Navionics Boating app AIS feature, great idea but…

AIS feature announcement at Navionics.com

Well, dang, I was steeled up to write an unusually negative entry about the AIS feature that Navionics recently added to its Boating app, but then I learned that they’re already planning virtually all the improvements that I intended to vigorously champion. So, if you too are having trouble making the WiFi connection work — or if you too are disappointed with the resulting target display — don’t worry; apparently, we just have to wait for future versions.

In the meantime, however, let’s discuss how boat data over WiFi can and should work, and also what makes AIS target display actually useful when you’re underway.

AIS data via WiFi

First of all, congratulations to Navionics for deciding to support AIS data coming from a boat’s own receiver instead of using possibly spotty and/or delayed AIS info from the internet (even though the latter is easier to do on a mobile device that’s likely online much of the time, and is also desirable as a secondary source).

Moreover, while the Navionics AIS feature announcement only mentions AIS receivers with WiFi built-in, their PDF list of compatible devices also includes many Navico multifunction displays (possible because of GoFree Tier One 0183) and numerous NMEA-boat-data-to-WiFi gateways. Plus the Navionics app tries to make the connection automatically, which sounded great until it hardly worked with any of Gizmo’s many WiFi AIS sources.

Navionics Boating app v14.1 auto connected to three AIS sources, not working right with any

This is an extreme example but it illustrates at least part of the problem. While WiFi connected to Gizmo’s boat router, version 14.1 of the Boating app running on my iPad automatically connected to three AIS data sources but couldn’t reliably receive data from any. Yes, the source identified as a “Digital Yacht WLN10” (though I don’t have that device installed) did deliver some AIS info as well as the Sonar (depth) and GPS that the app can also use, but not well. In reality, there were about twice the AIS targets you can see (faintly) overlaid on the chart and meanwhile the Sonar and External GPS data feeds were fidgeting on and off, which is why they seem conflicted in the screenshot.

It’s not surprising that the Navionics app chokes up while trying to digest multiple sources, but it’s discouraging when I can use other apps running on the same iPad to successfully choose whichever of those same data sources I want to use. Moreover, even with an easier single-source situation like a direct connection to a new Actisense W2K-1 WiFi gateway (I’m testing) Boating v14.1 failed to even find the AIS, GPS, and depth data that other apps can display fidget free.



So while trying to make the data connections automatic is a worthy goal — and is working for some boaters as reported in this recent Panbo discussion — I began hoping that Navionics would also let us set up the connection the way other developers do.

Hurray then that “in the next few releases” of the Navionics Boating app there will eventually appear a “Custom device configuration”… whereby “There will be a way within the App to enter IP address and Port Number to connect to virtually any device streaming AIS, GPS, Sonar data via WiFi and NMEA 0183.”

I’ll illustrate what that means below, but first let’s look at how Navionics Boating v14.1 displays AIS targets and where that’s headed.

AIS data display

Navionics Boating v14.1 with Si-Tex MDA-5 data

In this example, Boating v14.1 is connected directly to the WiFi access point created by a Si-Tex MDA-5 AIS transceiver (a SOTMA type Class B+ that I’m finding to be quite able and fairly priced). Nevermind that Boating identifies it as an “em-track” (another issue with auto-discovery) and nevermind that I seem to be on a dock instead of Gizmo’s nearby float (the cause may be my install of Si-Tex’s external GPS antenna, not fidgety data reception). But please do click the screenshot larger to better see the display of AIS target info, which seemed to be delivered consistently.

While Navionics uses transparency to de-emphasize vessels that aren’t moving — nice, I think — the four underway AIS boats plotted in Camden Harbor at this time don’t seem sufficiently obvious in this presentation. The colors are quite similar but mostly I miss the COG/SOG vector line that’s common to nearly every other AIS target display I’ve used.

Moreover, and again this is an extreme example, I was quite surprised to look up and realize that the underway vessel plotted as alongside Gizmo was not actually there or anywhere close. Now it’s common to see differences between plotted and real AIS vessel positions — the typical Class B dynamic data transmission rate of 30 seconds is one cause (that Class B/SO can improve on). But this seemed to be a case where maybe the vessel had been alongside at some point prior and then turned off its AIS before docking somewhere out of sight. AIS displays usually mark a target that has not been seen for a while, or you can dig into the detailed target info when in doubt.

