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Old 05-07-2010, 10:57   #1
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Software Survey

There are a number of threads discussing specific software packages including the much publicized openCPN, but its difficult to find a current unified source on what cruisers are using everyday in the journeys, and the information there is a bit confusing. Software tastes also change quickly. Therefore, I'd like to get a survey of what people are actually using in their sailing laptops today. Here are my questions:

- What main application software do you use everyday for route planning, weather display, and onboard live navigation etc. - professional, freeware, or opensource?

- What additional utilities and command line applications do you use to support these main applications?

- What external services do you subscribe to or use with these products (iridium, sailmail, GMN, Predictwind, charts? etc etc)?

- What is your workflow with these applications - for example you may have multiple sources of GRIB or weather files using different applications, and you have a specific workflow to derive your forecast and plan.

- Which are your favorites and which ones do you just keep around and use occasionally?

- Finally, how do you use these applications or your laptop to interface with your hardware chart-plotter and/or instruments - assuming you have these?

Thanks

SaltyMonkey
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Old 05-07-2010, 11:59   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SaltyMonkey View Post
There are a number of threads discussing specific software packages including the much publicized openCPN, but its difficult to find a current unified source on what cruisers are using everyday in the journeys, and the information there is a bit confusing. Software tastes also change quickly. Therefore, I'd like to get a survey of what people are actually using in their sailing laptops today. Here are my questions:

- What main application software do you use everyday for route planning, weather display, and onboard live navigation etc. - professional, freeware, or opensource?
On the business side:
1. Nobeltec Admiral
2. Transas 3000

On the personal side:
1. MaxSea 12.6 but I'm looking at upgrading to Time Zero
2. Looking at openCPN and other programs because I don't want to be locked into one chart database

It's been my experience that 90% of boaters use 10% of the features of a navigation program. On the big boat with all the integrated systems, we have access to a huge amount of data. I use probably 40-50% of the features and capabilities when we're on charter or moving.

On my personal vessel, I use 20-30% of the capabilities. I want accurate and bulletproof operation of the basics, a few niceties like (crumbs, GPS uploading and downloading, route data saving and offline viewing), and the ability to use whatever software I deem most accurate.

I want the software to be able to compensate for chart age (as in making them accurate to WGS '84 which my GPS supports), be reasonably quick about moving across the track, and give me lots of choices of data display so that I can make sure the XTE on the GPS matches the XTE calculations of the nav software for example.

Quote:
- What additional utilities and command line applications do you use to support these main applications?
Weather forecasting primarily on the business side, and possibly on the personal side depending on cost, currency, and effectiveness

Quote:
- What external services do you subscribe to or use with these products (iridium, sailmail, GMN, Predictwind, charts? etc etc)?
We have a Fleet 77 on board for calls but generally rely get additional info from a weather routing service (Commanders Weather or Weather Routing Intl. for example). This info comes via email on a daily basis. We also use pilot charts and grab gribs from either the satphone or if the boss's using it, the SSB (Furuno POS).

Quote:
- What is your workflow with these applications - for example you may have multiple sources of GRIB or weather files using different applications, and you have a specific workflow to derive your forecast and plan.
Nobeltec Admiral and Transas 3000 have the option of weather downloading for direct display on the screens. So does MaxSea. We tend to augment this with second source GRIB files, NAVTEX, or wefax via SSB.

Route planning starts as far ahead as possible by determining the best route based on time of year and pilot chart histories. Then we augment this with weather forecasts. I call the routing service with the particulars of the voyage (from, to, boat speed, max wind and sea conditions, planned departure date,...) and they tell me if there's a weather window. Since any weather forecast longer than 3 days is not reliable, we tend to look for a window on the departure end that gives us the best departure conditions, then as we receive data, modify the route to accommodate the changes.

We log lots of weather and sea conditions and compare them to what the forecasts or routing services say. We offer direct feedback to the routing service so they get a better idea of what it's really like out there.

I really like the overlays that MaxSea and Nobeltec provide. You can view your projected track and put the data into motion, giving us all a better idea of what's forecast. We also can loop the wefax data and overlay the grib files.

