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Monday, December 16, 2013

Location Technology for Paddlers and Mountaineers

As reported by Stoke: Around 2004ish, I was on a multi day sea kayaking trip in the Broughton Archipelago north of Vancouver BC with friend Steve Worchester.  On our last day, we woke up to pea soup fog.

Our paddle back to Telegraph Cove would be through a section of many tiny islets and small islands with a few knots of current flowing past. Luckily Steve, a former Air Force F-15 pilot and Alaska Air captain knew what to do. He spread out our marine chart, and using a compass and GPS plotted our route.  Once underway, we hit every islet, rock and island right on the money per Steve's route.

While mariners and paddlers still use those and even simpler techniques for navigation, since then there are technologies developed to make life easier, providing your batteries are fresh.

Marine Traffic
This online site uses boat's AIS data to mark their positions. You can use the site to track shipping if you're planning a crossing. Track ship departure and arrival times and by clicking on the boat symbol, you can get info on the boat itself - what kind, speed, destination, a photo, etc. We use it to track freighters and tugs for surfing near Seattle.  Like anything, it's not always 100% accurate.  So have a backup even it's your own eyes.

Boat Beacon 
An app that works with Marine Traffic, Ship Finder and other sites which  allows you to track yourself or have others track you. A great tool for paddling in fog, at night or for loved ones to see how you're doing.

It also provides your location to other vessels in the area so that they can avoid you as well.  This can be a lifesaver if the area is heavily congested, and visually impaired.  There are collision avoidance features with alerts and alarms, as well as Man Overboard alerts, and boat-to-boat messaging.  It's also a good way to keep track of paddling companions, or competitors in nautical races.

A wireless communication signal must be available for the application to work, but this is generally true in many coastal areas, up to about 15 miles away.

The application is not an AIS transponder, and will not be visible to other ships on their VHF AIS systems.


Spot
These nifty devices allow for satellites to track you whether on-water or in the mountains in most places in the world.

You can send regular and emergency messages to friends, mark waypoints etc so folks can track your every move.  The devices are water resistant and float.

Unlike smartphone applications like Boat Beacon, these devices do not require a terrestrial wireless network to be available; they instead use a set of commercial satellites for communicating your location - though not all areas of the world have coverage.  A current coverage map for the Spot transponder  is shown below:
For skiers Spot does not take the place of an avalanche beacon, but used properly it can help guide or direct avalanche rescue teams to the correct back-country or in-bounds location in an emergency.