Android for Sailing

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As with any computing platform there are software programs of using to sailing.

We had a collection of applications on the Palm which aided in sailing, with the increased power and capabilities of the Android some of the sailing software for it is much more powerful than what the Palm had 15 years ago.

We found the following applications that we use on a regular basis:

Marine Traffic

This app uses the AIS transmissions from commercial shipping (and some pleasure boats) to plot the location of boats on a world map. Each boat can have a page at Marine Traffic where its static details and passages may be recorded, also pictures of it can be uploaded by interested parties. Initially we used Marine Traffic to find out about ships that were around us at anchor or in harbours. Eventually we created a page for Maringret. Within Marine Traffic is a facility to make up a list of vessels of interest to you (referred to as “My Fleet”), when one of those vessels has a change in status (e.g. departs or arrives at a harbour) then you will receive an email. In busy waterways Marine Traffic can be very useful in determining the intentions of fast moving commercial vessel so that you can stay safe by moving out of its intended path.

In something like 2014 Marine Traffic converted from an “advertising based” funding to a “pay to use” funding. So you had to pay to use it, and the friends on boats you followed had to pay to use it, and in the end, everybody we knew didn’t pay and didn’t use it. We once checked it daily and now never look at it.

Pegel Online

Pegels are devices for the measurement of water depth, they are common on the inland waterways of Europe and also at some European coastal locations. The application Pegel Online allows an Android phone to access this information in real time. The Pegels tend to update online every hour or so and that is all that is available to Pegel Online. But given that river water levels do not change quickly that is sufficient. The application is in the German language but is easy enough to figure out. There are 4 tabs within the application which display:

  • Messung tab:
    the pegel name,
    Messung (Measurement) which is the depth of water,
    Tendenz (Trend) which is the tendency to increase, decrease or stable,
    Zeit (Time)
    At the bottom of the tab is a graph of the water level over time.
  • Daten tab:
    this is the data transmitted by the Pegel, for most pegels it is only “wasserstand rohdaten” (water depth raw data) but some pegels also transmit “abfluss rohdaten” (water flow raw data) which is the volume of water flowing at that point on the river
  • Details tab:
    this is a transaction log of the messages and events reported by the pegel.
  • Karte tab:
    this is a static (i.e. non-zoomable) map displaying the location of the pegel.

Pegels are complex to use as the data is not the actual depth of water. One explanation may be found here which  is a German language article (which may be translated by Google Translate).

WindGuru

This is an app that has come to redefine how things are done on Maringret. The app operates in the same manner as the website www.windguru.cz. When we first came across the WindGuru website it was very impressive. Soon after moving onto Android we became aware that an Android app existed. The app took the power of the website and increased it.

The WindGuru App (and the website for that matter) take weather prediction data from the GFS (Global Forecast System) computer model operated by the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) in the USA which is run 4 times per day at (00 UTC, 06 UTC, 12 UTC, and 18 UTC). The forecasts are for 8 days. The forecast model covers the earth with 50 km resolution between forecasts data points. This means that any point on earth may be selected as point for a forecast (remembering the 50km resolution). For a sailing boat these data points may represent  way points, harbours, or any other point of interest. Points may be added or deleted from what the app reports at any point with minimal effort. The data is presented in tabular form and enhanced with colour coding. One thing which is only the website (so far at least) is a graphical display of the data as one timeline. This feature would be nice on the Android but having said that, most days we only use the Android app. There are issues with computer weather models which the website discusses at some length. After having used the WindGuru app intensely for some years we have recognised the same issues in television and printed forecasts and come to realise that they are depending on the same computer models.

Of all the “sailing” apps on the Android this is certainly the one that is used the most and also depended on the most.

Google Sky Map

This app is amazing, especially when you on a boat out of sight of land. Using the Android GPS and star tables it portrays what the skies look like, no matter if it night, cloudy or evening bright daylight. It will even draw the heavens appearing on the other side of the earth if you hold your Android down towards the ground. Did you ever wonder exactly how near your feet the Southern Cross of the southern sky was when you are standing on the northern hemisphere? Google Sky Map will draw the planets and stars corresponding to where you have the Android. In bright daylight it will lt you know that Mercury is currently beside the sun (something that is impossible with the naked eye) or that Jupiter and Venus are passing near to each other. There is a search function to help you locate your favourite astral body (where is Casseopaia right now?). And it is free. As far as we know it runs on any current Android. In addition to use for celestial navigation this is an app to impress people with.

  • All the Android technology becomes quite useless once a GSM signal is unavailable. This happens both when away from coastal population centres as well as along inhabited sections of inland waterways. It is wise to have fall back strategy in place.
  • Some of these apps need the GPS running as well as data enabled and these together can deplete the battery.
  • Apps for smart phones sometimes disappear. Usually an old version of the app will continue running but eventually will grind to a halt as other facilities around it change. The apps we have listed here we have used for some years and are periodically updated.

  • All the apps listed above have been with us for a year or so (which is as long as we have had Android phones) and have proved reliable.

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