Touch-based tablets are all the rage and more and more boaters are looking for ways to use a tablet for marine navigation and AIS target display. Up until recently, the Apple iPad has been the tablet of choice for most people but with the release of Microsoft Windows 8 and an increasing number of tablet PCs available, a Windows-based tablet is also a viable option. Since tablets are portable devices, wireless solutions are definitely the way to go and fortunately again there is more than one way to solve the wireless connectivity challenge. This article looks at a few possible ways to integrate a wireless tablet-based marine charting solution with your other marine equipment. Each of the proposed solutions assumes you will want as a minimum both GPS and AIS data streamed to your tablet, allowing you to see your own position on a digital chart as well the other vessels using AIS.
First let’s look at two possible tablet platforms: the Apple iPad and a Windows 8-based x86 tablet.
iPad with iNavX
The Apple iPad is currently the most popular tablet in the market today. Part of its popularity is due to the wealth of applications that are available for the platform. There are numerous marine-related applications for the iPad but in our experience, the iNavX product stands out as the most functional marine navigation product for the serious boater. One of the primary features of this product is its ability to source instrument data by connecting to remote devices using WiFi. The WiFi data source could be located on the boat (as we’ll see below) or could be a data source from a remote AIS network. For this article, we’ll assume you will want to connect to other onboard marine equipment such as an AIS transponder using an onboard WiFi gateway solution. Note that while the iPad supports Bluetooth, there are few if any Bluetooth AIS devices that are certified to run with the iPad.
Windows 8 Tablet with Rose Point Navigation Systems Coastal Explorer
While the x86-based Windows 8 sports a new touch-oriented user interface, it is still Windows under the covers which means that applications that work on Windows 7 will generally work just fine on Windows 8. This is good news for people who have already invested in Windows-based navigation solutions and want to extend these solutions into the world of touched-based tablets. Again, there are dozens of marine-related applications for Windows but Rose Point Navigation’s Coastal Explorer is our pick for use on Windows 8 touch-based tablets. While Coastal Explorer has not yet been optimized for a touch interface, it actually works very well given its large icons and support for things like pinch-to-zoom. Coastal Explorer also supports using network-based sources as data feeds. In addition, many Windows-based tablets include Bluetooth, which allows for even more possibilities for connecting to some types of marine equipment. [NOTE: Coastal Explorer does not work on ARM-based Windows 8 devices such as the Microsoft Surface with Windows RT).
Wireless AIS Data Sources
Use a PC to Broadcast NMEA Data
If you already have Coastal Explorer running on your PC, you can use the Data Server functionality to rebroadcast all the NMEA data that Coastal Explorer knows about out a network port which you can then connect to from a wireless tablet. You can either connect the PC and tablet to a wireless router or you can setup an ad-hoc network between the PC and the tablet. An alternative is to use GPSGate to take inbound serial data from an AIS transponder or other device and redirect it out a network port. Both these methods will allow you to connect iPads with iNavX and Windows tablets with Coastal Explorer. More information on these approaches can be found in our AIS on the iPad article.
- Multiple devices can connect to the wireless network port.
- It is possible to rebroadcast all NMEA data not just AIS and GPS data.
- There is no extra cost if you already have Coastal Explorer or GPSGate.
- Can work using an existing wireless router or point to point using an ad-hoc network.
- Works with both iPads and Windows-based tablets.
- The computer has to be on to broadcast the NMEA data.
- You need to buy software if you don’t already own it.
Use the Comar NMEA-2-WiFi Converter to Broadcast NMEA Data
If you have existing NMEA instruments, including an AIS receiver or transponder, then the Comar NMEA-2-WIFI NMEA to WIFI Converter may be the best option for sending your NMEA data over WiFi to your tablet. This product allows you to connect two sets of inbound NMEA data wires – one pair at 4800 baud and one pair at 38400 baud to the device. It will then multiplex the two data streams together and output the combined data out a wireless network port. For example, you could have the NMEA output from a chartplotter connected to the 4800 baud line and your AIS transponder or receiver could connect to the 38400 baud line. Your tablet would then connect to the network port and be able to use all the NMEA data. This method will work with both iPads with iNavX and Windows tablets with Coastal Explorer but has the limitation that only one device can connect to the wireless data port at a time.
- Great if you have existing NMEA and AIS devices and want to combine the existing data and broadcast to a tablet over WiFi.
- This solution does not require a computer.
- Supports broadcasting any NMEA sentences that are provided via the inbound wired interface.
- The setup is very easy.
- Works with either an iPad or a Windows-based tablet.
- Only works with one device at a time via WiFi.
- Only works using an ad-hoc network which means the tablet can only connect to this one network device.
Connect an AMEC CAMINO-101W Bluetooth model to Windows tablet
[NOTE: The AMEC CAMINO-101W is no longer available. The AMEC CAMINO-108W is now available with Wi-Fi networking.]
If you are looking to connect a Bluetooth-enabled Windows tablet to an AIS transponder then a very simple method for getting AIS and GPS data to the tablet wirelessly is to use the Bluetooth version of the AMEC CAMINO-101 Class B transponder. Simply search for Bluetooth devices from the tablet, connect to the CAMINO-101 and use the Bluetooth serial interface with your marine navigation software. Unfortunately this method does not work with an iPad since the CAMINO-101 has not yet been certified by Apple as a supported Bluetooth device.
- Good low cost wireless solution when you are considering purchasing a new Class B transponder and want to connect it to both a wireless PC and to other marine instruments via NMEA 0183.
- Easy setup without requiring any additional software or hardware beyond what’s noted above.
- Only works with Windows-based tablets and PCs, not the iPad.
- Only works with one device via Bluetooth.
- Only wirelessly broadcasts AIS and GPS data.
Vesper Marine XB-8000 WiFi to tablet
The latest solution to hit the market is the new Vesper Marine XB-8000 Class B transponder. This wonderful device has more connectivity options that any other device we know of on the market. It supports connectivity via WiFi, NMEA 0183, NMEA 2000 and USB. If you are looking at buying a new Class B AIS transponder and want the maximum number of options for connecting to other equipment then this is the AIS device for you. For wireless connectivity to a tablet, you can use the built-in WiFi capability to connect up to 5 wireless devices which can all use the AIS and GPS data that is broadcast by the device.
- Up to 5 devices can connect to the wireless network port on the XB-8000.
- Can work connected to an existing wireless router or be its own router with WPA2 security.
- Works with both iPads and Windows-based tablets and includes an iOS app to wirelessly manage the device.
- Low power consumption while still being a multi-function device.
- Can multiplex existing instrument data streams via inbound NMEA connections.
- Easy setup using a single device that is an AIS transponder with WiFi broadcast capabilities.
Slightly more expensive but the convenience and features are worth the money.
As you can see, there are lots of options for wirelessly integrating a tablet with your vessel’s marine navigation systems. By having an extra wireless device that can be carried with you anywhere on the boat, you expand your options for planning or viewing important marine data while underway.
If you are interested in learning more about any of the solutions mentioned in this article feel free to send us an email or call us at 1-206-299-2217 for more information.
Happy wireless boating!