Monday, October 29, 2012

10/27/2012  An update

Oceanography, Naval Interests, Merchant Marine Interests, Sailing:


Nautical chart showing northern extent of Cape Henry at entrance to Chesapeake Bay.


Find it in our Navigation Section

Your laptop can now be a force multiplier for your voyage planning and navigation .

 One of the American Admiralty Informational Services members who helped originate this blog is an actively sailing officer aboard a scientific research ship. He recently submitted this voyage planning guide and tool from sea where he was actively using it in conjunction with his navigational duties. We hope this is simply the first in a series of  blogs of real navigational utility. In this blog "Cap'n Ben" describes and hyper-  links you to the best sources for weather information, sunrise and sun set calculation ( the first step in computing "star time": if you are navigating celestially), he then introduces the reader to Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) and hyperlinks you to a helpful site. "Cap'n Ben" then takes you to a remarkable site via hyperlink that  may be used to integrate your lap top into your voyage planning / navigational routine with elements like electronic chart overlays, eventually radar overlays, and AIS integration, all free and not difficult to use. "Capn' Ben" originally sent this with actual pictures from the hyper-linked sites. The pictures didn't copy to this format. But we think this tool is so useful that we placed the whole thing in the  Navigation section., with cross references to other sections with navigational interests where "Cap'n Ben" can update and improve the tools he creates for you as time and technology change with the tides. While you're collecting "Cap'n Ben" laptop navigational tools, drop into the Oceanography section and look for "The Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the Rights of Innocent Passage" There you will learn of some of the political complications involved in voyage planning when your ship must cross a coastal nation's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). You will also be able to use another of "Cap'n Ben's contributions, a hyperlink to a site where you can see in navigational chart form the World's EEZs and disputed zones.

   If you have any problem with the hyperlinks please let us know via the Comments section, the editor on duty today is an old gnarled and grizzled Boatswains mate known for fat fingered and ham handed key stroking. If the links didn't come through we'll sober up the regular guy and get him on it by Monday, but we really wanted our actively navigating visitors to see this ASAP.  Welcome to:

Ben's Tech Spot
Ever notice how some things in the Maritime Technology world advance at a lightening pace while others are locked in a time capsule? A perfect example is some Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) equipment still runs on DOS based software. DOS is a software system from the 80s! Remember having to type commands in command windows before the time of point and clicking with a mouse! While some aspects of Maritime Technology have been locked in time or are released years after the shore side equivalents are released to the public, there are some cool new tech tools that every mariner can take advantage of.

 Internet at sea is becoming more and more available for both day sailors and the professional mariner alike. Internet at sea brings with it a whole slew of new and exciting tools that can help with planning, safety, navigation, weather, and communication. Many near coastal sailors are now able to simply tether their smart phone to a laptop and get real time weather updates, check vessel traffic, and even broadcast their AIS or positional information to free traffic servers so shore side family and friends can keep track of them along their voyage.Many links in today's blog are my short list of new cool technology and resources as well as some tried and true links that every mariner should know. Even if you aren't able to surf the web at sea, many of these links are great planning tools and software that can be used underway regardless of web access or not.

Most Mariners are familiar with NOAAs weather forecasts available on most marine radios or many go to to get NOAAs near shore and off shore forecasts. NOAA has some other great links that aren't as well know.
National Data Bouy Center's Interactive Buoy Map
NDBC has an interactive Google Earth Map that has real-time information from a world wide array of meteorological buoys. Simply find a buoy, click on it, and get real-time info about wave height, wind speed and direction, sea and air temp etc. It's a great tool to compare what the forecasters predicted and what is really happening along your route or at your destination.
NOAA Current Forecasts
For worldwide current forecasts point your browser to the above address. This is another great tool for voyage planning. Want to take advantage of the loop current or avoid it, simply take a look at the current models for the region you will be sailing in.

Just as we should never rely on any one form of navigation alone, never put all weather forecasting faith in any one group or forecaster. Here are some other great weather forecasting sites to use and compare.

