Many new marine apps were starting to be developed.  I had an interest in them and thought other people might want to know about them also. I have a degree in electrical engineering and am a confessed Geek so I really enjoy figuring out all the features and explaining them in this blog. I know, most of it is really boring, but I do my best to keep it interesting.

After a few years, I was afraid I would run out of apps to write about. I have been amazed at the continuous stream of new apps and update to existing apps that keep coming.

My first post was about i-NavX, an app that I first downloaded onto my iPod Touch at that time. The iPod Touch did not have a GPS so I started reviewing some external GPS units that could be linked by Bluetooth to the iPod Touch. iNavX was amazing and many more apps followed as the popularity of smart phones and tablets like the iPad followed. Many boaters and the marine industry rapidly realized that these devices would play a big part in their future.

Navigation on my blog is pretty easy, There are tabs at the top of the screen listing the major categories that I review. There categories include:

The Home page take you back to the main blog page to the latest app reviews. The Home page includes some links in the right column for My Amazon Store, a Translate link to convert to other languages, a Search box so you can search my blog for an app you may be looking for.  A list of Followers is also shown so make sure to click the Join This Site link to become a follower. You will notice a few Google Adds on the site also. Please click on these if you find the add interesting to you. I have monetized my blog with Google Adsense. That means I get a little revenue from Google for each add that is clicked on.  This is one way you can support my site and keep me motivated to keep the blog going.  A link to join Ebates is another great way to save some extra cash on stuff you are already buying online. Click on this link to join today!

There is a list of my Favorite Sites. These are a collections of web sites and blogs that I follow.  Next is a list of Popular Blog Post for my blog. Click on these to check out more of my past posts.

Best Marine Chart Apps tab is my list of top Marine apps. This list has changed over the years with many new apps being introduced.  It started out as a top 10 list but now has 14 of the best apps listed. iNavX has remained at the top in the #1 spot from the beginning of the list.  This app, as you all know, is the most full featured and has great connectivity to your on board instruments via WiFi including your autopilot. Check out my top rated Marine Charting apps to find one that works for you. They vary in prices, features, charts and connectivity.

Top 5 Best Marine Data Apps tab was developed as many new app started to connect to boater's on board instruments. Many of the NAEMA 0183 and 2000 instruments can now be connected to multiplexers and WiFi to allow this data to be displayed on your mobile device. Providing this data to the apps gave users a whole new way to access and look at this data. You can now be anywhere on your yacht and know instantly how fast your moving and where you are located.  My list of 5 soon grew to my top 10 marine data apps.  Most apps now provide display of NMEA data over WiFi using TCP/IP or UDP protocols. Check out my list and email if you have a favorite that deserves to be listed.

Top 5 Best Marine AIS Display Apps Tab 
AIS or Automatic Identification System was originally developed for collision avoidance for the commercial shipping industry. AIS is required by law for this class of ships.  Many boaters and manufacturers soon realized that AIS was very useful for smaller yachts also.  AIS uses frequencies that can be received using a VHF antenna.  Some VHF radios are now outfitted with AIS receivers.

As a sailor myself it is nice to know where these big ships are going and if they are on course to mow me down.  AIS comes in the form of just a receiver where you can receive and display the locations of ships.  AIS also comes in the form of a transceiver which can both receive and send AIS signals. AIS is being expanded in Europe to include many buoys and makers in the marine industry. This will likely catch on in the US waters soon.

GPS for iPad
Some of the early mobile devices did not have GPS chips in them. iPads without the cellular option do not have an internal GPS chip so I thought it would be good to review some options for getting GPS for these phones and tablets. Many people like to use a separate GPS so their mobile device's battery does not get run down as fast.  Most of these GPS devices connect through Bluetooth so there is not a huge saving on your devices battery because Bluetooth takes quite a bit of battery power while running.

Once I got my iPhone and my iPad with cellular service I no longer needed some of the devices I purchased.  Anyway, this is a nice list in case you are in need of a GPS device.  There are some new even smaller dongle type GPS devices that are available today.

The next tab on the menu is the iNavX Tutorial.  iNavX is a very complex and full featured marine app. Some people shy away from it for that reason.  I put together these tutorials to help make setting it up and using the app alot easier.  If you own iNavX, reading through these will help you figure out all the features and settings for the app. The xTraverse website is where you go to buy charts for iNavX.  Read through the getting started post to learn how to navigate and buy charts on that site.

iNavX is complex but it is also the most full featured and provides the best connectivity to NMEA 0183 and NMEA 2000 data on your yacht. Once you learn how to get it set up and use it for a while you will agree with me that it is the #1 app out there.

The iPad Onboard tab is a list of posts I did to help in getting your iPad set up with various apps.  The posts cover Protecting Your iPad where I talk about the available covers for your device. I am a big believer in LifeProof cases. They have protected all my devices over the years.

