Sunday, April 22, 2012

SEAiq - Intelligent Vector Chart Plotter

Application: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch 
Function: Marine Navigation and Charting
Rating: *****
Cost: $9.99

Take a software engineer with a PhD in computer science, add equal parts live aboard family man, captain and world cruiser and you have the creator of this new unique app called SEAiq.  Mark Hayden, his wife and their new born child are presently cruising Australia after successfully sailing through the Caribbean, transiting the Panama Canal and the Pacific Ocean. Their adventures can be followed on their blog

The author of this app is a sailor which I find very beneficial.  Mark knows first hand what is required by a charting and navigation app and the type of information we are all looking for while out on the water. He related to me how he was frustrated with many of the apps out there and wanted to create one that addressed all his needs. He has built a slick and efficient app that provides easy download of NOAA ENC Vector charts.  He makes full use of all the information supplied on these vector charts.

Version 1.2 of the app was just released on April 13, 2012. 

  • Free NOAA ENC Vector charts
  • Best for use on the iPad
  • Offline use of charts
  • On screen instrument display
  • Detailed Vector chart information
  • Waypoints creation and edit
  • Route creation and edit
  • Smooth chart quilting
  • World chart view
  • Multi-touch gestures
The main display is a world view. At the top of the screen is a handy instrument display.  Instruments include latitude, longitude, ACC, COG, SOG, BTW, and DTW.  The instrument display takes advantage of both the internal GPS of the iPhone and iPad but will also use the assisted GPS when within cell range or connected to the Internet. An iPod touch could also be used if provided a GPS signal. The program downloads NOAA charts to the device so it will operate offline when no cell or internet are available. 

At the bottom of the display you will see soft keys for Navigate, Waypoints, Routes, Settings and NOAA.

Simply tap the screen twice on any point on the chart and a pop up box will display. You can view the coordinates of that point, bearing and distance from you present location, add a waypoint or get additional details about the location.

Settings are also available to follow your vessel on the screen and turn on and off the instrument status bar at the top of the screen. When the instruments are turned off you get a full screen display of the chart.

The Waypoints page is where you can create, edit and view all of the waypoints.

To create a new waypoint simply tap on the + icon on the top left corner of the waypoints screen. A pop up box will appear allowing you to edit the Name, Description, latitude and longitude.  A button also allows you to GoTo or navigate to the waypoint.

The Edit icon in the top right will allow you to delete waypoints or move them using the rows icons on the right side of the screen. Simply touch the rows icons on the right and move your waypoints up or down in the list. Tap Done when you finished.

Routes are nothing more than a list of waypoints that you want to navigate. The Routes page works similar to the wapoints page. The Edit button allows you to delete or move the route up or down in the list. When you have them in the order you want, select Done.  

Tapping the + icon adds a route to the page. Select your new route to edit it, this will take you to the routes edit page.

The Routes edit page allows you to edit the waypoints in the route, edit the route name or follow the route.

In the routes edit screen, select the + icon to add waypoint to your route.  A pop up of your waypoint will be displayed for easy selection.  The Edit button allows you to add, delete or change the order of your waypoint by moving them up or down the list.

I found editing of both waypoints and routes to be very easy and intuitive. It took no time at all to create some waypoints and a route. The pop up windows allowed for easy selection of waypoints, I did not have to go hunting for the points I wanted to add.

The Settings screen has numerous selections for speed, depth, symbols and status. Saftey depths can be set to show different colors on the charts to keep you off the reefs and out of trouble.

Selection between English and metric units is provided.  Another nice feature is the selection of different displays contrasts for Day, Dusk and Night making it easier to view your device in varying light conditions.

The NOAA Charts screen is where you can download and update your complete set of free NOAA ENC vector charts. NOAA charts are only provided for US waters. They are nicely divided into regions which makes it easy to download only the charts you need in a particular area.

The app does not come with any charts to start with. The user needs to download the charts for their desired region.  You will need to be connected to the Internet to download the charts. Once downloaded the charts can be used offline without an Internet connection.

Toggle the regions to On for the charts you would like to download.  Select the Update icon in the top right of the screen. The charts will download to your device.

Update the charts at any time by returning and selecting Update.

