December 2008 Archives

Happy New Year, and mind the leap second

Dec 31, 2008


That graph represents the teensy weensy difference over recent years between “real” solar system time and the time we oh-so-carefully keep with atomic clocks. As of this morning, real time—i.e. the mean sun dead south or north at noon (at the exact mid longitude of a time zone)—was 6/10ths of a second behind Coordinated Universal Time (UTC or Zulu). You see, relative to the atomic clocks, the earth’s rotation is slowing down a bit—partly, you guessed it, from “tidal friction”—which is why all those corrective leap seconds (spikes) have been applied over the years. Including the one you may not have noticed just after 23:59:59 UTC (6:59:59pm EST) tonight. Time is a slippery thing…

Continue Reading

Yaesu VX-8R, sign of VHF handhelds to come?

Dec 30, 2008


I recently spoke with Standard Horizon VP Jason Kennedy, mostly about the HX850s cracked case issue which I commented on today (and which has become a Sailing Anarchy thread). But we also discussed the future of GPS/VHF handhelds, a future that’s especially rosy as the HX850s is selling well beyond Standard’s projections. When I asked what’s possible, Jason suggested that I check out the Yaesu VX-8R, a new amateur radio handheld which comes from a sister division. I did look at the brochures and manual available at that Yaesu site and, while the button labels above suggest what a complex beast this HAM set is, the obvious potential for a related marine VHF product is…wow…

Continue Reading

Grinch alert, fake life raft & EPIRB releases!

Dec 29, 2008


One reason that this holiday season seems a little gray was finding out that some bastards decided to make a few dollars by counterfeiting the Hammar H20 hydrostatic releases used on many ships to automatically deploy life rafts and EPIRBs in a desperate situation. And apparently they did a good enough job with the details to fool most users, but did not bother to make the things so that they’d actually work. Here’s the Safety Alert PDF, some useful commentary from the RYA, and a little black humor from the pros on the gCaptain forum. I am not a “Bah, humbug!” sort of guy, but I would be unmerciful with the creeps—so far uncaught—who put these fakes onto the oceans.

Panbo holiday good wishes, from Brooklyn

Dec 25, 2008


As gray it is, but with pinpoints of light shining through, this image (bigger here) says Christmas season 2008 for me. It’s a slice of the view from near my borrowed apartment during last Friday’s snow storm. Sometimes even the massive buildings of lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty (way to the left), and the Brooklyn Bridge (way to the right) were invisible. But I’ve learned enough from AIS and VHF monitoring to know that New York Harbor goes about its essential duties regardless: the oil (barges) come in, the garbage (barges) go out, and the people (ferries) go round and round ;-)
   Later today, my wonderful wife comes down from Maine, along with my mail (including this year’s famous Echopilot Christmas card). All’s well here in New York, as I hope it is with you and yours where ever you are.

Broadband Radar, more details

Dec 23, 2008


Last week I wrote my March PMY column about Navico’s Broadband Radar and learned some more details in the process. The pricing, for instance, is almost finalized, and sounds decent. The Lowrance version of the BR dome will have a $1,599 MAP (Minimum Advertised Price) while the Northstar and Simrad models—with a few extra features, like MARPA—will cost a few hundred more dollars. However, the unusual solid-state interior hardware seen above, and bigger here, will be same across brands, as will the basic performance, which is sounding quite interesting…

Continue Reading

JDC Seawatch, gift for a fair-haired fool?

Dec 19, 2008


Maybe, like me, you’ve been even lamer than usual about Christmas shopping? And maybe someone on your list is a fair-haired fool who’s lame about proper skin protection, also like me? Well, consider the Seawatch, the first ever with a built-in UV sensor…

Continue Reading

Nauticast B mod, a "silent" mode switch

Dec 18, 2008


Most Class B AIS units have an SRM/Silent Mode switch on their casing, but the ACR Nauticast B instead provides a wire to a user-supplied switch. The plus is that you can more easily mount the transponder remotely, the minus is that you do have to install a switch, or only use the included software to control the functions. Incidently, that same software (similar to this) lets you choose the switch function: either to go in and out of silent (receive only) mode or to send a SRM (Safety Related Message, so far little used). At any rate, longtime Panbo reader Dan Gingras—a known LED fan—built the handsome Nauticast B switch above, and has kindly shared his design…

Continue Reading

AIS mandates in the USA, the Coast Guard speaketh

Dec 16, 2008


Just online this morning is the USCG’s latest proposed rulemaking regarding the use of AIS by commercial vessels (and also expansion of the Notice of Arrival and Departure requirements). While the PDF weighs in at 94 pages—and contains some required bureaucratic folderol (that must drive writers nuts)—the suggested regulations make a lot of sense and will significantly improve marine safety, I think. Once refined and enacted—the USCG is hoping for 2010 mandates—the new rules will also be a boon for the manufacturers and installers of Class A or Class B AIS transponders, or both. You see, while the CG has a very specific idea about which formerly-exempt vessels should be made to carry AIS—17,442 more tugs, fishing boats, dredges, passenger vessels and others, to be exact—and endorses Class B technology with vigor, it also recognizes the superior performance of Class A, and is asking all parties involved to help decide which gear should be required on which new classes of mandated vessels…

Continue Reading

Online AIS plotting, free sites & photo obsessions

Dec 15, 2008


So far, the best (free) Web AIS coverage I can find for New York Harbor is provided by Though you have to register to get even a two hour target delay, the site is helping me understand the scene, VHF chatter included, and also illustrates an important point about AIS today. A lot of medium-sized commercial vessels—like all the up-to-150 passenger Water Taxis I see constantly buzzing around lower Manhattan—are not mandated to carry transponders, and don’t. But the U.S. Coast Guard is hot to change those rules, and in fact just issued a draft of the new mandates that I’ll discuss tomorrow. In the meantime. let’s take a closer look at Vesseltracker and its cousins…

Continue Reading

Standard Horizon handhelds, another look

Dec 12, 2008


I’ve started monitoring New York Harbor VHF traffic on the Standard Horizon HX850S, first tested last September, and its effective tag and scan functions are helping to sleuth out who works which channels. They’re obviously well established as many callers identify neither themselves nor the intended recipient. Using the handheld reminded me of my HX group portrait above, and bigger here. Among other things, it illustrates some features of the 470 Series (which I’ve happily used for years) that I miss in the 760 and 850: like its compactness, its more secure cradle w/ in-front status LEDs, and its squelch/volume knob instead of the two-step VOL or SQL button then up-down key routine. You can also see the fairly significant difference between the dot matrix screens on the 471 and 850 versus the segmented one on the 760. The photo may emphasize it a bit more than real life, but the segmented technology is higher contrast. On the other hand, the screen designers are really limited by those segments, especially when they try to create less visited screens like setup menus, as seen way below, and bigger here

Continue Reading