Saturday, May 26, 2012

iPad Onboard - Protecting Your iPad

This is the first in a series of blog entries that will explore what you need to do to set up and use your iPad on board your boat. Up until now I have blogged a lot about marine apps but have not spent alot of time on setting up the iPad itself for marine use.

The iPad has taken the world and the boating community by storm since it was introduce a few years ago.  In the few short years that it has been around it has been rapidly adopted by major manufacturers in a wide range of areas.  It has revolutionized the music industry, e-publishing, movie downloads, textbooks, e-commerce, photography and video just to name a few. It amazes me everyday how this device is changing the way we do things.

The iPad itself is amazing but it is the legion of app developers that have truly made this device a game changer.  Other companies have developed similar hardware but none have the support of the app developers like the iPad does. So tell me something I don't know, Mark, the iPad is awesome!

Many have scoffed at the idea that the iPad could be used prime time in the marine environment. I hear from many cruisers and boaters throughout the world that are successfully using the device in a variety of ways.

So, how can you set up your iPad to become a trusted and useful companion on board your boat? First we must explore how to protect the iPad from the marine environment.

Protecting your iPad

The Marine environment is harsh and not friendly to most electronics. To protect your iPad from the salt air, rain and splashes of seawater you are going to need a waterproof enclosure.

Scanstrut has developed a waterproof case which is on the market now. It's new line of LifeEdge cases are a must if you are taking your iPad on board or out in the elements.

The case features include 100% waterproof and shockproof, anti-glare screen, great sound transmission, fully functional screen, camera and video, four great colors, comfortable hand strap, and it floats. The case is now available on for about $125.

If you are looking for a cheaper alternative the iLoc iPad case is a good choice. These are sealable heavy duty pouches or bags that provide minimal protection for your iPhone or iPad. I have not used these but they appear to be splash proof and allow full use of the touch screen capabilities. The bags are clear but may cause pictures and video to be a little blurry.

You can purchase a set of 2 for about $5.00. They have many styles available for a wide variety of phones and tablets.

LifeProof is another great case. I have one for my iPhone 4s and am waiting for the iPad case to become available.

The enclosure is a two part case that snaps together with an integral O-ring seal. It has double AR coated glass so the camera and video images are crystal clear.  It has clearvoice technology which easily lets you hear music and and voice transmissions.

The ultra flat screen protection allows use of all multi-touch functions. This case is designed to military specification IP-68 for water and dust. Schock resistant to for drops up to 2 meters or 6.6 feet.

The iPhone case is available right now for $79.00. The iPad case will be available soon.

Check out the video below of this guy snorkeling with his Lifeproof case to10 feet.

Most cases are bulky and inhibit the full use of the device. The next company has a product that does away with all cases.  Liquipel is a revolutionary process created to make electronics waterproof with no case. The process coats the internal electronics with a thin film of nano waterproofing particles.

Liquipel has approved the following devices with their process. I noticed the iPad is not on the list yet but hope one day they will be able to do the process on my iPad.  They do offer the process for an iPhone 4s for $59.00

Apple iPod Shuffle
Apple iPhone 4s
Apple iPhone 4
Apple iPhone 3g/s
Galaxy S2 (T-Mobile)
Galaxy S2 (AT&T)
HTC Evo 4G
HTC Evo Shift 4G
HTC MyTouch 4G
Motorola Droid X/X2
Samsung Charge