Individual target info missing time stamp & other data

But a Boating v14.1 individual AIS target info window does not include a timestamp, which to me is like a tech review without a date. Also not included is the size of the vessel — Helix is not 109 ft long, but was that close to Gizmo supposedly — and the type of AIS in use, all of which is included in the Si-Tex data stream. What’s not included for Class B vessels are items like IMO number and Navigation Status, which is why those uninformative lines above are filtered out of most Class B info windows.

Also missing from Boating v14.1 are calculations for Closest Point of Approach (CPA) and Time of (TCPA), along with a sortable list of current targets. And these are critical items if and when you seriously use AIS as an aid to collision avoidance.



But, yes, I am indeed picking on the first version of a worthy feature. However, that’s because Navionics Boating is already a terrific boating app in my opinion, and this expanded WiFi data feature could take it to the nav tool level of good apps like iNavX, iSailor, SEAiq, and TZ iBoat. Moreover, I fear that some boaters have not developed a critical eye for effective AIS target display, so maybe my rant is helpful that way.

The best AIS target display I’m familiar with is still Vesper’s WatchMate app, but it requires particular Vesper AIS devices. Hurray then that the Navionics Boating app WiFi AIS feature will eventually include:

  • Display of ROT, COG, SOG and Heading on each target.
  • Anti-Collision.
  • AIS targets search.
  • Targets on the map will reflect proportionally the actual size of each vessel.

iNavX doing WiFi AIS data right

iNavX v5.5.6 with data from Si-Tex MDA-5 AIS transceiver
iNavX v5.5.6 with data from Si-Tex MDA-5 AIS transceiver

While we’re at it, let’s look at how some other apps have been handling WiFi AIS data for some time, and iNavX is a worthy example as it trail blazed this feature before Panbo even had an iPad. The iNavX v5.5.6 screen above came from the same iPad and Si-Tex WiFi AIS as the Navionics examples.

Note that I’ve set the highly valuable underway target vectors to represent two minutes at current Speed over Ground (SOG), my preference in coastal waters, and that this setting in iNavX is the same as your own vessel vector (in other apps and on MFDs these are often separate settings). Note too that one of the many AIS display settings you can see in the gallery below is the ability to show / not show target boat names, a setting I use enough that I wish the switch was right on the chart screen.

The top left screen above shows how iNavX handles the WiFi device IP address setup that Navionics has tried to protect users from but will add as a secondary connection method. It does indeed look frighteningly geeky. How the heck, for instance, did boating come to involve the difference between TCP and UDP, and how do you find those numbers on the source device anyway?

Well, I’m not an IT person either, but I have learned enough about IP addresses to do this sort of setup many times, and once done it tends to work well. Note too that if the connection is made, you’ll know it immediately from the stream of NMEA 0183 messages scrolling in that lower window, which is common to many apps and also great for data troubleshooting if needed.

The other screens show more iNavX AIS display settings — but please don’t filter out Class B targets — as well as their sortable target lists and an individual target screen with the precise timestamp right at the top (harumph).

I’ll close with the fact that the Navionics Boating development team was already monitoring Panbo comments about the WiFi AIS feature when I contacted them. And hopefully that’s extra incentive to share your thoughts about how this excellent boating app should evolve.



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Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now excited to have Ben Stein as very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Panbo is going to the next level in 2019 and beyond.

12 Responses

  1. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    PS The WiFi AIS feature is only available in the Navionics Boating app if you have a current subscription, which I think fair.

    But receiving GPS and Depth over WiFi does not require a subscription, presumably because that data is needed to collect SonarChart data which benefits Navionics (and the rest of us).

  2. Mario Bruno Mario Bruno says:

    This is great stuff. I do hope that Internet ais data also becomes an option for those who don’t have receivers. Anything that increases safety is a good thing. My issue is that I use my iPad with a raymarine wi-fish fish finder for sonar charts. That also on WiFi, so I cannot connect to the sonar chart device and the ais one at the same time. I wonder if there are Bluetooth ais receivers and navionics would allow that type of connection.

