Thursday 31 March 2011

Simrad NSS Touchscreen Plotters Launch for Cruising Sailors

The continuing updating of this excellent range of chart plotters for sailors has culminated in the launch this month in Palma, Spain of the latest version of the North Star Sport series. This version will allow all those touchy feely folks to satisfy their urge admirably! However, there are still knobs and buttons to play with!

The following article is from Simrad themselves outlining the technical capabilities of the NSS units: 'Developed for maximum ease of use, the Simrad NSS Sport’s Touch Sensible™ technology provides quick and efficient access to the information boaters need to enhance every on-the-water experience.

Available in three sizes, the NSS Sport range includes the NSS7, NSS8 and NSS12. Providing boaters with the perfect combination of control options, the NSS Sport offers touch-screen, keypad and a Simrad-Yachting signature rotary-control knob – enabling the user to remain in complete control in any boating situation.

Designed for performance, the NSS Sport features a bright, clear and highly visible display that employs Simrad Yachting’s unique LED backlighting technology and includes a powerful built-in GPS and BSM-1 echosounder*. Ensuring ultimate flexibility, the NSS Sport can be networked to the Simrad NSO and NSE multifunction displays, as well as Simrad Yachting’s comprehensive range of innovative performance module options -- including the award-winning Broadband Radar™, StructureScan™ Sonar Imaging, SonicHub™ marine audio server and WM-2 SIRIUS® satellite weather/radio module.

The NSS Sport is also pre-loaded with Insight USA™ inland and coastal cartography, and is fully compatible with the complete range of Navionics chart options on microSD. “With the addition of the NSS Sport, Simrad Yachting now offers the most exciting and integrated portfolio of marine electronics on the market,” said Louis Chemi, COO, Navico Americas. “Whether you’re in the market for a touch-screen 7-inch chartplotter or you require a broader range of fishing, sailing or cruising equipment – Simrad Yachting has got you covered with a full selection of award-winning products.” Whether routing to a waypoint, marking a fish or cranking your favorite tunes – operating the NSS Sport is simple with Simrad Yachting’s Touch Sensible technology.

Panning and zooming are fast, responsive, and most of all, easy to learn due to its intuitive icon-driven menu system. The bright LED display also uses less power than traditional display technologies and greatly extends the life of the product. “The NSS Sport is another example of our driven focus to lead with technology that provides meaningful innovation,” continued Chemi. “The combination of a touch-screen display and rotary-control knob enables boaters of all skill levels to complete tasks with absolute ease and precision.”

The Simrad NSS Sport range features high-brightness (1200 NIT) bonded LED displays in 6.4-inch (VGA), 8-inch (SVGA) and 12-inch (XGA) diagonal screen sizes. All support NMEA 2000®, SimNet and composite video input. The NSS series uses little power and is designed for use in 12 and 24V DC power systems. The system has an operating temperature range of 5 degrees to 131 degrees Fahrenheit (-15 degrees to 55 degrees Celsius); like the NSE and NSO multifunction displays, the NSS Sport is waterproof to the IPx7 standard, and protected by a two-year limited parts and labor warranty.

The new Simrad NSS Sport is also covered by Simrad Yachting’s 24-hour exchange program. In the unlikely event that the device is identified as defective within the first year of warranty, Simrad Yachting will ensure shipment of a replacement device within 24 hours. The Simrad NSS7, NSS8 and NSS12 have suggested retail prices of US$1,895, $2,845 and $3,995 respectively.'

Extract and images courtesy Simrad Yachting

You can read more about chart plotting and navigation in my ebook 'Voyage of the Little Ship Tere Moana' downloadable from my website

Thursday 24 March 2011

Google Earth Tips for Cruising Sailors

Following on from my last post about possible GPS problems for the cruising sailor, here is an interesting post from Google Earth blog with some tips that cruising sailors may find most useful.

I particularly like the idea of storing earth views of remote ports of calls, anchoring/mooring areas, navigation hazards, underwater obstructions etc. on your computer, which can then be viewed on approach even if there is no or poor internet connection in that area. Always to be used in conjunction with the correct marine navigation charts, this facility can be a useful adjunct to your knowledge of a new anchorage.

Here's what Frank Taylor of the Google Earth blog writes about some of the interesting techniques he uses:

'A big part of the experience of sailing around the world is meeting up with other sailors doing similar routes. In French Polynesia, we have had numerous opportunities to meet up with the crews of boats we have met along the way, and many new boats as well. As a big fan of Google Earth, I have been making sure to share tips on some of the ways I am making use of Google Earth as we sail. Many of these tips apply equally to many other forms of travel. One thing is apparent, few people realize some of the less-known, but best features of Google Earth for travel.