Once we have our device protected we can then focus on using it for the many fun and entertaining things it was developed for. My next blog entry will focus on camera and video.

~~~Sail On~~~

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Boat HUD

Application:  iPhone 3GS, 4, 4S, iPod Touch 3&4 Gen
Function: Heads up Display, navigation, weather data
Rating: ***
Cost: $1.99

Boat HUD is a great little app that was apparently created by a sailor or boater.  The app works well on the water but can be used in any vehicle that you might be traveling in.  All of the information is thoughtfully incorporated into one screen. The screen looks a little busy at first glance but weigh that against all the useful data and it seems to work. 
  • Speed indication
  • Latitude/longitude
  • Local NOAA weather
  • Wind direction and velocity
  • Wind indication with respect to the users heading
  • Temperature
  • Barometric pressure
  • Sunrise and Sunset times
  • Distance travelled
  • Google Map position
  • Timer
  • Settings for both English and metric readings
  • Data colors can be customized for better day and night vision
  • Anchor Alarm
I have seen quite a few speedometer apps out there, but none with the integrated weather, maps and the customizable functions that Boat HUD has.

The app opens up to the main display. The vessels speed is indicated in the larger center text. The various other weather, heading and position data are shown around the outside of the display.  I like that the weather data is displayed on the same screen.  As a sailor the wind speed and direction are an added bonus.

The app requires a cell or Internet connection to pickup the weather data. The app searches for the closet NOAA weather site and downloads the needed data for display.

The settings screen can be accessed by tapping the small italics i in the lower right corner of the screen.  Units for all settings can be selected here for either English or metric units.

Additional settings are available to hide local clock, hide sunrise/sunset, hide GPS coordinates, hide pressure, hide stopwatch, disable screen saver and display heading in text form. The anchor alarm distance can also be set here.

Colors for the text can be changed for the speed and heading, temperature and pressure, wind, clock, sunrise/sunset and the background.  This is a nice feature that provides a lot of flexibility to adjust the colors for optimum contrast.  The wide range of colors makes it easy to find the best combination for both day and night vision.

I like the app, but there are a few other features that might make it even better.  It would be cool to have the ability to tap a reading and have it come to the center of the display and replace the speed indication. This would allow the user to highlight any of the readings needed at the time.

Another useful feature would be tap a data point and have it take you to another page and show a graph of the wind, pressure, temperature or speed.  When I am racing I like to see my speed in large text and graphed to see if I am losing or gaining speed.  A graph of the pressure might also show you indication of an approaching storm.  What features would you like to see added?.

The app is priced right at $1.99 and offers much more than just a basic speedometer app.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Boat Beacon

When I was about 8 years old my Dad took me to see an old boat that he had been looking at.  It was a 1952 Century Resorter. It was 18 ft long and had a Chrysler marine straight 6 cylinder engine.  It was a wooden boat made out of beautiful red mahogany.  The problem was it had a broken plank in the bottom, the rudder and prop shaft were bent and the engine was torn apart and in pieces all over the boat. The boat had been neglected and was destined for the bone yard.

My Dad saw beyond the obvious condition of the boat and had visions of many fun filled weekends on the area lakes.  The other important part was that it was in his price range.  He cut a check for $300 bucks and it was ours. He rented an old flat bed trailer and hauled it home a few weeks later.  He evidently did not tell my mother about the boat purchase so when we pulled in the driveway there was a lot of screaming and door slamming.

So began the two year restoration project.  My Dad and I pulled the engine out of the boat and rebuilt it over the winter with new pistons, rings and bearings.  The boat was completely stripped of all the old varnish and sanded smooth. The whole family took part in the process except for my mother. The boat was re-stained and varnished till she shined like new.  Thousands of brass screw were removed and a new plank was fashioned for the bottom.  An old pickup frame was converted into a trailer and we were ready to for the maiden voyage.

Many lessons were learned while we restored the old boat. A classic is worth restoring, anything worth doing is worth doing right, patience, teamwork, details matter, make due with what you have, hard work is rewarded, anything can be fixed, delayed gratification and see the big picture.  I am not sure if this was my Dad's master plan but he manged to teach us all these things. In the end it turned out to be much more that a boat project.

I have some very fond memories of learning to ski behind the "Old Woody" as we use to call it.  So boating has been in my blood for a long time. 

I finally got our boats out of storage and put them in the water this weekend.  My fleet consists of a 19 ft Crownline ski boat, a 22ft S2 6.9 sailboat and a Kawasaki Jet ski.  Now I feel like the boating season has officially arrived. 

The nice thing about fiberglass boats is that there is no varnishing, just scrub them down and your ready to go. The Crownline has been a great boat and the 19ft size is just right for our family.