We collect data 4x a day, get the routing report daily unless they're way off the mark on what they're forecasting and what we are experiencing. We keep a big file of data so that when the trips over we can go over the data and see if we could have learned a bit more (hindsight being 20-20, it's not always obvious when you're in the middle of it). I tend to scan the hard copy printouts and save them in the route file so we have a long history of trip info.

If we're going coastal then we get much better weather data than if we're crossing the pond or going oceans. Some folks who cruise near coastal in US waters have found that the XM weather is pretty good at giving them weather they can believe in. We listen to local radio stations if we're close enough and try to get their weather forecast. AM seems to have a longer range (especially at night) so we'll tune the band looking for reasonable signals as far ahead as we can and wait for their forecasts. Terrestrial TV isn't much good 20+ miles offshore so we're back to AM/FM and satcom alerts.

Quote:
- Which are your favorites and which ones do you just keep around and use occasionally?
NOAA Weather, coastal and offshore
magic seaweed
navigation software specific grib and data files
GEOS imagry
Intellicast.com
National Data Buoy Center
NOAA Diagnostics
Ocean Prediction Center
DEOS Current Velocities
Gulf Stream info
PassageWeather
Wave Models
Oceanweather

Quote:
- Finally, how do you use these applications or your laptop to interface with your hardware chart-plotter and/or instruments - assuming you have these?

Thanks

SaltyMonkey
On the business side, we have full instrumentation (wind speed (T/A), wind direction (T/A), recording barometer, and guides for observed wind speed, sea height, cloud cover, and current conditions). These are recorded hourly in the ships log (we have a very large ships' log) along with the navigational data.

Overlays for the navcomps are always available but we tend to look at that data when we change bridge watches. The thinking is that the crew coming on gets a chance to see whats forecast and what we saw in the time since they were last on the bridge. Before going off watch, the watch leader has the option to request modification of the standing orders (with my approval) I've posted. This generally happens if we get an interim update from the routing service, the conditions don't reflect the forecast, or there's a problem (loose items that need securing, a smoother course so the crew can get some sleep,...) or if we need to slow down to either reduce possible damage to the vessel, pass through an active front, or have to change course to avoid a nasty bit of weather on our projected track.

On the personal side:

I have the basic instruments along with wind and baro. I grab the "perfect Paul" voice forecast, grib and wefax files 4x a day via SSB to my laptop so I can review and loop them. I compare what I see forecast to what's going outside, and after consulting a weather book or two, make a decision as to my track for the next 12 hours.

I'll jump on the SSB if I know a boat's ahead of me and see if I can get an idea as to what s/he's seeing. Since I'm speeding along at 6-7kts, I know I'm going to be overtaken or spend a lot more time breaking through the front than on the big boat, so that moderates what I do. And since my personal boat's a lot smaller than the big one, I have to make prudent decisions sooner than on the big one.

I overlay the MaxSea weather files and compare them to what the wefax forecasts, try to make sense of who's the more accurate, and go with that. One of the nice things with MaxSea (and the other weather modules) is that you an turn certain features off and on and see whats affecting what.

As on the big boat, I log lots of data hourly. Twice a day I look at the numbers and decide what I need to do for the next 12 hours. Unlike the big boat, I may not have experienced crew nor comfortable conditions, so I have to conserve my energies.

Finally, I'm amazed at the crew's reaction when I actually step outside of the air conditioned bridge to get a sense of the weather. I can learn more in 10 minutes of smelling, feeling, observing, and tasting the weather than hours pouring over a screen, looking through tinted glass, and basking in 70F weather.
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Old 05-07-2010, 12:12   #3
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Cappy Doug. This is an incredible post! Thank you so much for taking the time for this detailed review.
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Old 05-07-2010, 12:31   #4
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I'm using a 12 year old version of Nobeltec VNS. It still works for me. In some respects its better than the new versions. I wish Jeppesen had not bought them out. In some other respects its better than what Furuno has in its NavNet 3D system.

By having both systems available, it works for what I need.
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Old 05-07-2010, 13:27   #5
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Thanks David! Nobeltec gets another vote on use.
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Old 05-07-2010, 13:45   #6
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I use MaxSea Time Zero - an upgrade last Fall. It is a true routing program and the new version iis completely new with a new interface and engine. It is much faster -"time zero" and incorprates 3-D images of ports and inlets. Gribs are available of world wide weather by download.
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Old 05-07-2010, 13:58   #7
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Daily use: Garmin chart plotter, radar, AIS, DSC with XM Weather. I sail the East Coast of the US and the Bahamas.

