Panbo

BoatLogger, well worth serious beta testing

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Jan 2, 2014

BoatLogger_beta_test_Home_page_cPanbo.jpgIt's good to start the year with a project, and I've got one to share. I'm convinced that a new boating service called BoatLogger has a terrific concept for collecting log data, cruise photos, equipment manuals, and much more to a personal boat website they've made very easy to set up. But what the developers need right now is a hardy band of beta testers to create their own sites, try every feature possible, and report problems. That's how I spent much of 1/1/2014 as you can see at www.boatlogger/gizmo. I'll explain what I've learned after the break, and also detail an incentive available to the first 50 beta testers... 

BoatLogger_beta_Home_page_edit_cPanbo.jpgThe screen above shows what Gizmo's home page looks like in edit mode. This is perhaps the most polished aspect of BoatLogger so far. It's beyond slick how you can drag and modify various DataPanes to create a custom page on your site. Note, too, how you can edit and reorder the tabs associated with the pages. And for me, a major feature is those green "eye" buttons, which let you make individual panes or whole tabs private (only for you, or you and your friends) or public. That's key, I think, to a site that can serve you and your boat in many different ways, and it works very well (as I'll demonstrate further below). Finally, the DataPane list shows how much of BoatLogger is free, which I've also noted with my tab names.

BoatLogger_SY_Mare_Logbook_cPanbo.jpgHere's the Log Book data pane for another BoatLogger beta vessel named S/Y Mare showing how logs are presented as multiple track segments that you can zoom into by just clicking check boxes. Tracks are just the beginning of what can be logged, and the development team is working on myriad ways to get data easily, if not automatically, from your boat to the cloud. In a few weeks there will be smartphone apps that will let you notate events like sail or weather changes that will get bundled with the phone's GPS info and either stored or sent to the BoatLogger cloud if possible. There's also an API (application programing interface) so other developers can contribute data to your BoatLogger site or use it in other ways. Plus, there's planned support for data loggers and satellite trackers like Spot and inReach (I've already enabled the latter, which looks to be fully automated but currently has a bug). Finally, there's a future BoatLogger product called BoatSupervisor that will purportedly integrate NMEA 2000, NMEA 183 and Seatalk instrument data (and even onboard camera output) to push up to your online log!

BoatLogger_beta_Log_detail_cPanbo.jpgBoatLogger also lets you create logs manually and import tracks in several file formats. This area needs lots of work, but I was able to import a couple of tracks collected with the Garmin quatix watch I'm long testing (with Garmin's free BaseCamp -- HomePort works, too -- used as the software intermediary that can export the tracks as KML files). If you click on the title of my "Hotel - Flibs" log segment, you'll see that I was easily able to link in some appropriate photos and that BoatLogger is ready to capture engine, fuel and weather data, once I have an easy means to collect it.

BoatLogger_beta_Social_tab_cPanbo.jpgHere's what I've dubbed the "social" aspects of BoatLogger. I like how they have integrated in big social networks you may already be using. The FaceBook stream does work some of the time, incidentally, and there's also a data pane that can stream an existing blogger of WordPress blog. But BoatLogger has its own "friend" feature that I hope to try with readers who join the Beta test. Meanwhile, the Pro version at $39/year offers the GuestBook pane and what seems to be a sophisticated crew management database...

BoatLogger_beta_Details_page_cPanbo.jpgWhere the paid Pro service really comes into play is if you want to use your BoatLogger site to organize maintenance details. Uploading PDFs is already easy (though I wish you could also open them online) and initial testing of the inspection and maintenance panes revealed some good thinking. A maintenance cost, for instance, will also show up in your "Ownership" pane (which might get a more colorful title on some sites ;-). Note the inset at the top right of this screen; it shows how I was able to see what this page looks like to a friend. If you go there as the general public, you won't see the "Ownership" pane at all. These are the sort of design nuances that makes me think that BoatLogger is a service I might want to use for a long time.