My two kids like to wakeboard while I am still a die hard slalom skier.  I do wakeboard also but I still get a kick out of laying down a nice edge on a ski.

Application: iPhone, iPad
Function: Marine information, AIS

Boat Beacon is an app that allows you to use your 3 or 4G iPhone or iPad to see and prevent collisions with other commercial ships and vessels.  The app was developed by Steve Bennet and Electric Pocket. Steve sails in some pretty busy water in the UK and developed Boat Beacon to keep him out of trouble.  This AIS like app requires that you have access to the Internet to work so it will only be usable in the coastal areas or on the US Great Lakes.  Many regions of the US have cell service up to 12 miles from shore.   

AIS is one of the most significant developments in the marine industry since radar.  It has been around for years and requires larger commercial ships to broadcast information about their identity, speed an course.  This system has helped tremendously with collision avoidance and safety.  Recently, AIS receivers have become popular with smaller vessels and cruisers who want to keep tabs on these commercial vessels. Special AIS receivers, software and antenna installations are required to accomplish this.  Boat Beacon makes use of this AIS data provided by other ships and brings it to your iPhone or iPad through the Internet.

I reviewed gTrax which is an Internet based AIS app quite a while ago.  Marine Traffic, AIS Hub and Ship Finder are a couple more Internet sites that use land based AIS receivers and then plot the position of the ships in that area. Not all areas are covered so make sure to check the coverage for your area.

Boat Beacon gives you the ability to have your position show up on all these sites and track other ships relative to your position. This app gives you an AIS like tracking and collision avoidance system.

It is very important to remember that you will be able to see other vessel's AIS data on your iPhone but those ships will not be able to see yours unless you have an actual AIS transponder on your boat.   Boat Beacon is not an AIS transponder.  So don't assume that you will be seen by other larger commercial traffic. Make the necessary communications with these vessels via VHF radio or adjust your course to avoid collisions.

  • Real time mapping of your vessel and other provided by AIS
  • Onscreen compass
  • Position Indication, latitude and longitude
  • SOG and COG
  • Color coded ship types
  • Ships speed and course vectors
  • Ships will flash if on collision course with you
  • Tap a ship for more information
  • Heading indication
  • Magnetic and true settings
  • Share your position information with family and friends
  • 60 Mile over the horizon using CPA (closet point of approach calculations)
  • CPA and AIS position update continuously
  • Transmit enabled allows your boat to appear to other Boat Beacon user.
  • Enable AIS sharing and acquire an MMSI number to have your boat appear on AIS sites like Marine Traffic, AIS HUB and Ship Finder.
  • Communicate with other Boat Beacon users 

Boat Beacon opens to a Google map of your immediate area and begins to show ships and AIS data.  These ship are color coded according to their type.  An on screen compass helps locate ships.  At the top of the screen latitude and longitude are displayed along with speed and course.

At the bottom of the screen you will see six icons to control the features of the app. 

To find out more information select the ship and an additional page will pop up showing vessel name, type, status, speed, course, distance, MMSI and CPA.

The first icon will take you to the Settings page. Here you can enter your ships details review your trip details, select a map type, review the users guide, map legend and make several setting changes.

The second icon is a Refresh button. Select this to refresh ship positions and AIS data.

The next icon is the Position icon. Select this to show your current position. The map will automatically center on your location.

The fourth icon is for the Compass. Select this to overlay the compass rose on the map. The compass rose shows the direction you iPhone or iPad is pointing and the map rotates accordingly. Tap the icon again to turn off the compass. The map will then automatically align to true North. There is also a setting that can be turned on to always display North up.

The magnifying glass icon is used for Searching for a vessel by name or MMSI(Maritime Mobile Service Identity)

The last icon is for turning on Transmit mode.  With this turned ON the app continuously transmits your current position and details about your vessel to the Internet.  A Green indicator light at the top of the screen will show that your data has been sent. An Amber colored light will mean some type of communication failure and Red is off.

To have your vessel show up on Internet based AIS sites like AIS-HUB, Marine Traffic and Ship Finder you will need to first acquire a valid MMSI number and turn on AIS sharing on the Settings page.

In the US a valid MMSI can be applied for through BoatSUS at their site. In the UK see Offcom MMSI.

The Boat Beacon app tracking features can be use any time you need to keep track of a group of boats. You can outfit all racers in your fleet with Boat Beacon and keep track of their position in real time.

This app is unique and has many benefits for the coastal cruiser.  When you have ships bearing down on you from all directions Boat Beacon might be a handy tool to have on board.  The way it interfaces with existing land based AIS interent sites can be confusing so make sure you understand the technology and the limitations.  At $9.99, Boat Beacon is a lot cheaper than a full blown AIS installation on your boat. If your primarily a coastal cruiser it should serve you well.

Keep safe out there!

