Sunday, June 24, 2012

iPad Onboard - Navigation

In my iPad Onboard Series of posts I have tried to cover a few ways for you to get the most out of your iPad while using it onboard. I talked about ways to protect your iPad, ways to use it to capture your photos and video and most recently the entertainment value of the iPad. In this post I want to cover the navigation aspects of the iPad.

The iPad WiFi, iPad2 3G and iPad3 4G(new iPad) can all be used for navigation purposes. Some models have limitations so make sure you understand which model you have.

Apple has put so much technology into these devices so they are well suited for use on your yacht. GPS, Locational services, WiFi, compass, accelerometer, Bluetooth, rotating screen, mult-touch gestures, multitasking and retina display. All of these features make it one of the most popular and versatile pieces of electronics ever built.

GPS Options
To get started navigating you need a GPS and a charting program.  The WiFi only models of the iPad do not have a GPS chip, so you will have to purchase an external GPS unit to link to your iPad. I have a whole section of my blog dedicated to reviewing the different external GPS devices.  Refer to this and purchase one of these to give your WiFi only iPad GPS capability.  The Dual XGPS150 is very popular and will cost you about $99 on It uses Bluetooth to connect to your iPad and provides reliable GPS coordinates. It now comes with a 12V adapter which means you won't have to worry about the battery running down.

If you have a 3G or new 4G model of the iPad your are in luck. The device has an onboard GPS that will work with locational services to provide any GPS app the data it needs to find your latitude and longitude anywhere in the world.  Apple refers to their GPS as assisted GPS. WiFi and a cell connection are not required to get the GPS to work but if they are available the GPS will pick up a signal quicker and the accuracy will be improved using cellular triangulation.  I recently had a question from a lady wanting to know if the GPS would work without WiFi and a cell data plan.  Yes it will, you do not need either of them to use the GPS on your iPad 3G or 4G versions.

Charting Apps

At this point we are now ready to look at navigation apps.  There are many apps in the AppStore available for marine navigation.  The reason I started this blog was that I had trouble deciding myself which apps would be best to use.  After looking and all the possibilities I figured others might be having the same problem.  I have looked at hundreds of apps and have narrowed down the Best Marine Charting Apps for you. This is a list of my top 10 charting apps.

You will find that charting apps will have a wide variety of features. The more features generally, the more you will have to pay.  High end apps will cost you $49.00 and low end can cost you as little at $5.00.

Features that you should consider when looking at apps are chart type, waypoints, routes, tracking, instrument data integration, charts overlays, satellite views, AIS, anchor alarm, compass, weather, GRIB files, tides, points of interest and social networking.

Charts are a big consideration. Many apps use the raster charts from NOAA.  The raster charts are scanned versions of the old paper charts many of us are familiar with.  These charts will cover most of the coastal US, the Great Lakes region, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.  These are free to download from NOAA, so most app developers don't have that expense of charts.  Vector charts, which I prefer, have many advantages over their raster predecessor.  Vector charts can imbed more information and colors which can be revealed as you zoom in to a specific area.  I wrote at length about the Perfect Marine App is this post. There are many apps, with many price ranges and many levels of users out there. I can make recommendations to you but you will have to decide what charting features are important to you.

On the high end, iNavX and Navionics HD will cost you about $49.00. I give the edge to iNavX here for their incorporation of TCP/IP connectivity for your onboard instruments. Both apps use high resolution vector charts. iNavX can use either the free NOAA raster charts or a variety of vector charts sets.

Medium priced apps like Navimatics and EarthNC use NOAA charts. Navimatics Charts and Tides gets the nod here. It has the Active Captain database and all charts reside on the device. Earth NC requires a cell connection for some of their overlays and features to work.

Low priced apps Transas iSailor and SEAiq are in the range of $5.00-10.00. SEAiq uses vector charts and does a better job with waypoints, routes and tracks. iSailor also has vector charts but does not handle waypoints very well. Mark Hayden is passionate about his app SEAiq and is a big believer that vector charts are better.

Garmin is working on their marine version of an app that is suppose to be out this summer. I am sure it will give some of the high end apps a run for their money.  The price of the apps are all fairly cheap. I find that I use several of them depending on what I am doing on the water.
iPad Mounts

Now that we have the iPad set up with your charting app we need to find some way to mount it.  We want the iPad secure so it will not be thrown around the boat when your rolling down that 30 foot wave in the southern ocean.  I have been in search of the perfect mounting system. Here are a few that I have found. 