In the Camera and Video post I cover some of the camera and video options available for use with the iPad. I also cover the use of Airplay and how to stream and mirror marine apps on your device to other displays.

The iPad Entertainment post talks about how you can use your iPad as the center of your music an video entertainment system.  Go wireless, no need to drill holes all over your boat.

The Navigation post talks about all of my favorite marine navigation apps, Bluetooth GPS units and some mounting options for using your iPad on board.

Finally the Organize your iPad post covers many of the apps I use and how I organize them into folders. I give you a look at my favorite apps for navigation, instrument display, AIS, weather and more.

The next tab is for Android Marine Apps. I have to confess that there are not many post here. I have mainly focused on the iPhone and iPad apps. There are a few listed here if you have an Android device.

The next tab is Support i-Marine Apps. This is just what it says. I have provided a link to my PayPal site in case you want to leave me a tip for all the great posts.  I have had many donations for my posts over the years, and greatly appreciate any support you could send my way. I promise I will put the money to good use by buying a beer or some fine rum to keep me motivate.

The Directory Tab is a complete list all my posts.  These are separated into categories so you can easily find the type of app your looking for. Many of the apps have numerous posts as they publish new versions and add new features to the apps.

The last few tabs are Links and my Amazon Store.  The Links tab is a long list of links for marine web sites, blogs, manufacturers and services.  I have not spend a lot of time updating this so some links may be dead. If you find a dead link please notify me of any that don't work.  My Amazon Store is a great list of products on Amazon that are available for purchase. These cover a wide variety of marine products. If you are buying marine products, buying them through my site is another way you can support i-Marine Apps. Thank you! Thank you!

Well that is a quick tour of my blog. I hope you explore all the pages and provide some comments to the post. Please become a follower of all my blogs and explore YouTube Site.

http://s2-69-jollymon.blogspot.com/

http://sv-wildthing.blogspot.com/

https://www.youtube.com/user/MarkMesserli


Hope you all had a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

~~~ Sail On ~~~ /)
Mark

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Predict Wind Offshore App


Application: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch iOS 7 or later
Function: Marine Weather forecasting and routing
Rating: *****
Cost: Basic $19/yr, Standard $199/yr, Pro $499/yr

WEATHER ROUTING & GRIB FORECASTS - If your a boater or sailor you should work at developing some basic skills to observe and predict weather.  If your not paying attention to weather, a day on the water could go from fun to disaster very quickly.

The invention of the smart phone and the Internet have put a wealth of information at our finger tips. And of course there are many apps related to weather. Weather is important if your just out for the afternoon and especially if your crossing oceans.

Boaters and Sailors are not only interested in what the weather is doing now but also what it will be doing in 24, 48 or 72 hours from now. That is where GRIB weather forecast files come in.  

GRIB files are a format used by the meteorological institutes of the world to transport and manipulate weather data and they are the foundation of all weather forecasts. 

In the past collecting all of these forecasts and weather data was a bit tricky for the average person to access. You had to know where to go to get the forecast data. You had to know how to download the GRIB files. Next, you had to find a program to display the GRIB files. Once you were able to display the data you then had to determine what the best course was to take advantage of all this complicated weather data.

Predict Wind has put all of this together in one nice easy package that allows anyone to quickly down load and decipher the forecast data.  Their app takes all the guess work out of planning a departure and can automatically calculate the optimal departure time and path from your point of departure to you destination taking into account wind direction and speed.

Predict Wind's new GRIB viewer can now be used on your PC or MAC computer. They are one of the best apps for weather and wind data and have a powerful weather routing function within the app also. The advanced features can be purchased for a minimum of 3 months or on a yearly basis. The complete pricing is listed here. These purchases allow access to advance features and functions like unlimited locations, auto routing, swell data, rain, clouds, isobars, ocean currents, departure planning, sea temperatures, satellite imagery, Iridium Go interface, tracking, wind graphs charts and tables.

I reviewed the Predict Wind App a while back and was very impressed with the capabilities. See the full review to learn more about it.

The free Predict Wind Offshore App is now available for download in Windows and MAC versions, so you can get all the same features on your PC or MAC computers. The updated iOS app version is suppose to be available soon in the App Store but I have not seen it yet. The latest notice said that the app was accepted by the App Store on December 17th so it should be published soon.

Getting started with the Offshore app is easy. A world map is displayed along with coordinates and menu options on the left. Use your mouse to pan and zoom into the area where you want to acquire a forecast.
Select Your Route:
The first thing that needs to be done is to define your route or location where you need forecasts data. Drag and drop the green start and red top points for your route.  The colored outlined boxes on the chart denote the high resolution GRIB files available along your route. The optional Offshore GRIBs can be selected also.

Download the GRIB Files:
Tapping the Download button at the bottom provides a list of options for getting the GRIB forecast models.

Choose between PWG, PWC, CFS and CMS models or a combination of them.  Once selected the app will automatically download the GRIB files for the forecast route. Other options are resolution, GRIB Offshore, time resolution, time period up to 1-14 days. Ocean and tidal currents can also be viewed.


GRIBs files can be set up to be downloaded from the Internet, Iridium GO satellite receiver or by email via SSB radio. So even while crossing oceans you can get access to updated GRIB weather files, data and satellite images.

The Iridium Go receiver can be set up to create a WiFi hot spot on your boat which can be accessed by a variety of mobile devices. It integrates with the Predict Wind app and allows downloading of up to date GRIB forecasts and weather data. Additional features include email and a satellite tracking feature. Your friends and family can track your position in real time through a web interface.  The cost of the device is about $749.  A monthly data service plan will also have to be purchased to receive the forecast data.

 View the GRIB Files:
The time slider along the bottom of the display allows walking through the route over the forecast time period. This can be set to show anywhere from 1-14 days of forecast data and easily updated as you progress along your route.

Views can be switch between wind, rain, clouds, temperatures, swell and sea temp views over the forecast period.
Trip Planning Options:
The app also includes some powerful tools for trip planning, forecasting, weather routing, departure planning and destination forecasts, GMDSS text forecasts and Satellite imagery. 


Departure planning takes into account the weather forecasts for the next several day and suggest the optimal day to leave on your trip.

Destination forecast provide up to date weather for your eventual destination.

Updated satellite imagery can be downloaded to help track low pressure systems and hurricane paths to keep you and your crew safe.

I am very impressed with the new Offshore GRIB viewer and the integration with the existing Predict Wind app. This app puts the power of up to date forecasts and weather routing in one neat package. The cost is some what expensive but it might be well worth it to get access to all this weather data and the powerful tools of departure planning, weather routing, email and tracking.

The data packages can be purchased for 3 months up to a yearly subscription so there is a plan to fit most budgets. One subscription can be used across all your devices by simply using you account login and password. If your out for just an afternoon cruise or crossing oceans the Predict Wind app will provide all the weather data you will need to keep safe on the water.

What do you think of the app, is this something you are using now or would use on a passage?

