Sunday, November 30, 2014

Volvo Ocean Team Vestas Runs Aground

The Volvo Ocean Race management announced last night that the sailboat Team Vestas had run aground on a small reef north of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. The vessel grounded on the Saint Brandon(Cargados Carajos) archipelago which is comprised of a number sand banks, reefs and shoals.  The reef measures more than 50 km from north to south and is 5 km wide. Saint Brandon is located in the India Ocean about 430 km northeast of Mauritius.

Image from the Volvo Life at the Extreme App
The yacht was racing along with the other six Volvo Ocean 65 foot sailboats in the second leg of the round the world race. The second leg started in Cape Town South Africa and will end in Abu Dhabi.

Race officials were notified on Saturday evening that Team Vestas had run aground.  Several other yachts ahead of Vestas had passed the reef on the west side just a few hours ahead of them. Team SCA passed to the east of the reef later that night without incident. Vestas is the blue boat shown in the image above.  This is an image from the tracker section of the  Volvo Ocean Race app available for iPhone and iPad.

Later reports from the Volvo Ocean command center reported the yacht was aground and both rudders were broken off.  A leak in the stern of the yacht was allowing water to enter the aft watertight bulkhead area. .

Team Alvimedica was placed in standby and was asked to provide assistance to the Vestas team during the night if needed.  All nine crew members were accounted for and no injuries were reported aboard Vestas. Alvimedica motored within a few miles of Vestas just behind the reef to the west of the grounded vessel.  They remained on the scene until Coast Guard and rescue personnel arrived just before dawn on Sunday morning.  All Vestas crew members were transferred to rescue vessels shortly there after.

Race officials reported that the Vestas crew will stay in a facility on Ile du Sud until arrangement can be made to extract the crew.  Plans then can be made on how to salvage the multi million dollar yacht.
Team Alvimedica was released after the rescue personnel arrived and have rejoined the race to Abu Dhabi.  They will be compensated for the time they lost while they remained in standby aiding Vestas.
Image from Google Earth

Wow! the first thing that came to my mind was, how could this happen?  These yachts have the best state of the art equipment and the most highly trained crews in the world.  I cannot conceive how a yacht of this caliber could ever run aground in the middle of the ocean.  I guess we should not be so quick to judge until we have all the facts.

This is the first time the Volvo Ocean race has sailed to Abu Dahbi. Concerns of pirates on the east coast of Africa forced the race officials to ship the yachts to Abu Dhabi the last time the race was held three years ago.  So sailing in these unfamiliar waters may have been a contributing factor.

I am sure there will be a million articles attempting to figure out how this happened. Was it human error, was it bad electronic charts, who is to blame?  It is no doubt a huge oversight by someone.  My heart goes out to the sailors onboard.

The Google Earth screen shot above clearly shows the sliver of an island and the reef north of Mauritius. This appears to be the area where Vestas ran aground when you compare it to the Volvo Ocean Race Tracking position.

The image on the left is a close up Google Earth image of the Saint Brandon reef.  This low laying reef is a sunken atoll which is at times partly under water during high tide.

I do not own any charts for this area and I do not know what type of charting systems these boats had on board.  Apparently they were not adequate enough to keep the boat out of trouble. Perhaps an app like the Active Captain Companion would have alerted the navigator to the approaching hazard and shoals and prevented this tragedy. Would the Navionics Boating App Auto Routing feature factored in the shallow area and guided the boat safely around the shoals.  Having an app with view of satellite imagery would in this case made it obvious shoals were ahead. If the navigator was using a crowd sourcing app that had this spot listed as a hazard they might have been alerted to the problem.  I am impressed with the way mobile apps have continued to add features that address safety and security in real time navigation.  Maybe it is time for the Big Chart Plotter companies to rethink their approach.

This incident should be a lesson to us all.  Make sure you know the waters that you are boating in.  Check all sources of information including paper charts, electronic charts, satellite images and local knowledge. Don't rely on one set of information.