Here are some important tips on Google Earth's lesser-known features that every sailor (and many other travelers) should know:

1) Google Earth can be used without an Internet connection - As we are traveling, I actually use Google Earth more without an Internet connection than with. Many people aren't aware that Google caches the last 2 GBytes (if your cache is set to the maximum) of imagery/layers you last loaded. What I do is visit the places I'm about to travel to (in particular the anchorages) and make sure to load the imagery of those places most important to me. It's important not to load too large an area or the cache will start forgetting the older stuff. Once we are on a passage (with no easy way to be on the Internet) we can still load Google Earth and view those last places loaded. I can view what the appraoch to an anchorage is like, and the places we plan to visit while reading other guide materials or charts we have. Read more about using Google Earth off the Internet.

2) The Ruler - I frequently make use of the Google Earth ruler to measure distances between places we are going, or the places we have already traveled. You can change the units (I frequently use the "nautical miles" units) to help convert to local measures. Also, you can trace out paths, not just single measurements (look for the tabs at the top of the window that pops up to find the "Paths" tab). This is very handy for measuring routes. As a sailor, I often use this feature to check distances on passages, determine the best places to anchor, estimate dinghy runs, and distances we'll have to walk to grocery stores and customs offices.

3) GPS Tracks - if you have a GPS, you can take your saved GPS tracks and use many free programs to convert your track to GPX. Some GPS programs will even output your GPS tracks directly to Google Earth's KML. But, Google Earth will read GPX files as well. Simply open your KML or GPX file of your track. The new Google Earth 5.2 presents you with a new option to save your file as a "track". This lets you play back the track with some new features like the time slider. I also recommend a free online program called "GPSVisualizer" to generate highly customized GPS tracks for use with Google Earth.

4) GPS in Real-time - Google Earth can connect directly to many GPS's. Look for the option under "Tools->GPS". If you have a Garmin with a USB connection, it is very simple. You can also use the NMEA option to connect. Read more about that in the Google Earth user guide. Once you have your GPS connected, Google Earth can show your position in real-time. It makes Google Earth into something like a 3D "chart plotter". Google Earth is not to be used for navigation purposes. The data is not intended for that, so it is not guaranteed to be accurate enough to sail by. However, using it as an additional reference has proven to be very effective. The satellite is often (but, not always) good enough to see underwater obstructions (such as coral heads, rocks, and even sunken ships). It has also been handy for seeing the best route through passes. In fact, I have often found GE imagery is more accurately placed than my electronic charts. You need to remember some of the imagery can be several years old though. The imagery is definitely not real-time (read about Google Earth imagery).

5) Many other uses - I also share our position reports, GPS tracks, and photography using Google Earth. You can share your photos for free with Google's Panoramio - which lets you map the positions of each photo when you upload them (or you can do the geotagging with another program). The photos will later appear on Google Earth and Google Maps for everyone to see as icons when the Panoramio/Photos layer is turned on. I also take 360 Panoramas and upload them to, which are also viewable on Google Earth, or you can put them on your web site (see example). Most importantly, I often use Google Earth while on the Internet to do research on the places we are going to find information and pictures about popular places to visit. Turning on the Panoramio layer is a fast way to find popular places (more photos in the most interesting spots). I also showed a bunch of sailors how to use Google Earth to show the best place to watch the solar eclipse that occurred over the central Pacific waters on July 11th.

These are just a few of the many ways I use Google Earth while sailing/traveling. They are all free, and easily available to anyone. All you have to know is that they exist, and how to use them.'

Extract courtesy Frank Taylor of

You can read more about GPS plotting and daily use whilst on passage in my ebook 'Voyage of the Little Ship Tere Moana' downloadable from my website

Sunday 20 March 2011

GPS Accuracy Problems for Cruising Sailors Highlighted

The question of GPS accuracy when on passage in your sailboat comes up from time to time and the following article from the British Academy of Engineering is very timely.

I have lifted it from website and it is well worth bearing in mind when at sea and relying so heavily on our electronics as we tend to do these days.

I can well recall a close call when sailing down to St. Vincent in the Caribbean some years back. It was a minor error but had us almost onto a reef. Fortunately, we were keeping a good lookout so were able to spot the error in time and alter course to avoid the reef. There is no substitute for a pair of eyes looking at all times.