~~~Sail On ~~~

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Sea Tow

There have been many articles written this week about the fate of the sailing vessel Aegean. The Hunter 376 from Redondo Beach was taking part in the Newport to Ensenada race last weekend. The boat was found in pieces on Saturday, April 28th and all aboard perished.  Three of the bodies were recovered but the skipper was never found.

This is a horrible tale for what should have been a fun weekend race. There have been alot of theories as to what happened.  Some think that the boat may have been run down by a larger ship but there is no evidence to support that.  The boat was fitted with a Spot locating device which was broadcasting the boat position up to 1:30 am on Saturday morning. The location reports showed that the boat was moving at a constant speed and course right into the rocky bluffs of North Coronado Island. Debris from the boat was scattered over a wide area near the island.

A senseless accident like this makes us all think about what could have been done to prevent this from happening.  It is a time for us to take inventory of the safety equipment we have on board our own boats and review our watch procedures.

Application: iPhone, iPod Touch
Function: Marine information and services
Cost: Free

This app is one that can help any lake or coastal boater out of a jam. Sea Tow and their yellow boats have been around since 1983. They have franchises in over 100 locations around the United States coastal waters.  They offer non emergency services to boaters of all kinds through a yearly subscription service. A fee of $169 gets you a Gold membership which will cover all your boats. A fee of $119 will get you covered on lakes where service is available.

Sea Tow has created a handy little app to give you some basic weather and navigation features and will hopefully keep you out of trouble.  The app is available for the iPhone and iPod touch in iOS. An Android version is also available. If you do need their services the bright yellow boats are standing by 24 hours a day to assist you on the water.

The app offers more than just a way to contact Sea Tow. I reviewed the BoatUS app earlier and found it pretty sparse in features.  The Sea Tow app has went alot further providing Tide information, Weather forecasts, navigation features and emergency contact capability.

  • Tide Forecast for 7 days
  • Follow Me feature to display nearest tide stations
  • 10 day Weather forecasts powered by Weather Underground
  • Stores multiple weather locations
  • Real time weather, wind speed, gusts, temperature and pressure
  • Weather alerts
  • Weather radar
  • GPS, Google map position and compass
  • Latitude and longitude
  • Course (COG) and speed (SOG) in MPH and Knots
  • Daytime and nigh time screen views
The main splash screen shows a menu of features provided by the app. If you are in need of assistance the bottom button can be accessed to call Sea Tow. If you do not have cell service you can try to contact Sea Tow on VHF channel 16.


The Tides selection brings you to a screen that shows the tide stations in your area. Select one of these or find a site using the search window to view current tides and forecasts up to 7 days in advance.  The time until the next high or low tide is displayed along with the date and time. If the screen orientation is changed from vertical to horizontal a graph of the tide for the day is also displayed.

The Follow Me feature can be set in setting with the Gear icon in the top right of the screen. This will display pertinent tide stations as you move to new locations. The tide readings can be displayed in feet and meters.

Lunar information on the moon phase is displayed along with rise and set times.  

Weather is provide for your current location or any location you may want to search for. Previous search results are saved and can be paged to by swiping up and down. Forecasts up to 10 days can be displayed by swiping right and left. 

A variety of real time information is displayed including wind speed, direction, gust, visibility, pressure and temperature.

Weather radar can be accessed by tapping the radar icon in the upper right side of the top yellow region. Tap the icon again to return to the real time weather page.

The basic navigation features are displayed on the next screens. Latitude and longitude are shown at the bottom.  A speedometer like reading shows the speed your vessel is moving along with a Course over Ground display. Settings can be adjusted to show MPH or Knots.

Simply tap the compass display to bring it to the foreground to show true heading. Tap the speed display to bring it back to the foreground.

A Google map of your position can be displayed by tapping the globe icon in the lower right.

I was impressed with the app and some of the basic navigation features it has compared to others I have reviewed.

The display can also be dimmed for night vision by selecting the slide icon in the lower left of the screen.

The last selection brings up the Sea Tow contact page. Here you have the option to Visit the website, Call Sea Tow or Join.

Sea Tow has put together a great little app that all boater should have.  Even if you don't sign up for the Sea Tow service, the app provides valuable tidal, navigation and weather information that all boater would find useful. 

