In the last IWN we introduced you to the Charts Special Interest Group (CSIG), and described some of the fantastic work done to that date. Now, with boating practically stopped, many might have expected the CSIG to go into hibernation over the winter, but they couldn’t be more wrong: the CSIG continues to both grow in size and activities, and the last few months have been packed.

When we last published in the IWN, we were planning a meeting to be held in the comfortable conference room at Shannon Harbour. That went ahead with a very good attendance of 20 enthusiasts. The meeting’s primary focus was to offer some training for potential surveyors, and Donal Boland and Pat McManus gave excellent presentations on the basics of surveying and recording data. Donal then expanded on how this data would be subsequently used by the mapping team to produce charts. It is absolutely vital to get the initial data correctly collected, so we also had a number of survey boats at Shannon Harbour to demonstrate howequipment needed to be set up, and were able to physically show such items as the depth and angle of the transducer in the water, and the layback distance of the transducer to the GPS device. A discussion about the importance of knowing the datum of the area being surveyed, and how its variations needed to be calculated, followed. In order to record the working variables between survey teams a form, designed by two of the group’s mappers, was circulated. By the end of the meeting the surveying team, led by Pat and supported by Giles Byford, had the process of collecting raw data very well organised.

We now have a good few boats kitted out for surveying. Pat and Giles have set up a second boat on Lough Ree, and with Fergal Kearney, Brian Willson and Cliff Jeffers, all coming on stream in Lough Derg, it is fair to say the survey teams are in great shape. In late January the first of the North Shannon boats will be kitted out, and with Graham Liddy and Colin Corcoran from the Carrick on Shannon branch leading that surveying team, they will soon be delivering data back to the CSIG database. More surveying teams from Carrick are in the pipeline. We also have a survey team preparing to start on the Lough Erne system to be led by Tom Bailey.

It is interesting to see that in their very early surveys Brian and Fergal found the location of the very nasty rock in Coose Bay around the corner from the Benjamins on Derg. This rock was known about, but previously not well recorded. From here on, in honour of the real skipper of their survey boat, it will be known as Wendy’s Rock.

On the Public Relations side we have continued with our presentations to the Branches, including Kildare and Offaly. Over the next few months presentations to Athlone, Carrick and Newry-Portadown are scheduled. Interestingly, and in a departure from the IWAI branches, we’ve also been asked to make presentations to the Lough Ree Yacht Club and the RNLI in the near future. We also plan a presentation to Waterways Ireland and will advise when that is to go ahead.

On the funding side, despite very generous donations from 3 branches (Dublin, Derg and Kildare), we are still short of funds. So we would love to give a presentation to your branch, and hopefully obtain more funding – just ask us. We have purchased and fitted 4 full kits for survey boats, but have more boats waiting for equipment, and also need to provide the software licences required by the surveyors, database administrators and the mappers.

In January we announced the opening up of our new website dedicated to the CSIG ( and this will be our face to the world. We have to thank Michael Slevin from the IWAI who set the basic structure up, and will manage backups and administration for us in the future. The main CSIG web team consists of Colman Byrne, Mark Leyden and Beth O’Loughlin. The website will see the launch of the really cool CSIG logo which Beth designed. This will be used on any CSIG literature and any product released by the CSIG. We will continue to develop the website so it will be the main collection and distribution point for all information pertinent to the CSIG, and as a reference point for education and knowledge about the whole charting process. Don’t miss it.

In January, we also ran our third meeting to date with the group which, thanks to the kind generosity of the Athlone Sub Aqua Club, was in a new location for the CSIG. Being centrally located and laid out with meetings in mind, the venue proved to be ideal and with a number of the hosting club’s members attending, this change brought a further extension of CSIG interest within the boating community. The Sub Aqua club received a copy of Donal’s excellent ‘Historical Chart of Lough Derg’ and a current one of Lough Ree as a thank you.

This session was dedicated to expanding the knowledge of the survey teams and introducing them to Dr. Depth which, though it might sound like a highly qualified member of the diving club, is a surveying software program. Using Dr Depth overcomes some of the limitations of the relatively simple software included with the Garmin GPS units, and it gives a much more detailed display of the data the transducer is producing. It also makes the whole process of surveying that much more interesting.  Donal and Pat presented on this and took us nicely up to the actual mapping stage, which we plan for the next training session. Colman then gave the group a live demonstration of the new web site.

The highlight of the meeting was Brian Willson’s presentation of the software he’s developing to process the data collected by the surveyors. Donal and Pat had already shown how variations in GPS strength and occasional spikes in depth readings are to be expected and how they have to be removed or accommodated. Sorting these errors is something currently done at the mapping stage and can take many hours of painstaking analysis. Being more than a bit of a techi and specialising in data processing, Brian had been thinking of ways of taking the labour out of the process, and had built some software programmes to do just that.  To demonstrate what he’d come up with, he placed a GPS by the window, where it got a strong signal, and then moved it into the room where the signal strength weakened – something he was able to show on a piece of software he’d developed for ‘live’ reading of the Garmin’s output. The file was then put through a second software program, again of Brian’s creation, and in a few seconds the poorest data had been selected, though not discarded – it is simply put in a file of its own. An identical, and simultaneous, grading of the depth data is also undertaken by the same program. Defining the parameters of what’s good and what’s bad are all user adjustable. ‘Cleaned’ data files are then added to the CSIG data bank, where it can be worked from by a mapper. This software will take hours out of the work needed to check the data log files sent in by the surveying teams and ensure the quality of the data being banked. It wasn’t just the techies who watched this with their mouths agape – the whole room was amazed! No need to say he got a standing ovation. Brilliant, Brian.

With over 35 attendees at this session, some being new members who saw us for the first time, and with the delicious food provided by Jill Parkinson and Marie McManus, this has tohave been the best session so far.

So to summarise, the CSIG has moved from strength to strength, and the skills of the people on board continue to amaze everyone involved. From a very small start-up group, we now number over 30, with a wide variety of skills and a great spirit of adventure. So, what’s in the future? Well, we are progressing steadily: the back room team are well structured, as are the surveyors. A new mapping team is starting up with Brian, Mark and Colman joining Trevor and Tina, and a data base team with Colman, Mark and Brian again leading this section. Giles, Tom and Graham Liddy are looking into the legalities of distribution and Noel Griffin is preparing to give us a talk on GPS and its intricacies with the help of a new member, Jim Kelly, who has recently joined us after a lifetime at sea including time on the Celtic Explorer and the Search and Rescue unit in Dublin.

It’s been far from a quiet winter…

© Les Saunders 2013