Saturday, April 26, 2014

Digital Yacht's NavLink US Charting App

Application: iOS 7.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. 
Function: Marine Digital Charting and Navigation
Rating: *****
Cost: App is $19.99

Digital Yacht has been creating some awesome marine electronics for years.  They recently teamed up with SeaNav to provide the NavLink US App.  They also have a NavLink UK version for $28.99 in iTunes.  I was just about to review the SeaNav app when I received a press release from Digital Yacht.  They announced the NavLink app that looked amazingly just like the SeaNav app so it appears they must have struck a deal to work together. The SeaNav US app is also available for $19.99 in the iTunes store.

Digital Yacht has provided added functionality with the integration of some of their WiFi multiplexers including the WLN10, WLN10HS, NavLink, iNavHub and iVLink. These devices take your onboard instrument and AIS data and wirelessly make it available to your mobile devices.

  • North up and course up displays
  • Real time tracking
  • Track export to Google maps
  • AIS overlay when connected to compatible AIS system
  • WiFi instrument data through TCP/IP
  • Waypoints and routes with full route editing and planning function
  • Position, COG, SOG, VMG, bearing, distance and ETA displays
  • Configurable layers: Buoys, lights, depths contours, spot depths, wrecks, traffic zones, anchorages
  • Virtual HorizonView overlays navaid and targets onto iPad/Phone camera display
  • Automatic free chart updates included for 1 year
  • Weather buoy data
  • Reange and Bearing chart ruler
  • All US charts are included in the price
  • Tide and sunrise/set displays
  • UK version also available (NavLink UK)
Digital Yacht has integrated Navlink onboard systems like AIS and instrument data with iAIS, iNavHub, NavLink or WLN10HS NMEA to WiFi adaptors.  NavLink provides a real time overlay of AIS targets with added information about the vessel. CPA and TCPA alarms are included also.

The integration of your ships instrument and AIS data provides a complete navigation and charting package on your mobile device.
Navigating the features of the app is done with the soft key menu at the bottom of the screen. The GPS status of the device is displayed in the upper right corner.
The menu selections from left to right include, Real Time Tracking, Compass Map Center, Search, Distance/Bearing tool, Routes/Tracks, Settings and Text/Email.
Maps and Charts:

NavLink US provides the S57 based NOAA vector charts of the US free with the purchase of the app.  Automatic updates are free for a year with your purchase.  To download charts simply zoom into an area. The app will automatically start downloading charts to your iPad or iPhone. In the zoomed out view you will see red and green boxes representing the chart areas. The green boxes show the charts you have downloaded while the red boxes indicate the ones that have not been downloaded.

Under the Setting icon you can select between the regular charts, satellite maps or a hybrid view. The satellite views are nice at times to verify shallow shoaling areas.

Tap on any item on the charts to display detailed information about that item.  Information is provided for lights, bridges, depth contours, spot depths, anchorages and military areas, weather buoys. Weather and Celestial data for the moon phases, sunrise and sunset times are also available by tapping on the screen in any location on the chart.

The charts include a lot of information of the shoreline which are very useful. They provide important information about landmarks, airports, bridges, highways, parks, city and state names.

Augmented Reality View:
This is a one of a kind novel feature of the app that I have not seen on any other iOS charting app.  Tap the Eye Icon in the upper left of the screen to enable this feature.

The NavLink app uses your iPhone or iPad's camera to augment chart navaids and AIS targets onto your devices real time camera view.

As you scan around viewing through your iPad camera, AIS target, buoys and navaids will display in real time on your device's display.  Information about the targets are displayed directly on the screen to give you an instant real time reference with respect to your position.

This feature is great for quickly locating AIS targets.  You can visually pick then up on the display and note their position and course.
Creating Routes:
Routes are easily created by selecting the Route icon in the on screen menu. Select New Route to create a route, Edit route to change a route, Show routes to see them on the chart, Manage routes to select and delete a route, and Manage Tracks to display and delete Tracks.