Remember that you will need cell service to make Tides, and the Weather information features of the app work. The navigation features appear to use the devices locational services so they do work with or without a cell connection.

If your are a coastal cruiser it should be a great addition to your Marine app collection.  Check to see if the Sea Tow service is available in your area before signing up.  

Be safe out there boaters!

~~~Sail On~~~

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

WCC - World Cruising Calendar

It has been over a week since I last posted a killer app for all of you to view.  I must admit I had to work at my day job this week and travelled to sunny Jacksonville Florida for meetings. I am in the electrical power marketing business by day and an app reviewer by night and on the weekends.

I attended the a conference with the North American Energy Markets Association or NAEMA. I have been on the board of directors of this organization for the past 9 years. It has been an honor to serve and help build the organization into what it is today. 

We met at the Ponte Vedra Resort and Spa just south of Jacksonville.  We normally have a couple half day meetings with some golf or other activity.  I was able to network with alot of new people joining our industry and got reacquainted with others I have known for years.

I extended my stay a couple days and drove down to my brothers place in Cape Coral on the gulf coast of Florida. I have talked about my dear brother(pictured right) many times. He is in the midst of a massive overhaul of a Pan Oceanic 46 Pilothouse.  I kid him that I want to sail on it before I die!  This boat is one of the prettiest on the water and was designed by renowned naval architect Ted Brewer. Check out the WildThing blog detailing the restoration.

It is a real treat each time I visit Florida. I am constantly scheming to devise a plan to retire to this tropical paradise.  The Florida weather is beautiful and the heat and humidity can be tolerated during the summer if  you hang near the beach.  Sounds good to me!

Application: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, iOS 4.0 or later
Function: World Cruising maps and weather
Rating: **
Cost: $9.99

Onto the latest app.  WCC -  World Cruising Calendar

If you are a world cruiser you should be familiar with Pilot Charts. These are produced by the National Geo-spatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and the hydro-graphic offices from several other countries.  Many books have been written about these charts giving cruisers the optimum times to be sailing in the different oceans of the world. If you are a "would be" world cruiser you will want to become familiar with these charts. The charts are a necessity to develop a strategy and time frame for an ocean voyage or crossing.  The pilot charts provide a wealth of climate information in a graphical format displayed on a map of the worlds oceans.

The NGA Pilot Charts come is a set of five (North Atlantic, South Atlantic, North Pacific, South Pacific and Indian Oceans).  The charts sets include a chart for each month of the year. You can download the PDF files here. NGA has alot of other cool, nerdy and geeky information so check them out if you want to wade endlessly through a boring government site.

We are here today to talk about the World Cruising Calendar.  The author appears to be French and has attempted to simplify the Pilot Charts down to a set of nice colorful map that are easy to view and decipher. 

I tried to find out more about WCC from the support web site listed on iTunes but just got an obscure web page with a contact form.  If the author is listening out there it would be great if you could provide me a complimentary copy to review.  With few details, here is what I know about WCC.

  • Charts of navigation zones
  • Sailboat positions of main routes
  • Cyclonic Zone and frequent cyclone tracks
  • Isolines for wind force and their direction
  • Iceberg areas
  • Monthly Maps
  • Skip to Touch social networking with fellow cruisers
  • WCC or Satellite maps for offline viewing
  • Share you boats position
The app opens to a main navigation screen which has four soft keys on the left side of the screen. The paging arrows at the bottom allows you to navigate month to month to check the optimum time to make your passage. The charts appear to show the preferred paths for each month along with current and weather pattern information.

The Skip to Touch feature appears to allow you to enter or track your coordinates and allows other boaters to see your position.

On the setting page there is a toggle switch which  allows you to share your boats position with others.

The red lines show the best ocean routes for the particular month. The blue arrows I believe show the prevailing winds.

This  page contains a grid of warning and stop sign symbols along with some coordinates. I assume this tells you when you should or should not travel in these area during these months. 

There appears to be a lot of information in the app but without a users guide or some documentation I find is hard to decipher myself or give you much more detail.

I would like to see the author develop a website or some online help screens or blog to describe how to use this app.  He has evidently put a lot of work and thought into it so why not go the extra mile and help the rest of us out.  I may be reading too much into this, kida of like not seeing for forest through the trees, maybe it is not that complicated! 

The price point seems a little high at $9.99. Has anyone had any experience in using this app?