If I was racing in a multi million dollar yacht at 20 knots I would want to use all the tool available to me. There was apparently a serious lapse in judgement by someone.  The other 6 yachts were either aware of the shoal or just lucky to avoid it.  The crew of Vestas is fortunate in that no one was hurt and the boat can possibly be towed off the reef. There are probably a few bruised egos on Vestas following this incident. I am sure they will all be back racing again after learning this important lesson. 

What do you think happened?

~~~ Sail On ~~~ /)


Saturday, November 22, 2014

FLIR ONE for iPhone 5/5s

Application: iPhone 5/5S
Function: Thermal Imaging camera
Rating: *****
Cost: App is free, FLIR One camera $349

The FLIR company provides state of the art night vision and thermal imaging cameras for law enforcement, maritime first responders,  commercial and personal use. Their marine thermal imaging cameras have been featured in all the boating magazines. 

Many of the megayachts now come with night vision and thermal imaging cameras as standard equipment. Some of these marine commercial cameras can run as high as $20,000.

If your not a mega yacht owner you can still have access to this technology. FLIR also produces hand held night vision units from or $2000 to $8000.

The company's latest development, the FLIR ONE, now makes this technology available to an average boater. The FLIR ONE is a thermal imaging camera attachment for the iPhone 5 or 5s. At $349 it is a low cost alternative to the other more expensive cameras in the FLIR product line.  The infra red camera is housed in a sleek sleeve that the iPhone slides into. It looks much like an external battery charging case. The sleeve houses the thermal imaging camera and a normal camera for enhancing the image.

  • Live thermal imaging/night vision display
  • iPhone 5/5s compatible
  • Camera sleeve with battery
  • Load images and videos to camera roll
  • Upload images and video to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
  • Separate battery for with 2 hours of continuous use
  • Mini USB charging
  • See what the naked eye cannot
  • Detects temperature differences of about one-tenth of a Fahrenheit degree, and the temperature readout is accurate to within 2 degrees.
  • Observe heat sources, heat differences, fire, overheating equipment or components
  • See through smoke and haze
  • Detect insulation leaks and energy efficiency problems.
The FLIR ONE app is the interface to managing the camera settings and images taken by the device. Start by attaching your iPhone 5 or 5s to the FLIR ONE sleeve.  Move the switch to the middle position to turn on the device.

You can now see live thermal images on your phone's screen. The FLIR ONE uses MSX technology which utilizes two cameras. One camera picks up the thermal imaging and the other picks up a visual image. The two images are combined to create a unique viewable image.

The FLIR ONE thermal imaging can be used for a variety of applications around your home or on your boat. The thermal imaging also provides night vision and could help you to locate objects in the water or other vessels ahead during the night.  If you have a man overboard situation on a pitch black night you may never find that person.  Thermal imaging could help to locate that person by viewing their heat signature on the device.

Use it in the engine room to take a quick scan of your batteries and wiring connections to locate hot spots before they cause a failure or fire on your yacht.

The Settings page allows adjustments for Emissivity, location, photos and temperature units.

Images and video can be taken using the on screen buttons similar to taking photos and video with the iPhone camera app.

The app makes it easy to collect and share your interesting and useful thermal images. Images and video are easily captured and can be saved directly to the Camera Roll on your device. Images can also be share on Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels.

The images and video show temperature differences by the variations in color. The darker parts of the image a cooler and the brighter parts of the image are hotter in temperature.

I could see occasionally using it around the home or boat. I am not so sure I would fork out $349 for the device. Although Christmas is coming, so if you have that hard to buy for Gadget Geek this might be just what he would love!

Having the device on the phone would make it very handy to use. I might be surprised how much I would use it if I carried it around everyday.

Is anyone using this device? I would be interested in any feedback from actual users.

~~~ Sail On ~~~ /)

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Microsoft Office - Free Apps for iOS Devices

Application: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch
Function: Word Processing, Spread sheet and Presentations
Rating: *****
Cost: Free, in app purchases for additional features

I know, these are not exactly marine apps, but they are very useful for anyone who needs to keep a ships log or keep track of finances or a parts inventory on a yacht. It is now possible to create and edit Office documents from all your mobile devices anytime anywhere. How cool it that?

