Sunday, 7 June 2009

Spot On !!

I must admit to being something of a cartography fan.

I like maps - I like reading them and even making them.

It probably stems from having a cr*p sense of direction. I am infamous in my family for being able to get totally lost unless I am near water.

Technological leaps in satellite navigation for land and road use have lead to various discussions in the forums about using GPS on the canals.

Of course, everybody knows that you don't really need GPS on the canals. If you have a decent paper map guide like Nicholsons, Pearsons, etc, there are enough landmarks to find your position and look out for the next feature.

However, that would be no fun now, would it ?

and boys do like their toys !!

We use an old Magellan GPS (monochrome screen; no mapping) as a speedometer. It's useful to be able to see your speed-over-the-ground and compare it with the 4 mph speed limit rule, especially when challenged by some miserable old bugger for going too fast. 

4 mph is often referred to as a fast walking pace, but in actual fact, it's a very FAST walking pace and we certainly tend to average a much slower speed (2.5 - 3 mph).

Our GPS is also quite useful in that it displays the compass heading (Course-Over-Ground to be pedantic) that you are following.

As Nicholsons maps are aligned to North, on long stretches of feature-less rivers or canals, it will allow you to see roughly where you are. All you have to do is compare the heading on the GPS with the direction, the river/canal is following on the map.

If the GPS says you are travelling 090 degrees (East), then you look for the stretch of water that runs East-West and the chances are that you are somewhere on that stretch.

A few techno-freak boaters have said to me that it would be useful to have their canal maps on the screen of a handheld device instead of having to refer to a flapping, rain-specked, paper book that keeps trying to make suicidal leaps over the rail into the cut.

I can see their point, but due to the small map screen on any handheld device and bearing in mind the amount of detail needed, it must be like wall-papering your hall through the letterbox, from the front garden. Also, most screens don't like sunny days, when we try to do most of our boating.

We have a little GPS module that connects to the laptop by USB and which will enable us to pinpoint our position on a map background on the laptop. We have used this more on tidal passages like the Severn estuary, where we used proper electronic navigation charts (e.g. the British Admiralty charts provided by Memory Map or the RYA).

It will also work on the canals using an Ordnance Survey electronic map as a background (again, available from Memory Map), but who needs a laptop on the roof when you are cruising ?

EurEauWeb is a company based at Braunston who have developed a canal navigation software, which can run on a laptop or mobile device.

I've never used it, or met anybody who has, but it seems to hit the spot.

Their website proclaims that it is developed for boaters by boaters. It appears to do all the right things, contains all the Nicholsons information and when it runs on a laptop, offers full route planning.

River Canal Rescue use it and EEW have many sales agents around the marinas.

The only problem I can see, is the price.

It costs £129.99 just for the software plus £25 per annum for the updates.

Mind you, have you seen the cost for a full set of updated Nicholsons ??  

Personally, I would advise EurEauWeb to break down their maps into regions and sell them at a lower price, region by region.

Some boaters might spend £25 for just one region, where they are unlikely to fork out £130 for the whole of the UK waterways, which they might never get to explore in their own boat. 

As canal boaters tend to take pleasure from boating at the least possible cost, another way to tackle the issue is to make your own maps.

One of the things that irks me, is when I buy a new Nicholsons book for £13-14 and discover when I want to use it, that some things are out of date.

Online updating is something that has intrigued me for a while.

To test this, I produced my own waterways guides for the River Lee and Stort, an area I know well.

The maps were created on a Google Earth background as an overlay (in .KMZ format).

My idea was that if every boater produced a map guide for their own territory, roughly to a common list of symbols, then the resultant maps could be shared on a free exchange basis.

The map files are very small and therefore very easy to store on a website as a download or even e-mail between boats.

Google Earth is a great resource.

It is very easy to work with. 

Apart from being able to show your map overlay, it also has a great search facility.

If you are moored in a specific area and need, for example, a vet for one of your pets, you just have to type "vets" in the "fly to" box in the top left corner of Google Earth.

The programme will then list out all the local vets and more importantly, show their locations on the map, as well as give you the telephone number, etc.

We have used this search facility a number of times as we travel, especially for taxi's and it works well. 

In summary, narrowboating is so slow, I really can't see satnavs catching on, in the same way that they have for road users.

However, there are some great spin-off's from the technology and I feel that these can be harnessed, generally quite inexpensively, to make boating life a lot easier.


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