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Electronic Navigation - Update

Live-In-The-Moment

New Member
Joined
Oct 24, 2021
Messages
3
Location
Surrey, BC
I am new to using electronic navigation on the water and would really appreciate some opinions from the experienced paddlers on this forum. I use AllTrails all of the time when hiking, but traveling on the water is much more complex. I am looking for what the kayaking community considers to be the best tools for assisting with navigation and for determining tides, currents, and winds. I have read some of the past discussions on this forum, but most are several years old. I am looking for the most up-to-date information I can find. On a recent trip I tested out Windy and Navionics and enjoyed using both, although I did find some discrepancies in reported wind speeds. (e.g. the app reported wind speeds of 13 knots and conditions were clearly less than 2 or 3 knots.) Are there other apps out there that are better? I know I need to improve my navigating skills and chart, tide, and current table reading to provide some redundancy in the event of electronics failure, but until I have an opportunity to do that, I would appreciate people's input on what apps/tools are currently considered to be the best for kayaking. For safety I already carry a VHF radio and a Garmin Inreach Mini 2.

Thank you for your input
 
I'm not the best person to answer your question, as I generally stay low-tech on the water. But on shore, these are the apps I use:

1) A basic navigation app. I have a subscription to CalTopo, but I actually prefer the free Topo Maps Canada app for iOS. It's stripped down and bare bones, but it gives my location and has a very easy distance measurement tool. That's all I need.

2) I don't use Windy, which is just a model. As you have noted, the discrepancy between the model and what you actually observe can be considerable. I prefer FishWeather, which plots government buoys and weather stations on a satellite map to give real-time data. The free version also gives tides.

3) For currents I go low-tech: I print the relevant info straight from the government site.

4) My son introduced me to the MarineTraffic app, which is mostly just fun for me. However, if I was doing a trip in the Southern Gulf Islands, I would use this app to keep out of the way of ferries. Again, this is free.

The free versions to all of the above give me all the information I need, though only #1 works without cell service.

You say you have a VHF, so you know how important it is to have good listening skills for Vessel Traffic Services, the CG, and the marine weather broadcast.

Cheers,
Andrew
 
2) I don't use Windy, which is just a model. As you have noted, the discrepancy between the model and what you actually observe can be considerable. I prefer FishWeather, which plots government buoys and weather stations on a satellite map to give real-time data. The free version also gives tides.
I use Windfinder Pro; I’ve found the “Superforecast” option more accurate than the standard forecast.

I can’t seem to get FishWeather to give me pertinent information; everything I try tells me I need to upgrade to the pro version and one paid wind/weather app is enough for me.

4) My son introduced me to the MarineTraffic app, which is mostly just fun for me. However, if I was doing a trip in the Southern Gulf Islands, I would use this app to keep out of the way of ferries. Again, this is free.
That app is awesome! I live in the SGIs, so it is invaluable for knowing where the Queen of Cumbersome is located, especially when waiting in the lineup and wondering if it is going to show up. :laugh:
 
I do a lot of pre-work at home using www.deepzoom.com. On my iPad, on the water (not actually ON the water - before setting out), I use AyeTides and iNavX. For GPS - Speed, estimated arrival time, etc. I use a Garmin GPS on my deck in a waterproof pouch.

The latest "play" software is Boat Beacon. Not only can I see where boats with MMSI numbers are, my kayaks are now registered so they can see me.

Fun "learning" experience that I forgot to mention in my Sucia report - While on the ferry from Anacortes to Orcas, I turned on the Boat Beacon app and must have accidentally pushed the "share" icon. When the screen came up, it looked like the ferry I was on had run over my kayak as they were superimposed on each other. I quickly shut off the app. I wondered what they saw on the bridge display and if any warning/alert was displayed. My guess is, in this electronic consumer age, it was not the first time a boat suddenly appeared under the ferry.

For weather, I rely on the VHF Marine Forecast. But now that I have a cell phone, I might consider something like a MarineWeather site instead. It looks like the text is the same as the VHF broadcast, with the advantage that I can look directly at the area that pertains to me instead of listening to minutes and minutes of forecasts for other areas, then listening through another cycle because something distracted me just when the area I was interested in was covered.
 
I can’t seem to get FishWeather to give me pertinent information; everything I try tells me I need to upgrade to the pro version and one paid wind/weather app is enough for me.
This is what I get for free. To get those little purple balloons you have to pay, but they are not government stations.

IMG_0453.png
 
The latest "play" software is Boat Beacon. Not only can I see where boats with MMSI numbers are, my kayaks are now registered so they can see me.
I don't understand how that works. For my sailboat to appear on the AIS display on other vessels I had to install an AIS Class B transceiver. Are you sure larger vessels can see you?
 
I prefer FishWeather, which plots government buoys and weather stations on a satellite map to give real-time data.
Can you get free local forecasts via FishWeather? I could only find local 'now' conditions when I had a quick look.
FishWeather.JPG
 
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>Are you sure larger vessels can see you?

It's a fuzzy yes and no area. The boat beacon people will give you one or more MMSI numbers on request. I guess I would call them psudo-MMSI numbers because they not "official" and the user is told NOT to identify on VHF with them. But your boat will show up on display screens that are using an internet app.

