Smart navigation – From paper charts to augmented reality

I relayed here, in French, an article published in the British magazine Yachting Monthly (¹) the 30 th. The subject deals with the debate between paper charts and electronic navigation, by stating many truths, but also sometimes one or two untruths. The purpose has the merit of presenting contrasting arguments, and to obtain the opinion of recognized UK's professional boaters. Since the confinement imposes time constraints on us, let's take this opportunity to enjoy this instructive reading.…

Smart navigation – From paper charts to augmented reality

Yachting Monthly 30 March 2020 (¹)

Most of us sailed with MFDs, smartphones and tablets, or even drones. But electronic systems can they substitute for navigation on paper ?

Will there come a time when paper charts will be obsolete ?

The marine electronics has grown rapidly over the last decade. Chart tables have shrunk or disappeared completely, and we no longer find the different equipment that display the GPS, radar and AIS on separate screens. Nowadays, most boaters have a marine electronics multifunction station with a central screen (MFD) repeated on the boat. If the battery fails, there is always smartphones and tablets backup, at least as long as you can keep them charged. Does this mean that paper charts are redundant ?

"It's an interesting topic", says Lucy Wilson, from the nautical editor Imray charts (²). "Our paper charts are certainly not in decline, but the type of products that people want change. The sales of large sheets are stable, but we increase the range of small size charts and packs".

Imray also receives an increasing demand for printed charts on demand, This suggests that people want to date maps without the correct hand. It is clear that the skippers still want paper charts to plan their passage planning - even the most sophisticated chart plotter is limited by the screen size - but at sea, electronic charts are king. Imray produced its first digital charting application for smartphones and tablets in 2009 (now grouped in one, Imray Navigator) and sells high season up to 14.000 chart packs. The publisher also produces charts for third parties such as Raymarine, Humminbird and Navionics, although they are still raster.

"Unlike vector charts, they are exact copies of the printed versions, which were the subject of an editorial process ", says Lucy, "There is a level of information that we have removed from the Hydrographic Service (³) to make it more friendly to the skipper. For example, we do not show the wrecks of more than 30 meters deep as they are not relevant. However, the characteristics of the lights are always indicated, regardless of the zoom level, and it is not possible that a sandbar disappears suddenly ". Vector charts, on the other hand, are assembled digitally and presented by layers. Gradually, as you zoom, the change information, which allows you to zoom to a level that loses important details.

Tom Cunliffe emphasizes that these things are more common than you think. It tells the story of a sailor who was stranded on a reef in the Coral Sea, that, according to him, was not mapped. Tom looked ARCS version of the Pacific Ocean and map the reef was there, in plain sight. The skipper had planned his passage on a vector map marina and had not made a sufficiently tight zoom. "A dozen yachts would wreck every year on the reefs of Fiji group," says Tom. It seems reasonable to assume that at least some of them fell into the same trap. The days when you had a chartplotter to show your location on an electronic map is gone.

Augmented reality allows you to combine video and navigation tools

E-cards, such as Navionics and C-Map, provide automatic route planning using some of the parameters of your ship, and they indicate the restrictions in height or width. You can also adjust the tides on white water or neap to increase accuracy. However, as discovered Duncan Kent Yachting Monthly, when he put the test chartplotters, routes avoid the dangerous shallows but ignore the tides, the winds, the eddies, blasting areas and a plethora of essential local information. "I would never let the automatic gain control driver, "He concluded. "Skip amid swirls of current Portland Bill without knowing the tide or wind ? Non merci ! "

Of the dozen skippers who we spoke to at the beginning of the CRA 2018, however, one boat - a gig years 1930 - was based on paper maps. The other used electronic cards as a primary source of navigation.

Smartphones and tablets

Mobile devices show more and more functions that were previously the preserve of MFPs. With proper application and without proper wireless functionality, you can control complex systems such as chartplotters, pollsters, radar, autopilots, thermal cameras and even marine engines. But could you get by only with a mobile device ?

The transition from Linux to Android software has opened the way for new navigation applications on chartplotters as well as on smartphones

A walk in the test center Raymarine do not suggest. This is where you realize what products are used for marinization (and why they cost so much). In a setup exit straight out of a James Bond scene, the vast complex testing facilities and aging products with an impressive series of giant pipes, of water and salt spray rooms. There are clean rooms, darkrooms, rooms in vacuo, and even oversized ovens that cook all kinds of gadgets.

If you've already dropped a phone in water or have held sunlight, you will see how quickly it deteriorates (). A multifunction device, on the other hand, should not the, and there are filled binders European safety guidelines to make sure it does not deteriorates.

