SEAiq USA navigation app on an iPad (iOS7) platform

I was recently referred by a friend to an iPad marine navigation app called SEAiq USA.  This app is in the same family of apps as Garmin BlueChart Mobile, iNavX, Nobeltech TimeZero, EarthNC and several others. I was attracted to SEAiq USA by its very modest price point and seemingly rich functionality.  I have not been disappointed!

The SEAiq products (SEAiq USA, SEAiq International and SEAiq Pilot) have been developed by a live-aboard cruiser who really understands what cruising boat captains need and want to see.  The SEAiq USA app is $9.95 on iTunes (September, 2013).  It uses free NOAA and US Army Corps of Engineers Raster and Vector Charts.  That alone is very desirable, because many of the competing nav apps have free apps but charge significant fees for proprietary chart paks.  That causes two problems.  I hate the ongoing, recurring cost for charts, and I don’t like the idea that the charts are modified for any reason.  With SEAiq, there are no separate fees for charts, and no periodic advertising nag-messages to update your chart paks and drive the manufacturer’s revenue stream.

SEAiq has two operational modes.  One, it can use the GPS receiver that’s built-in to an iPad (an iPad with wireless phone capability and a “real” GPS receiver).  Two, it can use data streamed to it via a wi-fi connection.  I have tested with both modes.  Using the internal iPad GPS, I have basic position, course and speed info.  Using fully streamed wi-fi data, I have pretty much all of the NMEA0183 and N2K data that my instruments are able to send.  So, the iPad internal GPS mode is somewhat more limited than with streamed external data.

Sanctuary is fit with a DMK 11A multiplexor that receives NMEA0183, N2K and Raymarine Seatalk navigation data from onboard navigation instruments and re-transmits that data over wi-fi.  Via the wi-fi link, SEAiq gets lat/lon position data, SOG, COG, Distance-to-Waypoint, Bearing-to-Waypoint, Water Depth, and Water Temp from our made-for-purpose nav instruments, and the full set of AIS vessel data from our AIS receiver.  SEAiq supports many more NMEA data types for which I do not have sensors aboard (wind, etc).

SEAiq has full ActiveCaptain data functionality. It supports (via “import” and “export” using iTunes file transfer) tracks and routes in both .gpx and .kml formats.  In US Coastal and Inland waters, it automatically receives large scale synoptic-level weather charts from NOAA/NWS in .grib format.  On offshore passages, it can do manual requests for synoptic-level .grib files via email, to http://www.saildocs.com, using a sat phone or a computer-based email program with Paxtor modem and SSB radio capability.  Data types automatically received from NOAA/NWS are wind and air pressure.  Presumably, additional data types would be available on manual requests, but I have not played with that.  SEAiq does not, at present, support weather RADAR data feeds.  Since there are several apps that do that (Intellicast, Wunderground, Accuweather, Weatherbug), I do not feel that’s much of a limitation.

Aboard Sanctuary, we have always preferred to pilot the boat from the flybridge, and that’s where we have placed our made-for-purpose marine navigation equipment.  We have Garmin and Raymarine chart plotters, depth sounder, AIS receiver, VHF w/DSC, autopilot, etc.  This is a mix of legacy NMEA0183 and new N2K equipment.  In the past, we did not invest  in duplicating all that equipment at our inside salon helm station because we rarely – half dozen times in 10 years – pilot from inside.  SEAiq on the iPad, with nav data streaming from made-for-purpose nav instruments via the DMK 11A multiplexor, gives us a very complete, portable, nav solution at the salon helm station.  We anticipate this capability could be helpful in falls seasons with early cold weather, on cloudy, drizzly, 45ºF days on the Chesapeake Bay, or on night crossings of the Gulf-of-Mexico.

So in many ways, SEAiq is more feature rich than its competitors, and at a much better price-point.  Buy it once, updates forever.

Following is a screen shot of SEAiq USA on my iPad.  This screen shot show a section of the Patapsco River approach to Baltimore Harbor, off Sparrows Point.  The teardrops are ActiveCaptain markers.  The data panel of the right shows the data being received from my nav instruments.  The AIS data shows a USCG Cutter (Sledge) highlighted as a nearby AIS target.

iPad screen shot of SEAiq USA showing NMEA0183 and AIS instrument data fields

iPad screen shot of SEAiq USA showing NMEA0183 and AIS instrument data fields

The SEAiq developer is a cruising live-aboard, and he is very responsive and helpful.  I strongly recommend this app for any boater with an iPad.

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3 thoughts on “SEAiq USA navigation app on an iPad (iOS7) platform

  1. Alex Ertz

    Jim,

    I really like your blog, and appreciate your contributions to the AGLCA newsletter, too. Have you tried this SEAiq app using the USACE chart for the inland rivers? Also, have you run it much in IOS mode (using iPad’s own GPC chip vs. getting the instrument data feed from your boat’s NMEA0183 network)? I downloaded the app and found it VERY slow to refesh when panning and zooming…especially inland where it doesn’t have NOAA chart data. The Corp of Engineers’ river charts are extremely skimpy vs. other iPad apps such as Navionics Gold. I also experienced extraneous SOG readouts such as persistent 2.5 kts reading, even when competely at rest for a sustained period. I’m guessing from your enthusiasm (and my initial displeasure and disappointment with the product), that you’re using it in a coastal situation where it can utilize the NOAA charts, and with your boat’s WiFi feed as well. I don’t think it will be useful for Loopers on the rivers, or as an independent chartplotter backup device, either, if the course data can’t be trusted in standalone mode.

