Friday, March 29, 2013

Garmin BlueChart Mobile Chart Updates

Garmin is charging for Chart Updates?

I downloaded and reviewed Garmin's BlueChart Mobile app several months ago.  It was impressed with the quality of the charts and features in the app. I wrote a full review and tutorial of the features in an earlier post. 

I like the fact that the app was free and the in app purchase of charts was expected.  The chart prices seemed reasonable for what I got for my money.  This is a similar model that other apps use to create revenue from their apps. I went ahead and purchased a chart set and was happy with the quality and clarity of the charts. Garmin does a good job with their charting products.

I opened the BlueChart mobile app the other day and I got a notice that said I had an update to the chart set that I had purchased.  I opened the settings and went to BlueChart Maps to download my updated charts.  The chart update was there but a price of $14.99 was listed next to the update.  I was a little taken back by this additional charge.  I assumed this meant I needed to fork out another $15 to get the update.  This is only a few months after I purchased the US Coastal charts. I think I originally paid $29.99 for the the charts. $15 bucks, or half the original price, seems like alot just for an update.

Easy as 1, 2, 3 $$$$$$$$.  I understand that Garmin needs to make a little money to keep their shareholders happy, but a normal person would think that once you bought the charts you would get free updates like most other app providers.  I have seen many emails and posts by people who are outraged by the fact that they are required to spend money for updates.  Are we getting too use to the inexpensive prices for apps?

Other marine charting apps like SEAiq, Transas iSailor, Plan2Nav and Navionics do the sensible thing and provide free chart updates.  SEAiq Free, Plan2Nav and iSailor apps are free with in app purchases for charts and added features much like Garmin BlueChart Mobile.

Many questions come to my mind. Are these annual updates?  Are these updates random so we have to spend $15 every time the base charts is updated?  How many updates am I going to have to buy in a typical year? The previous chart set was numbered V2012.5. Does that mean there were 5 updates in 2012? 

Well, I don't plan on updating every time Garmin updates their charts, that would put me in the poor house.  I might plan on updating once a year to keep my cost down.  So keep in mind that Garmin's yearly updates come out about the end of the first quarter of each year.  That is if they keep to this schedule.

Are you surprise by Gamin's in app purchases for updates?

~~~ Sail On ~~~ /)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Survey Says!

Courtesy of Family Feud
Some of you loyal followers might remember that I had a post back in September about a boating mobile device survey.  
The folks at Electric Pocket did the survey and compiled the data and results. They are the same great people who have developed the Boat Beacon and Compass Eye apps that I have reviewed earlier in this blog.
The survey had 23 questions about the use of smart phones, tablet and apps on boats. Kevin Doel was kind enough to share the results with me to create this post. He also offered to give away two apps to people who comment on this post.
So please comment below on this post and I will select two lucky winners at random to receive a free copy of a Boat Beacon $9.99 or a Compass Eye $4.99 app.  Make sure to include your email.
Well, the survey results are in and as Richard Dawson would say on the Family Feud game show, "the survey says".
There were about 100 people who took the survey. Not as many as I would have hoped for but it did yield some interesting results about the use of mobile devices.
Of the respondents, 64% of the boaters are from coastal waters, while 28% sail inland and 8% on an ocean.
87% use a smart phone or tablet device on their boat. This seemed like a high number but given the popularity of phones, tablets and marine apps it is not surprising.
Of those who use a device while boating 60% use an iOS device while 29% use an Android device.  I expected the numbers to be closer given the growth of Android phones and devices on the market.  It still shows that the iOS devices are among the favored phones and tablets for mariners.  Most of the marine app developers are still focused on iOS at this point.   I expect that to change as Android earns more market share.
90% of the boaters look for apps to use on their boat.  If you are smart you go to i-Marine Apps for all the greatest reviews.  The two most common sources being the Apple and Google App Stores (64%) and web forums and blogs (44%).  This again shows the prolific use of apps for marine use.
The next question dealt with the use of phones vs tablets.  51% use smart phones primarily for marine apps while 49% use tablets.  I would have thought the use of tablets would have been higher due to the larger screen format.
Two of the main problems noted when using smart phones and tablets on a boat are that they are not waterproof (69%) and they offer poor visibility in the direct sunlight (52%). 

The addition of a waterproof case such as the LifeProof iPhone or iPad can solve one of these problems.  As far as visibility there are a few anti glare films that can be placed over the screen to help some what.

91% of respondents indicated they use a weather app.  This number did not surprise me because if your a boater you should be paying particular attention to the weather conditions around you to insure a safe and fun day on the water. Intellicast Boating is one of my favorites. It includes NOAA marine charts overlays too.

40.5% rate their cellular data coverage where they sail as Good, while 23% rate their coverage as Excellent. Only 9.5% rate their cellular coverage as Poor or Very Poor.  Since 92% of the boaters responding were coastal or inland cruisers one would expect cell service in these areas to be decent.  Cellular service is key for real time weather updates and points of interest and Internet based AIS ship data.  There are many apps that do not need the Internet for charting and points of interest.
Over 60% have tried using AIS apps and over 80% think Internet-based AIS is a good idea.  AIS is becoming more popular especially in coastal areas with shipping traffic.  Internet based apps are cost effective but due have their limitations.  The only true way to prevent your yacht from getting run down by these big boys is to have an actual AIS transponder that will broadcast your location to surrounding ships. 
That was the extent of the survey. I think it fairly reflects the use of mobile devices by boaters today.  It is no surprise that boaters are using mobile technology while they are on the water.  Most have a phone or tablet that they already use at home or on the go.  These devices are portable with long battery life and plenty of storage to take along charting, instrument, AIS and weather apps.  Most devices can double as a source of entertainment with storage for music, books and movie collections.

Courtesy AirplaneNut
The world has a love affair with technology, and so do I.  It is only a matter of time before these devices take over the heavy lifting on board and become the main source of marine navigation. The transition is already happening on my boat.  Some say that they are not reliable enough, I beg to differ.  If it is reliable enough for the FAA and the airlines it should work for me. 

Lightning struck our boat and took out the on board Garmin Chart plotter and GPS.  I have been using my reliable iPad since then with perfect results. I may just scrap the old Garmin units and give the iPad a real test.  If that fails I can always pull out my iPhone as a back up.

What do you think? Are mobile devices and tablets ready for prime time on your boat?

