Monday, November 12, 2012

ActiveCaptain and the Companion App

"Interactive Cruising Guide"

Coastal cruisers are always in need of information. What is the best place to fuel up?  What is the best marina in Ft Lauderdale? Where can I find a transient slip in Jacksonville?  In the past mariners shared this local knowledge with each other by word of mouth.  If you were lucky the information was up to date, if not, you may be navigating into troubled waters.

The information age arrived many years ago and mariners now share this data on the Internet through various sites. Today we have message forums, email, Facebook and Twitter. All of these allow information to travel at the speed of light.

Riding this wave of information is a site called ActiveCaptain.  ActiveCaptain(no space) is the creation of Jeff and Karen Siegel and has been around since 2007.  The Siegels can be found cruising the inter coastal themselves aboard their 53 foot DeFever.  It looks like a great way to mix a little work and pleasure.

Their free website contains the Interactive Cruising Guide which graphically shows all the marine points of interest created by it's users.  Simply zoom into an area and start exploring.  Create an account and add points on interest yourself.  The webpage however uses Adobe Flash which is not supported on the iPhone or iPad so you will have to use a Windows or Android browser to view it.

The marketing plan is designed to get sponsors to sign up to support the site. They are then able to get their marinas, restaurants and facilities listed on the ActiveCaptain database. Additional features allow them to promote their facilities.  It will cost you $499 a year to be a sponsor. Boaters then have the chance to add, rate and comment about points of interest not only in the US but at other points around the world too.

ActiveCaptain uses crowd sourcing to create the vast database of information that mariners share and use.  Crowd source is kind of a new "buzz word" to the marine community.  This process allows many users to create points of interest that others can use or comment on.  The power of many people sharing information sound like a great idea but it poses some problems too.

The first question that came to my mind was, how do they keep from getting alot of junk or spam data from being entered?  ActiveCaptain has an extensive validation and verification process to check out and verify that the points of interest and changes to their database are correct. They do all the work for you, so if the data is in the database you can trust it. If you find it is not right make the change or correction and they will mark it as pending until they can verify it.

ActiveCaptain also makes the database available to app developers.  This makes it a no-brainer for developers to include it in their PC or mobile app.

There are about 20 marine apps or charting programs that utilize the ActiveCaptain database.  It is available for Windows, Linux, OSX, iOS, Android, Palm and Windows Mobile.

The screen shot to the left shows an app called SEAiq that has recently integrated the ActiveCaptain points of interest.  The different colored markers represent different types of data. The Yellow markers are hazards, the Blue ones are local knowledge, Green are anchorages and the Red ones show marinas.

Just tap on a marker to show the information related to that icon. You can keep drilling down on the specific markers to show all the related details and contact info.

The Location Information to the right shows the POIs on the Fort Meyers Beach location.  Tapping on one of the Marinas will list General information, Contacts info, address, navigation data, dockage, fuel, services and any related reviews.

Additional markers for Local Knowledge and Anchorages are shown too. Click to your hearts content and explore all the great information available.

The database is downloaded to the app and can be used even if you have no cell or Internet connection.

"The Companion"

My trusted companion is my dog, "Piper" but ActiveCaptain has something a little different in mind. 

One new feature that ActiveCaptain has been working on for several years is called the ActiveCaptain Companion.  The concept was shared in one of the ActiveCapatin's weekly newsletters back in November of 2011. Their recent newsletter revealed a few more details and a video showing some of the capabilities that we can expect to see. 

This is a software application that will run on your PC, Mac OSX, Apple iOS or Android phone and tablet devices.  It is meant to enhance the cruising experience by providing a list of upcoming hazards, bridges, weather and points of interest that might be interesting to the traveler.  It can be set up to produce audible alarms or voice notifications.  Having route and GPS data, the Companion could warn you of upcoming hazards or weather along your route.  It is like having Siri as your cruising partner.

The Companion brings some artificial intelligence to your travels, making them safer and keeping you informed of the possibilities ahead.  My mind starts to race when I think of the many things the Companion could alarm the user to.  Think of the Companion as your new 1st mate. It will always be on watch collecting data and notifying you 24 hours a day if needed.

I think there would have to be a huge disclaimer when using this. I could see someone relying on this software to keep them out of trouble rather than relying on their own eyes and ears to keep track of problems ahead.

ActiveCaptain continues to produce value added products for the marine industry.  I reviewed their most excellent, free Drag Queen anchor alarm app a while back.  Log into ActiveCaptain and get started today. You can use it on the web or through one of the many apps that support the POI database. 

The Companion will be out soon, no firm date yet, so stay tuned!

~~~Sail On~~~ /)

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