Panbo

USHarbors, a new crowd source player?

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Mar 16, 2012
USHarbors_full_screen_charting_cPanbo.jpg

The Maine Boatbuilders Show starts today, and I'm making my (almost) annual pilgrimage to Portland first thing this morning. But I've already spent some quality time trying out a show debut, the rather spectacular update of the USHarbors Network. Among many major enhancements is a full screen raster-charts-over-Google-Maps mode that may well be the best online charting engine I've ever seen. Note how it's even quilting in skewed small craft charts at the particular zoom level I captured above. That's hard, and moving around on these charts is fast!...

But be aware that you can't do much on these charts, unlike, say, ActiveCaptain where you can create specific points of interest and even share routes (as discussed in November). USHarbors is a different animal, and as its name implies it's harbor centric. Sure, you can wander the whole mainland US coast clicking on various POI icons, but when you want to dig into its deep info resources or add to them, you do it by harbor (1,100 of them so far).
   For instance, I was on the San Francisco page when I clicked on weather and found a well laid page of it culminating in the very nice radar map below. It too is Google Map based and it too can go full screen and let you wander around. It animates more than an hour of NEXRAD data with intensity coloration that works well for me, and I can zoom out to half the country without it hiccuping. (I have broadband here, but not especially fast broadband.)  

USHarbors_weather_radar_cPanbo.jpg

USHarbors actually started with tide tables, good looking ones that print well too, but now the monthly predictions extend out a year. You may also notice a distinctly Maine bias in the ads below and that's because this whole project is a branch of Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors, the magazine I've written for the longest. In fact, I know the creators of this site well and if I'm at all over enthusiastic about it, it may be because I have some sense of how long and hard they've worked...

USHarbors_tide_tables_cPanbo.jpg

Of course the business plan is to sell ads to local marine businesses in California as well as Maine, but that will take some time. I noted, though, that any business can be listed on the site and can also post blog-style entries, photo galleries, and the other types of content regular boaters can. Seems smart to me.
   The cropped full screen chart below shows how many different data and crowd sourced POIs there can be in an area where folks have gotten into it. You can also see the icon circles that appear as you zoom out so that individual ones don't pile on top of each other...

USHarbors_full_screen_charting_crop_cPanbo.jpg

Lastly here's a look at what the main harbor screen looks like, in this case My Harbor. This is the hub from which you can click to local weather, tides, and charting. And in the Local Knowledge section you can switch between lists of long post Updates, Businesses, Photos, Tips, and pilot book style Info. They all seem polished -- either viewing or adding -- but Tips is the new one, and I suspect it will be a hit. It's funny how 140 characters and one photo is the sort of limit that makes sharing easier.
   All in all, USHarbors has a lot going for it even if the people around your harbor, or the ones you'd like to visit, don't get into it. If they do, sky's the limit! Of course it's a wicked challenge to make so much information and sharing easy to navigate, but I'd say USHarbors is easier than FaceBook. Have I persuaded you to give USHarbors a good try? What do you think?

USHarbors_tip_posting_cPanbo.jpg

Comments

It's worth adding that Navionics had news about its user generated content (UGC) features in Miami. Besides becoming the first crowd sourced data to get onto chart plotters -- the Raymarine e- and cSeries -- it can now include user collected depth soundings. More to come on that, but isn't it interesting how different all the marine crowd sourcing schemes are? Who will want access to all of them, and how will we get it?

Posted by: Ben at March 16, 2012 2:34 AM | Reply

Ben,

I have upgraded my Navionics SD card with their Freshest Data program, and installed NOS 4.1 on my Lowrance HDS, and I now have the crowd sourced data on my chart plotter. How cool is that!

The information for my local harbor (first thing one checks, of course) is a little spotty (some restaurants, but not others) but certainly worth having -- like the phone number for the harbor master, stuff like that.

At the moment we appear to be at the let's-jump-on-the-same-bandwagon phase, there are a number of sites trying to do what US Harbors and ActiveCaptain are doing in Europe as well.

Here are two:
http://www.harbourguides.com/harbours.php
http://www.portmaps.com/

Posted by: Kees at March 16, 2012 5:41 AM | Reply

USHarbors is a good effort, and I am looking forward to the time when there is a whole lot more data for the SE US.

Crowd sourcing is becoming a valuable tool for boaters. But none of the major sites are complete, although ActiceCaptain probably comes closest. Now if someone could figure out how to put ARGUS, USHarbors, Cruisersnet, and ActiveCaptain together.

Posted by: Rick R at March 16, 2012 10:46 AM | Reply

USHarbors is an awesome site. It has really developed into a very useful cruising resource. I started posting tips there yesterday. Can't wait to see some more user generated content.

Posted by: treilley at March 16, 2012 3:54 PM | Reply

I can see that a lot of effort has gone into this. I would like to first state that I am in Puget Sound in the state of Washington. The goal is laudable, but my navigation software, Coastal Explorer, meets and exceeds the functionality of USharbors, albeit for a price.

That said, I will be a contributor. The philosophy of user input has tremendous potential. I offer Wikipedia as an example of user input that has evolved into an extremely useful application.

I will offer up my "secret" shrimp and crab sites. I encourage my fellow boaters and fishermen to do the same.

Patrick Harman

Posted by: ppharman at March 17, 2012 12:17 AM | Reply

US Harbors is a good website and I really hope it does very well. It is not new in it's approach however, http://www.visitmyharbour.com in the UK was the first provider of the chart overlay in GE known as "VisiCharts" over two years ago and free online charts courtesy of UKHO. Unlike VMH, US Harbors is more graphically intensive, requiring a greater bandwidth at sea, and if I could give them any advice, it would to be to also have a textual version suitable for slow mobile links at sea, if at all possible...but good luck to them anyway. I hope the all the effort pays off.

Steve

Posted by: steverow at March 17, 2012 6:55 PM | Reply

Another great resource that seems to be overlooked is Bloosee ( http://www.bloosee.com ). They have the crowdsourcing, charts, wind info, and a free iphone/ipad app. Users can create and share markers and routes as well. The mobile app is pretty sweet.

It is true that there is not a clear solution with all of the needed info, but they seem to be making a good progress towards integrating different data sources.

One Petrel

Posted by: One Petrel at March 22, 2012 7:01 PM | Reply

Thanks! BlooSee is quite a well done web site and it looks like they have plans for more. Among other things, the charting engine is on a par with USHarbors and it's neat that they also have charts for New Zealand and Brazil areas.

Posted by: Ben in reply to One Petrel at March 23, 2012 11:31 AM | Reply

More proof that folks living in cold climates can get stuff done: USHarbors is not only going strong but has just introduced a beautiful iPad and online magazine called Life on the Coast. 132 pages of harbors, homes, and boats from Rhode Island to Maine, FREE:

http://usharbors.com/life-on-the-coast

Posted by: Ben at March 7, 2013 8:58 AM | Reply

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