In the meantime, though, there are many bugs and many aspects to be completed. I hope beta testers will take the challenge seriously and deliver lots of feedback to betatest@boatlogger.com. Anyone who registers can test the free parts of BoatLogger right now, and even get a month of Pro features to try. But the first 50 Panbo readers who go to Account/Subscriptions, choose any plan, and then enter the coupon code BETA will get at least 6 months of Pro service. You will have to go through a Paypal checkout, which will set up a future payment, but you will be warned before any payment is made and can always quit or downgrade for free beforehand.
   More than money, though, is the fear of putting effort into a new idea that doesn't last, which is why I questioned BoatLogger's Per Magnusson about the company background and commitment to the long haul. I learned that besides years of tech consulting the IT Tack team was behind an early and smart marine app and according to Per, "We have tip-top funding...and we will foresee that BoatLogger will spawn out a few natural add-ons later. All of us are keen boaters and we put into the site what we want to have and see ourselves." Sounds, and looks, good to me. 

BoatLogger_home_page_beta_begins_cPanbo.jpg

Comments

Warning to fellow beta testers: when you get started with BoatLogger and it doesn't already have dimensions, engine type, etc. for your boat model, do not fill in that data right away. Until you've authenticated your registration via an email -- which wasn't obvious for me -- the data you put in will just vanish with an error message. Once your registration is settled in you can add vessel data and much more via the Account menu.

Posted by: Ben at January 2, 2014 5:01 PM | Reply

It seems like a poor clone of what eboatcards.com is doing. eboatcards has been pretty solid for nearly a year, has many users already using it (all my friends have cards), and is completely free.

Posted by: Anonymous at January 2, 2014 5:28 PM | Reply

I so focused on BoatLogger that I failed to provide any competitive context. To my knowledge, there's nothing quite so ambitious out there, but I think that SailBlogs has had a lot of success with the tracking, photo album, cruise report side. My brother-in-law even maintains a blog for his Grand Banks there. SailBlogs also offers a free service but it's interesting to compare the subscription plans:

http://www.sailblogs.com/advanced.php

I should have mentioned that BoatLogger's free program only includes 10mb of data (with Pro at 250Mb), but note that if you use the Flickr pane for photos, 10Mb will go a long ways.

Meanwhile, there's lots going on in terms of online boat systems and maintenance organization. Vessel Vanguard still looks like a great option, especially if you own a production boat that's already in the program:

http://www.panbo.com/archives/2012/01/vessel_vanguard_worlds_largest_boat_systems_database.html

And TheBoatVillage is coming on strong:

https://www.my-villages.com/boat-owners/the-boat-village/

I hope to try out both.

Posted by: Ben at January 2, 2014 5:33 PM | Reply

"It seems like a poor clone of what eboatcards.com is doing."

Anon, I think you should look harder at the two sites. I've been a member of eboatcards since it started (though not very active), and while it's well designed like everything else ActiveCaptain does, I don't see much overlap with BoatLogger.

http://www.eboatcards.com/mv_gizmo_camden_maine_us/

While they both definitely include the ID info that might be on a printed boat card -- and eboatcards does it better -- after that eboatcard's greatest strength seems to be interest groups, which BoatLogger doesn't include at all (yet). Meanwhile, BL emphasizes logbooks which eboat doesn't have (yet).

And I don't think that any of the features that BL charges for are available on all free eboatcards (yet).

I guess with my "(yets)" I'm acknowledging that these two services might be competitors eventually but that's not the case now.

Posted by: Ben in reply to Anonymous at January 2, 2014 7:49 PM | Reply

Ben,
Love the idea of this, though obviously bears some closer look see.

At first glance, it seems like it might be perfect for documenting the last year of work getting Old Squaw (Flye Point 28), ready for heading out from Lake Champlain, down the canal, and on to wherever we may find ourselves.

I have wanted to create a site that would record the "journey" and restoration project so far, and then morph into a log for the real journey's to begin when the locks open spring of 2015.

I'll take a closer look tomorrow AM when I'm more awake and sign on if it looks like it could be the resource I'm looking for.