The power supply, on the other hand, fails, as found by the skippeuse Paralympic Hannah Strodel this year at the Tour of Britain and Ireland. "All our appliances have gradually released as and as we went around the country", Has she said. " On the East coast, he left us nothing apart from a position VHF, Emergency navigation lights and torches, so does the power navigate the old [with Imray charts] was absolutely saving ! "

Besides the need for constant recharging, the other limit for mobile devices is GPS. It is not possible to know, from the specifications of a product, if a smartphone or tablet for offline GPS works and, if that is the case, it is useful. Indeed, the locating system smartphone combines GPS with triangulation from cell towers, Wi-Fi and track your last known position. Although there are many places where you can navigate to reach smartphone, Once you are outside of these places, without assisted GPS, you might find that it takes 15 minutes forever to get that first position ().

Crossing the Atlantic has changed radically with the new navigation tools

The Royal Yacht Association (OF) advises students not to rely on one method for locating and constantly check their position by another technique. James Stevens, former Chief RYA examiner, admits that the universal use of electronic navigation that many skippers are "decidedly grumpy" when it comes to traditional mapping. "Reviewers are not at all convinced by the candidates who can not navigate on a screen and are not able to update their course and their strategy as conditions change", he warns.

Even on a yacht equipped with all electronic equipment, it is important to understand the principles of navigation, notably because it allows you to verify that the apparently accurate display tells you the truth.

The great debate : do you need a backup paper ?

James Stevens

James Stevens is a former instructor and chief examiner of the RYA

"The RYA has introduced electronic navigation programs there are over 20 years. Students taking courses in earth RYA receive paper cards and electronic specially ordered with chartplotter simulator that can be downloaded to a home computer. The RYA has always maintained that browsers must register their electronic position and verify by other means. This check can be visual, by depth, radar or at least an approximate record on a paper card to verify that the electronic position is in the right direction and the number of miles compared to previous correct.

the rYA, realizing that boaters do not want to spend weeks in classroom, introduced a ground short training that can be followed online and that gives just enough information on basic cards for short navigations using the GPS. At a higher level, yacht captains are tested on their ability to use paper maps and electronic. They must be able to understand the functions of the tracer and, for example, enter waypoints as well as perform a traditional cartographic work. An ocean yachtmaster is deemed navigate by GPS but must also be able to obtain positions sextant. "

Pete Green

(Yachtmaster Instructor, Yachtmaster Ocean and CEO of Halcyon Yachts – International Yacht Delivery)

"In the world of the conveyor, we are dealing with a wide range of boats, some better equipped than others. Our conveyors are used to carry basic tools, navigational equipment and even pots. With significant technological progress we have experienced over the last decade, it is increasingly easy to get around paper maps. Most yachts are equipped with integrated chartplotters, but we also use a backup running tablet with Navionics, not to mention that each crew smartphone inevitably carries with its browser. I always have paper maps, but I do not remember the last time I had to use.

The aviation industry relies solely on electronic cockpit for more than 10 years now and I think the community browsers can easily follow suit. "

Norman Kean

(editor of Nautical Guide "Sailing Directions" of the Irish Cruising Club)

"The concept of" map "will become obsolete. The paper map remains the main source of information from which the electronic cards market of yachting draw data. But the paper map is endangered.

I use all the time electronic cards, but when I want to have an overview, I take the paper. It is literally a work of art. each name, sound and symbol set has been chosen by a human expert, clarity is a priority. Perhaps we will eventually use raster maps. But the size of the screen will always be a problem. Pending, vector maps use a "deferred display" , your chartplotter contains no cards, but only data, and he draws the card he thinks you want, on demand. It is a tour of pretty amazing computing power, but it ends with oddly chosen place names, often in the wrong place, shallow areas without specific probes, islands and rocks that disappear when you zoom out and details that give a false impression of precision when you zoom too. Once again, I look for the paper.

The decline of paper will eventually make the concept of "map" obsolete., and the world will not be a continuous data field. What an opportunity for a new generation of products perfectly adapted to replace the paper. But at present, Electronic maps of the boating market are simply hideous. "

Duncan Kent

(experienced navigator and technical writer working for many nautical magazines and digital publications worldwide.)

"As ingenious what the modern electronic navigation system, I do not rely entirely on it and I will certainly not let take over autonomously. I testing and using navigational instruments for nearly 30 years, so I know their capabilities and limits. Nowadays, I would not choose to navigate without at least some basic electronics, because it makes life much easier and, in many ways, more sure. But I would never advocate anyone go to sea depending entirely a vulnerable electronic.

Digital mapping has improved dramatically in recent decades, like the MFDs processing capacity (MFD). Today, it is common to have data on the height of the tides and currents loaded into the database and even a routing function which can suggest a route from A to B, This can be a useful starting point for planning a journey.

