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June 09, 2014

Explore the Benefits of User-Enhanced Electronic Charts

Charting the future.

When the subject of user-generated updates for marine electronic charts surfaced a few years, I was skeptical. Yet today this clearly represents the future of cartography.

While NOAA works to ­continually log changes to be made on ­nautical charts, years go by between ­published updates. On the other hand, ­user-enhanced cartography becomes available immediately. No longer do you have to wait to learn if winter storms have created new shoals, silted over a wreck, or pulled navigational buoys off-station. Plus, user-enhanced charts reveal bottom composition, previously undiscovered structure, and greater detail than what you find on any other chart.

Fishing Advantages

“With user-enhanced charts, you find new spots and see a picture of the bottom like never before,” says Shane Coloney, product manager for content and cartography for Navico’s Insight Genesis program. Such enhancements reveal transitions between bottom types, vegetation, and fish-attracting areas absent on other charts, he says.

Updating your electronic charts is simple, thanks to advancements in sonar-recording technology and software programs such as Humminbird Autochart and Navionics Freshest Data, as well as Insight Genesis.

Recording Sonar Logs

At the core of user-enhanced ­cartography lies the ability to record the readings of a fish finder on a data card. With this feature activated, your readings are cross-referenced to GPS coordinates in a sonar log. A number of marine electronics brands offer this capability, including Furuno, Humminbird, Lowrance, Simrad and ­Raymarine.

If you’re methodical and have time, you can pass over an area in a “­mow-the-lawn” pattern. Or you can create a sonar log over the course of multiple fishing trips, building a wealth of raw bottom-contour information.

Update Download

Integrating this data into an ­electronic chart is the second component, a process that varies with the brand of cartography. With Insight Genesis, for example, you upload your recorded data (using a card reader) online at insightstore.navico.com. 

This information augments the Insight base chart, and then becomes available for download to a data card. You pay $19.95 for each download (uploads are free) or $99 annually for unlimited downloads.

With Freshest Data, all online ­downloads at navionics.com are free for a year after the purchase of chart; after that, it’s $99 per year. Freshest Data automatically combines your sonar logs with others in a form of crowdsourcing.

With Humminbird’s Autochart, you purchase software (starting at $199) to generate enhanced charts on your computer, and no need to go online. Furuno uses MaxSea software ($1,250) with its PBG module ($500) to add your sonar data to an electronic chart. “It all happens between the Furuno sounder and MaxSea software, but you can also export it to an external drive,” says Jeff Kauzlaric, advertising and communications manager for Furuno.

Ensuring Accuracy

The accuracy of user-provided data is excellent, according to Coloney. “All bottom-contour data is indexed to the machine’s GPS coordinates, which ­offers a high level of ­accuracy,” he says. “In addition, software ­algorithms ­compare uploaded data to what is expected on the base chart, ­rejecting anomalies.” 

The crowdsourcing aspect also helps create statistical reliability, especially with multiple scans of a particular spot. 

Crowdsourcing is not without detractors, especially anglers wishing to keep secret spots secret. While Freshest Data automatically shares uploads, Navico’s crowdsourcing program, called Social Mapping, offers levels of sharing.

Though not yet fully operational, the data-gathering phase has begun, but with privacy options. “With each ­upload, we ask if the user wants to share or not,” says Coloney.

“We never capture trails or ­waypoints, just sonar logs with ­bathymetric data, bottom composition and seafloor vegetation, but do so only with permission,” he explains.

Yet you will be able to download charts with information from other users, just as you can now with the Navionics Freshest Data program.

About 70 percent of the Insight Genesis users opt to share data. “They know that social mapping is coming, and that most secret spots are not really secret,” says Coloney.

Will serious anglers buy into that? Time will tell.