My first look at the app was encouraging.  Many apps only provide the NOAA raster charts which are like the old paper charts most people are use to. The raster charts are fine but have limitations.  This app uses the NOAA ENC vector charts which allows access to more information and zooming to different levels.

I was using the app on my iPad 2 and found that when panning or zooming there was quite a delay in the updating of the screen.  The app displayed a Working message while updating.  This may be something the developer can improve on. I assume if I had fewer chart files downloaded it may have updated the screen faster.

I liked the waypoint and route creation and editing displays.  It was quick and easy to make waypoints and routes and edit them.  Beyond that there are not many other bells and whistles with the app. As most of you know I have a list of features that I would like to see in an app as noted in my blog post The Perfect Marine Charting App.  It would be nice to see some of these features added to SEAiq in the future. Some apps can get to overloaded with features which may cause performance issues. This app is very efficient at charting and navigating and seems to perform well.

SEAiq is a compact and smooth working app that does a great job allowing the user to display, track and navigate a vessel on the NOAA ENC vector charts.  For $9.99 it is well worth the price. If it fits your needs, pick it up and give it a try.   

~~~Sail On~~~

Saturday, April 14, 2012

PolarView MX

Many of you might be familiar with Polar Navy.  If you are not make sure to check them out on their website.  They did not pay me to say that, I just like the program.  They are one of the most economical PC, Mac or Linux based navigation and chart display programs out there today.  I know many coastal cruisers who like and use their PolarView NS software.  They are one of the few charting programs that allow you to view both NOAA BSB raster and S57/S63 vector charts.  A complete set of ENC vector charts of the United Kingdom and Ireland are also available for an additional price. 

Over the years they have added waypoints, routes, GRIB file download, tidal information, AIS and most recently the ActiveCaptain points of interest offline database.  The free PolarCOM program is also great for displaying GPS and NMEA data on your laptop. After all these developments, it only makes sense that the folks at Polar Navy enter the iOS world with their own app.

Application: iPhone 4/4s, iPad 2/New
Function: Nautical Chart Viewer
Rating: **
Cost: Free!

PolarView MX version 1.0 was just released on April 13th.  It appears that the free app is now just a chart viewer.  I am sure they are working on additional functionality for a paid version in the future.

  • Free NOAA BSB Raster and S57/S63 Vector charts
  • NOAA USACE ENC charts
  • Chart filtering
  • Passage and chart planning
  • Latitude and longitude indication
  • Multi-touch function for panning an zooming
  • Seamlessly quilted for fast rendering

The chart download and settings screens can be accessed by selecting the menu button at the bottom left side of the screen. NOAA ENC, NOAA Raster and USACE ENC charts can be downloaded for free to the device for offline use. Simply tap the chart type name at the top of the screen to view the available charts for down load.

Select the chart or charts that you want to download, a blue check mark will mark the charts for down load. When you have checked all the charts you want, hit the download button on the lower right side of the screen.

All charts can be checked with the gray check mark and unchecked with the regular screw head looking icons on the lower left side of the display.

Charts can also be filtered by All, Not Installed, Installed or Installed/Expired with the icon on the top left of the the charts download display.

Once a chart is downloaded it will appear in bold black text with indications in the right column with two green boxes.  I am not sure what the color indication of the boxes means yet. I think the first box may indicate that it is good or expired. I will try to do some research and get back to eveyone on that.
Additional settings can be accessed from the main page menu button. Select the tools settings menu. Here there are general settings for the type of chart you want to view.

Color schemes for day, traditional or night vision can be selected also. Contour depths can also be customized here.

The Units settings include Depth, Height, Distance, Position, Bearings and speed. Each of these have English and metric settings.

The folks at Polar Navy have indicated that this is just the first basic version of this app. I am confident we will see many new releases with additions to give the app the needed features and functionalty similar to their PC base software.

Not bad for a start Polar Navy. Keep up the good work, I like what I see so far!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Marine Debris Tracker

Many of us have spent some time in a  boatyard at one point or another. We may have been getting your bottom or topsides painted or have gone through a total refit.  Boats, if you have noticed, dont' look very conformable out of the water.  They have timbers underneath them and stands poking into their sides to keep them from falling over. They kinda look like a beached whale in some Gulliver's Travel movie.

