Wednesday, June 17, 2015

ActiveCaptain - Location App

Application: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch iOS 5.1.1 or later, Android too!
Function: Boat Location Sharing
Cost: Free

Active Captain is all about using technology to improve the yachting experience. The ActiveCaptain crowd sourced points of interest website has become a necessity when traveling the ICW or other coastal waters in many countries.  Jeff and Karen Siegel have taken their many years of cruising, interacting with other yachties and marina owners to develop some websites and apps that provide some unique features and capabilities. Their work helps cruisers become more aware of points of interest, obstacles, hazards, events and most recently other boating friends locations.

I reviewed the Companion App back in 2012. It notifies users of upcoming points of interest and hazards while they cruised. The Siegel's most recent creation is the Locations App which can be found on iTunes or the Google Play Store. Locations was created as an extension of their eBoatCards site to help boaters keep in contact and share location information between each other.
The eBoatCards site is an electronic way to blog, message and share information between individuals or marine groups. The website also has access to resources including many different cruising areas, boat products and systems, organizations and boat clubs. There is also a Services section that has lists of boat brokers, surveyors and transports companies. It is free to sign up for an account with just a user name and password. Other services are planned for the future.

The Locations app shares the users GPS data according to the privacy and profile settings in eBoatCards. It is not AIS but an Internet based location and tracking system.This version only shares data with your designated friends and nearby ActiveCaptain members. The Account Privacy Settings in eBoatCards allow you to control who can sees your location.
Location's Features:
  • eBoatCard friend integration
  • Base Maps include Bing, OpenStreets 1 and 2, Satellite and seamless NOAA Charts.
  • Friends location tracking
  • Delorme InReach and SPOT integration through eBoatCards
  • NMEA GPS option
  • PC and Mac GPS integration
  • Internal GPS option
  • Pan and zoom
  • Location tracking
  • Course up, north up and track up

The first thing you will notice are the high quality Bing, OpenStreet maps and NOAA charts available for display. The maps were a major drawback with the Companion App. Even after you downloaded the detailed maps they were not very functional. Neither the Locations app or the Companion app were meant for navigation purposes even though most users want to use them that way.

The main map and chart screen displays several buttons for navigation to the various functions of the app. Along the left side of the main screen you will see the Follow Button which looks like a bulls eye. This will only be visible when you are not in the follow mode. Tapping this will bring your location to the center of the screen and follow your position in real time. Course up, north up and heading up can be selected while in the tracking mode from the Settings Menu.

Just below the Follow Button is a Search Button. Tapping this takes you to the search screen where you can view the list of friends and search for new ones. Filtering is provided to list your contacts by Friends, Nearby, and Stationary. A handy sort feature lists your friends by Name, Distance and Data age.

Tapping on one of the listings will instantly display your friends location on the map or chart. Tapping the icon on the map will provide you the boats name, hailing port and location information.

The darker blue colored icons are your eBoatCard friends that have accepted your friend request while the lighter ones are Active Captain members.

If the position icon has a circle in it, the boat is not moving. If it has an arrow in it the arrow shows the last know course. If it has an Omni-directional icon, it was last know to be moving but course unknown.

Along the right side of the main display are the + and - buttons for zooming in and out of the chart or map.  You can also use your fingers to pinch in and out on the display for zooming as well. Below the zoom controls is the Orientation button which shows the orientation of the map settings. A north up icon is shown if that mode is set. Otherwise a course up or heading up icon will show those orientations of the base map.

I am the only eBoatCard member in SD, go figure!
The last icon in the lower right of the screen is the Menu icon. The Menu page allows you to login to ActiveCaptain, select your base map or chart, size of user interface, keep on, zoom buttons and follow mode.  Sounds can be turned On for notification of friends locations and new nearby boats. There is a section for selecting your unit preferences also.

The app has options to allow the user to use the Internal GPS of your phone or tablet or use a NMEA GPS source over WiFi. For external GPS use the app requires a WiFi network and settings for the IP address and port number. The Windows and Mac OSX versions allow the selection of USB or Serial and settings for the COM port and Baud rate.

If you own a SPOT or Delorme InReach satellite location device you can set them up in eBoatCards to download your real time position.  Log into eBoatCards, click the Edit Profile button on the top right of the screen. Next click the Boat Details tab at the top, scroll down to find the DeLorme inReach and SPOT configuration fields. Each item has a link to the detailed instructions for getting the configuration data for your device. This will allow your friends to keep track of you while you are out of cell phone range.

The Active Captain Locations program can also be used on your PC or MAC. Just login and you will have a full screen display of your friends locations.

With AIS being so prevalent and costs of AIS hardware coming down, I have to wonder if Locations will catch on. Once you look at the other features in the app it is well worth the free sign up price to join the community. Reports are about 6000 boaters have downloaded the Locations app. I guess it is catching on!

I know Active Captain has others features in the works to add to the Locations app. Rumor has it that the Companion app features will be moved into the Locations app.  There are plans for the addition of 20 new categories in the services section. Other future additions to the Locations app will include a Display Only Mode, Integrated Messaging, Group Support, Follow Friend, Sponsor Messaging and Drag King. See all the details of these latest developments on the Active Captain Blog.

Jeff and Karen will continue to be visionaries in the yachting community bringing technology and cutting edge apps to their users.  The cool thing is that all their websites and apps are all free to boaters. So there is not reason not to get involved and become a member of the Active Captain community.  It is way better than FaceBook!!!!

~~~ Sail On ~~~~ /)