Thanks so much,

John Hinckley
"Old Squaw"
Lake Champlain & Penobscot Bay...

Posted by: John Hinckley at January 3, 2014 1:09 AM | Reply

Great that several readers are already registered on BoatLogger and also that the team there put together a forum for beta testers overnight!

John, I was going to warn you that BoatLogger does not really include the full blown blogging features that would make sense for a project like documenting a boat restoration. But I did one better!

BoatLogger does support blogs created with Google's free Blogger facilities, and I just created one and put it on my BL Gizmo page:

http://www.boatlogger.com/gizmo#blog-free

The whole exercise took me maybe 20 minutes. It helped that I already have a Google account but I'd never created a Blogger site before and it then synchronized with BoatLogger beautifully, even linking readers over to Blogger to add comments which then are at least noted on BL.

It may sound complicated to write a blog at one site so it shows up an another, but it makes total sense I think. There's a lot of behind-the-scenes complexity to a blog (database) so why reinvent the wheel when Google/Blogger has it down.

This also means that the work, say, you do documenting your restoration is not dependent on a brand new startup company. If BoatLogger fails you'll still have all your posts, photos, etc. on Blogger (which can also be backed up, I think).

Meanwhile, though, we can associate individual blog entries with BoatLogger log segments, which no consumer blogging site comes close to. That's really smart system design, I think, and why BoatLogger may well blossom.

Posted by: Ben at January 3, 2014 9:57 AM | Reply

OK, I need to stop fooling with BoatLogger and get some other stuff done, but darned if my site isn't looking pretty good. I've tried numerous ways over the years to keep track of my cruising memories, not to mention practical boat details, and nothing compares to what I'm seeing possible at BL, and in some ways they've just gotten started. I'm really looking forward to the apps that will highly automate log creation.

Meanwhile I was inspired to post a video tour of Camden Harbor that I took in October with a test Garmin VIRB camera. You'll see that the camera works great for this purpose, full review coming soon:

http://www.boatlogger.com/gizmo

PS Hoping to see some other BoatLogger sites get some content. I think it's generally quite easy to add stuff but am I deluded?

Posted by: Ben at January 4, 2014 11:29 AM | Reply

I've joined as a beta tester and can only get as far as having an account. Drop down menues don't work, can't add pictures or info or location, blogger fuction is just a blank page. Obviously something seriously wrong. I went back to gizmo page and just shows one picture, none of the info shown above. Tryed reloading - no change. Will try again later but would expect at least a reliable functioning website even for beta, The other thing is subcrition cost shows $11 USD a quater but click on NZD and its $80 so I hope I'm being charged that amount. Seems like lots of work to be done. Unless it starts working soon will have to cancel subscription. I would email the website but the dropdown link doesn't work.

The concept looks great so I hope someone sorts its out soon so the website fuctions.

regards. Adrian

Posted by: adrian at January 4, 2014 3:54 PM | Reply

BoatLogger looks fine from here, Adrian. I saw some issues yesterday morning, which apparently prompted a ram upgrade on the server, but I've been on the site a lot since then without any problems like you report.

Posted by: Ben in reply to adrian at January 4, 2014 9:58 PM | Reply

Thanks Ben, yep works good now, opened using firefox. certainly not good on internet explorer 8. Nice shot of Gizmo by the way. (not sure about all that white stuff lying about though!) regards
adrian

Posted by: adrian in reply to Ben at January 4, 2014 10:44 PM | Reply

Glad to hear you're in good shape now, Adrian, but quite disturbed to see how badly BoatLogger displays in Internet Explorer 9 on my home office computer. Hardly anything is accessible or visible and there are no warning messages suggesting the problems.

Firefox 26 looks much better and shows my Home tab fine, but won't load any DataPanes into my other tabs.

I'm going to file a bug report right now.

Posted by: Ben in reply to adrian at January 5, 2014 9:56 AM | Reply

I've been developing my on-board software for a few years, and I must say that developing for Internet Explorer is either impossible (IE = 10) if you want to use modern HTML5 functionality.