    Regards,

    Alex Ertz

    Reply
    1. gilwellbear Post author

      Alex,

      Thanks for your kind words. I’m glad you find our blog useful.

      Yes, I have used SEAiq in iOS mode. In iOS mode, position data comes from the iPad’s GPS. Yes, my personal use of SEAiq on the water has – to date – been in coastal areas on the Chesapeake Bay (NOAA charts). Yes, in iOS mode, I have seen Sanctuary appearing to move at better than 1.0 kt while tied up in the slip. The first time I saw that was a “wow!” moment. I have also seen what I think is a related symptom when the boat is under way on the water. On the water, when running in iPad iOS mode, SOG seems very consistent with readings from other GPSs, but the SEAiq projected line-of-travel moves around quite a bit with boat motion, to the point that it’s potentially distracting even in light-to-moderate seas. I think both symptoms are related to the sensitivity (position-data refresh rate) of the iPad GPS. SEAiq does not appear to filter (or “dampen,” or “average”) that GPS sensitivity. I have a friend who has already reported that concern to the app developer. When I run from my on-board NMEA instruments, where that high rate of GPS refresh is dampened before it’s sent, the app behavior is different (less distracting, better).

      The Corps of Engineers charts are what they are. The detail I see on SEAiq seems to match the CoE paper charts. They also match the IENCs I have loaded on Coastal Explorer on my PC/Mac, and the charts that are built-in to my Garmin chart plotter. For example, comparing SEAiq detail for LD52 at StM 939 on the Ohio River, I see identical shoal contours and shore detail but none show depth soundings; they show the “recommended sailing line.” The detail SEAiq displays comes and goes with zoom level, and that’s consistent with other made-for-purpose chart plotter devices and other PC/Mac SW packages. Navionics and other manufacturers add data detail to the “official” USACE IENCs. They argue that their “value add” activity justifies their fee charges. But in the process, by definition, they’re “modifying” the content of the “official” charts. Some feel that’s good; an improvement, perhaps. Some feel that’s not so good; errors could be introduced, perhaps. Both views are OK with me. Opinions are like hearts; we all have ’em. My personal preference is to use the official government paper charts and the official IENCs.

      Relative to performance, yes, I think the app does have some performance stuff that requires investigation and improvement. It’s a little slower panning the Inland River CoE charts than with the NOAA charts. I’m actually panning and zooming the river system route as I write this response. I pan a bit, let it sit, and pan some more. Looking at the Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee Rivers, and the area of Kentucky Lake, panning and zooming on my iPad is fast enough that it’s not distracting. The place I see it take more “working” time is when I pan across a chart boundary and the app has to quilt to another chart or charts. I would characterize that amount of “working” time as “noticeable,” but not “distracting.”

      In the app product reviews in iTunes, I did see some with references to panning and zooming performance issues. I believe at least some of those comments were from iPhone, and perhaps iPad 2, device users. All I can say is, my iPad 3 seems generally OK. I’m not sure if the issues are related to processor speed or storage utilization, or both. I have a 32gb iPad with WWAN, so a “real” built-in GPS. I also still have 20 gb of it’s total storage free, so it’s not very heavily constrained. That said, I did have start-up, panning and zooming performance problems with the app when I loaded up 200 odd routes, some of which have 200+ waypoints. I reported that to the app developer, and I sent him my route library to use in testing and investigation. While I wait for his analysis and feedback, I have deleted all but the more local routes.

      So at least right now, I am very enthusiastic about the app. I really, really like the app’s use of free NOAA and CoE charts. I hate these business models that tie you to recurring charges for charts. I think that’s just a scam, and counter to interoperability and OPEN Software standards, but they do it because it locks you into their “brand.” For example, I’m tied into Garmin BlueChart Mobile for their proprietary charts. That locks me into their SW and their particular presentation. And, it locks me into a product that can’t follow a route; at least, not yet. I have more experience with Garmin BlueChart Mobile (from Florida to Baltimore) than with SEAiq, but from just that small amount of exposure, I find SEAiq superior, with the single exception of weather Radar. I have eschewed Navionics and iNavX because I do not care for their chartpak business model.

      I have had several tech support consultations with the SEAiq app developer, and find him very responsive and interested in suggestion for improvement. You don’t get that same sense of responsiveness from the large companies. I think SEAiq is in a relatively early phase of deployment, but I have high hopes for its future.

      And again, I have not personal or financial interest. What I write is just my opinion and my impression.

      Hope this is useful.

      Jim

      Reply
  2. Alex Ertz

    Jim:

    Thanks for the very thorough and prompt reply. I’m glad your giving feedback to the developer. I think with some improvements in the “dampening” or averaging of the GPS, that the product will be good for me for areas covered by NOAA charts. I still can’t see using it for identifying an anchorage on a river (much less guiding me in) with no contours or soundings. I know that’s due to the use of the free CoE charts, but the data’s out there (for instance, the old TVA maps of the TN River, which were quite detailed. I hate to see all that source data chunked aside!)

    Happy cruising!

    -Alex

    P.S. Are you an electrical engineer with specific battery experience? You write particularly keenly on this subject.

    Reply

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