On November 6th, new versions of Word, Excel and Power Point were released for use on the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.  These new updated versions are optimized to work on all of your iOS devices.

To get started download the apps from the Apple App Store. You will need to sign up for a free Microsoft Live account  to initialize the apps. Your live account provides access to your Skype, your Office 365 subscription, games, music and movies from Microsoft's participating stores. It also allows you access to all of your photos, videos, and documents on OneDrive. Your account consists of an email and password, plus your profile info, billing and payment details.

The prior version of the Office for iPhone was just a single app that let you connect with your Microsoft OneDrive. It lacked many of the document creation features of the new suite of apps.  The old version also required a subscription to Office 365 to do anything more than read. The new versions allows many of the basic viewing and editing features such as making edits to words, fonts, font sizes and font color. Making more complex formatting changes to documents and spreadsheets will require purchase of an Office 365 subscription.  The basic features will probably be good enough for most people for light everyday use.

The Office 365 subscriptions will run you $6.99 a month for a single desktop and mobile version. For $9.99 a month you get Office 365 for 5 computers and 5 mobile devices.  These in app purchases will be charged to your Apple account.  The subscriptions will automatically be renewed unless you turn off auto renew in your iTunes account.

With your free Microsoft Live account you automatically get 15GB of free space on OneDrive which is Microsoft's cloud storage service. This account allows you to save and open documents across all your devices.

These new apps have been designed specifically for use on the for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. They work seamlessly by adjusting to the screen size of your iPhone or iPad.


Word documents now display nicely on your iOS iPad and iPhone. When you edit or create documents, you can be sure they will look exactly the same across all platforms including PC, Mac, tablet and phone. Word, Excel and Power Point all have the familiar Office look and feel.  The interface is very intuitive to use with all the common touch gestures. 


• Images, tables, charts, SmartArt, footnotes, equations 
• On your phone, choose between the real document layout or an easy-to-read layout.
• View email attachments and access Word documents from OneDrive, Dropbox, OneDrive for Business, or SharePoint.
• Pick up from where you left off because Word knows what you were working on last, no matter what device you were using.
• Print Word documents to an AirPrint printer, with or without markup.
• Content and formatting are maintained across all your devices - PC, Mac, tablet and phone.
• Rich formatting including fonts, pictures, tables, charts, textboxes, shapes, footnotes and page layout.
• Track changes, add comments and work simultaneously with others on the same document.
• Word automatically saves your document, so you can rest assured that you don't lose all your work while you're on the go.
• Simply share your work with others by emailing a hyperlink, the file or a PDF.

Microsoft Excel

Excel is the most popular spreadsheet application and can be use to keep track of your spare parts inventory, finances and expenses while afloat.  I have built several spreadsheets for use on board to keep an inventory of all my storage lockers.  I never have to guess which locker or bin something is stored.

All of the new Microsoft apps allow the files to be save, emailed or exported to your Microsoft Drive or Dropbox accounts. Dropbox and Drive will automatically update the saved files on all your devices so you can work seamlessly from home or on the water.


•Formulas, tables, charts, comments, PivotTables, sparklines, conditional formatting .
•Excel spreadsheets look just as they do on your PC or Mac.
•View email attachments and access all your Excel spreadsheets from OneDrive, Dropbox, OneDrive for Business, or SharePoint.
•Pick up from where you left off because Excel for iPad knows what spreadsheet you were working on last, no matter what device you were using.
•Print an entire Excel workbook, a worksheet or a selected range to an AirPrint printer.
•When you edit a spreadsheet, your content and formatting are maintained across all your devices – PC, Mac, tablet and phone.
•Use formulas, charts, tables, sorting, filtering, and more.
•A special formula keyboard lets you add numbers and formulas rapidly – much easier than with the standard touch keyboard.
•Excel automatically saves your spreadsheet.
•Share your work by emailing the spreadsheet, a hyperlink or a PDF.

