Thursday, April 12, 2012

Google Earth: A Very Cool Trip Planning Tool

Technology has made cruising a lot easier in recent years.  I remember when we got our first boat (a 20 foot Boston Whaler) when I was only 7 years old or so.  At the time, we got a Garmin chart plotter with about a 5 inch black and white screen, which was top of the line at the time.  Refreshing the screen took forever and the black and white display made it difficult to make out what was what.  But it was really cool to see our position overlaid on a chart rather than having to plot GPS (or LORAN) positions on a paper chart.

Fast forward 16 years and technology has continued to improve dramatically.  Chart plotters are ubiquitous even on the smallest boats and basic handheld units cost less than $100.  When I'm on the boat, I now have at least four different chart plotters (laptop with GPS puck and electronic charts, iPad, iPhone, Raymarine system), each of which is significantly better and easier to use than the old Garmin on the Whaler.  But the really exciting stuff comes when companies integrate multiple features into a single device.

The iPad does this better than any device I've used.

Say, for example, I'm curious what a place looks like before I get there.  I simply open up the route I'll be navigating in iNavX, press a few buttons, and the route opens up in Google Earth.  I can then zoom, pan, and change perspectives on the entire route with just a few swipes of my fingers and see satellite photography of the whole thing.

Virtually entering Punchbowl Cove
I could save a lot of money by cruising Alaska from my computer!
The advantages of this are many.  For one thing, I can look on the computer and compare anchorages by scenery, using my own judgement instead of relying on other peoples observations.  More importantly, however, I can navigate routes virtually, before I ever get to the most hazardous places.  This is a real advantage when entering unfamiliar marinas or navigating narrow and convoluted passages, especially if it is raining heavily or foggy when I arrive in a new place.

And this is just one example of how the iPad specifically makes boating easier.  Add in real time weather buoy data, a wealth of other weather forecasts and information, electronic tide and current tables that are searchable, an easy place to store all boat related equipment manuals, and access to online cruising forums and guidebooks like ActiveCaptain, and the benefits of technology become even clearer.

Unfortunately, Google Earth will only work when I have a good internet connection, so it's best to use it when WiFi or a strong 3G connection is available.  But with the pace of change in the satellite communications field, I doubt (hope!) it will be too many more years before fast, global satellite connections become affordable.

If only there was a way to get radar data and overlays onto an iPad, I would give up the Raymarine system in a heartbeat.  Sure, the iPad isn't ruggedized or marinized, but it would be easy enough to keep a spare aboard and even two iPads would be cheaper than a single mid-range MFD.


  1. Sam,

    Your last two posts are great. Very excited to follow you along your trip. I hope you are able to keep the blog up-to-date and post great content along the way. What an awesome adventure. Love what you’re doing. Years ago, i loaded up my Grady White Marlin 300 with all sorts of gear and explored the Chesapeake Bay from north to south. Your trip is far more adventurous, and I am really looking forward to watching from afar. We now have a grand banks trawler and we are looking forward to our summer cruising schedule. Thanks for posting and best of luck to you. Charlie

  2. We're looking forward to "following along", Sam!

    Best wishes,
    Jim & Joan

  3. Hi Sam,
    First,Congratulations on your graduation! Second, I've been hearing about your AK trip, and got the chance to talk to your Mom about it. She told me about your blog, so I had to check it out. It will be great fun (not as much fun as you'll be having) to follow you on your adventure.
    My very best, Greta