Garmin acquires ActiveCaptain, now what?


This morning Garmin purchased ActiveCaptain and I have no idea if that will turn out to be good news or otherwise. Will this large and growing database of crowdsourced cruising information change now that it belongs to a major electronics brand? I have no bold opinions but I do have lots of questions I hope to discuss…

For instance, will access to all the ActiveCaptain cruising data remain forever free as promised by the founders but now former owners Karen and Jeffrey Siegel? The Garmin press release doesn’t touch on this subject, but this sort of release tends to be dry.

Will AC’s partner companies like Furuno, C-Map, Rose Point Navigatiion, MaxSea, and many others also retain free access to the database so that those of us who create, update, and use the info can access it on all sort of screens? Clearly, one of the reasons that ActiveCaptain gained so much traction since its 2007 inception was it widespread availabilty wherever you wanted it, and detente among competitors is something of a hopeful modern trend — like Google Maps on iPhones or the fact that (Garmin’s) Fusion audio remains compatible with all major marine electronics brands.

But then again, (sibling of C-Map) Navico and Garmin are still fighting hard about sonar patents and Garmin foiled Navionics attempt to make SonarCharts available to its MFD users. In that discussion I wondered if crowdsourced sonar data should be somehow apart from commerce, and now I’m wondering if ActiveCaptain contributors will feel miffed that their work could become exclusive? Or is the resource actually safer in the hands of a large corporation than in a tiny two-person company?

Bigger picture: Is it fantasy to hope that crowdsourced data could be solicited and organized by a non-profit organization with forever guaranteed access to all users, commercial included?

Then again, does Jeff Siegel’s press release quote — “Garmin has extensive engineering and cartography capabilities that will allow ActiveCaptain to be deeply integrated into their product offerings” — bode great things to come? Jeff, I will add, was just termed “the speaker who caused the most stir” at what sounds like an interesting NOAA meeting on the future of charts.

I will ask Garmin if they can be any more specific about future access to AC data, but that may be well be undecided. In the meantime, does this sound like good or bad news to you?

Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now pleased to have Ben Stein as a very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Please don't regard him as an "expert"; he's getting quite old and thinks that "fadiddling fumble-putz" is a more accurate description.

29 Responses

  1. Capt Ahab says:

    I wonder if the scores of people who have been blocked from using active captain will receive a get out of jail free card from Garmin? And will Mr Spite be given a short leash?

  2. Nikko says:

    I guess my Active Captain hat that I earned is now a collectors item…

  3. I’m not sure I would say bad or good definitively. I would suspect the SonarCharts and other community features in Navionics, which I use a ton, are something that Garmin feels they need in their products too – case in point is your other story about Garmin trying to use SonarCharts.
    Community for any product is a huge growth area for every vendor, and especially given some of the challenges with NOAA and chart updates, I can see how Garmin would definitely want AC just to have not only an edge in the community arena, but arguably the lead.
    I do think this will mean that free and open access to AC data will either be eliminated or tiered to the point where you’d have to buy a Garmin subscription to get access to the deeper data. Navionics does it through yearly renewals, and I think they have other ways of monetizing it.
    So I guess it’s not good in the sense that AC will just continue growing and be open – I don’t think that will happen.
    But it’s not bad in that it will be completely killed off, or was bought by someone crazy I guess ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Rick R says:

    Congratulations Jeff. I am very happy for you. Hope to see RedHead on the water.
    So far we are only speculating what Garmin might or might not do. I do not own a Garmin chart plotter, and I have no intention of buying one. If Garmin is foolish enough to limit access to only Garmin equipment, they will kill AC. I am anxiously awaiting clarification on access to AC data.

