Monday, October 24, 2016

Network Connections to Navigation Software

In anticipation of our new Starpath eNav Trainer (an integrated, multi-vessel GPS, AIS, VHF, and heading sensor simulator), we have here a few notes on how to make a network connection to your navigation software.

The process is very similar for all software, with differences only on how you access the needed input screens. Then each program has separate ways to verify the connections. The use of network connections in navigation software is increasing, because more instruments offer this option to interface onboard sensors as well as make external Internet connections for various aspects of actual navigation.

In this case, we are using this connection to provide a powerful training tool that will help mariners learn and master the special features of their navigation software of choice, and then go on to provide practice with realtime interactions with other simulated vessels viewed as AIS targets. With it you can also learn more about AIS protocol as well as study collision avoidance with AIS targets. The AIS targets studied can be either those provided by eNav or live AIS signals received by another connection.

To make this connection, you will need to know the IP (Internet Protocol) address of the eNav server, along with the port number used on that IP. An IP address is the same as a URL for a webpage. In some programs you can input the URL text or the IP numbers; some accept only the numerical IP address. 

The IP and port numbers used by eNav are dynamic numbers that will change for various users, but once you have your session set up in your navigation program they will remain unchanged. You can close the program or switch to live GPS (via a serial or USB connection), and then later return to simulation practice.  Navigation programs store connections once made, and they remain available until you choose to remove them. Within each program there is the option to enable or disable specific connections as needed. To switch to live GPS, the eNav connection should be disabled.

When taking part in the eNav Trainer service, the IP address and port will be provided to you on a web page that looks like this:

The eNav user's Vessel Assignment page that provides the network connection data. We use TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) for the connection, which is sometimes written TCP/IP. 

To illustrate the network setup process, we give several examples below, first as a text outline, followed by a short video showing the actual steps in action.

To have your navigation software recognize the connections outlined below, the eNav link must be active on the eNav server. If you have the emailed link showing the IP and Port (shown above), then that means the connection is active. 

If the connection is not active, or the input numbers were not correct, the connection will not be completed. Some programs alert you to this error, others do nothing. No possible damage can be done. When the connection is active and entered correctly, it will log on immediately and start receiving the signals. 

You can set up and confirm the initial connection to eNav without having your vessel positioned where you eventually want it (anywhere in the world) and without the appropriate chart(s) installed. After this initial connection, If you check your program’s GPS position report to see “where you are,” you will find that you are located in Puget Sound, Seattle, WA (47º 43.0’ N, 122º 25.0’ W), just north of Shilshole Bay Marina.

That is the default starting location for all vessel simulations, which is on US RNC chart: 18446 or ENC US5WA14M  (Puget Sound, Apple Cove Point to Keyport).

This note covers just this one step of setting up the network connection. The process of setting up vessel location and other information is given here: Control Panel and vessel set up. Using the procedures described there, you can move your vessel to any location and make other specifications for the simulation and navigation training. 

To end a simulation session using any navigation program, first use the eNav vessel control panel to anchor your vessel, then you can just close the program, and when you return you can carry on without further set up. f you want to use another source of GPS for actual navigation, then go back to the network setup window and disable the eNav TCP connection and activate your new GPS source. Usually you do not have to remove it, just disable it. Then you can turn it back on when ready to practice more.

1. From the main menu (top left), select Configure Vessel and Electronics…

2. Select Data Ports, then Port Settings

3. Press Add Network Port and select

      Type = NMEA 01830 Over TCP
      Label = your choice of vessel name
      Address = (use actual one provided to you)
      Port = 38424 (use actual one provided to you)
      Options = Listener checked, Talker and Repeater un-checked
      Press OK, and close the window.

You should see a yellow band on the top of screen with notification of a simulated GPS signal. This notice can be closed. 

To confirm the signals, close the Instrument Ports window, and open Troubleshooter. In the top line Port, select your vessel name. You will then see the sensors detected: GPS, Compass, AIS. You can close or view actual data if you choose. Then return to main program and zoom out on the chart to see where your vessel is located. See Control Panel and vessel set up for next steps, which include positioning it as you choose.

To disable the connection and save the configuration, just uncheck the Listener box.


1. Start the program and be sure to select Navigation mode when booting.

2. The Connection Wizard should show up open, but if not select it from the main menu (top left). If not listed there, then reboot the program and be sure to start in Navigation mode.

3. In Connection Wizard, check Manual Port Configuration, then Next

4. Check Add/Configure TCP Connection ( Advanced), then Next

      Distant IP Address = (use actual one provided to you)
      Distant IP Port = 38424 (use actual one provided to you)

You should see the data stream in at this point, Press Next to confirm that you are receiving GPS, AIS, and Heading sensor data, and then Close.

Zoom out on the chart to see where your vessel is located. See Control Panel and vessel set up for next steps, which include positioning it as you choose.


1. From main Expedition menu, select Instruments / Number of Network connections, and increase the number active by 1, and press OK

2. Back to main menu Instruments / Serial and network ports.

3. Select your new network number on the left

      Instruments = NMEA 0183
      Connection = TCP Client
      Address =  (use actual one provided to you)
      Port = 38424  (use actual one provided to you)
      Boat = your choice
      Redirect and Commands on the right not needed
      Check Use position fix and Validate checksums
      Default NMEA sentences should be ok. (we use GGA, RMC, GSA, HDT, GSV, AIVDM, and AIVDO)
      Click Apply. 

To confirm the data, press Raw data. You should see the NMEA sentences streaming in. Then OK and OK.

Zoom out on the chart to see where your vessel is located. See Control Panel and vessel set up for next steps, which include positioning it as you choose.


1. Click the wrench icon, then Connections, then Add Connection

2. Click Network then

      Protocol = TCP
      Address =  (use actual one provided to you)
      DataPort = 38424  (use actual one provided to you)
      Checks in Control checksum and Receive data on this port. No check in the Output on this port.
      then Apply

You should see the top right GPS signal icon go green. To confirm the data, in the same connections window, choose show NMEA Debug Window. It will likely open behind what you are looking at, so move that window to see the data, then you can close both of them.

Zoom out on the chart to see where your vessel is located. See Control Panel and vessel set up for next steps, which include positioning it as you choose.

There is an Enable check box in the list of ports that can be used to disconnect and save the configuration for later use.


Polar View

1. From the menu Ship, select Port Manager

2. Click Add, then

      Enter a vessel name if desired (not crucial)
      Select Network Client
      IP address:port   :   38424  (use actual values provided to you)
      Autodetect SeaSmart unchecked.
      Direction = Input
      Protocol = TCP
      Retry delay (sec) = 2 (not crucial)
      Connect timeout = 4 or 5 (not crucial)
      Activation = Manual
      Press Add

3. The Port Manager window will then show up with your network connection. Highlight it and then press Start. And close that window.

You may not see any change at this point, but you can check the input from the main menu / Ship / NMEA Console, and then you will see the signals stream in.

To see your vessel on the chart, from main menu, select Live Ship Mode, and then your vessel will appear on the chart. To disable the simulation, from the Port Manager, click stop.  See Control Panel and vessel set up for next steps, which include positioning it as you choose.


Unknown said...

The enav trainer looks like a really good idea. But, I am not seeing it on the Starpath website. Is it no longer available? Or, am I just not seeing it somehow?

David Burch said...

Thanks for your note. Yes, even with a lot of experience with such systems from other companies, I have not seen a better one. This product has been taken over by a new company and much expanded. We look forward to learning when and how it will reach the marketplace, and we will announce this on the StarpathNav Facebook page when we learn more.