Once New Route is selected you can provide a name for your Route at the bottom of the screen. To add waypoints simply tap on the screen and select Add Waypoint Here.  Waypoint positions can be moved by simply holding your finger on a waypoint and moving it to the new position. Select Done at the bottom to save the route.

New Routes, Tides, Weather, and a Sail to Here selection can be selected by tapping anywhere on the chart  The Sail to Here function creates a waypoint and automatically put you in navigation mode to that point showing distance and bearing in the instrument data at the top of the screen.  Tides, Celestial and Weather data requires a cellular or Internet connection to download this data.
Real Time Navigation:
In the menu at the bottom select the left most Sailboat Icon.  This put the app in real time tracking mode. A pop up instrument box will display at the top of the screen and automatically indicate the Course over Ground (COG) and Speed Over Ground (SOG) of your vessel.  To follow a route you must first select a route. Tap the Sailboat icon again and it should display the Waypoint information, COG, SOG, VMG, ETA, distance, heading and bearing to the next waypoint.  The route can be reversed with the two circular icons in lower left corner of the instrument box.
The Range and Bearing Tool:
Select the Compass Icon from the menu selections at the bottom of the screen to open the range and bearing tool.
Drag the two ends of the line to the start and stop points to measure the distance and bearing between any two points on the charts.
This feature is handy to determine how many miles it is between your you present position and any point on the chart. So when the kids ask you "are we there yet"? You can tell them no and have them check the distance themselves.
Search Function:

The Magnifying Glass icon let you search for any location in the world. This is a powerful tool.  Type in Key West and it gives you several selections. Tap on the one you want and it automatically takes you to that spot on the chart.  This saves a lot of time instead of manually panning around the chart.  The incorporation of some points of interest would be a nice addition to the app.


NavLink has been specifically designed for use with Digital Yacht’s NMEA to wireless products.

The WLN10, WLN10HS, NavLink, iNavHub and iVLink can wirelessly connect to your iPad and stream NMEA instrument and AIS data to the device over WiFi.   If you have a WiFi only enable iPad this is a great way to get your ships NMEA data onto your iPad.

If you have a 3/4G enabled iPad or iPhone you can optionally still use the built in GPS for real time tracking of your position.

Route Sharing:

Building a route is as simple as tapping on the screen.  Once you’ve created your route, you can export it to another user via email.  Select Routes/Manage Routes from the menu at the bottom of the screen.  Four options will then be displayed, view, export, reverse or delete. Select the Export Route icon to create an email with the way point and .kmz files.  The route can be viewed on Google maps or other charting apps that are compatible with .kmz files.