I often use this feature when preparing, just to see what the recommended route different from my own version, deducted manually. In most cases, we agree, but when coastal shipping the delicate web is planned, I often find items that do not like. To be fair, there are many things that the MFD does not know and therefore can not compute, like how my boat behaves in some seas, local knowledge of tidal currents, swirls and other, and if I have three experienced sailors on board or just friends not browsers. "

(¹) Smart Navigation: From paper charts to augmented reality
(²) Imray charts, Laurie, Norie & Wilson Ltd
(³) United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO) The marine mapping service of the British Admiralty.
() They forget too quickly the many waterproof protection and shock on the market. (NDT)
() This argument is totally inaccurate. Most tablets and smartphones equipped with GPS receivers miniaturized high-end, capable of operating autonomously without cell support. They support networks GPS (USA), GLONASS (Russia) and recently GALILEO (ME). See my post GPS and iPad Wi - Fi + Cellular (NDT)
Related items :

Raster charts... the come back [Update]
Electronic charts : scales and overscale [Update]
About alignments and sextant


5 Replies to “Navigation intelligente – From paper charts to augmented reality”

  1. Hello Alain,

    I agree in every way you think. The article by Patrick Moreau in the magazine "Sauvetage" that you cite is indeed particularly edifying. I have always considered the most important component of seamanship is essential humility which is to doubt everything, starting oneself, and thus multiply the means to ensure its position. At sea, as in mountains, neglect, worse inconstancy, do not often forgive !

  2. Hello Francis,
    Thank you for this beautiful translation that feeds a debate nautical news time to another stimulus!
    "Can electronic systems to replace the navigation on paper"
    With shades imposed by the variety of navigational situations, my answer is no., and for a simple reason: sufficient reliability of electronic systems and their necessary power supply can not be ensured totally and in all circumstances on sailboat (petite?) yachting.
    Obviously there are ways to overcome more or less to this insufficient structural, but nothing, my knowledge, guarantees the reliability we should expect from a navigation system which, in sum, we entrust our lives!
    This is the main reason why, although I use electronic navigation systems for a good twenty years now, I regularly maintains and uses the standard navigation equipment: (chart, Compass, probe, almanac, sextant…) and I want a handwritten logbook, every three hours in normal times and more frequently driving or when conditions demand it.
    In coastal shipping I compelled myself to identifying bitter, fires, markup and verification on the map ...
    ... .but I prepare navigations very often with my iPad, which is very useful to me to get the weather maps and grib files, for routing based on the evidence before either iridium or by GB BLU ...
    ... but I wear my regular position on a paper chart, crossing once daily, in control at least every three hours.
    I fully share the opinion of Duncan Kent, and in the common use of two sources of information are the paper and electronics, a great way to lift the browser doubt!
    In conclusion I suggest reading the delivery note number 151 the review of the SNSM exposing the finding that may have been done rescuers SNS 147 during the dramatic sinking of the First 51 Roder Mother, in January 2020 the edge of the island of Groix. The entire article is available on the internet. It outlines the sequence of events leading to the sailboat a blackout in Portugal shipwrecked on the island of Groix.

  3. Thank you.
    On each boat sailing there is probably at least a tracer with his GPS, AIS with its own GPS, a computer, a tablet, multiple phones… during my Atlantic crossing we were 3 aboard, and we had total 5 GPS, and 4 software with their carto (Raymarine plotter, Navionics on a phone, iNavX on another phone, W4D on a tablet… no need for paper, if and only if it was guaranteed to have electricity and IMHO it's more important to make sure to always have electricity.

  4. Merci Francis,

    Tu es partisan du « en même temps »; tu as réussi á mettre les deux langues en même temps, bravo!


  5. Very interesting article, thank you.

    A personal reflection on the passage "The aviation industry is based solely on electronic cockpit for more than 10 years now and I think the community browsers can easily track the movement " :

    In aircraft where there are more engines, if there is one who loose there still has at least one that continues to power electronics. And on the way there are solutions escapes. And even if the electronics is off, it seems to me that there is always the analog-mechanical dials (on small planes safe, large it seems). I do not know if we can do the same parallel with a sailboat . Or on a sailboat with two motors and all electrical part / e that is absolutely waterproof …

    The debate raised in this very good article date long. Over time we try to evolve THE answer when it seems fairer to adapt the response to the situation, the type of vessel, the geographical area, the navigation program, etc.

    A passage leads me to consider reviewing my way of making a point : Maybe I should make myself another Logbook forcing me to have the information specified by the electronics and the same information that I raise otherwise. On a coastal navigation for the day or half-day in a familiar and easy place it probably will not help (at least it depends on where we place the cursor) but it could be longer relevant.

    Regarding MDF screens that are always too small (compared to a large mapping paper), it would be "fun" for a company to work on a laser pointer on precise motors that would indicate the position on the paper map.

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