MudulR case and mounting system has several mounting options that may work for the iPad on your yacht. The one drawback it that none appear to protect your iPad at the same time. Most of their mounts are for flat surfaces and would be good for mounting on a bulk head.

Ram Mounts are very popular and provide a strong base and many mounting options. They have suction cup mounts and bases that can be secured to your console or helm. They all use the ball mount system which gives you flexibility to swivel it in any direction. They do have a model called Tab Tite with a spring loaded cradle that will allow you to mount the iPad in a protective case.

I talked about the Makayama movie mount in a recent post.  You can buy it off their website for $69.00. Not sure why Amazon has it listed for $99.00. It not only works great on a tripod but you can use it at the helm too. You will need a 1/4 inch handle bar camera mount to secure it to your helm station bar. Pick one up at Amazon for about $8.00

Here is a picture of it attached to my hatch handle. There are a ton of options when it comes to mounting. Use your imagination and find something that works for you. Send me some pictures of how you have your iPad mounted. I would love to see some other creative ideas.

Ok, you have your iPad connected to GPS you have selected a great charting app and found a way to mount it to your yacht. There is nothing left to do now but go sailing!

~~~Sail On~~~

Saturday, June 16, 2012

mAIS - Marine Traffic Reporting

Application: iPhone, iPad 3G,4G
Function: Internet based ship locating and reporting
Rating: ***
Cost: Free

Am I on a collision course with that ship?  We are going to die! Are we going to be run down by that big freighter? Which way is that ship headed?  If you have ever stood watch at night and traversed some busy shipping channels, I am sure those are some of the thoughts that have crossed your mind. 

AIS (Automatic Information System) systems are now widely available and provide the added safety of collision avoidance. An actual AIS system involves having an AIS receiver or transponder installed on board and a VHF antenna to receive and broadcast your position.  Other ships in the area can then see your yacht's position and trip information.  It is a great way to see and be seen while out on the ocean or in busy ports.

A poor mans version of AIS has been developed to allow yachts to view and report their position to the Internet using a cell phone or 3G iPad.  Marine has a great website that uses a network of land based AIS receivers to report ship positions in many busy ports around the world.

Marine Traffic has developed an app called mAIS, that allows boaters to use their mobile devices to report their position over a cell connection to their Internet site  This is not true AIS but something they call mAIS.  It is important to remember that commercial ships will not see your mAIS position or data. The position data can only be view on the Internet site or on the Marine Traffic app.

You must first download the mAIS app and create a user account with Marine Traffic.  It is suggested that you get an MMSI code next. If you don't want to get an MMSI you can just register your yacht with Marine Traffic and get a unique vessel ID. This number will allow you to only report your vessels position.

MMSI stands for Maritime Mobile Service Identity. This is a unique number that will be assigned to your yacht and can be programmed into the DSC option of your VHF radio.  DSC stands for Digital Selective Calling. DSC equipped VHF radios have a one button emergency feature that will allow you to send out a distress signal along with your latitude and longitude.  The DSC option is pretty standard on most new VHF radios.

When you open the app the main display shows the status of the app. It is easily controlled using the Start and Stop buttons. It displays your ships name, position, GPS accuracy and other position information. Your ship's speed and course are also displayed on top.

Once started the app will continue to transmit your position to the Marine Traffic website until it is stopped. It will also work in the background mode until stopped.

Selecting the gear icon in the lower right corner brings you to the settings page. Here you can enter all the pertinent information about your vessel.  You will need to enter your registered email and enter your user password. If you don't have a Marine Traffic account select to register one.

The next section asks for your MMSI number. If you have one you can enter it here. If you do not want one you can select the register link to get a unique vessel ID from Marine Traffic. You will enter that here instead of an MMSI. 

Marine Traffic suggest you register and get an MMSI number. This will register your boat and allow your MMSI number to also be used with your VHF radio's DSC feature.

Additional information can also be added on the settings page. Vessel name, vessel type, IMO, call sign, boat length and width, destination, ETA, status and draft.

You can also set the reporting period of your position from 1 to 5 minutes.

The app is great to keep track of your friends if you are sailing together and of course keep out of the way of large commercial ship traffic. The Marine Traffic network is worldwide and growing with new ports being added regularly.