Likewise there is no substitute yet for the traditional forms of navigation including coastal and celestial navigation. Anyone contemplating long ocean voyages must become familiar and be able to practice these forms of navigation. A reliable sextant is not expensive ($200 approx.) and is an invaluable tool to have on board. And, once you have mastered it, you will have tremendous satisfaction from getting good results from it.

Here is the article and a link to the Academy's website for the full report:

'When in doubt, can YOU drag out the sextant and take a position?' .
Leisure sailors and other mariners could find themselves in trouble if they rely totally on GPS systems a British Academy of Engineering has warned.

The report finds that the severity of the errors may be so large as to give noticeably suspect results which can immediately be identified by the users, but the real threat lies in 'dangerously misleading' results which may not seem obviously wrong - a ship directed slightly off course by faulty data could steer it into danger.

This is of vital importance to cruising sailors, when it is known that a large percentage of us do not take alternative methods of navigation and sometimes cannot carry out coastal or celestial navigation.

Dr Martyn Thomas CBE FREng, Chairman of the Royal Academy of Engineering's Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) working group, says: 'GPS and other GNSS are so useful and so cheap to build into equipment that we have become almost blindly reliant on the data they give us.

'A significant failure of GPS could cause lots of services to fail at the same time, including many that are thought to be completely independent of each other. The use of non-GNSS back ups is important across all critical uses of GNSS.'

Society in general may already be dangerously over-reliant on satellite radio navigation systems like GPS, the Academy warns in a report published 8 March 2011. The range of applications using the technology is now so broad that, without adequate independent backup, signal failure or interference could potentially affect safety systems and other critical parts of the economy.

Global Navigation Space Systems: reliance and vulnerabilities looks into the increasing use of global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) to gain accurate data for positioning, navigation and timing (PNT). The US-operated Global Positioning System (GPS) is best known as the first major implementation of this technology but other GNSS systems are being planned and built, including the Russian GLONASS and Europe's Galileo.

The Academy's report focuses on our increasing reliance on GNSS and the current limited use of GNSS-independent backups for PNT data. The vulnerabilities of GNSS to deliberate or accidental interference, both man-made (such as jamming) and natural (such as solar flares) are also highlighted.

As well as the ubiquitous satnav, the signals are used by data networks, financial systems, shipping and air transport, agriculture, railways and emergency services. The European Commission, in its mid-term review of the European satellite radio navigation programmes (18 January 2011) estimated that an €800 billion chunk of the European economy is already dependent on GNSS.

All GNSS applications are vulnerable to failure, disruption and interference and the report looks at a range of possible consequences of these, from the inconvenient (such as passenger information system failures) to possible loss of life (such as interruptions to emergency services communications).

There is also a concern over the criminal use of jamming equipment to bypass GNSS systems - easily available technology can be used to block tracking of consignments of goods or to defraud systems that collect revenue using GNSS (such as toll-road charging).

The Academy's report looks at security awareness and recommends that critical services include GNSS vulnerabilities in their risk register and that these are reviewed regularly and mitigated effectively. It says the provision of a widely available PNT service as an alternative to GNSS is an essential part of the national infrastructure - a terrestrial radio navigation system called eLORAN is already in development for this purpose.

The Academy also suggests policy responses including the closing of a legal loophole which allows the import, advertisement and possession of jamming devices. The UK government could trial the deliberate jamming of signals for a limited period to allow users to evaluate the impact of the loss of PNT data and the effectiveness of their back-up plans.

Finally, the Academy advises the creation of an R&D programme focused on antenna and receiver improvements that would enhance the resilience of GNSS dependent systems against natural and man-made threats.

Dr Thomas adds: 'The deployment of Europe's Galileo system will greatly improve the resilience of the combined GPS/Galileo system, but many of the vulnerabilities we have identified in this report will remain. No-one has a complete picture of the many ways in which we have become dependent on weak signals 12,000 miles above us.'

The full Academy's report, 'Global Navigation Space Systems: reliance and vulnerability' is available online at Professor Martyn Thomas will present the conclusions of the Academy's report to the 2011 GNSS Interference, Detection and Monitoring Conference on Thursday 10 March.

Article courtesy British Academy of Engineering and Sailworld

You can read more about celestial navigation and navigation in general when on passage in my ebook 'Voyage of the Little Ship Tere Moana' downloadaable from my website