Here's what it says:
  • Lets others see you on Boat Beacon and internet AIS systems like MarineTraffic.
    • With transmit enabled your boat will appear on other Boat Beacon devices. If you enable AIS sharing and have an MMSI number* your boat will also appear on live AIS traffic sites and their associated mobile applications like MarineTraffic etc.
And this:
**********************
When enabled, Boat Beacon will share your current position, status and ship details for other Boat Beacon users to view. If you have an MMSI number set then your boat will also be visible on global interent AIS systems like Marine Traffic, ShipFinder and AIS Hub. An indicator light at the bottom right of the screen shows the status - Green is on and transmitting successfully, Amber shows if it is waiting or there is a communication failure and Red when it's off or failed. Tapping on the status light will show more details about the current status. When "On My Boat" is set, your position will also continue to be shared when the app is closed (background).

If you have an MMSI but only want to share with other Boat Beacon users you can disable sharing to other internet AIS systems in Advanced settings

If you don't have an MMSI for your boat you can normally get one for free. In the US you can obtain a free one in a couple of minutes by visiting the USCG approved agent BoatUS and using their online form. In the UK visit Ofcom.
*********************
I looked into getting an official number from BoatUS but their form required information I didn't have with a kayak.

There are many more details here: https://pocketmariner.com/mobile-apps/boatbeacon/

The terrian of Nav software is a bit tricky. For example, last year, from iNavX, I purchased a year's subscription to a real-time radar/weather app. The "gotcha" is in the word, "real-time". I don't need to know what the weather IS. I already know what it is. I'm there! I need to know what it will be in a day or a couple of days ahead.
 
>Are you sure larger vessels can see you?

It's a fuzzy yes and no area.
I don't know, but I'm guessing that BC ferries, container ships, etc. use the 'real' AIS transceiver display on the bridge. But perhaps they use 'consumer grade' internet apps as well? I'm not a 'phone guy' when paddling, anyway. :)
 
I don't need to know what the weather IS. I already know what it is. I'm there! I need to know what it will be in a day or a couple of days ahead.
Exactly! And all forecasts- even the VHF WX- are based on models. I'm having problems following this dscussion, but that seems to be more and more common nowadays... :)
 
The inquiry seemed to be about electronic navigation and software, so I think we are still on track. I got the software mostly to see the other boats - if it got foggy. That they might see me on some display is an extra. The phone and iPad are usually off when on the water. If everything were in sight, I would keep the Garmin GPS off too. If I had to pick one feature I use, it's to tell my speed, and, given that and a destination, an ETA.

Once I was paddling from Stuart to Jones and got in an ebb current. I think the GPS was reading 1 Knot but then I realized it doesn't say which direction. I could have been moving one knot backward :) By changing my angle, I was able to make headway to Jones. Had I not, I'd still be .5 miles west of Flattop Island, but "almost there."
 
I think the GPS was reading 1 Knot but then I realized it doesn't say which direction. I could have been moving one knot backward :)
It's a bit tricky to decide which pieces of info to get the GPS to display on the main data screen. VMG toward waypoint is available, but when I have to pick only 3 items to display (I like the 'Large' data display), it doesn't make it into the 'top three'. :)
 
Exactly! And all forecasts- even the VHF WX- are based on models. I'm having problems following this dscussion, but that seems to be more and more common nowadays... :)
Not to retread an old tire, but previous discussions of why I am suspicious of Windy modelling as it applies to local effects can be found here, here, and here.

Cheers,
Andrew
 
Kayak navigation is an interesting topic. Though I've been kayaking my whole life, I'm not a highly experienced maritime kayaker. That being said...
  • For the time being, I'll only go on trips in big open water (the ocean or places like the Salish Sea) when the weather forecast is pristine. And I'll only paddle in the daytime. If I think there will be fog or low visibility for any reason, I simply won't go. (So I've never needed to paddle with "IFR" (Instrument Flight Rules for the non-aviators) so don't need to navigate blind electronically.

  • Though nautical maps are interesting, so far I've not seen the need for them in places like the San Juan Islands. Kayaks can float in 6 inches of water, so depths are sort of pointless. (And there's no need for kayaks to follow buoys—though I admit it's useful to understand channel navigation and know what larger vessels will be doing.)

  • I keep my head on a swivel at all times—and if I spot a large, fast-moving vessel (and I always assume they're faster than me) I paddle the other way. Very fast. LOL (So I've never needed to know where ships are.)

So for me, the most important and relevant information are winds and tides. I've found Deepzoom to be really helpful when planning a trip at home; sometimes I've been able to access and refer to Deepzoom on the water with my phone's web browser (assuming I have a data signal). I recently got Aqua Maps and may fork out the money for the full pro version to have more detailed wind and tide information.

Otherwise, I've found just about any good, land-based smartphone mapping and navigation app (GaiaGPS, Onyx, Topo Maps+, etc.) to be very useful on the water as well.
 
I'm so old school. I still mostly rely on paper marine charts for the majority of my navigation. The chart, folded for the day, sit right in front of me in a watertight map case all the time. So easy.

I also have a handheld waterproof Garmin GPS with the Bluechart data (the marine charts), which I use when I can't figure out where I am on the paper chart and to navigate in the fog. All my waypoints are preloaded, so I can point at a waypoint and follow the GPS pointer to it. Admittedly, the map's small screen is not as easy to follow as a smartphone screen, but it takes real batteries. I save my power banks for my GoPro camera and Garmin watch. I think it finds more satellites than my phone does, so it's more accurate.

I also have a handheld, waterproof, floating VHF radio, which I use mostly for forecasts. While it does require listening to a very long forecast, it obviates the need for an internet connection and the radio battery lasts forever.
 
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