  5. Chris Snow says:

    Garmin the king of proprietary cartography… greaattt
    Would have made much more sense to have worked with navionics…

  6. TimT says:

    On the bathymetry/sonarchart side there have been some interesting developments at the larger scale.
    In TeamSurv we’ve been banging away about crowd sourced bathymetry to national hydrographic offices and their parent body the IHO pretty well since we started work in the area back in 2010.
    The IHO are now adopting crowd sourcing, and over the past year or so we have been an expert advisor to their crowd sourced bathymetry working group. This is producing a document on gathering crowd sourced data, which is out for comment (read it and comment here:
    Also, NOAA are working on updating the data repository they operate for the IHO to incorporate crowd sourced data, which will all be available as open data under a Creative Commons licence. Their model is that a number of “trusted nodes” liaise with vessels to gather data, collate it and upload it to the IHO portal, and TeamSurv will be one of these once it is up and running. This will ensure that the data is open, unlike the closed silos of bathy data run by Navionics SonarCharts, Navico Insight Genesis/BioBase, and Garmin Quickdraw (none of whom responded to invites from the IHO to participate in their work, unlike ourselves and Olex from the commercial fishing sector).
    In the US, Rosepoint have also been working with NOAA to give NOAA experience of crowd sourced data, and I guess will become another trusted node.
    To put things into perspective, the IHO say only 5 – 10% of the seas and oceans are properly surveyed. Yet there are about 10 million seagoing vessels of all types and sizes, and if just 1% participated that would give about 5 000 000 000 soundings per day. Most of these would be in the 0 – 100m depth range, with ships and larger fishing boats extending this to about 2000m.
    I suggest that those who want data like this to be open contribute to an organisation that will be working with the IHO repository (as well as or instead of their commercial provider).
    Perhaps the hydrographic offices could get the commercial companies to make their data open by offering a lower licence fee for use of their chart data (though obviously this only applies in countries where the chart data isn’t freely accessible)?

  7. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Rick R, I have not heard back from Garmin yet, but my guess is that the data will remain free and widely accessible. It just seems like good business sense on many levels. The more users, the richer the resource, the more new users are attracted.
    I’ve been in Florida this week with lots of very active captains — avid fishermen and guides — who in many cases have never even heard of ActiveCaptain. There’s lots of room to grow.
    I tend to be an optimist but I’m also hoping that the integration of ActiveCaptain and Dockwa — implemented last fall but removed early this year for reasons unknown — might be renegotiated. It was a daring concept to pair user reviews with a marina reservation system, but I thought it made a lot of sense.

  8. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Thanks for the update, Tim, and congratulations on TeamSurv success. I was particularly interested to see that you’re about to launch a Kickstarter campaign for an affordable gateway to make bathy data collection easier.
    This bit of your news is discouraging but not too surprising:
    “This will ensure that the data is open, unlike the closed silos of bathy data run by Navionics SonarCharts, Navico Insight Genesis/BioBase, and Garmin Quickdraw (none of whom responded to invites from the IHO to participate in their work, unlike ourselves and Olex from the commercial fishing sector).”

  9. TimT says:

    Hi Ben, yes there has been quite a bit of headway in getting CSB accepted, and on the scientific rather than navigation front we are feeding in to EMODNet, a European project mapping the seas round Europe, and GEBCO which works on a global scale.
    Well spotted on the Kickstarter campaign. There’s a pre-launch page up at with specs etc, and in an hour or so we’ll have the video up there.
    For those who may be asking why not N2K, that’s next as a dual NMEA0183/N2K device that will also convert between the two. Hardware’s working on that one, we’re just battling the inconsistencies in the N2K “standard”.

  10. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Thanks, Chris. I’m really curious how you got your tracks onto Navionics web map. Is this a new feature I missed:
    By the way, I’ve seen places where Navionics Community Edits were more valuable than the ActiveCaptain data for the same area. It tends to be different types of information, like local aids to navigation that have not been put on charts.

  11. As a serious user of and minor contributor to ActiveCaptain, I am concerned that Garmin may attempt to monetize it. Since I’m not a Garmin user, this would likely leave me out in the cold.
    I currently use Navionics – no complaints, though the “Sonarcharts” of the Bahamas had some really bizarre stuff in them (and several unmarked shoals!) that I attribute to everyone there using the same waypoints and routes. I’ve uploaded my Bahamas logs, it will be interesting to see if my wanderings outside the lines makes any difference ๐Ÿ™‚
    I have been considering buying the C-map charts of the US East Coast for our Ray system – both as an alternative and for their AC integration.