Power Point

Power Point is great for making and editing presentations on your iPad or iPhone. It may not be very useful to most boaters but you may someday need to create a presentation of your recent travels to share with your yacht club or friends. Power Point allows you to make engaging and dynamic presentations for your audience. Power Point allows you to easily insert text, pictures, video or links to the Internet in your presentations.


•Themes, images, tables, charts, SmartArt, transitions, animations are all there, nicely formatted.
•PowerPoint presentations look just as they do on your Mac or PC.
•When presenting, see your speaker notes and use the built-in laser pointer, pens or highlighters to get your point across.
•View email attachments and access all your PowerPoint presentations from OneDrive, Dropbox, OneDrive for Business, or SharePoint.
•Pick up from where you left off  no matter what device you were using.
•Print to an AirPrint device.
The apps are free so go ahead and add them to your devices.  If you find you need more features and options you can always sign up for the paid premium versions.  Who knows, if you work while you travel you may have a need to edit documents on the fly. These apps give you the freedom to do that from any of your mobile devices.

~~~~ Sail On ~~~~ /)



Saturday, November 1, 2014

SeaPilot 3.7 Marine Charting App (US Version)

Application: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android versions also
Function: Chart Plotter, Routes, Marks, GPS, AIS, Instrument data
Rating: *****
Cost: App is free, in app purchases

SeaPilot has been around for a while but it was previously only available in Sweden in the Android version of the app.  The recent release of SeaPilot, the US iOS version caught the attention of i-Marine Apps.

There has been quite a dry spell recently with the absence of any new charting apps to write about. Most of the news has just been about updates and the addition of some new features to the existing apps. So I am pumped to see that SeaPilot finally came around and "drank the coolaid" to produce an iOS app for the iPad and iPhone.

SeaPilot was developed by Anders Bergstrom and his company True Heading from Sweden. This spring they rolled out a new division of their company to offer their products to the US and North America. Swedens's waterways are very well known for being covered by an extensive network of AIS markers and buoys. The Swedish government also has their own Internet based AIS system which can be licensed to commercial users.

The app has some nice features including GPS tracking which provide bearing, distance and cross track error to your destination. AIS and instrument data can be acquired from your on board WIFI and AIS network. Routes and Marks allow navigating a pre-defined route or to a waypoint.

The Swedish version of the app is available with charts for Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, Great Britain, Ireland, Iceland and France.

  • Positioning via GPS
  • Visualization of S-57 chart data from National Maritime Administrations
  • AIS data from National Maritime Administrations via Internet (3G or WLAN)
  • Course and speed vector for AIS targets
  • AIS weather data in real time from national weather stations - SWE
  • Autonomous navigation - charts (In-App-purchase) downloaded to the iPad
  • Free chart udates
  • MOB return to a marked position
  • Option to track your own boat on the chart
  • Displays position, course and speed
  • Adjustable speed and course vector
  • Display settings for day, dawn/dusk and night
  • Routes/waypoints (Export/Import functions in GPX-format, save to list)
  • Past track (Export/Import in GPX-format, save to list)
  • Plotting/marking objects (Export/Import in GPX-format, save to list)
  • Electronic bearing and range marker from own vessel
  • True Motion and adjustable North Up / Head Up chart orientation
  • Chart object search
  • AIS target search
  • Setting of safety contour (2, 3, 6, 10 and 15 meters)
  • Hide/show status, tool bar and own AIS target
  • NMEA-0183 interface for connecting external GPS/AIS via WIFI
  • High definition (HD)
  • World chart for rough overview/orientation
  • Facebook integration allows sharing position with friends and family 
The app is very intuitive and easy to use with common touch screen gestures. The main screen displays the charts and instrument data is across the top of the screen. Seven soft keys at the bottom are used to access the other app features and settings.


To be able to download charts you will have to set up an account with SeaPilot.  You can then download charts after performing an in app purchase. The purchase will be charged to your iTunes account.

Charts can be purchased and downloaded from the Settings Menu using the far right gear looking icon.  For the United States they offer the US-East for $13.99, Great Lakes for $38.99 and US West for $13.99. The app does allow you a few days for a free trial of the charts and features. After that you have to purchase a set.  The prices seem a little on the high side. I am not sure why the Great Lakes Charts are $38.99. They may to be targeting the commercial shipping market at this price.