Digital Yacht has put together a full featured charting app package compatible with their WiFi hardware devices right out of the box.  They make it easy and affordable to get a charting app up and running with your ships AIS and instrument data streaming to your device. I found quite a few features that I really liked about the app. I looked hard and did not see anything that I did not like. The app is priced in the mid range at $19.99 and includes charts and the first year of updates with the purchase. NavLink looks like a great option to consider when looking for a marine charting app for your iPhone or iPad.

~~~ Sail On ~~~ /)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

AppleTV 5 Volt USB Conversion

The first question you may be asking is why in the heck would I want to convert my AppleTV to USB power.  Well, for me, I wanted to use it where I did not have AC power so the DC conversion was necessary and fairly simple. 

A couple of blog posts ago I shared my design for a Mobile Marine WiFi Entertainment System. The back bone of the system involved an AppleTV (ATV) for mirroring iPad video and apps to a TV or monitor.  Apple AirPlay would be used for streaming music to AirPlay speakers and devices.  The problem with the ATV is that is does not work well on smaller boats that don't have the 115 volts needed to power the device. In this post I will show you how I converted my AppleTV to 5 volt USB power.

The ATV has a micro USB on the back of the device but this cannot be use to power the device. This is only used to tether it to a computer to restore and update the software.

After a little research I found a post on IFIXIT that showed a conversion to DC of an ATV. This IFIXIT teardown article showed that the ATV has a power supply that converts 115V AC to 3.4 volts DC with a current of only 1.75 amps.

Warning! Please unplug your AppleTV before attempting to open the case or make any modifications. These modifications will void your ATV warranty so do not proceed if you want to keep it intact.

Tools Needed:

The conversion only cost me about $5 bucks to do. I had all the needed tools and a spare USB cable.

Soldering Iron
Rosin Core solder
Side cutters
volt meter
20 gauge wire
heat shrink tubing
plastic spudge or knife
Small Torx , regular and Philips screw drivers
USB cable
New 5 V DC power supply (Amazon $4.85)
Glue gun

The new DC power supply was found on I picked up two of these for about $9.00. It has a DC input voltage range from 4 to 30 volts and an adjustable output voltage of 1.23-30 volts. So I could power the ATV with either 5 volts or 12 volts on the input side. In my conversion I chose the 5 volts input.

The size was just right and it fit perfectly in place of the old ATV AC power supply.

The current output of 3 amps was large enough to replace the 1.75 amps of the old power supply.

* Size:Approx48*23*14mm (Length*Width*Height)
* Type: LM2596 Adjustable Power Supply Module
* Input Voltage: DC 4V-35V
* Output Voltage: DC 1.23V-30V
* Output Current:3A(Maximum)
* Conversion Efficiency:92%(Highest)
* Output Ripple:30mv(Maximum)
* Switching Frequency:150KHz
* Load regulation:0.5%
* Voltage regulation:2.5%
* Work temperature:-40?- +85?
* Quantity:2pcs as A Set

Opening the Case:

The ATV case is made of hard black plastic.  Removing the lid is actually the hardest part of the project. The lid can be removed by taking a sharp plastic spudger, screw driver or knife and inserting in the joint between the cover and the case.  There are seven plastic tabs that hold the cover on.

It is easiest to start at the back of the device between the HDMI, USB and network connections. The tab in this area is a small one that is easily popped out.  Once you release this first tab move around the box popping the other out as you go.

I took a small side cutters and cut the tabs off of the cover so I could easily open the case again if needed.

Removing the Old Power Supply:

There are only two screws and a little sticky tape holding down the old power supply. First remove the two small Torx screws at the base of the power plug. I did not have a Torx driver so I used my small Philips screw driver and it worked just fine.

The old power supply minus the black cover is shown at right.

Next note the orientation of the 8 pin connector on the old power supply.  This will be important to make sure you connect the proper wires to the new power supply.  Remove the 8 pin connector from the socket where it connects to the chassis.

Next pry the old power supply out of the case. I started from the back of the case at the base near the plug and the sticky tape came loose easily.

Installing the New Power Supply:
The 8 pin connector provides power and an over temp sensor on the power supply.  We will only be using 6 of the wires in our installation since the new power supply will not have a temperature sensor.

With the back of the ATV towards you(the side with the HDMI, USB and network connectors) note the 8 pin connector, from left to right the two left most wires 1 and 2 will not be used.  These were for the old temperature sensor.

Wires 1 and 2 not used
Wires 3,4 and 5 are the - negative ground wires (twist these together)
Wires 6,7 and 8 are the + positive power wires. (twist these together

Cut the 8 pin connector wires off as close as you can to the old power supply.  This will give you enough wire to work with.  Twist the 3 negative wires together and solder a small section of 20 gauge wire to it.  Do the same for the 3 positive wires.  I used a small section of heat shrink tubing to seal the connections once they were soldered together.

Solder the ends of the 20 gauge wire to the new power supply +positive and -negative output terminals.

The input to the power supply will be fed with two wires from a USB cable. I had plenty of these laying around so I clipped the end off and exposed the wires. 

The black wire is the ground and was connected to the - Negative terminal of the input side of the new power supply.  The red wire is the + Positive supply and was connected to the + terminal on the input of the new power supply. Cut off the green and white wires, these will not be used.

I reused the grommet from the end of the USB cable and used the glue gun to secure it to the case through the old power plug opening.

Adjusting the power supply:

Do not re-connect the 8 pin connector to the unit until you have adjusted the output voltage of the power supply.  Plug in the USB cable into a 2.1 amps USB source to provide power to the new power supply.  I used my iPad charger to test it during the installation.

Set your volt meter to DC volts and measure the output terminals voltage. Adjust the gold colored screw on the blue component on the power supply until you have 3.4 volts measured on the volt-meter on the output terminals.  

With the output voltage correctly set unplug the USB cable from the power supply.  Now re-connect the 8 pin connector and plug the UBS cable back in to power up your AppleTV. Congrats your done and you can now enjoy using your ATV in your car, motor home or boat.

On my boat I use a USB insert in my 12 volt power outlet. It provides either 1 amp or 2.1 amps of USB current. The 2.1 amp connection should be used to power the ATV.

These can be picked up at any auto parts store for about $10 bucks

12 Volt DC Supply Option:

The ATV could also be powered from a boat or car's 12 volt power source. The same DC power supply used above has a large enough voltage range so it could be powered on the input side by 12 volts instead of 5 volts.

A barrel adapter like the one to the left would be mounted on the back of the ATV and connected to the input side of the power supply. Solder the + positive input to the center post and the - negative input onto the outer connector on the barrel adapter.

Make sure to remove the 8 pin connector before you connect the 12 volts on the input and while you adjust the output voltage on the power supply to 3.4 volts.

A 12 volt power plug could then be easily connected to the ATV with the barrel connector jack. Most of the 12 volt car adapters are 5.5mm x 2.1mm.

To use your ATV at home with this set up you would need a switching power supply that plugs into 115 volts with an output of 12 volts and at least 2 amps and a compatible 5.5mm x 2.1 mm barrel adapter.

Enjoy your new mobile AppleTV.