I like the concept of the Marine Traffic system and if you are just a coastal cruiser it will probably serve your needs well.  If you cross the worlds oceans or deliver yachts for a living you will want an full blown AIS receiver/transmitter to see the big ships coming and to let them know you are out there too.

One thing I found a little awkward about the app is that a separate app has to be used to view your ships position.  You will need to purchase the Marine Traffic app for $3.99 to view the Marine Traffic data.  It would be nice if the developers could combine the two apps into one.

I reviewed Boat Beacon a few posts ago. It is a similar type of AIS app with some additional useful navigating and viewing features. Check them both out and let me know which one works best for you.  Are any of you readers out there using AIS apps like these?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

iPad Onboard - Entertainment

In my last blog entry I gave you a few tips on taking photos and talked about some must have accessories for your iPad.  The iPad is not only a great GPS and navigating tool on board it is also a great source of entertainment as well.

We are all familiar with Apples original iPod. These little devices changed the music industry and how we purchase and listen to music.  Back when I was growing up everyone had a boom box. These were large battery powered portable stereos with big speakers. They had the ability to play the radio and cassette tapes.  Many of us had cases of cassette tapes in the back seats of our cars. Later versions came with a CD player.  It was not uncommon to see people carrying these things around on their shoulders.  Every party had a boom box blaring out loud disco, rock or heavy metal.

Boom boxes still exist today and have become more sophisticated.  Now you will find docking stations on most boom boxes for your Apple devices.  This allows you to connect your iPod, iPhone or iPad and play music through the larger speakers.  We can now easily carry around thousands of movies and songs on our iPhone or iPad.

The iPad and iPhone are much more personal devices and do not have the large speakers to share your music with others as the boom box did. Today we see all the kids wearing ear buds or headphones plugged into their iPods or MP3 players. I even have a real nice pair of Bose noise cancelling headphones myself.  These are great for using on the airplane to get rid of background noise and listening to music or movies. Make sure you get the over the ear style shown at right. These are more comfortable and quieter than the on the ear version.

If  you already have an on board stereo system there are a few ways to connect your iPhone or iPad to it.

Most newer stereos come with a 3.5 inch auxiliary connection. You can pick up one of these cables and connect your device directly to your stereo system. 

I prefer to go the wireless route so I am free to move around the boat and also have the ability to change songs and control the volume.  The iPhone and iPad both have Bluetooth technology which is a wireless communications protocol with a range of about 30 feet.

I recently purchased an iHome Bluetooth speaker that works great. It has about a 40 foot range and is rechargeable. It also comes with an iPad stand.

To wirelessly connect my iPhone or iPad to my existing stereo system, I purchased one of these little Bluetooth receivers.  I plugged this into my stereo receiver down below. I am then able to move about the boat with my iPhone or iPad controlling my music selections.  The range is limited but it does allow me to be disconnected. 

Bluetooth can be turned on in your iPhone or iPad in the settings menu under General settings. Once Bluetooth is turned on it will search for your Bluetooth device. You can then pair with that device and connect.

If you have a larger yacht with WiFi on board you may want to use the Apple TV as discussed in my earlier post.  The  Apple TV box will cost your $99 but will give you the ability to stream music or 1080p video to your on board entertainment system and big screen TV.  WiFi will give you extended range and allow you to control your stereo system from anywhere on your yacht.

If you are a gamer there are tons of games for the iPad that will allow you to entertain yourself for hours and hours on those long trans Atlantic crossings.  I am not a big gamer but I have to admit that I have played Angry Bird a few times.

If you are a big reader there are tons of books and magazines available through the iTunes store. Some of my favorites boating magazines are Cruising World, Yachting, Islands Magazine, and Caribbean Travel and Life.

Well, there is no doubt that the iPad is a great entertainment tool to have on board your boat. It is the perfect companion and will keep you entertained for hours. How do you use your iPad for entertainment?

~~~Sail On~~~

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Marine iPad - Camera and Video Accessories

In my last post I covered how to protect your iPad from the tough marine elements.  I suggested a few waterproof cases to keep your iPad dry.

This week I wanted to cover a few other features and accessories of this great device. The iPad is not only a great computer, GPS and entertainment device, but it is also able to take great pictures and video.  So throw away your camera and use your iPad for all your video and picture taking needs. 

