Need advice for being prepared for kayaking in the fog

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So far, in my kayaking adventures, I've managed to not be out in the fog. However, I want to get prepared for that eventuality and I am looking at my GPS options.

I carry paper charts when I kayak, check Deepzoom before my trip to understand the tides and currents before I go out, and also have a compass on my boat.

At first I thought I would go the Garmin handheld marine GPS route, but that appears to be pricey because I would need to buy the chart for Western US & Canada which is $220 plus the cost of the device which is at least $150.

Now, I am thinking of of buying the iNavx app ($5) downloading it to my iPhone, getting the yearly subscription for Navionics ($24) and Ayetides ($8). I will set my phone in airplane mode so I still can use GPS but not run down the battery and I always bring a couple of cellphone chargers with me. (The most I have ever kayak camped is 2 nights.) Of course, I have to figure out how these apps & subscription work together. Hopefully, it is pretty intuitive.

Thoughts on this? Other than the issue of battery life with my cell phone, am I missing any details? Thanks in advance for your input.
 

JohnAbercrombie

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You've probably looked around with the 'Search' here already? (Sometimes a Google search with site:westcoastpaddler.com works better.)

A few thoughts (i.e. my 2 cents worth):
If you are away from the shore in fog, boat/ship/tug+tow traffic could be a worry - it is for me. So GPS isn't the whole answer to fog navigation. Your compass and chart will do if you pre-mark heading lines, though it can be difficult to allow for current very precisely (so the GPS may be helpful once you get to the far shore). Make sure your compass is easy to read when conditions are damp (not waaay up near the bow! :) )
For me, it's cheaper to use a waterproof GPS that uses AA cells than to protect and charge an expensive cell phone. YMMV as the saying goes.
Not all phones work well through the case, when wearing gloves.
You'll probably want a deck mount for your phone (in its case?)/GPS - RAM has the most extensive range of mounts.
I think the GPS and the displays are the big current drains in most cell phones; I don't know how far Airplane mode will extend the battery life.
If you look online you usually can find so-called 'used' Bluechart chips for $50 or so- look for HXUS039R .
It's not common to find bargains on pre-owned GPS units (folks think their old tech is worth what they paid for it) but they are out there. I've found GPSMap78 and 64 units in good shape locally for about $100 CAD. (I like the Garmins with the buttons on the front).
 
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Joined
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Seattle
Thanks for your reply. After thinking about how to protect a cell phone, and taking it out of the case and using it with gloves on, I think a GPS marine unit is the route I will go. I will start the search to find one 2nd hand.

Yes, I agree, my main worry would be crossing a shipping lane in the fog. Hopefully, I won't find myself in that situation.

Thanks for your input!
 

dvfrggr

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So these are screenshots i just took from the Marine Traffic app i use for my job on a daily basis tracking Container Ship arrivals and departures from port operations in Seattle and Tacoma. Your post got me looking closely at the settings and they have added a "my position" feature which could be useful in that "situation you hopefully don't want to find yourself in"
The large shot of Alki with the blue pointer
Screenshot_20201015-231528_MarineTraffic.jpg
Screenshot_20201015-231718_MarineTraffic.jpg
shows my position now and the Matson Kodiak shot shows when i tapped on that vessels icon. Information on vessel location, speed and time ago is something i look at a lot. I may get a waterproof case for my phone and see how this app works on the water, lots of vessel traffic in Puget Sound to get a feel of it. Any WCP members use this app or something similar?
 
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jefffski

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I did use my Garmin 64 GPS to navigate in the fog (crossing northbound on Hakai Passage). I used its compass to keep me on course to the Breaker group. This worked well. On another occasion, crossing Blackney Passage (Broughtons) in a fog, I used a paper chart and compass and followed bearings I took the previous day before fog set in. Both systems worked well, but in the paper chart and compass, I had taken bearings, otherwise I would not have known how to cross. In this case, and others, I used my VHF radio to contact Marine Traffic Services to ask them if there were any large vessels transiting my planned path. In Hakai passage, I simply used the radio to alert any vessels of our presence and did a lot of praying.
 

cougarmeat

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Note that you don’t need a subscription to use the NOAA charts from iNavX. You do for more custom charts. But if you are in US waters the NOAA chart might be enough.

Remember - with those backup batteries - you might want to keep them where they are accessible to you while paddling. I had the AA’s in my GPS run out and my spares were tucked away in a forward dry bag. Now my spare AA’s and Marine VHF battery are in a zip lock bag in a mostly waterproof zipper pocket on my drysuit.

