Monday, December 20, 2010

Recommended Navigation Programs

Open CPN opensource software created by sailors for sailors. The best feature is the price of FREE. This is one of the few software programs that will run the complete portfolio of CM93 charts which are in wide distribution and offer a sailor the possibility to have nearly every chart in the world at their fingertips. This is looking like a better and better solution to using a legacy version of MaxSea as many cruisers are today.

Opening CM93 charts in OpenCPN 2.3.1

On the top tool bar click on the 'Tool Box' (i.e. Wrench icon)
Click on 'Charts' tab.
In the upper dialog box 'Available Chart Directories' select the CM93 folder. Something similar to 'C:\CM93'
Click 'Add Selection'
In the lower dialog box 'Active Charts Directories' you should now see the path for CM93 file folder.
Click OK
CM93Charts should now load automatically.

For a second time click on the 'ToolBox'
Click on the 'Vector Charts' tab
You can experimental with the setting on the 'Vector Charts' tab.
Here are some recommendations:
Chart Depth Units = Meters
Display Category = 'MarinersStandard'
Check the box for 'Show Soundings'
Colors = 4
CM93 Zoom Level = 5

To speed up the program, again click on 'ToolBox'
Click on 'Settings' tab
UNcheck the box 'Show Chart Outlines'

As a final catch all...If in doubt reboot the computer

IF your sailing will be limited to US waters then my favorite program is Coastal Explorer is superb for the USA as one can download Electronic Navigation Charts (ENC) for free (USA only). The program is $300 plus, but the trial is great for 15 minutes then requires a restart of the software. Very cool interface that brings together charting with live GPS, AIS as well as NOAA weather, Coast Pilots, tide and current streams.

Not sure what navigaiton program to use? Run several at the same time using a Virtual Serial Port Emulator. This VSPE software will enable physical serial port data such as a USB GPS to be shared to several applications. Very cool.
One of the best is Franson GPSGate 2.6+ and I find ti worth every penny of the $40 purchase price.
another I just came across, but have not tested can be found here: this free version is for 32 bit machines only. The 64 bit version is around $25.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Connecting to the internet while afloat.

December 17, 2010

In today's rapid paced information age, reliable internet connectivity is pretty much taken for granted...ashore. Once on the water, getting connected at all can be difficult if not impossible.

The purpose of this post is to discuss connecting to shore-side internet access points or 'hot spots' once the anchor is down. Typical laptop computers carried aboard have low power WIFI radios so unless the boat is very very close to the access point connecting directly via the laptop is unlikely. Withstanding a high-power on-board WIFI system, which I will discuss next, the only alternatives are:

#1 Haul the laptop ashore in the dinghy and track down an internet cafe.
#2 Tether a smart phone to the laptop.
#3 Utilize a 3G Mobile Broadband Modem
#4 Install super expensive expensive satellite based Internet

I won't go into pros and cons of above, but instead focus on obtaining 'free' internet access via shore side access points.

Nothing is really free, but after the initial cost of installing a high power long range WIFI system, internet access can often be obtained for free. Even with a long range high power system, selecting an anchorage often comes down to availability of WIFI.

Over the past five years of full time world cruising we've tested many systems with varying degrees of success. I'm often asked about the specifications of our WIFI system so without going into the alphabet soup of techno jargon here is what we use:

Long Range WIFI system used on LightSpeed.

Bullet 2HP wireless radio
by Ubiquity.

About $79 as of 12/17/2010 from many suppliers.
29dbm/800mw output which is 20+ times more power than a typical laptop.
Signal strength LED meter for antenna alignment.
Integrated N-type Male Jack connector for the antenna and RJ45 connection to the laptop or router. Robust weatherproof design
Power input from 12-24 volts DC so it happily runs on ships 12volt system.
Hyperlink HG2415U-PRO 15dbi Omni-Directional antenna from Microm
About $100 (0ther cheaper options abound)
Integral N-type Female connector connector
Pros: Best quality and performance.
Cons: 40" tall and heavy at 3.3 pounds
A 12dbi would be fine for most.
Power Over Ethernet (POE) Injector from Retailers.
Alfa Wall Mount Passive Power Over Ethernet PoE Adapter
Provides power wireless radio from ships 12 volt system.
Cat5 Ethernet cables (outdoor rated)
Antenna to POE Ethernet Cable. (Length up to 300')
POE to Wireless Router (typical 3' patch cable)

Wireless Router
Cisco-Linksys WRT54GL Wireless-G Broadband Router
About $50 new or $20 used online from various retailers.
We use an old Linksys WRT 54G running DD-WRT firmware. You might have one already laying around the house and the older Linksys wireless routers are still a good choice.

Antenna and wireless radio MountStill working on a good solution and will post pictures here mounted.

Someone to Hook it all up and configure router.

Unlocking I-Com M802 Ham Frequnecies

How to unlock the 'Ham' Frequencies on a Icom M802 SSB. Simultaneously press the "2" + "Mode" + "TX" buttons, and then turn on the power and the radio is 'unlocked'.

A 'unlocked' Icom M802 radio may be tuned to any frequency, not just the default pre-programed Icom SSB frequencies. Note: A Ham license is required if you wish to broadcast on these additional frequencies. More info on Ham licensing can be found at:

For the more technical you can find some great programming software at this link: to automatically program the frequencies on your Icom.