~~~ Sail On~~~ /)


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Marine Tool

Application: iPhone 4, 4S, 5, iPad, iPod Touch>3rd gen, iOS 5.1
Rating: **
Cost: $1.99

Jens Christensen is a sailor like some of us and out of a need to do some marine calculations he created a slick little app called Marine Tool.  He pointed out that it is tough sometimes to do calculations underway on a pitching boat.  Having an app handy on your iPhone or iPad can save you from looking for a piece of paper, pencil and a calculator to do the calculations.

With his latest version of Marine Tool 1.3 he has added the Navigation page, Distance between two coordinates and Course correction. He has also developed the Marine Tool website  to support of his work.

The app is separated into five main areas. Course Corrections, Navigation, Distance-Time-Speed, Distance To and Conversions.

The main screen is shown to the left.  To make a calculation simply select by tapping the line to enter the calculation page for that value.

Values are easily typed in using the on screen keyboard and multiple units can be selected on each page.

  • Course calculations taking into account speed and direction of the current
  • Latitude
  • Longitude
  • SOG
  • COG
  • Magnetic North
  • True North
  • Time, Date
  • GPS accuracy
  • Distance and bearing calculations
  • English and Metric units
  • Time and distance calculations
  • Lighthouse and horizon distance
  • Speed conversions between knots, KM/h and MPH
  • Distance conversions between nautical miles, kilometers and miles
  • Wind conversions between meters/second, knots, MPH, KM/h and Beaufort scale
The Course Correction page allows you to easily make calculations related to the effects of wind and current on your yacht's heading.  The Map to Compass selection lets you enter the speed and direction of the current and leeway affects of the wind and provides you the adjusted course to steer to maintain your heading.

The Compass to Map selection lets you enter your compass course, current speed and direction and boat speed. It then calculates your true heading and speed advance.

I like that the calculated values are shown on top of the display for easy viewing.

The Navigation section has real time readings from your devices on board GPS. It provides latitude, longitude, speed over ground, course over ground in magnetic and true readings.  Date, time, altitude and GPS accuracy are listed also. 

Units for the various readings can be changed by tapping the arrow on the right side of the screen. Change between knots, KM/h, MPH or meters/second.

I like the data provided but I would like to see the compass heading, SOG and COG with the option to display these in large segmented displays to make them easier to read for us old guys who can't see the small type. The addition of trip mileage and trip time would be a nice addition too.

Another feature I would want is some kind of marine charts to show the user's position. NOAA charts or Google maps would be a nice additional feature.