Weather Underground
A great site that is good to use for their Sever Weather section. During hurricane season, check out the "Compiled Model". Usually a hurricane forecast is the average of a bunch of different models that forecasters have developed over the years. They usually will average these or pick the route that most of the models seem to follow to use in their hurricane track forecast. Wunderground's compiled model lets you do the averaging by showing you all the major models prediction of the storm path.
Storm Surf
A forecasting site that was originally designed and used by surfers. In some parts of the world these forecasts have proven to be more accurate than local models. Easily find wind, surf, and sea forecasts for select regions of the world. A must have site for any surfers out there.
SailWX is a great little site that has real-time meteorological observations from ships all over the world. Any ship that is a member of the Voluntarily Observing Ship (VOS) program is listed on the site. While the interactive map isn't as user friendly as some of the other sites it is still fairly easy to navigate. Simply click on a ship on the map to get real time observations for any meteorological readings the ship is reporting. The site is a great little "Ship Tracker" site that has a very high number of ships participating. Chances are if you're on a cruise ship, oceanographic ship, tall ship, or container/cargo ship, you're on the map. The site also has tide and current predictions.

Sunrise/Sunset Calculator
Google Map page that provides Sunrise Sunset calculations for any point on earth. Simply click on a spot on the map and get your calculations.
XM Weather
For anyone wanting real-time weather information and forecasts but don't have a weather fax or internet at sea, SiriusXM has the product for you. XM WX Marine Weather is a program that uses the XM Sirius Satellite system to broadcast weather products to your laptop. Coverage is for the majority of US waters. I'll provide a more detailed review of the Master Mariner version of the program later.

Automatic Identification System (AIS)
AIS is a technology that has propelled the bridge of ship's light years ahead. AIS is an automatic tracking system used by ships and vessel traffic systems for reporting a vessels identification and basic navigational information. It's a standard used throughout the world on vessels 300 GT and greater. Many smaller vessels have been equipped with AIS transceivers as well due to its benefits. The cost of AIS has come down considerably. As anyone who sails with AIS know it makes instantaneous identification of other vessels a breeze. Simple turn on your AIS overlay on your basic navigation software and you instantly see all reporting vessels around you. You can quickly get their name, navigation status, position, course, speed, as well as basic voyage information. Most navigation programs are able to overlay AIS contacts directly on the chart.
Since AIS information is free and can be received by anyone with a receiver there has been a push to unify and establish an online AIS system available to all for free. A few sites have tried to do this. One that seems to be way out front is This website uses a Google Earth map to display a large world wide database of real-time AIS information. Basically anyone with an internet connection and an AIS receiver can submit their data to a central server that Marine Traffic then uses. Marine Traffic has by far the largest network of receivers all over the world. It's nothing for the site to be tracking over 50,000 AIS contacts at one time throughout the entire world! The site does a great job of displaying them and making them interactive.
You can simply click on a ship on the map and get its most current information as well as see pictures of the vessel. Marine Traffic has one of the largest collections of ship photos I have seen. Most appear to have been uploaded by the general public.

Marine Traffic also lets you embed their AIS map directly into your webpage, has mobile apps for both iPhone and Android, as well as a really nice Google Earth overlay kml. Anyone with that wants to set up a base station can follow the directions on their site and begin adding to the overall coverage. There are even instructions on how to build an AIS receiver using a old marine radio!

Is a great free open source navigation program that is by far the best on the market today. A quick google of "Free navigational program" quickly shows you the lack of programs out there that are really free. Most of the free ones out there are old and outdated as well as fairly buggy. OpenCPN has a great following and its open source code allows for others to develop addons. So the feature possibilities are fairly limitless. It already has AIS integration and can even accept a networked GPS feed. It can display both Raster and ENC Vector charts, is light weight, quick, and clean. Developers are currently working on a radar overlay function as well. Why spend hundreds on the name brand software packages when OpenCPN does almost everything they can for free.

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