The people you meet in boatyards are truly a bunch of strange rangers.  They fall into a couple categories. You have the do it your selfers. These are the guys or gals who maybe can't afford to have someone do the work for them so they take on the projects themselves.  By doing the work they learn how to best do it and most of the time will help you out if you are doing a similar project.  I claim to be a do it your selfer myself and I am darn proud of it!

Then there are the know it alls.  They come over and watch you working on your project and often say, "Well, when I did my boat I did it this way and that is the correct way to do it". Sometimes you just want to smack these people, just go away and let me do it the way I had planned. If you don't know how to do a project you may need to consult with others in the boat yard. There will be no shortage of opinions, the problem will be to determine which one to listen to.  We have found out through experience that it is best to do a project at least twice. Hopefully the second time you get it right!

The best way to learn how to do a project is to help other people in the boatyard with their projects.  You can really learn a lot by helping others, not to mention making friends. The best part is, if it gets screwed up, chalk it up to experience and note not to do it that way on your boat.

My brother has undertaken a complete restoration of a 1980 Pan Oceanic 46 pilothouse. I have been with him from day one working on this beast so I know about boatyards and projects. You can see the blog of his boat at

In our boatyard we had a guy named Deno. He was the minstrel of the our boatyard. He knew where to scavenge for parts and would give his advice on just about any project you had going.  He had been in the boatyard for about 5 years and was not afraid of tearing into anything.  We were going to replace the diesel engine but had never done one before. Deno said that it is just a bunch of nuts and bolts, nothing to it.

His idea of a full days work was coming out to the boatyard and bolting on one lifeline stanchion and then drinking long neck Budweiser the rest of the day and planning his next project.  Deno's motto was forward progress, every little bit was forward progress towards getting it done, someday.  I think Deno might still be haunting that boatyard in St Petersburg, Florida.

Application: iPad and iPhone
Function: Litter Reporting
Cost: Free

Ok, enough about boatyards. I came across an app that is a little out of the ordinary but is one that will not only help boaters but the environment that we boat in. I am not a die hard tree hugger or Green Peace member but I do consider myself a good steward of the environments that I live and play in.  My Dad taught me to always leave things better than when I found them.  That includes a campsite an anchorage or a park.  Wherever you are you can always do something to make it nicer than when you arrived. 

The NOAA Marine Debris Division has teamed up with the Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative (SEA-MDI) located at the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Georgia. They have created this great app named Marine Debris Tracker. Their goal is to use technology to reach out to people and give them a tool to help report polluting debris so that it can be cleaned up by local agencies.  Of course if it is toxic leave it alone. If it is not, I am sure they would encourage anyone to pickup debris that is found.

Debris on beaches or in our waterways is not only unsightly but it could also harm the local wildlife or species living in these areas. As boaters or people who enjoy our beaches it is our duty to take care of our own trash and the trash that others may leave behind.

  • Easy to use fill in form to report debris
  • App based reporting tool
  • Selectable database of debris
  • GPS coordinates of debris

The main splash screen will allow you to log in. You will have to create a user name and password to submit your debris reports.

The entry screen allows you to choose what type of debris you spotted and write a shore description about it.  The app only allows you to select one type of debris at a time. It would be nice to have a multi select function to be able to include all the types of garbage that you are reporting.

You can log your event reports and them submit them once you get home or if you are in cell range you can submit them directly.

I am not sure where the data goes once you submit it or who will be notified to clean up the mess.  I assume they have all that figured out behind the scenes.  Just identify the messy places on your neighborhood beaches and see who shows up.

One problem I found was that the altitude reading on the app did not work correctly.  I checked other altitudes on some other apps I have and it appears way off.  The latitude and longitude appears to show correct coordinates of my position. Not sure I need the accuracy to 14 decimal points.