The Distance Between Points is also part of the Navigation section.  Simply enter two GPS locations and the app will calculate the distance and bearing to the second point. Distance can be shown in knots, kilometers and miles. It would be nice to have the first point default to the users present GPS position.  Most of the time I would want to calculate the distance between my present position and a destination location.  This would also speed up the data entry.

The last position data and calculation is saved in case you want to return to the calculation page.

Distance,Time and Speed calculations can be made in the next section.

The three different sections allow you to calculate the third value knowing two of the three.

For the Distance calculation we enter the time of travel and the speed to get the distance travelled.

For the Time calculation, enter the Speed and Distance and the time is calculated.

For the Speed calculation, enter the Time and Distance to get the speed.

All units for Speed and Distance can be made in metric and English units.

Distance To calculator is the next section. Marine Tool easily calculates the distance of an object in this case a light house if you know the height of the object.  The horizon can also be calculated with the known height of the the observer. Units can be selected for English and metric units.

Convert is a very useful section to covert just about any nautical value to various units including English and metric values.

Speed can be converted to any of the values including knots, KM/h and MPH. Simply enter the value and the desired units and Marine Tool make the conversion, whiz bang easy!

Distance can be converted between nautical miles, kilometers and miles.

Wind speed can be converted between meters/sec, knots, MPH, KM/h and a Beaufort scale number. With each wind value come a description of the expected wave height, land and sea conditions.

The author of the app has reported that version 1.4 is already in the works. Some additional features that it will include are logbook features with advanced statistics and more calculations related to GPS coordinates and a few extra converters.

This app puts together many of the common calculations needed by boaters.  I can only see this app improving with the planned future additions. It will definitely be one of the apps I add to my marine app toolbox.  Check it out for the great price of $1.99!

~~~Sail On ~~~ /)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Spring Break Sailing 2013

I have been traveling this week to the land of sun and palm trees. Each winter it is nice to get away from the cold in the Midwest and take a trip to some warmer latitudes.

I am fortunate enough to have a brother and a dear sister in law who live in Florida. They enjoy having me as a house guest because I am very handy. I earn my keep by working on a few boat projects each time I visit.  As Red Green always says, if the women don't find you hansom at least they will find you handy.

This particular trip the weather was a little cooler than normal.  The high for the week was only 75. Compared to the 20 degrees and snow back home, it felt balmy and tropical. It did not stop my daughter from catching a few rays on the deck of the sailboat. I am blessed that my daughter still likes to hang out with her old dad.

I am glad to report that we had a chance to go sailing and use some of the apps that I always write about.  My brothers boat had been hit by lightning so his GPS for his Garmin chart plotter was not working. We pulled out my iPad and used several charting apps during our trip to navigate our way down the inter coastal waterway to the gulf.

The boat is a 1980 Pan Oceanic 46 foot pilothouse cutter sailboat.  I have a blog about the total refit of the boat here.

The boat has a custom hard Bimini top, so I was concerned that the iPad's GPS might have trouble picking up a signal.  It worked flawlessly and had no problem during the entire trip.  The shaded area under the Bimini made it easier to read the iPad screen also.

The hard top provides shade from the intense Florida sun and incorporates davits, solar panels, fishing rod holders, running lights and radar arch.

I pulled up iNavX and it worked flawlessly as we motored out of the canal behind my brothers house and out to the inter coastal waterway to the ocean.  I checked out Navionics and SEAiq, which are two of my other favorites iPad charting apps.

I pulled up Marine Information Display on my iPhone and monitored our progress.

I gave the Shipfinder app a quick look to see if any ships were in the area.

The Pan Oceanic 46 is a classic Ted Brewer design from the 1980s.  It is among a number of great cruising boats designed by Brewer. Some of his other classics have been the Brewer 12.8, Vision 41 and the Brewer 44 center cockpit. Pan Oceanic yachts were built in Taiwan and the Philippines from 1980 to about 1986.  A 38, 43 and a 46 foot versions of the Pan Oceanic were built. It is estimate that 40-50 PO 46s and about 15 of the 43s were built.  The flush deck provides a full 6 foot 8 inch headroom below.  The pilothouse provides a pilot berth, second weather proof steering station, engine controls and navigation station.
All of the models were built extra heavy with hand laid fiberglass roving and matte.  The PO 46 is a heavy displacement yacht weighing in at 34,000 lbs. The full keel weighing 12,000 lbs provides a stable and easy motion even in heavy seas.
They all have high bull works, freeboard and a deep cockpit that keep you safe and dry while underway.  Large dorade vents funnel plenty of air through out the boats interior.  The engine and systems are accessed beneath the pilothouse floor
The boat was bought several years ago and has been a labor of love bringing the old girl back to her former glory.  The refit has taken many years, you name it, we have replaced it. New paint, removed teak decks, engine, fuel tanks, exhaust, shaft, fuel system, AC/DC panels, solar panels, wiring, windlass, standing and running rigging, chain plates, through hulls, battery charger, inverter, holding tanks, plumbing, custom hard top, refrigeration, cushions, custom cockpit hatches, insulation, 10 new custom pilothouse widows, new helm station, deck wash and cockpit shower, all hatches and hardware re-bedded, new main traveler, running lights, new interior cabinets, flooring, headliner, hydraulic pilot house steering and autopilot.
The whole process has been a valuable learning experience. I can safely say that I have my PhD in yacht restoration.  Not to mention the many hours my brother and I have shared working together on this boat in exotic places. It has given us a reason to get together and share some quality time.  It doesn't get much better than that.

The project is shaping up and is getting to the point where we can start taking some extended trips aboard. I can't wait for the next trip to see what else is new and to complete another project.  Stay tuned!
~~~Sail On~~~ /)

