Coastal Explorer & ActiveCaptain, YES!

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Apr 14, 2010

Take a good long gander at the full size screen above.  That's Coastal Explorer 2010 in Guide Book mode, which already offered a wealth of port information, but as of last night (announcement here) can also show ActiveCaptain community generated info.  The particular detail shown is my own enthusiastic take on our Public Landing, written when AC first launched (and still true), but notice how you can also access Atlantic Cruising Club's professional view of the facility, as well as three different angles on Wayfarer Marine and the Camden Yacht Club.  The chances are good that a visiting boat can find all the information it needs in this one spot.  In fact, while my entry on the neat ACC integration was titled "CE & ACC, great but not enough! Part 1," today Part 2 is pretty much irrelevant... 

Sure it would be great if CE also offered a layer of Google quality high res photo maps instead of, or in addition to, the MSR (formerly called TerraServer) data it can currently display, and there may also be interesting data relationships to forge with other guide publishers besides ACC, and content creators like and MarinaLife, but it was mainly Active Captain that I've been hoping to see in CE.  That's because CE is not only good at displaying information of this sort, but it was also designed from the beginning to support two way data synchronization over the Internet.  Those features, like the ability to create private or public blogs right in CE, haven't yet been perfected, but I'm sure they will be eventually.  Similarly, this first crack at Active Captain is read only, but I'm told that CE users will be able to edit and add markers eventually (same story for MaxSea TimeZero users).
   Meanwhile synchronization from Rose Point and ActiveCaptain servers to CE is working slick.  When I looked around Cape Charles, VA -- which I used for that ACC entry -- there was one AC's new, and timely, CO-OP offers (which you can also see in action on the AC iPad mock up).  CE also automatically downloaded the latest Camden chart to my PC, which turned out to be surprising, and a motivation to create an AC Hazard marker...

Coastal_Explorer_Active_Captain_Cape_Charles_MSR_cPanbo.JPGAs you can tell from the Properties box lower right on the screen below, NOAA just updated this chart last week, and yet CE has it on my machine already, gratis.  But, geez, why did NOAA decide to add the town's channel buoys as if they were numbered nuns and cans when in fact they are just plain red and green balls?  They are also set in straight lines along the channel that's clearly defined by the magenta Special Anchorage areas, except (check top image) NOAA's ENC for Camden has the north Anchorage line messed up.  These mistakes are not exactly dangerous, but are a good example of why it's great to be able to share information easily and widely.  The explanatory mark I created is already live at Active Captain, and it should sync onto CE any moment now.  How cool is that!
   There are many more new CE and AC features to discuss, but whereas I'm blowing my own horn this week, I'm proud to point out that I was quick to spot the developers involved as special talents, profiling Brad Christian in 2004 and Jeff Siegel in one of my first Panbo entries and in Voyaging.  Both have been doing exceptional work recently, and watching them work together promises to be a real pleasure.



Hi Ben,

Yes that was added yesterday and it's presentation is great. No problems with installing the add on as well. There are other great new things in the works as well on the 2010 Beta including Navtex and just loads of other stuff.
I'm proud to be a member of the beta test team for what is going to be a Stunning Nav Program.


Posted by: steverow at April 14, 2010 6:28 PM | Reply

I agree, Steve. CE is hitting a new level (ActiveCaptain is too). And maybe what's most interesting is what we can't see. As I understand it, the architecture of CE 2010 is quite different in the sense that the UI is separate and can be modified without affecting the core functionality. What that actually means in the market place I don't know yet, but it seems rich in possibilities.

Incidentally, I believe the 2010 beta software is available to anyone who currently owns a Coastal Explorer license, and it seems pretty stable at this point, at least for me. I had a little trouble at first getting used to the activity window on top, but I'm over that now. It works.

Posted by: Ben at April 14, 2010 6:45 PM | Reply

I'm not yet sure how comfortable I am using community generated "local knowledge" such as is found in sources such as ActiveCaptain. Contact #'s and such I am fine with, but info on anchorages, protection, holding, etc. can be very subjective and based on a host of variables the reader has no way of gauging. I have been around the web enough to value my printed version of the Tafts/Rindlaub "A Cruising Guide to the Maine Coast," even more. These are long-standing, edited guides whose authors stake their reputation on accuracy and the safety of the people using them. Community generated info offers no comparable standards. It's the Wikipedia conundrum: it may offer a reasonable quick intro, but make sure you have a way to check your facts. I've seen "local knowledge" posted in online cruising guides on anchorages I know very well (not in ActiveCaptain, per say) that is just plan inaccurate, dangerous, or even, sometimes, clearly base on a poster's personal agenda. It is the simple reality of the wild world wide web.

Posted by: Collin at April 14, 2010 6:51 PM | Reply

Right you are, Collin, and I'm glad you used the Taft/Rindlaub book as an example. I too think it's one of the best cruising guides around. I knew Hank when he was creating the original, and I've met Curtis, who's tried valiantly to keep the book up to date:

But I've also covered the same coast myself for a decade, though in an entirely eccentric and incomplete fashion:

And I can tell you with some certainty that it's impossible for any one human, or company, to deeply explore, or keep up with, all the features along even a single state's coast (ours is particularly long and varied).

