As I write this update, basking in what must be one of the warmest springs on record, I reflect back on the achievements of this small group of dedicated people and all the efforts put in to reach the goals we had set a small number of years ago. The original concept was to provide electronic charts for members of the Inland Waterways Association (IWAI), learn as much as we could about the whole charting process and have some fun doing it. We have more than achieved those goals with charts that are being used by the Coast Guard, the RNLI, Sub Aqua clubs and over 50 testers from the IWAI. The savings in time and expense being achieved by the various bodies are quantifiable and significant with reduced costs for helicopter missions and first responder delivery.
So what have we been doing since the last update, well, quite a lot, and we have also made some breakthroughs in communication which will lead hopefully to even further enhanced charts. We have released the next version of the charts in time for the summer, introduced a new method of distribution, completed night-time training in conjunction with the rescue services, increased the number of testers significantly, fitted out more survey boats on Lough Erne, given presentations to Branches, and started direct communication with Waterways Ireland.
CSIG RELEASE BETA V4 CHARTS
The new B4 release follows on from release 3 with additional depths being added, new markers and corrected markers introduced and more detail on Lower Lough Erne. We have also started to include the names of islands and bays directly on the charts rather than through Overlays. The most significant change is the way in which we detail the contours. In the B3 version the contour lines themselves were coloured designating the depth changes, but feedback from the testers suggested although this was the most accurate way to display the data, it was not the easiest to visualise. So now in B4, the contour areas are coloured leading to easier recognition of danger areas, especially on smaller devices.
The B4 charts have been distributed to more than 50 testers who are now registered with the CSIG and we await their feedback.
NEW CHARTS DISTRIBUTION METHODOLOGY
Since the CSIG was formed over 3 years ago, we have been using a tool called Dropbox for sharing the data received and created within the group. We have used the Dropbox for distribution of the charts up to and including the B3 release as a natural consequence, but have rapidly exposed its failings once the number of distributions started to grow significantly. While Dropbox is fine for the technical users within the group who understood the failures, this is not the case for most end-users. The problem arises in the way Dropbox defaults to a ‘move’ rather than a ‘copy’ when transferring files to an end user device. Typically, people use the Drag and Drop capability and the result is that the files are removed from the Dropbox for everyone. So having reloaded the charts a number of times it became clear something would have to be done. Colman came up with the solution, so distribution is now via a Read Only shared drive called Onedrive, which protects the files from deletion. It also simplifies the load process, especially for those using the smartphone and tablet versions of the charts.
So how does one get the charts? The process is simple.
- Send me an email (email@example.com) requesting the charts
- Colman Byrne will send out a Testers document for signature and return
- On receipt Colman will grant access to the Onedrive file share to download the charts
If you have difficulties then Colman will act as Technical support for IOS (iPad and iPhone) users and Brian Willson will act as support for Windows and Android users.
By way of a reminder and in case you are new to the IWN, the CSIG charts run on the following devices.
- iPad and iPhone (IOS) using an application called Galileo Pro available from the App store.
- Android devices using an application called Locus Pro available from Google Play.
- Windows devices (not Windows phone) using an application called MemoryMap from their website.
Please note that the MemoryMap versions run on all of the above platforms but the differences are quite significant for the average user. MemoryMap uses almost 200 charts at four different resolution sizes and requires manual intervention to change between them. Both Locus and Galileo use an SQLITEDB format which is a single file of less than 200mb and has six levels of resolution automatically activated on zoom. Furthermore, the MemoryMap version is based on ‘raster’ (picture like) format whereas Galileo and Locus utilise ‘vector like’ format allowing for addition or removal of detail as the zoom takes place.
NIGHT TRAINING WITH RESCUE SERVICES
Both the Coast Guard and the RNLI are now using specialised versions of the CSIG charts for their missions. They require Latitude and Longitude grids overlaying the charts to fit in with the rest of their equipment. In addition to that, Pat McManus has also built a database of markers, islands and bay names, which are searchable from the charts, and give almost instant positional data on the highest resolution chart on enquiry. This saves significant time as this facility was not available prior to the use of the CSIG charts.
Pat spent many winter evenings training with the rescue services and sub aqua people. These training sessions involved simulated situations where the rescue teams would have to locate various items in very poor conditions. They utilised the specialised large charts which the CSIG provided prior to launching, and then when on the mission used the CSIG charts for navigation. It has been commented, that the rescue services have so much confidence now in the CSIG charts that they feel comfortable travelling at high speed in almost zero visibility, a testament to the surveying work completed by Pat in the Lough Ree area. Well done, Pat.
PILOT TESTS WITH WATERWAYS IRELAND
For a number of years now it has become increasingly clear that there is good synergy between the IWAI and Waterways Ireland (WI), in the area of navigation on the systems administered by WI. WI have recently introduced interactive maps on their website where potential visitors can see what the navigation is likely to offer, and indeed, the maps do that job very well. But it is limited in what it can offer, in that offline access is currently not possible, depth data is missing entirely, only small portions of the navigation are covered and positional data is not verified. Essentially, they fulfil the purpose for which they were designed but lack the ability to use as a navigation aid. Furthermore, with the cut back in funding, WI have to look at other means than producing hard copy charts which are expensive to produce, difficult to keep up to date, and expensive to distribute.
In view of that, and with the knowledge that WI has significant amounts of available data which would be very useful to the CSIG, a number of meetings between the organisations at the highest levels have taken place. The objective is to perform a pilot program together where the potential interchange of data, and verification of such data could be performed. I am delighted to announce that approval has been granted by both executives to proceed to Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) stage. The draft MOU has been exchanged and is currently under review. We fully expect to progress to actual Pilot test very quickly, since there is a desire on both parties to proceed quickly. Of course, we will likely find technical difficulties as in any complex project but both parties are sure we can overcome such issues to the benefit of all.
TESTERS AND SURVEYORS
At time of writing, the CSIG has just passed the number of 50 registered testers, with new testers coming on board much quicker since the introduction of the B3 release. We fully expect to grow this number over the next few months and look forward to their comments to help us improve the charts even more. The availability of the new platforms makes it so much easier to install and use, and with the new distribution method, we are less likely to experience the problems of the past.
There is one area where we could really do with some help. That is, we need more surveyors. With the availability of Brian’s special app the surveying process is made very much easier and is well within the grasp of those with very limited technical skills. In fact, if you have a chart-plotter and a depth transducer, we can more than likely use these by tapping into the NMEA signals and feeding them to a laptop. We have tested this process on many different types and have not failed yet. We are delighted to have three boats now surveying on Lough Erne, and I think it is fair to say that the lads surveying there have caught the bug. So, come on, survey that special area known only to you, so your buddies can safely go there as well. Please contact me if you think you can help.
It has certainly been a very busy period for the CSIG over the last few months, and indeed looks set to continue in that vein for some time to come. I believe we have achieved something very special for the benefit of all IWAI members and for the Rescue services. We have all learned some new skills and have had fun doing so as well.
I have given some presentations to branches recently on the new charts. If any branch would like me to do so at their meetings please let me know and I would be delighted to accommodate.
So as we move into the summer season, with the latest B4 charts, the CSIG wishes all water users a great summer, great weather, safe boating and fun exploring the special hidey places we have found. Help us find more.
© Les Saunders 2015