Friday, March 1, 2013

Float Plan Essential Apps

Application: iPhone
Function: Sharing Float Plan boating safety information
Rating: ***
Cost: $Free to $2.99

Compliments of the US Coast Guard

I had an email from blog follower this week who asked if I had reviewed any Float Plan apps.  I had to think a minute because I have reviewed almost 200 marine apps.  There are several that do logging but I don't think I have reviewed any with the ability to file a float plan.  A float plan is of course a short form detailing information of your plans for the day on the water.  It can be emailed to friends or family prior to your departure letting your loved ones know what your up to.  Data in the plan may include, boat name, boat photo, captain, crew, date, time, boat type, destination, departing time, returning time, propulsion, communications, and safety gear.

Aircraft have been doing flight plans for years and smart boaters are catching on to the idea of filing a FLOAT PLAN before they head out on the water. This is not only smart but will give you and people who care about you some peace of mind when you check in.

Just this week a 29 foot sailboat was reported sinking off the California coast. Several MayDay calls were heard before the boat went down but no location was given. The Coast Guard searched with no success in locating these sailors.  No one has been reported as missing so they don't know who it could be. The search was called off on Tuesday, February 26th.

If these folks had filed a float plan someone would be missing them at this point and would have reported it with a possible course or destination, giving the rescuers a place to start.

It can happen that fast, so whether you heading out on your kayak for the day or doing the Trans Pac on your sailboat it makes good sense to let someone know where you are going and when you will be back.

A quick search of the AppStore revealed a list of possible apps for preparing a quick digital float plan with your iPhone.

The Coast Guard has a free  PDF float plan available here that  you can fill out and email to your family and friends.

Float Plan $1.99
Big Tuna LLC

Big Tuna, I like these guys already.  If you have an Internet connection it is easy to quickly file your float plan before or while your starting on your adventure.  It is a great way to let your best buds know what your up to.  The default plan can easily be filled out with a few important facts about your boat, captain, crew, destination, and estimated return times.  The float plan can be sent to anyone in your address book.

The default plan can be updated to include any additional information needed.  The float plan will give you some peace of mind and help rescuers find your party's location in case of an emergency or incident a sea.

  • File a float plan with your loved ones in less than 60 seconds
  • Single tap on integrated map sets your launch / destination GPS coordinates
  • Free Text type your launch / destination points
  • Email Boat, Captain, Passenger, and Trip Info to your trusted contacts
  • Integrates with phone's contacts / address book
  • Edit default Float Plan email for a more personal touch
  • Social Media integration to encourage friends / family to practice Safe & Responsible boating

This one has some nice features and integrates GPS positions and maps for setting your destination and launch points.

Float Plan - Boating Safety $2.99
Siegleco LLC

Float Plan allows you to store details about your vessels, crew and trip itinerary and then assists you in emailing that information from your iPhone to a responsible person you trust.

Each time out simply change the itinerary dates and time and email the new float plan to friends and family with a click of a button.  The whole idea is to make is fast and easy to people will get in the habit of filing these plans.