Be sure to check the waypoints graphics on your Garmin, especially if they are in Canada. Even though I bought ($100!) a specific BlueChart for Canada, many of the island land masses were missing. The display would show the campsite icon apparently floating in the middle of the water.

I’ve pretty much abandoned Garmin for navigation. I use Gaia, iNavX, and AyeTides. I still keep the Garmin for back up an use its speedometer and set. time fo arrival features - but not it’s graphic display.

Usually my paddling is point to point so I look at the electronic chart on land to get an idea of where I’m going - noting the heading - then rely on a compass until I’m close.

Fog is the reason I bought my first GPS (decades ago). On a hike, if fog rolls in, I can find two trees for my hammock almost anywhere. But on a passage across water, I want to know where that landing spot is even if I can’t see it. Unfortunately, knowing where I’m landing doesn’t tell me what land masses and ship masses are between me and that destination. So battery management should include that Marine VHF radio as well as navigation tools.

As long as you are using your phone for JUST navigation you should be fine in Airplane mode for two days. Better to test it at home by leaving the app running and allowing the phone to go to sleep between viewings. Note that fingerprint operations will probably not be possible in the waterproof case. But if you app is already launched you will need very little interaction with it while on the water (gloves on).

Note that waterproof does not mean it floats. I use an iPad mini with a LifeProof case that has a big orange floating collar accessory. I’m pretty sure some of the clear plastic bag cases float too - but not the hard cases.

I just ordered a block of foam I’ll use as a DIY experiment to carve a wedge shaped holder for the Garmin and/or iPad mini. I’ve done my due diligence by telling Apple that they need to take their display engineers out of the office and put them in the sun, outside, with polarized glasses. Let them design a display in that environment. So far Apple hasn’t thanked me for that advice.

The electronics doesn’t substitute for paper chart, tide/current tables, and non-battery operated compass. But it’s a good backup. And in the fog, so nice to know my landing is .7Nm @ 281 degrees - as long as there is nothing between me and that unseen destination.
 

JohnAbercrombie

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As long as you are using your phone for JUST navigation you should be fine in Airplane mode for two days. Better to test it at home by leaving the app running and allowing the phone to go to sleep between viewings. Note that fingerprint operations will probably not be possible in the waterproof case. But if you app is already launched you will need very little interaction with it while on the water (gloves on).
How do you wake the phone from sleep when on the water, if you are wearing gloves?
 

alexsidles

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This question comes up every few years on WCP, but for whatever reason it's the one "gear head" question I can't seem to resist.

I agree with John Abercrombie's suggestion to use a standalone marine Garmin GPS rather than a smartphone or other touchscreen device.

  • The large, rubberized buttons on a marine Garmin are easier than any touchscreen to use with wet hands or during a rainstorm.

  • The Garmin's battery life vastly exceeds that of any touchscreen device.

  • The Garmin's waterproofness and buoyancy are more reliable than most touchscreen devices, even those with cases.

  • Replacing a Garmin lost overboard is cheaper and less hassle than replacing a touchscreen device.

  • The Garmin displays more information easier than most touchscreen devices. When navigating by device, I configure my Garmin to simultaneously show me a large compass with a red arrow telling me what heading to set; the distance in miles to the objective; my speed over land; the time of day; and the estimated time to arrival (although this last I could derive myself from the distance and speed data). If I want to see what the currents are doing, I can stop paddling for a moment, and the compass and speedometer will tell me the direction and speed of the currents. I can also roughly estimate the currents without ceasing paddling by comparing the red heading arrow with the actual bearing to the objective. Touchscreens likely have similar capability, but the Garmin displays it all very conveniently and well organized.

As for the expense of Garmin maps, many excellent maps are available for free. Below are four Garmin-compatible topo maps of Cypress Island in Washington's San Juans. (I prefer topos to nautical charts.) Can you guess which one is the $100 map from Garmin and which three I downloaded for free at GPSfiledepot.com? Answer at bottom:

1) Northwest Topos:

Northwest Topos.png


2) Topo USA 2008:

TOPO USA 2008.png


3) NW USA Topo:

NW USA Topo.png



4) Ibycus USA 2.0:

Ibycus USA 2.0.png




Answer: number 2 (Topo USA 2008) is the $100 Garmin map. All three others are available for free on GPSfiledepot.com. If you have a Windows computer as opposed to a Mac, there are even more free map options.

Alex
 

JohnAbercrombie

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Here's the data that's on the Garmin Bluechart HXUS039 for the same area (screenshot from computer using HomePort).

Screen Shot 2020-10-16 at 12.28.57 PM.png


You lose the land detail that's on the topos, but you do get the marine navigation info (navaids, depths, tiderips, etc).