~~~ Sail On ~~~ /)

Saturday, April 12, 2014


Application: iPad iOS 4.3 or later
Function: Marine charting, instruments, log book
Cost: $4.99 for app, $39.99 for charts, 45.99 for yearly subscription

NavPlay is one of the latest marine charting apps to hit the App Store.  It is touted as a marine app that includes all the features and functions needed while at sea.  The app will help the user plan routes and check weather forecast to start. It can integrate with your on board ships depth, temp, speed instruments, AIS and autopilot.

  • Chart Table with Jeppesen vector charts or satellite images, and where user can manage detailed weather forecast. 

Routing - create routes easily and quickly
  • Real Time Autopilot
  • Draw Route 

Safety Line - SMS and Mail 
Log Book 
  • Subscription options, 15 day one time free trail, 15 days at $14.99 all features, 365 days at $44.99 all features. 
Experience Maker - geo-referenced navigation data.
  • Alarm Manager 
Navigation Bridge - Digital and analog gauges. Pages are customizable in gauges dimensions, measurement units and position.
  • WiFi connection, TCP/IP or UDP, NMEA0183
  • Instruments - Check of on board instruments functionalities, with real time alarms. 
  • Cloud support
  • Weather 
NavPlay has developed what they call their Penta environment. It covers five main areas creating the total marine navigating experience.

The five main areas include Chart Table, Instruments, Experience Maker, Alarms and Navigation.

Icons in the upper right of the screen let you enter information about the user and your yacht.

The app can be connected to your onboard WiFi network through the connections icon.

The Chart Table Selection is used for planning purposes. Charts can be viewed and routes can be
quickly loaded or developed. Waypoints and Markers can be added with at tap on the screen. A handy Range and Bearing tool is also available. Tide and currents can also be viewed from the chart table menu.