As I've got a nice Acer tablet now I'm frustrated -- I either need to fix my source code so it displays properly, or wait for Firefox to add Metro support.

Posted by: Kees at January 5, 2014 11:50 AM | Reply

Arg, I used less-than and bigger-than in that comment, so half of it got interpreted as a HTML tag. I meant to say that developing for Internet Explorer is either impossible (with IE 6,7,8,9) or very hard (IE 10,11).

Posted by: Kees in reply to Kees at January 5, 2014 11:58 AM | Reply

I tried to access your gizmo page with IE9 and they are looking good. Weird, though but probably they have been updated it since then. Nice shot on Gizmo anyway!

I am using chrome most of the time, so it didn't give me much trouble yet. I like the concept of Boatlogger, have been looking for anything similar to this for years.

Thanks for sharing!

Posted by: Peter J at January 6, 2014 1:15 AM | Reply

Is there any reason why AIS data couldn't automatically provide a trip log to boatlogger for my boat? I'm sure there are some technical hoops to overcome but I thought sources like aishub.net could provide this?

Posted by: Adam H at January 7, 2014 4:02 PM | Reply

Sorry, Adam, that might work for some coastal vessels around Europe not along the North American coasts and not at all offshore. Aishub, MarineTraffic, etc. are dependent on volunteers who set up shore receivers and even the spotty coverage you see on those sites is deceiving because Class A transponders have far greater range than the Class B type that yachts tend to use.

There are significant exceptions like Sweden where the boating public has access to a national system of high performance AIS receivers. Many governments could make this happen fairly easily, I think, and I wish they would.

Posted by: Ben at January 7, 2014 7:42 PM | Reply

Good points but I've had good success seeing my boat on Shipfinder, etc on my trips in the Vancouver, Canada area using Class B. I'm never more than 10 miles from shore though. I'm not sure how Boatlogger markets itself but perhaps it is focused on the world and not just North America. If this were the case I'm sure it would be useful to some people. The more companies start using the data perhaps it will influence greater implementation of better infrastructure.

Posted by: Anonymous at January 10, 2014 9:28 PM | Reply

During my almost 100% near coastal trip from Maine to South Carolina last year I'd estimate that my Class B AIS was tracked by public shore stations about 10-20% of the time, and I'm pretty sure that would have gotten worse if I'd continues to South Florida and beyond.

But it doesn't really matter. If I'd had a smart phone app that sent my positions to BoatLogger that would have worked about 80-90% of the time underway and better when stopped. And those BoatLogger apps are purportedly coming very soon!

(On the other hand, I was probably AIS tracked by at least one federal agency nearly 100% of that trip ;-)

Posted by: Ben in reply to Anonymous at January 10, 2014 10:36 PM | Reply

Some feedback positive (i)It feels like what they are doing is unique.(ii)I like how content can be drawn in from other providers like facebook, twitter, and google blog.

Some negative feedback:
(iii) No ability to edit after creating entries in various tabs, for example after creating a maintenance or inspection item, I can delete, but no edit text of the entry that I can find.
(iv) Not a substitute for my existing logs and tasklists, etc. for my boat. An expectation I would have given the name of the site. (v) The log function doesn't do much, unable to enter information like wind conditions, or pre-departure information like reservations made at a destination, what vhf to hail when arriving. (vii)Wasn't obvious how to create a task list of pending boat repairs or other work (e.g. summarize and winterize checklist) (viii)The crew function doesn't appear to do much, and is buggy. Is the intent in the future that my crew could confirm they are participating in a specific event, like a Wednesday night race? If it’s only recording the information to be associated with the log book, then I guess its fine for that. (ix)It feels like it was created in a higher level generic software development tool, which would be fine, but it may not be a good fit. For example it feels like the software developer is being prohibited from having snazzier functionality. For example adding and editing data in a spreadsheet view would allow cut/paste and other functions not available when dealing with one element or row of data at a time.

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at January 12, 2014 6:59 PM | Reply

Thanks, Dan. I hope you've also posted your negatives on the BoatLogger bug or feedback forum threads?