I trial downloaded the US-East charts for this review. Make sure to use a WiFi connection for a faster download of the charts. The charts are provided in the S57 format so they adhere to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) standards.  This format allows information to be place in layers so the basic chart data is not so cluttered. 


The instrument bar at the top displays latitude, longitude, wind speed and direction.  Additional display of wind angle, route to destination, bearing and cross track error readings will appear when you select and activate a route or select GoTo a mark.

If  you want to activate access to the WiFi NMEA data on board your yacht you will have to pay an annual $13.99 fee to license this feature. The app does not accept any NMEA 2000 data at this time.

AIS Data can be downloaded and displayed also over the NMEA connection. The target name, vector and station name can be displayed. The app can use your AIS transponder data on board or it can us an Internet based AIS system. This requires another annual subscription of $19.99.

 GPS Tracking

The SeaPilot app will use the GPS signal from your device if it has one. If your device does not have GPS such as a WiFi only iPad you can use a variety of Bluetooth GPS devices. To select the internal devices GPS go to Settings/Use GPS to turn this feature on. Once the GPS is enabled you should see the latitude and longitude position in the upper left corner of the display. If the data connection is lost it will turn red indicating bad position data.


Routes are easily created and modified right on the screen. Tap and hold your finger any where on the chart.  A pop-up box will come up displaying Position, Mark, Route and Weather selections.

Route selection options are Create Route and GoTo.  Tap Create Route and start adding points by tapping on the position you want the route to follow. Route markers can be adjusted by tapping and holding on the mark and moving it to the new location. 

Marks are basically waypoints. These can be created at any location with a tap of your finger.

To select, display, delete and edit your created routes tap the Route icon at the bottom of the page. This is the icon fourth from the left at the bottom of the screen.

Marks can also be selected to display and delete the marks that you have created. Other options can be accessed by selecting the Flag icon at the bottom of the screen.


SeaPilot has two ways to access AIS data. It can provide AIS targets on your device from an Internet based AIS system such as Marine Traffic or other land based networks. The update speed for these AIS targets is a maximum 10-20 seconds.  AIS targets for the closest 100 vessels to your position are provided for display in the app.  This feature must be purchased annually and will cost $19.99 a year. This feature has to be turned on in Settings/Internet AIS for it to work.

The second way AIS data can be used by the app is with an AIS transponder on board your ship. The AIS transponder is not dependent on an Internet connection to send or receive AIS data for ships near your position.


The Weather information is provided by the MeteoGroup.  Data includes coastal weather forecasts in one-hour intervals for any position on the chart.  The weather feature requires an Internet connection by WLAN or Mobile coverage. The weather feature must be purchased within the app under Settings/Subscriptions. The Weather data will cost $9.99 for the annual subscription.  This seems kind of steep for basic weather data.

Tap and hold your finger anywhere on the screen to view the weather data at that location.  Note the crosshairs are offset from your finger for accurate placement. As shown in the image, temperature and wind speed and direction are displayed. Hourly data can be viewed by selecting a specific day.

SeaPilot has all the basic features you might want in an introductory app. I like the app and the wide variety of features but find it frustrating that I have to subscribe to each feature separately. The subscriptions are only good for a years so I have to pay for the features all over again year after year. I personally find this pricing a little aggressive when compared to other apps with more features.

Some features that the app is lacking are NMEA 2000 compatibility, GRIB file download, points of interest, tides, anchor alarm, compass display, trip data and expanded instruments data. I hope they will work on adding this functionality.

Charts $13.99-$38.99 per year
AIS $19.99 per year
NMEA Data $13.99 per year
Import/Export $13.99 per year
Mark and Routes $13.99 per year
Weather $9.99 per year

I welcome the SeaPilot app to the US market and hope they can compete with the popular apps like iNavx, SEAiq, Garmin BCM, Navionics and SeaNav.   The more competition the better! That the American way!

Has anyone used the SeaPilot app? I would like to hear what your experience has been.

~~~ Sail On ~~~ /)