Garmin’s ActiveCaptain marine business plan looks good, plus Eartha

On Tuesday I drove down to Yarmouth, Maine, to meet some of the ActiveCaptain Community team at the former DeLorme headquarters building that Garmin now partially leases for inReach and cartography development. The key news is that Garmin recently contacted marine businesses to explain the three-tier business “ownership” and advertising plan they intend to roll out in late August. I think it’s brilliant.

Garmin obviously took a cue from Google — no shame — with the concept that every relevant business on a largely crowd-sourced map deserves special status regarding the facts about their business, and that granting such status freely and easily can improve the data quality. So starting late next month, every ActiveCaptain Community (ACC) marina and business icon will get a Claim button that leads to an online form for ownership verification.

Marine businesses will also be able to create an ACC icon, as I began to illustrate above. Note that when Garmin rebuilt the ACC database last May, they separated out the marine businesses that used to be under the vague Local Knowledge markers and also tried to define what “marine business” means. I asked about restaurants and they responded with “only if they offer dockage” — the right answer in my view.

The “Starter” tier of the ACC business plan will be completely free, and thus an invitation to marine businesses to join the ActiveCaptain community regardless of their interest in becoming a Garmin advertising client. As you can see in the ACC Business & Advertising Tiers table at top, Starters also get to post one photograph — only accessible when the user is online, so no worries about bloated ACC data downloads — and that seems a welcome new ACC feature (that may well expand beyond marina and business markers).

All verified marina and business owners will also be able to respond to comments with their owner status noted, and it looks like Garmin will be encouraging them to keep their fuel, dockage, and mooring prices up to date. Isn’t that potential for more accurate marina and business marker info, as well as more transparent handling of negative reviews?

How the Standard and Premium advertising is going to look on ACC is difficult to visualize, but it does seem similar to the old AC FirstChoice program, which I did not find obnoxious. Advertisers also get to show more online photographs, which reminded me of C-Map’s often highly useful C-Marina Maps. It won’t be quite the same, but I encourage marinas to use their image(s) option for any diagram they may have showing dock and slip numbering, fuel location, etc.

Garmin has not yet detailed what “affordable pricing” for the advertising means, but hopefully the bigger picture here is a concrete display of how the big company intends to monetize ACC without imposing users fees or limiting access to their own marine hardware and apps. In fact, they’re arguably expanding access by bringing in marine business owners without charge, and the obvious route to increased advertising revenue is more boating users via many platforms and better information. 

I’m pleased to add that Garmin’s primary goal for our meeting was to hear constructive criticism, and I believe I delivered. Actually they got a twofer as Ben Stein and I discussed a bullet list at length as I drove down. Our most radical suggestion is to rename the ActiveCaptain app to reflect what it really is (and how it really shines), like perhaps “Garmin Boat All-in-One App.” We’ve both encountered cruisers who would likely be valuable members of the Community, except that they Googled ActiveCaptain, downloaded the ActiveCaptain app, and then got frustrated when it turned out to be designed for someone else.

The name change probably won’t happen, but hopefully the confusing AC app description on the product page and at — itself a misleading URL if Garmin really expects boaters to carefully differentiate AC and ACC — will be much better qualified. “All-in-One” turns out to “Nothing Useful” if a captain doesn’t have compatible Garmin hardware, so why not state that clearly up front? Hurumpf!

And while it’s progress that the main ACC page does now link to third-party apps and plotters that work with the new ACC database, why not a table showing more detail about them (like our ongoing ACC Guide)? I also lobbied for more profile information about Captains willing to share it — which is possible, though wiping all the old profiles had to happen — as well some sort of superuser status (Commander?) based on points and/or the valuable new Thumb’s Up button on reviews and comments.

Volunteer ACC local guides, as supported on other crowdsourced sites like Google Maps and Yelp, might also be good. I find that this new world of easily shared information gets richer when you can get to know and respect individuals in the crowd. And it seemed clear that the ACC developers are thinking along the same lines. In fact, I remain very optimistic about the future of ActiveCaptain — meaning the community, the database, whatever works for you — because I continue to believe that Garmin’s ideas and intentions will work out fine for boaters even if they are surprisingly inept at communicating them.

PS 9/7/2018: ActiveCaptain business claiming happened as Garmin promised and it works quite well. There’s a lot of detail in the new AC Business pages, but I didn’t need it to create a (somewhat goofy) POI for Panbo’s Maine office and then claim it. I was accepted immediately (though I suppose a Community Admin could delete it) and put up a photo on my new Business POI.

Testing ActiveCaptain's new Marine Business claiming and photo features

David DeLorme’s Eartha

Pictured below is the remarkable view just beyond the glass partitions of Garmin’s offices in Yarmouth. That’s because in 1997 David DeLorme devoted what must have been a sizable chunk of his mapping company’s capital to building the world’s largest rotating globe, dubbed Eartha. Why I drove by for next 20 plus years with only an appreciative glance through the DeLorme building’s three-story glass facade, I can not fathom in retrospect.

Almost as soon as I stepped inside Eartha space, it felt like much more than a big globe. If there was a cartography cathedral, the altar might resemble this. The scale imparts a new sense of our planet and where you can get in close on the ground floor, you’re apt to get mesmerized by the detailed mix of satellite imagery, shaded relief, ocean bathymetry, road networks and more. I wanted a hoverboard to peruse the northern hemisphere (though even more detailed DeLorme global mapping is available on the inReach Explorer+, the EarthMate app, and no doubt Garmin products to come).