Float Plan now allows you to enter multiple trip destinations, multiple crew and even multiple vessels.  A feature that I did not see in any other app was the ability to add a photo of the vessel that will be attached to the emailed float plan.

  • Easily check off the combination of vessel, crew and destinations you want included in your float plan .
  • Add dates and times to the destinations and click a button to email
  • Settings function
  • Enter multiple destinations
  • Email recipients
  • Destinations are sorted by name and date
  • Set primary recipient email
  • Email to more than one party
This one seemed more full featured and allowed more versatility when selecting boats, crew and destinations.

Gone Boating Marine Safety $1.99
LBS Wireless LLC

The Gone Boating app is a location aware safety notification application for boating enthusiasts. It utilizes the GPS, Google maps, calendar and camera features of the iPhone. The app enables the user to record their departure, destination and waypoint information. The application incorporates social media and allows you to to email or post a Twitter message.  Floats plans messages include boat trip details and maps.

  • Record boat, crew and safety equipment details.
  • Record trip start, trip end and waypoint dates and times using the scrolling calendar
  • Record trip start, trip end and waypoint locations using the GPS, map screen and search function.
  • Take a photo of their boat
  • Email boat trip details and maps to family or friends
  • Post a Twitter message containing their boat trip details
  • Notify their family or friends if they decide to change their dates, times or location details.
  • Notify their family or friends when they have returned or reached their destination.
The GPS and Google maps and camera features put this app head an shoulders above the rest.

BoatSafe $0.99    Free Version
HabourLight Solutions LLC

BoatSafe allows boaters and sailors to create a plan for their outdoor activities.  It lets the boater provide email communication to emergency contacts or other participants if needed.

  • Passengers
  • Car/Trailer Information
  • Vessel Information
  • Excursion Information
  • Marina Information
  • Supply List
  • Float Plan Notes
  • Email function
The user can then email the plan to the participants and/or emergency contacts.

The status indicator can be modified for each float plan.  A history of all float plans is maintained.  Previous plans can be copied and updated with the new information such as passengers and date. Plans can then be email to the passengers and emergency contacts.

I like that the app save all float plans and that you can copy and re-use them. I tried the free version but it had little functionality and kept crashing during use.

eFloatPlan $0.99
Island Wilson

eFloatPlan makes it quick and easy to file your float plan.  The app keeps a record of  the vessel's information and all vessel's safety equipment. Crew member and passenger information are kept on file as well.

Quickly select who's on board, where you're going and when you'll be back and the app will compose a complete and detailed float plan.  The plan can then be send to the responsible individual you choose.  An Internet or cell connection is needed to send the email.

eFloatPlan has a unique audible alarm that will sound 15 minutes before you are supposed to check-in.  You can then send a “Safe Arrival” message to the original float plan's recipient letting them know you have returned.

  • Multiple waypoints on float plans each with optional alert
  • Audible reminder to close float plan
  • Handles multiple vessels and simultaneous float plans
  • Keep old float plans on file to track voyage history
  • Record of all past passengers

I like the audible alarm feature but wish it had a way to Tweet or post to Facebook the float plan info.

Float Plan - Essential Tools for Boaters $Free
Ponagator Inc

The application allows you to easily input information about your boat such as size, color, boat name, registration information, and a contact phone number, as well as additional notes that may be important such as passenger lists and safety equipment on board.

Once the information is entered into the app it is stored in your phone.  There is no need to reenter the data unless it changes. Once you submit your Float Plan your information along with a map link to your exact location will be emailed to the recipients you have identified in your settings.

  • Entered boat, crew, contact and safety information is stored
  • Boat year, make and model
  • Phone #
  • Boat MMSI
  • Google Map
  • The use of GPS technology that sends a map link by way of e-mail which pinpoints your location.
  • The ability to store vessels and contact information.
  • Update and close plan feature
The app has all the basic features and the included Google map is an added bonus. The update feature allows you to add stops along the way. The app is free and provides the basic functionality needed to file a basic float plan.

Now that I have looked through all of the float plan apps, I am going to be more diligent about sharing and submitting floats plans when I take to the high seas. These are just a few of the many float plan apps out there.  Of all the apps listed, Gone Boating Marine Safety appears to be the most full featured and incorporates the most data.  It will cost you a whole $1.99. If you can't afford that one try some of the free ones that will give you some basic functionality.

Lets all get in the habit of submitting float plans not just for our peace of mind but for the peace of mind it will bring our loved ones left on shore.

~~~ Sail On~~~ /) but file your float plan first!