Monday, October 3, 2016

Great App Idea from UKHO

Successful navigation depends on accurate resources, meaning in large part the hydrographic products such as nautical charts, coast pilots, light lists, tide and current tables that we find in every nav station, pilot house, and bridge around the world. There is an immense amount of data compiled in these charts and documents, much of which is subject to change, so it is obvious that any way mariners can help the agencies keep these up to date is a step forward that benefits all users.

All hydrographic offices around the world offer some means of reporting discrepancies found in their products. There are online forms that can be used, or a call to the local ATONs office at the USCG is always appreciated. But these days, the first thing that comes to mind when we have a common problem to solve is: "There ought to be an app for that!"

Well... as it turns out there is an app for that, and we can thank the United Kingdom's Hydrographic Office (UKHO) for it. In the Apple App store it is called H-Note. It is a free iOS app that very conveniently lets users prepare a report of any discrepancy in charts or publications direct to the UKHO.


I have test tested this, and they got back to me the next day, with an acknowledgment.  Furthermore, I have since spoken with them and indeed we can use this app to report discrepancies or additions for any chart or publication produced by an official national hydrographic office.  They do this because they distribute charts from many nations for all waters of the world, so they have close ties with all related agencies worldwide.  Naturally, we would not expect them to address discrepancies in third party charts or unofficial navigation pubs, which are beyond their control.

Typical input screens are shown below.

The key here is convenience and a consistent format. And indeed they are asking for all the key information they need to address the report. The Publication Affected input even has a drop down that lists all of the UKHO pubs, but you can overwrite these with the pub in question, if it is not on the list.

The idea is beautifully simple. Using the app, mariners can report chart or nav pub corrections with a quick message from their phone. Underway you can actually tag the location with your device's GPS to precisely mark the location of your observation, though you may not be able to transmit it till you have an email connection. You can also take a picture of the real object you are commenting on as well as a picture of the charted object in your ECS and include those with the report.

The app works by preparing a formatted email with your added images and then sending it to UKHO. Thus you do not actually need an Internet connection to file a report, but just an email connection. With something equivalent to Iridium Go, you would "Submit" the report from the app and then it would go out as an email to your high seas email program in your computer, and wait there till your next connection satellite connection. Then it would send automatically with your next incoming or outgoing mail batch. This assumes that while underway you have set your phone to use the mobile mail service as your outgoing mail server, which is common practice with this type of equipment.

On inland or coastal waters, the message would just sit in your outbox till your next phone network connection underway. In short, the process of sending a report is so easy that one is much more likely to actually send it. Following up on a logbook entry after a long or tiring voyage is less likely. On a day sail, you can report that your favorite buoy is off station as you sail by it... pronounced "boy" in this case.

US Counterpart

Actually we have had in the US a very similar system for efficient reporting of hydrographic discrepancies for many years. It is called NOAA's Nautical Discrepancy Report System.

The form is then submitted over the Internet and serves the same purpose as the UKHO app. But since learning about the UKHO app, I can see the value in having this as an app. For one thing, with the app you do not have to be online at the time you file the report, and the app can read your GPS position automatically. Also drop down menus with as much filled in as possible ahead of time is always a help. It is hard to beat just pulling your phone out of your pocket and sending a report as you spot a need.

Maybe NOAA will consider something like this, or maybe they already are. In the meantime, there is a way to get this onto your phone. You can email (or txt) the link to the NOAA Discrepancy Form ( to yourself, and then check mail or messages on your phone. Clicking the link in your phone will open that page in a browser in your phone, and at that point you can save that link to your phone's home screen. On an iPhone, you do this with the Send-to link at the bottom; then choose Add to Home Screen. Enter an email address (so you can get an answer back), and in two clicks you are ready to fill out the report and send it.

I have tested this NOAA form by sending in an obscure minor correction and did indeed hear back the next morning with an acknowledgment and encouragement to send whatever we discover.


And now, in a sense, to my main point, which I will only mention for now, as we are preparing more notes on this topic.

We are working on new training materials for electronic chart navigation, which has led us to even more study of electronic navigation charts (ENC). For years we have appreciated the challenge to navigators of moving from traditional paper charts to electronic charts—especially to the use of ENC vector charts based on IHO standards.

These are the charts of the future for all navigators, and indeed they are the daily charts in use by many professional mariners around the world. The ENC have tremendous facility for providing much more information than possible on a paper chart, but they do not always reach the full potential of information they could. In some cases a charted object actually includes less information than we get from the corresponding traditional printed chart symbol. With the on going active help of mariners using the products, these issues can be resolved.

In short, I look at this Hydrographic Notes app idea pioneered by the UKHO as a step toward essentially cloud sourcing the hydrographic information needed to keep the ENC presentations optimized and up to date, and we heartily look forward to its popularity.

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