Weather can be downloaded and overlayed on the charts. Waves, wind barbs and conditions can be viewed. The weather data appears to be from GRIB type data files.

NavPlay has another unique feature that I have not seen on any other iOS charting app.  It allow the user to draw a route with your finger on the chart. It then creates waypoints along that route from start to finish.  This is an awesome amazing feature. It is the easiest way that I have ever seen to create a route in a marine app. The route can then be edited by either deleting or adding waypoints. Just tap on a waypoint in the route to move it exactly where you want it. I am very impressed with the routing functionality.

The Chart Table is also where you purchase the Jeppesen Charts. Jeppensen has an extensive selection of charts with worldwide coverage.

In the Navigation screen you can select between Route and Pilot mode. NMEA 0183 instrument data is displayed at the top of the display. You will need an on board WiFi and a connection to your on board instruments to be able to display them in the app.

The chart display is in the center panel and allows following your position in real time. Routes can be loaded by tapping the menu selection at the bottom center of the screen. Tap the first waypoint in a route to start following.

The Route display only shows up when a route is selected for navigation.

The AutoPilot feature is provided for controlling your on board autopilot wirelessly with the NavPlay app. You must first be in the follow route mode to activate the autopilot.  The autopilot will have to be on the same WiFi network along with the rest on your instruments.

NavPlay has a very extensive Instrument Display. Instruments can be displayed in analog or digital formats. Just tap on an analog gauge to convert it to a digital readout. Tap again to change it back.

The cool thing about NavPlay instruments is that you can build additional custom instrument displays yourself.

Click the Menu icon on the bottom center of the screen. Select New Custom Page and design the number and size of the gauges you want.  The gauge color and background color can be customized for day or night visions options.

This extensive design versatility for custom gauges is not found in many apps. This is definitely the best instrument and gauge package I have seen in an iOS app.

The Experience Maker is a clever way to record and document your travels with notes, pictures, navigation data and movies.

Navigational data can be easily added to show your location, speed and any other instrument data you might want to save to tell the story of your voyage. This is a blank canvas for you to be creative and document all your activities and travels with a multimedia show.

The Experience Maker data can be easily uploaded to the website and shared with all your friends.

The Alarms Page is the 5th section of the Penta design. The app has an interactive alarm manager. Alarms can be set to monitor a variety of instruments including depth, anchor position and wind speed. Alarm messages can also be sent from the NavPlay app via text or email.
The logbook feature is a great place to keep track of all your log entries.  It is nice that is it is incorporated right within the app. No need to open a separate app to record important information about your trip.

The logbook has a calendar of activities that are automatically recorded by the app. Routes, Position, SOG, COG and Bearing are recorded and easily reviewed at a later date. Recorded data can also include any alarms that occur.

The Services icon allows a quick review of all the services that are available with your present subscriptions.

The Security Cloud icon is a very useful backup option to the website.

The Synch Now feature backs ups all of your logs, routes, markers and graph data easily with the website

The Diagnostics Icon shows real time GPS and instrument data being streamed over the WiFi Network. This section can help troubleshoot connection problems.

NavPlay has a lot of features but is on the high end when it comes to pricing. The app costs $4.99 plus another $45.99 for a yearly subscription to enable all the features. That is all before you have to buy charts for another $40.00.  That is a lot to invest in an app compared to some other high end apps that offer many similar features.

The purchase price of the app does not even give you access to the iPad's GPS, SOG and COG instrument data. You must set up a WiFi connection to provide any instrument data.

I am very impressed with this app! The app has a slick and cool appearance and some very novel and one of a kind features. The Jeppensen charts are rock solid. The price and yearly subscription model however leaves me a little cold. I am not sure I want to keep shelling out money year after year to keep using the app. I think the authors might find some resistance in getting boaters to keep subscribing year after year.  Although with all the cool features it may not be a problem. What do you think?

~~~ Sail On ~~~ /)