We all want to keep our beaches and waterways looking great. It is pretty hard to enjoy the beach with glass, cans, bottles and trash littered everywhere. If you run into a beach like the one in the picture above there is no way you can clean that up in a day.  The garbage might even contain some toxic substances. It is best to report this problem using this handy app to the local authorities and allow them to organize the clean up by professionals.

Each of us must do our part.  The folks at NOAA and SEA-MDI have made it easy for you to help by simply reporting the problem.  Lets all get on board and help out.

Stay clean out there sailors!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Compass Eye

The past several days have been in the 60s, wow! That is unheard of for March, but it is in line with the unseasonably warm winter we have had.  After last winters 80+ inches of snow I was ready for a brown Christmas.

All this warm weather it getting me itchy to get the boats out of storage.  Honestly, we have a few more weeks until that takes place. The ice is finally off of the lake but it is not unheard of to get a spring blizzard even in April. I am hoping just for some nice spring rains.

The nice thing about having four seasons is getting to enjoy them all.  We complain about Winter but it is a peaceful cleansing time to enjoy ice fishing and snowmobiling. It gets so cold around here that everything literally dies.  The Spring rains brings the hope of Summer to come and Fall starts to prepare us for Winter with cool crisp October days while we rake leaves and enjoy high school football games. As the geese fly south we enjoy some of the best hunting in the world. At last Summer, this is the time when we give her hell and pack as much fun into these few months as we can.  We wakeboard, ski, swim, float, tan, party, grill, sail, jetski and take many long booze cruises around the lake.  So raise your glass boaters and lets toast to a long hot summer!

I have had several emails from some app developers wanting me to take a look at their latest creations.  One such app is Compass Eye.

Application: iPhone, iPad
Function: Augmented Reality Compass
Rating: ***
Cost: $4.99

As with most great ideas this app was developed out of a need for an easy to use hand bearing compass.  Steve Bennettt the CEO of Electric Pocket is an avid sailor and sails in some of the most treacherous water in Europe. The iPhone 4 now boasts a great camera, a gyroscope and GPS which allow any app developer to provide the user a wealth of situational information.

This app is a compass on steroids! It is fully gimballed so it will work in any orientation on your iPhone or iPad.  You can use it on land while hiking or as a hand bearing compass on the ocean or in the air while flying. 

The iPhone and Compass Eye allow you to replace your binoculars and hand bearing compass with a compact and versatile device we are all familiar with.  The apps zooms 8 times which is similar to a pair of 7x50 binoculars.

  • Real time compass
  • Compass overlayed on live camera view
  • Zoom to 8X
  • Back, transit and collision bearing markers
  • Green and red bearing lines are movable
  • Triangulation bearing capable
  • Time, date and GPS location
  • Magnetic and true north capable
  • Live view with position and track
  • Satellite and map overalys
If you don't have all the fancy GPS and chart plotters on board this simple real time phone bearing compass will give you a way to take bearings for all your coastal cruising needs.

Open the app and hold your phone facing the direction of your heading.  You will see half a compass on the bottom of the screen.  Set a bearing by tapping the compass icon on the lower right side of the screen.  A yellow line will show your present bearing.  Add additional bearings by tapping once to set a bearing reference line that is colored red.  Tap twice and you will can create another line colored green. Both of these can be dragged by simply touching them on the screen and moving them to the desired bearing.

The top left side of the screen displays the date and time and the top right shows the latitude, longitude, speed over ground and course over ground.  You can cycle through these data items by tapping on the screen.

The image on the screen can be zoomed by using the + and - icons on the lower right side of the screen. The image can be zoomed up to 8x. This is based on the iPhone 4 camera image specifications. Field of vision is 122m at 1000m at 8x. Angle of view is 7 degrees at 8x.

While viewing your bearings you can take a picture and share it with your friends. The camera icon in the lower left side of the screen is used to capture the image.  No app would be complete without the ability to share your travels via email and Twitter. What, no Facebook integration?

Share your pictures from the settings page by tapping the italics i at the lower left side of the screen.

When the app is layed flat you have the option to display a map with options to select a satellite view or a hybrid of both.

This app is very different from all the other wizbang charting apps I normally review.  The more I use it the more I like it.  It's simplicity makes it so easy to use and functional.   I would like to see the addition of some NOAA charts viewable while the iPhone or iPad is layed flat.  This would be an easy and useful addition to the app.  I give it a big thumbs up and suggest you give it a try if your looking for a good compass app.