I carry paper charts and cruising guides, and listen to VHF weather channels, but only if the information I get from my Garmin system is inconsistent. I have mastered the equipment, and can maintain situational awareness in moments. Although I have redundant systems and power supplies, they have been a waste of money. I carry portables in a Faraday box* in my ditch bag that all run off AA batteries. Alkalines have very long shelf, and I carry a solar charger for a collection of nimh rechargeables. Lightning or other reasons for power loss are not crippling.

I have a homebuilt boat computer running CE and OpenCPN with charts on duplicate USB hard drives. Both programs are loaded on a netbook. There is a SSB radio on the new boat, and a 17' laptop running MaxSea that I will have to learn. But I consider the Garmin system to be more durable, reliable, and hassle free than a PC-based system.

The boat computer is permanently mounted in the electronics pukka, has a stabilized DC power supply and uses off-the-shelf drives and readers, with spares stored in vacuum bags and padding. The only components that don't have a spare are the CPU and screen, but I carry the netbook; Its primarily used for Internet access ashore.

*Stainless steel Bento Box with rounded corners. Any tin box would work as well, but should have a protective coating. Rounded corners prevent a point concentration for EMI.

Like Alton Brown, I abjure single purpose tools.
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Old 05-07-2010, 14:10   #8
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speciald@ocens - good stuff. Seems Maxsea is used quite a bit professionally.

sandy daugherty - great. would like to know more about your homebrew boat computer vs regular laptop.
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Old 05-07-2010, 19:45   #9
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Here, we are using:

> 2 sorts of electronic charting software (commercial)
> 2 types of electronic charts (vector and raster, commercial),
> electronic tide tables,
> electronic almanac,
> radiofax software (commercial),
> occasionally - another software (freeware) that draws our GPS signal against a screen dump,

> radiofax and gribs when planning (various sotces, depending on location),
> radiofax when offshore (SSB receiver+mike+netbook),

Hardwarewise, we use:
> 2 netbooks,
> SSB receiver,
> 2 GPS units.

We do not subscribe to any services, we take things that are available to everybody.

Workflow:

A route is designed in software against both types of chart and sent to our GPS units. Then we will navigate following the GPS units. The GPS position is plotted regularly on the paper chart. All log data (speed, course) is taken down too. At times we will reverse the flow and download track stored in the GPS to view them against the charts.

The GPS can be reconnected to the netbook anytime for RT plotting.

Needles to say this is all considered a backup only. Our main navigation is based on paper charts, almanacs, etc.., and keeping sharp lookout 24/7.

Favourite piece of software probably Windows XP, the VMG function of the GPS. For fun - Google Earth sat view.

b.
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Old 05-07-2010, 19:49   #10
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barnakiel - some questions:

What commercial software packages are you using (navigation and radiofax)?

What commercial charts are you using?
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Old 05-07-2010, 20:33   #11
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- paper charts
- hand bearing compass
- gps for fixes, sextant in a case but thankfully only busted out for practice
- pencil, dividers, parallel bars, notebook
- good binoculars
- light lists, coast pilots, cruising guides

I make my living in software and technology. I'm sure it works fine, it's not like the majority of the commercial shipping is happening on paper charts anymore. I just don't like it.
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Old 14-07-2010, 10:37   #12
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Originally Posted by SaltyMonkey View Post
barnakiel - some questions:

What commercial software packages are you using (navigation and radiofax)?

What commercial charts are you using?
No names ;-).

But I will always give names of stuff that does work for me - examples:

- Windows XP,
- Garmin GPS units (models 72 and 76),
- JvComm radiofax/navtex software,
- Grib.Us,
- PolarView.

All good stuff.

b.
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Old 14-07-2010, 10:41   #13
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hmmm deeply suspicious
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Old 14-07-2010, 11:42   #14
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hmmm deeply suspicious
;-)))

of what?

Not paying lip service to companies that took my dollars and did not deliver?

barnie
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