~~~ Sail On ~~~ /)
Mark









Saturday, November 21, 2015

Navionics Autorouting


Application: iPad, iPhone iOS 6.0 or later, Android devices
Function: Marine navigation, charting, POI
Rating: *****
Cost: The app is Free with in app purchases

I have reviewed the Navionics apps in many previous blog entries.  They have continued to improve their apps over the years to include many useful features. Not only do they provide the latest up to date marine charts, they have provided additional features including the Navigation Module, Sonar Charts, Plotter Synch, Advance Map Options and most recently Auto Routing. These can all be purchased within the app for an additional charge.

Navionics Boating app recently added an amazing new feature that greatly improves the routing function, it is called Auto Routing. It does exactly what it sounds like.

This is not the old routing function where you have to manually add way point after way point to create a route.  Routing can now be one with a few touches of the screen on your mobile device.

The improved automatic routing algorithm now takes into account depths, shoals, hazards and your boats draft to determine the safest and fastest route from point A to point B.

Features:

  • Nautical charts
  • Sonar charts
  • Community Edits
  • Advanced map options
  • Navigation Module
  • Dock to Dock auto routing
  • POI
  • Tracks 
  • Routes 
  • Measure distance and bearing
  • Satellite map options
  • Sych tracks
  • Free NOAA US raster charts
  • Magazines and Guides
  • Plotter Synch to your Raymarine chart plotter

To get started you are going to need the free Navionics Boating app. Download it from the AppStore and fire it up.  Next you are going to have to purchase some charts.  The Auto Routing feature is included with the purchase of any Navionics+Chart set.  So make sure to download a chart set for your area in that format.

The Auto Routing feature is going to need to know some basic details about your boat, so select the Menu button and then go to Settings and Boat Settings.

 Here you can fill in the draft, cruising speed, fuel consumption and sonar sensor depth of your vessel. This data helps the routing algorithm determine the safest route for your vessel in shallow areas.

Major Disclaimer: All boaters should not rely solely on the Auto Routing feature to create their routes.  Please review the route to make sure it does not take you across any shallow areas or onto any wrecks, rocks, shoals or obstructions. Do not rely solely on the auto routing feature for your navigation.

To create an automatic route, tap the Route button and then select Automatic Route.  You will then be prompted to select a start point and end point for your route.

The app will automatically begin calculating the safest route. If the route cannot safely be done the route line will show a red line with caution markers showing the areas that are too shallow for your yacht.