Which is why I'm so pleased that CE is offering multiple sources of information in an easily searched and viewed form. I think I'll make the best cruising choices if I have access to both the pros and the amateurs out in the field.

By the way, ActiveCaptain has a clever system for validating user input without bogging themselves, and the site, down. As I understand it, whatever a new user writes is quality checked before it's published, but once a user has contributed x amount of apparently valid information, his or her data goes up instantly. That's one reason they insist on user registration.

Posted by: Ben at April 14, 2010 7:26 PM | Reply


I'm hoping that Brad will be able to roll out this AC collaboration to other similar Websites throughout the world. Ive gained permission to interface with which is a great PHP site in the UK with detailed pilotage, charts, history, facilities and just about everything the mariner needs to know, but I am having to put in each harbour entry and link in manually on at the present time, athough I'm getting there slowly. Ive got the Solent to do next which should keep me busy for a week or two.

Yes any present CE users can join in the beta group if they feel they want to, more the merrier and solves problems quicker I'm sure.
Nice satellite shot of CE..unfortunately we dont have that in UK but I can always flip to google earth if need be.



Posted by: steverow at April 14, 2010 7:38 PM | Reply

I think the question of user-contributed data is an interesting one. I'm not sure I completely see the parallels to Wikipedia and it's negative impression that has generated some bad press over the years. On one hand, Wikipedia offers a single view of a subject. Look up John F Kennedy and there is a single article edited together with the input of many people. There might be dissenting views within the article but you completely lose each particular person's perspective because it's been edited and combined.

On the other hand, ActiveCaptain keeps the individual "opinion" reviews separate and identifiable. You get to see a particular person's opinion in whole. We often see one review talking about how wonderful an anchorage is in the Spring where another tells how it is filled with crab pots in the Fall. Each review also has a number of points the captain has accumulated to give some idea about the amount they have contributed and possibly their credibility.

Anchorages are special things. One person's view and experience might be very different than another. Having all views is very valuable to making your own decision about picking a place for the night. No one should ever just read a couple of reviews and blindly drop their anchor on the marked spot, however. Every mariner has a responsibility of checking charts, prevailing conditions, and their own boat's capabilities/draft, etc. before they should ever drop their hook.

While it's not completely the same, I'd prefer to read a dozen book reviews in Amazon than one "professional's" review in the NY Times. The world gives a much better view when looked at through the eyes of many people.

Jeffrey Siegel

Posted by: Jeffrey Siegel at April 14, 2010 10:31 PM | Reply

A good, if personal, example of Jeff's point is his and my very different reviews of Wayfarer Marine in Camden. I just updated my review this morning, because I'm a regular yard customer now, and our experiences there are now even more opposite. Gizmo was launched yesterday and I'm pleased about how the whole storage, repair, and spring prep process went.

Incidentally, my review change -- done at the ActiveCaptain site because CE doesn't yet have edit functions -- showed up in CE in less than an hour. This didn't seem happen with my Camden new chart note yesterday, but I've learned that you have to zoom out and in to get CE to refresh its cache. I replaced the original bottom image above with one showing my Hazard marker.

I do wish I could edit the Hazard entry like I did my review because I wrote the original in Word and several characters -- a dash, and two quotation marks -- became gibberish in translation. But it will still work. The new chart just came out a few days, but anyone using CE, MaxSea TimeZero, or the ActiveCaptain site will get a little more info on all those bouys NOAA added.

By the way, it's not clear in my screen shots, but all those CE POI markers go away when the user selects "Home" or any of the other top tabs besides "Guide Book".

Posted by: Ben at April 15, 2010 6:34 AM | Reply

The Hazard details can easily be edited on the web site. I know it isn't optimal to have to go to another place and it's temporary until editing is put into CE. Ben, if there's anything about the text that you don't like, it'll really only take 30 seconds to fix it.

Here's a quick link to the marker:


Posted by: Jeffrey Siegel at April 15, 2010 12:29 PM | Reply

Now that I figured out how to edit Hazard marks, mine is fixed, and it appeared in CE quickly. All is well.

Posted by: Ben at April 15, 2010 2:27 PM | Reply

Collin makes an interesting point. To see what the reviews were like in several boating areas which I am very familiar with, I spent a couple of hours reviewing the information on Active Captain.
Most of the reviews were very accurate. The only area which I might disagree were in rating of restraunts--but these often change management. Many of the reviewers were people I was familar with from lists like Trawlers and Trawlering, or Seven Seas Cruising Association.

What was surprising to me was how many of the posts on the Gulf Coast were people whose home base was from some distance. In Washington State and British Columbia most of the reviews were local, but as I worked my way to Alaska on AC, there were very few reviews of any sort. Will Active Captain replace guide books?--not yet, but it is certainly is a great suppliment, and I would not hesitate to use it anywhere in the Coastal Waters of the US and Canada. Jeff and Karen have done a great service for the boating community.

Posted by: Bob Austin at April 23, 2010 9:30 PM | Reply

Leave a comment