So don’t make my mistake. If you’re anywhere near Yarmouth, Maine, spend some time with Eartha. And here’s a big belated Panbo thanks to David Delorme, who also keeps Eartha open to the public today (if my understanding of the arrangement is correct). I plan to spend more time with the huge globe myself, and if it can be with the granddaughters, all the better.

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Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher since 4/12/2005, and now excited to have Ben Stein as a very able colleague. Panbo is going to the next level in 2018 and beyond.

11 Responses

  1. Richard Cassano says:

    Ben, I understand where you’re coming from on the name change idea, however, AC and ACC have already confused many users. Change the name again and I think you might lose more participants as they become more frustrated with the Garmin AC transition. It’s a little like red fire trucks. We all know what they are and get out of the way. Paint them white or green as some communities have done and people spend precious seconds trying to figure out what the heck that is. Good or not so good, ACC already has the name recognition and Garmin should run with it.

    • Ben SteinBen Stein says:


      Just to clarify, I’m not advocating changing the name of ActiveCaptain Community, but I am advocating changing the name of the ActiveCaptain app. In reality, although it can display ACC info, the ActiveCaptain app is actually the Garmin MFD Companion app. If you don’t own a Garmin MFD and aren’t familiar with ActiveCaptain Community, but have just been told about it, you’re likely to hit the app store and download the thing called ActiveCaptain. Now you’re greeted with the opportunity to pay hundreds of dollars for charts and, as I’ve been told by a few people, that’s probably the end of your exploring ActiveCaptain Community. I’d love to see Garmin stick with ActiveCaptain Community for the crowd-sourced data and just sort of let the ActiveCaptain name meld back to being synonymous with ActiveCaptain Community.

    • What Ben S said, rename the new AC app Garmin Boat All-in-One and leave ActiveCaptain as is. Here’s West Marine illustrating how using the same name for two different things can confuse even a marine pro:

  2. Ben, I was in Beaufort, NC one year when I looked at my marina’s AC listing and noticed a suggestion in its description to favor another marina nearby. I looked in a number of other AC markers in the area and found the same entry – except for the marina advertized of course. It appeared to me at the time that the AC description section had been hijacked by one unscrupulous marina. I was going to edit all of them but I contact Jeff first and that’s when I learned it was a revenue feature of AC.

    I had always thought that feature was odd, along the lines of “ if you don’t pay me money, I’ll encourage your customers to go elsewhere.” Of course Jeff had every right to do what he wanted, it was his company. I’m more of a positive approach guy, “here’s the reasons you should come to my marina” without an ad to go elsewhere right on the marina’s website.

    Was there any discussion of this point?

    • Hi Robert. We did not discuss the specifics of “Advertise on competitor’s listing, and remove advertisements from your marker” but it looks to me like the 1st Choice advertising — or whatever they call it –is going to more transparent under Garmin.

      I did not have trouble with the old AC marina descriptions suggesting that I use a nearby 1st Choice marina instead because I knew that was paid for and I understand why a free resource would encourage users toward supporting businesses. But I was troubled to see such advertisers claim elsewhere that they were 1st Choice because AC chose them. That was partly true because a marina could not advertise without a 4 or 5 star rating, but not completely true because money also changed hands to get the status (if I understand how the program used to work correctly).

      I don’t think that Garmin intends to mix advertising with community recommendations, and that’s the right way to go in my opinion. For instance, while Panbo is a somewhat different animal, we are religious about not mixing editorial with the banner ad program. We get offers almost every day to sell links or biased “guest” entries (100% from outside the marine electronics industry) but never have and never will under my watch.

      I really appreciate our advertisers, and many readers do too (we know from polling), but we write for the readers.

  3. Cool. AC Marina and Business claiming works great. I just added a PS to the entry but you can also see my (somewhat goofy) testing here:

    It was really easy to create that business POI and then claim it. Please give it a review or two — very negative is fine! — so I can see what the owner management tools are like.

    • Garmin doesn’t consider Panbo’s editorial office to be a valid AC marine business — which is just fine — but they also gave me a few days to test the Premium Business features before they take the POI down. It’s impressive how easily a business can ad more photos, an “action button” and also place ads on competitor sites. Plus the ads aren’t really obnoxious to AC viewers I don’t think. Check out while you can!

      Also — a marina can even place an ad on an anchorage marker, and given how rolly Camden Outer Harbor is, it might work 😉

  4. Adam says:

    So, its been many months since Garmin bought both Active Captain (community) and Navionics. Despite promises to bring back many of the feature that were there before the GDPR driven redevelopment, many of those key planning and offline features remain offline. I suspect that they’re never going to return. Garmin should give the community clear timelines for the return of:

    1 – Previously, the Map functionality used to have GPS coordinates when you interacted with it. Now, while you have more charte layers, you really cannot use them for planning since the GPS coordinates have been hidden. Seems like this was taken away so you have to buy the charts instead of using the NOAA online charts for true planning

    2 – Planning/routes! I had years of routes and gps coordinates saved in the old active captain. Now, that data is gone. I dont eve have the ability to do routing anymore. What a lost opportunity

    3 – How can a user submit marks and poi anymore? Used to be you clicked a long time and then you had the dialogue available to put in marks. Now, it seems like all the community can do is leave a review. Not input new content. AM I missing something?

    4 – seeing other peoples routes and gps coordinates. Was very useful when I was surveying a new area and wanted to know how to get around in the deepest water

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