Of course the 160 x 240 pixel display on my GpsMap78 doesn't look that that- you need to zoom in. For 'the big picture' I use a paper chart.

The GPSMap78/64 and others can display both the Bluechart marine chart data and the free topo data at the same time, though my units seem to have trouble zooming in on the RobsTOPOvi topos I downloaded.
 
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cougarmeat

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The chart/maps for USA waters are plentiful. For Canada (Vancouver Island area) I think not so much.

I wear fingerless gloves when paddling, or pogies if really cold. I can use figures/pressure on the screen of the waterproof case, but not fingerprint ID. I just enter the unlock code.

But I don’t use the iPad so much on the water; I use it for on shore planning. On the water, if needed, I use my old garmin configured a bit like Alex’s. I don’t use the chart screen, I view a page configured to show speed, direction to target, ETA, heading, maybe current time, sunset - digits like that.
 

alexsidles

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For Canada, the free Northwest Topos map (example #1 in my list above) has excellent coverage all the way around Vancouver Island and the BC south coast, including Desolation Sound, Sunshine Coast, the "good part" of the Broughtons, west coast Vancouver Island, Juan de Fuca Strait, Gulf Islands, Discovery Islands—basically everything south of Cape Caution, with the exception that the north side of Johnstone Strait doesn't have coverage for a 13-mile stretch (21 km) between Stimpson Point and the east end of Boat Bay.

There is also the free Ibycus Canada, which has all of BC (and most other provinces) at 1:50,000, a perfectly adequate resolution for kayakers. However, Ibycus Canada offers fewer labelled terrain features than the Northwest Topos, though again, still sufficient for kayakers. Ibycus Canada also requires Windows to load the map onto your Garmin, whereas Northwest Topos is compatible with OS X and Windows.

Bottom line: if you're paddling in Canada and staying south of Cape Caution, Northwest Topos is all you need for excellent, free mapping. If you're going farther north, you can rely on Ibycus for good-enough free mapping, or buy the very good Garmin Topo Canada v.4 for USD 130.

Here is a screenshot of the free Northwest Topos coverage of Barkley Sound, BC:

Screen Shot 2020-10-16 at 4.00.41 PM.png


Alex
 

alexsidles

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The GPSMap78/64 and others can display both the Bluechart marine chart data and the free topo data at the same time, though my units seem to have trouble zooming in on the RobsTOPOvi topos I downloaded.
John, many years ago I looked into the possibility of displaying both topo features and nautical chart features on the same GPS map—some kind of map-chart hybrid. At the time, there was nothing like that on the market, and it seemed like building my own version would require software skills I didn't have (and still don't).

But you make it sound like this map-chart capability has now become available to us untutored masses. Can you send in a picture of your handheld GPS displaying the topo-nautical combo you described?

Alex
 

cougarmeat

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For those who use the Gaia mapping software on their tablet or smart phone, if subscribed to the Premium Plan, you can layer two or more maps from a wide selection. In general, you can download an area directly to your device ahead of time so on the water you don’t need WiFi or cell service. You can turn that off to save battery power.

Thank you Alex and John, for those screen shots and sources.
 

JohnAbercrombie

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When navigating by device, I configure my Garmin to simultaneously show me a large compass with a red arrow telling me what heading to set; the distance in miles to the objective; my speed over land; the time of day; and the estimated time to arrival (although this last I could derive myself from the distance and speed data). If I want to see what the currents are doing, I can stop paddling for a moment, and the compass and speedometer will tell me the direction and speed of the currents. I can also roughly estimate the currents without ceasing paddling by comparing the red heading arrow with the actual bearing to the objective. Touchscreens likely have similar capability, but the Garmin displays it all very conveniently and well organized.
With all our talk about charts on devices, I want to make it clear:
Like Alex, when I'm actually paddling with the GPS on deck, I'm not using the chart display.
On my GPSMap78, I have the display set to show Speed, Bearing to Waypoint, and Distance to Waypoint, in large font. When I want that info, a quick button push wakes up the GPS and the data is there to see.
On a few occasions I've used the chart display to figure out where a campsite was 'hiding'; it's also useful for adding new waypoints during a trip (which I've done in the tent when planning the next day's paddle).
I'd be OK if my GPS didn't have a chart chip. Though the copy of that chip that's plugged into my computer is very convenient for trip planning and setting waypoints, I can do all that with paper chart, dividers and pencil, and putting the waypoints into the GPS with a program like EasyGPS (or manually entering them into the GPS via the keypad, though that is quite tedious).
 
Joined
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Thank you so much, everyone, for taking the time to reply. I appreciate all the information and the screen prints of the charts and maps.
 
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