I'm particularly curious about your feedbacks (iv) and (v). What exactly would you like to see in your online logbook? And do you realize that BoatLogger is working on smart phones apps that feed log files to the BL cloud and also an NMEA 0183/2000 gateway that will eventually automate the collection of more info?

This is a beta test, right, not a finished product?

Posted by: Ben in reply to Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at January 12, 2014 7:51 PM | Reply

(iv) The task lists I keep for recurring spring time launch preparation, Winter Storage Preparation, that I tick off as I make progress.

(v) My trip log has spaces for:
- Crew
- Destination details (location, who I booked reservations with, vhf hail or phone #, instructions about hailing on arrival.
- high and low tide times, weather forecast,
- Log (odometer) and engine hours at start
- Log (odometer) at various entries in log, e.g. passed Huntington Light House, engine RPM, wind speed & direction, boat compass course, boat speed, which sails in use.
- Log at end of trip, including engine hours at end
- Report equipment issues
- event: If fuel purchased, how much and engine hours
- event: If stop for pump-out, log date and time
- event: if calibrate sensor, log date & time
- event: vhf conversation notes

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at January 12, 2014 11:54 PM | Reply

Thanks, Dan, but I still don't get the 'negative' in your feedback when your log list looks so similar to BoatLogger's goals. The site and related apps, etc have a long way to go but I think I've seen evidence of, or references to, almost every item on your list, often with provision to automate the entries as much as possible.

For instance, a prototype of a BoatLogger app already on Google Play shows you'll be able to manually enter any of those "events" to an entry that gets time, position, and any available NMEA data added. The app will store the entries for review and upload them to BoatLogger when it can (when it actually works ;-)

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=net.starsight.boatlogger&hl=en

Task lists are an excellent feature idea and I imagine that BoatLogger could integrate that with other databases like inspections and maintenance.

Posted by: Ben in reply to Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at January 13, 2014 9:28 AM | Reply

Then I am in for a real treat.

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at January 13, 2014 9:57 AM | Reply

Hi Dan, I did learn that the "BoatLogger" apps on Google Play came from a third party developer and are not the apps the BoatLogger team is working on. There will be an API for outside developers but it's not available yet. But as we learned on the BL Forum, the logging goals do include a lot of what you want.

Posted by: Ben in reply to Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at January 14, 2014 8:23 AM | Reply

The real BoatLogger app for Android is just out

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.boatlogger.app&hl=en

I know it works pretty well in beta testing. You can easily collect track info with added 'events' and photos that all gets uploaded to your BoatLogger site as a Log segment. Gizmo is hauled, of course, but I've been testing BoatLogger as a 'cruise' around town:

http://www.boatlogger.com/gizmo

Posted by: Ben at March 3, 2014 8:29 AM | Reply

Shipping app is working well. Drill down to the new Segment called "Camden Rockport - round trip with picture" to see a little trip that was really easy to document.

Also, if you search Google Play for BoatLogger you're looking for the one that's all one word and has a blue ship's wheel for a logo.

Posted by: Ben at March 3, 2014 10:56 AM | Reply

The BoatLogger iPhone and iPad app is out:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/boatlogger/id839951918?mt=8

It's rudimentary and has to be in the foreground to log, but I continue to think that this crew is doing great work. They've also announced coming group sites for racing and cruise flotillas:

http://www.boatlogger.com/

Posted by: Ben at May 20, 2014 10:27 AM | Reply

BoatLogger Flotilla Sites are now live. It sounds easy for existing BoatLogger members to join a cruising group and get a site with live tracking of all vessels, shared log entries, etc. Similar Racing Sites with courses drawn in are coming.

http://www.boatlogger.com/Feature/FlotillaSiteOverview

Also, I recently saw a screenshot of engine data graphs automatically uploaded to the BoatLogger cloud by a Chetco SeaSmart system. Very cool.

http://www.seasmart.net/

Posted by: Ben at July 31, 2014 12:51 PM | Reply

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