  3. Tom Poes says:

    It is a dramatic feature what navionics implements.
    We tested it and it is in one word; unsafe app.

    We tested against opencpn with random transponders and receivers. It seems that several AIS targets are not shown or even disappear from the screen. far away and nearby.

    We are convinced that it is a real Béta version and is really not grown up for publishing!

    What fails:
    – No AIS target list
    – No CPA from target
    – No TCPA from target
    – very weak AIS symbols
    – No UDP network connection possible
    – No AIS target vectors
    – No AIS target tracks possible

    When connecting with a Ipad, we could not change to UDP and all other devices where disconnected.

    Unbelievable in this AIS era.

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      Thanks, Tom. I too wish that Navionics had held off with the AIS feature until it was more completely developed, but their improvement plans sound good. Also, I think it’s great that the most popular boating app — their claim, but I don’t doubt it — has introduced a wider audience to this “dramatic feature.”

      • Ben Stein Ben Stein says:

        I certainly agree that it doesn’t appear Navionics’ AIS functionality is ready for prime time. But, in some communications with Navionics, they mentioned they like to get features out as they’re completed and not hold them back. I think this time around they might not have struck the right balance but I do applaud them for being aggressive about getting new features out.

  4. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Yesterday I set up one of the three data servers available on the Actisense W2K-1 as UDP with the port address 2000 and Navionics Boating immediately connected to the AIS, Depth, and GPS data the W2K-1 is getting from Gizmo’s NMEA 2000 network. (The latter two values seem fidgety but maybe I should try it underway; and the Actisense bridge is misidentified as a “Digital Yacht WLN10”.)

    At any rate, I don’t know how Boating’s auto-discovery works, but it seems to like port 2000 (if you have source that can be customized).

  5. Thomas Kaiser says:

    I totally agree that the new AIS feature is useless and unsafe. Wonder why the navionics people haven’t tried out the competitors features before spending time on developing the AIS function ?
    Normally I prefer to use Navionics on my Ipad as a backup to my Raymarine plotter, but when I need the AIS function here in the Mediterranian I turn to InavX. And I will probably keep on doing this for a while….

  6. Lance Berc says:

    SeaIQ can take AIS data from WiFi and cellular internet simultaneously – and has the good sense to show the two sources in different colors.

  7. Bruce Balan says:

    Hi Ben,
    It is good news that Navionics is finally starting to move in the right direction and catching up with features that are standard in any good navigation program. OpenCPN has supported AIS\NMEA\TCP/IP for years. And, as you point out, iNavX has been doing NMEA over TCP/IP the right way for a very long time. I wish Navionics would learn from programs like OpenCPN how a charting application should work. Navionics is an average app at best. The only reason I use it (as a backup) is because of the reasonable price for world-wide charts. There are so many flaws in the program; for example, not allowing one to delete a single chart area without deleting all charts on an Android tablet.
    Would love to see Navionics offer a plug-in to allow OpenCPN access to Navionics charts. Then we wouldn’t have to rely on out-of-touch engineers to try to create a decent app (at least a decent app for use by bluewater cruisers).
    Cheers,
    Bruce

  8. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Cool! Version 14.3 of Navionics Boating, out yesterday for my iPad, lets you manually add a WiFi data connection. The feature looks complete too — you can select UDP or TCP, for instance, and also name the source — and I hope to try it soon.

    • Ben Stein Ben Stein says:

      I’ve just given 14.3 a try and I’m not seeing very good results. I have a Yacht Devices YDWG on the boat. Navionics incorrectly autodetects it as a Digital Yacht WLN10. If I try and add the YDWG manually the two devices seem to fight with one going active and then the other. This happens multiple times per second and results in no data seen. If I just let the auto detection happen that seems to work, but I’m not getting depth. It appears that that’s because Navionics isn’t seeing GPS data sent with the sonar data, though separately in the status it does show “External GPS: Receiving data”.

      I think Navionics is making progress but I would say that it’s still not ready for prime time. I still don’t see the ability to see AIS data like size of vessel, time of target data, etc.

      Ben

  1. July 24, 2019

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