If the route line is all blue the route has been successfully calculated and created. Again, please review the route before blindly following the route with your vessel.

Route trip information is displayed across the top of the iPhone display showing latitude and longitude for the two points. Trip distance, trip time and fuel usage are calculated using the information you provided about your yacht.

I tried to create some routes in some pretty difficult inter coastal waterway areas.  The auto routing functioned worked fairly well in calculating the route.

As you can see in the image of the Fort Myers Florida area it calculated the route out of the inter coastal waterway to the ocean correctly.

Note that the start of the route was shown with some shallow areas with the color red. Take note and zoom in to check these areas to make sure you have enough depth for your vessel.

I wondered if the auto routing feature would work while not connected to an Internet connection. I turned off my WiFi and cellular connections and tried the auto routing feature, I was surprised that it did work. So, you can use it while out of cell range.

I also wondered if it could be used to auto route long passages. I tried one from Fort Myers to Key West and it took a while to calculate but it did plot a nice route entering the channel from the north into Key West.

I tried a even longer route from Fort Lauderdale to the Virgin Islands and was surprised to find that the app would auto route a trip that long. The longer the route the longer it takes to calculate the route.  On my iPhone 6Plus it did take about fifteen minutes to calculate the route.

The route had a distance of 951 nautical miles. The trip time only showed 9 hours and 46 minutes and using only 9.8 gallons of fuel which are wrong. This did not seem right compared to the cruising speed of 4 knots and fuel consumption of 1 gallon per hour that I entered in the Boat Settings section.

In reviewing the route there were several questionable areas through the Bahamas where I would change the route, but otherwise it did a decent job.

I am not sure exactly what the distance limitations of the app are.  I will continue to play with several long routes to determine if there is a limit. The app does require that you have the charts downloaded for the area that you will be auto routing in or through.

I am impressed with the new auto routing feature and just how easy it is to select two points and let the app do the rest.

I plan to always review the route to make sure it does not take me into any areas that may put by boat in danger.

This is a another new and innovative feature that is a first for the marine app industry. I can't wait to see what will come next.

What other features would you want automated in your boating and cruising life?

~~~ Sail On ~~~ /)
Mark







Saturday, November 14, 2015

SeaPilot 3.85 Weather Routing

Application: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android versions also
Function: Chart Plotter, Routes, Marks, GPS, AIS, Instrument dataRating: *****
Cost: App is free, in app purchases for all features.

I reviewed the previous version of SeaPilot back in November of 2014. Since then their programmers have been busy adding features including a weather routing option.

The new version 3.85 of SeaPilot released in September 2015 has some new features that sailors will enjoy. Weather routing is a very important tool to have when your crossing oceans or a major body of water.  The routing feature will provide you the optimal route to take with the forecasted wind conditions.  SeaPilot uses the wind and current weather related GRIB files and the polar diagrams of your particular boat to provide the best route.  This routing will save you time and get you to your destination sooner.

GRIB files are a gridded binary files that can be downloaded from several weather related sources on the Internet.

These files include a grid display of current and wind strengths and direction. The GRIB forecast data can then be stepped through to see the varying conditions over the next 6 to 12 hours.

Updated forecasts are provided regularly by several weather services around the world so they are readily available. An Internet or satellite connection will be needed to download the most up to date files.

To GRIB files provide the forecast of the wind but the app also needs to know the polar diagram data for your specific vessel to provide the routing information. Polars are a representation of the sailing yachts performance and velocity made good at various sailing angles to the wind. Your sailboat manufacturer should be able to provide this data to you. If not find a boat similar to yours and use that polar data.

There is also an app to calculate your polar diagram data if you can't find a boat similar to yours.  It is called iPolar which I reviewed back in December of 2012 on this blog. This app will help you develop a custom polar diagram for your yacht.

The app requires inputs for your boats length, displacement, length at water line, main, jib and spinnaker sail area. Once those values are in the wind speed can be selected.  The tabular data is listed under the values page. This is the data that the SeaPilot app will need to do your weather routing.

The SeaPilot app weather routing simply provides the fastest route between two points regardless of water depth and shoals. So pay particular attention to depths along the optimized route to make sure the depth is adequate for your vessel.

The routing feature can be acquired with an in-app purchases of $59.70. See all the in app purchases listed on the SeaPilot website.  The weather routing feature also requires that you purchase the Marks, Routes and Past Tracks module for an additional $10 USD. US chart sets will cost you about $10 per set also to track your position and display the routes on NOAA vector charts.

The addition of weather routing to SeaPilot is welcomed but it falls short of the weather routing offered in the Weather 4D Pro and Predict Wind apps.  These apps both provide multiple weather models and multiple routing options. If your serious about looking into weather routing for your yacht, I would check those apps out for sure.

~~~ Sail On ~~~ /)
Mark