The iPad 2 and the New iPad(3) have both front and back facing camera.  The camera on the back of the iPad 2 has a resolution of 720p with 30 video. Still images can be captured at a resolution of 1280X720. Still image resolution on the iPad 2 is not that great. The camera facing the user is just VGA with 30 frames per second with a resolution of 640X480.

If you have an iPhone 4S it has an 8 megapixel iSight camera which will take 1080p video at 30 frames per second. It also has a 5X digital zoom. Image resolution is a respectable 3264X2448.

The New iPad(3) also has the much better iSight camera. It has a 5 mega pixel camera which will shoot photos at 2048X1536 with 3.1 million pixels. Video is shot at 1080p with video stabilization included. The device can also tag your photos and videos with locational information. 

Any of these devices can shoot great photos and video to document your trip.

To edit your still images pickup one of the many free image editing apps such as Instagram or Adobe Photo Express.

If you have an iPad or iPhone you have to own an Apple TV.  You can pick one up for just $99.00.  This little box can stream pictures, music and video from your iPhone, iPad or from iTunes on your computer to your large screen TV or stero system.  It connects with a network cable or wirelessly to your on board network.

Wirelessly stream music on your iPhone or iPad to your boats on board entertainment system. Control playlist song selection and volume right from your iPhone or iPad.  Simply connect your iPhone or iPad and Apple TV to the same wireless network. The Apple TV will have to be connected to your on board TV or stereo system.  On your iPhone or iPad music player select an album or playlist.  On the bottom of the screen you will see the Airplay icontap this to select Apple TV to stream your music to you on board entertainment system. Let to party start!

It will even stream live video from the iPad or iPhone camera. So you can use it for a variety of your monitoring needs.

One of the coolest things about Apple TV is a feature called Airplay mirroring. This allows you to stream whatever you have on the screen of your iPad or iPhone to your TV in 1080p video resolution.

You can have your favorite marine charting app running on your iPad at the helm and display it simultaneously on your big screen TV down below over your boats wifi network.

1. To enable mirroring you need to connect your iPad and Apple TV to the same wifi network.
2. Double tap your home button to display your recently used apps.
3. Swipe from left to right until you see the Airplay icon, tapping the icon will bring up a selection box.
4. Select Apple TV and turn Mirroring "ON", whatever is displayed on your iPad now is mirrored to your big screen TV.

If you don't want to fork out the $99 bucks for Apple TV you could purchase the Apple Digital AV Adapter. This is a slick way to connect your iPad to your TV and mirror anything you have on your iPad onto your TV.  The adapter will cost you $39.00 and will allow you to connect using an HDMI cable.  This route is not wireless so you will need to be near your TV.

If you still want to use your old digital camera there are a couple of ways to transfer your pictures and video onto your iPad. The easiest way I have found to get them transferred is with the Apple Camera Connection kit.  It will cost you just $29.00.

The kit comes with two adapters that plug into the 30 pin connector of the iPad. The first one has a USB connection that will allow you to directly connect to the USB cable of your digital camera.  You can then select which pictures to download to your iPad.  This USB connector will also allow you to connect your iPhone to your iPad and allow pictures and video to be transferred from one device to the other. How cool is that?

The second adapter has an SD card slot.  You can take the SD card out of your camera or video camera and download pictures and video to your iPad directly from the card.  Mico SD cards can also be used with a full size adapter.

On a recent vacation to Tortola in the BVIs, I took video with my Contour 1080P video camera and downloaded the video each night to my iPad for editing.

iMovie is a great app for editing the video footage you take on your iPhone, iPad or other video camera. It is only $4.99 and can be found in iTunes.  I allows you to edit, add titles, transitions and music to create professional looking videos in a snap.

If you are serious about taking video with your iPad you need to pick up a movie mount. I recently purchase one from Makayama for $69.95.  The iPad snaps into the mount and allows you to connect it to a tripod.  There are several locations to mount external microphones and lights if needed.  Additional 37mm wide angle or telephoto lenses can be connected onto the front of the mount.

These are just a few of the gadgets I have picked up to make the most out of the iPad while on board.  So pick up a few and get started documenting your adventures!

What gadgets do use on board?

~~~Sail On~~~