  12. Thank you for the intense discussion, congratulations, and speculation throughout the boating community about Garmin’s acquisition of ActiveCaptain. Please understand that this is a busy time and we can’t respond to every question through social media. What I can say is that nothing will change for the foreseeable future except that we are now part of the Garmin team. That means you can expect the same incredible services from ActiveCaptain as you’ve received in the past, but now with the support of one of the worldโ€™s leading marine electronics providers.
    In addition, there will be no fees for ActiveCaptain. We will continue to communicate with you through various channels. And yes, there will still be hats awarded for your contributions to the community.
    Give this a chance to unfold. We’ll discuss more in the next couple of newsletters. Remember that no one has more passion for this product and community than us. This isn’t an end. It’s an incredible beginning of many more capabilities.
    Jeffrey Siegel
    Garmin Ltd.

  13. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    I would imagine the attraction to aquire AC was focused on Jeff’s add on vision to AC that involved hardware. Garmins manufacturing resources may make a great home for that.

  14. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Hi Hartley, I fear that the most uncertain thing about ActiveCaptain’s future is the relationship with C-Map, simply because things are so frosty between Garmin and Navico. Frankly, though, C-Map’s initial implementation was a bit minimal, like no download updates, though I believe they are working on a better version.
    Right now I think that Furuno TZT2 offers the best MFD AC integration, some detail here:

  15. Terry Williams says:

    I am afraid that as time moves on we will see Garmin slowly add limited or paying access to elements of the data to ActiveCaptain. It is the way of global brands to enhance their cash upload.

  16. John Neyland Jr. says:

    Exciting times Ben! Enjoyed the article. Congratulations to Active Captain on being acquired by such a fabulous company like Garmin International. Hope “Gizmo” is ready for your summer season. John Neyland Jr.

  17. Thanks for checking in, Jeff! I am glad to hear that the intent is to keep AC free, and we’re looking forward to seeing your info.
    S/V Atsa

  18. Capt Smithie says:

    It will be nice to be able to join AC at last, was blocked for disagreements with Jeff years ago. Wonder how many more like me there are?

  19. Richard C says:

    I kind of knew this would happen. Jeff did create an amazing service that followed the American Dream of becoming a high value product. Good for you Jeff! Hope Garmin paid you big time. Unfortunately, others who were taken over by Garmin, like Delorme, lost their hometown personality after the acquisition. Just the other day I reactivated my inReach and Garmin made a mess out of it with triple billing for the re-start. Trying to resolve this with Garmin is a nightmare because a billing problem like mine does not fit into Garminโ€™s customer support box. It will have to wait until I can get on the phone with a real person Monday. My guess is that ActiveCaptain will follow in the same way as far as customer service goes. On the other hand, Garmin has the power to gather even more data with itโ€™s massive product arm and make ActiveCaptain a more powerful feature for all of us and NOAA too.

  20. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Sorry you’re having trouble, Richard, but I recently registered an inReach without problem and, more important, my self proclaimed “Luddite” friend Charlie Doane did it from France just before setting sail for home (though annoying Apple would not let him download the free Earthmate app).
    I was just inReach texting with Charlie though he’s off the Madeira islands and I’m high over Rhode Island on JetBlue with free WiFi.
    More germane to the thread, the DeLorme crew in Maine is very much alive, though more focused on managing the complex backend of all the inReach services and developing new products. In fact, Garmin is expanding the old DeLorme offices in Yarmouth.

  21. Joe Pica says:

    The recent sale of A/C to Garmin leaves a sour feeling in the pit of my stomach. Jeff and Karen worked hard to build this crowd sourcing model that all could use and deserve praise and reward for that effort. Of course this was not a not-for-profit enterprise and their revenue source was the advertising fee for “first choice” status etc.. As a long time contributor to AC with almost 7000 points, this sale to Garmin with their closed door proprietary policy greatly dampens my enthusiasm as a contributor.
    The beauty of AC was it was free to users albeit still I presume generating an income for Jeff and Karen. Now it is sold to Garmin for I’m sure a tidy albeit fair sum. While it was for all our benefit and self serving, AC’s valuation is a direct result of all “our” unpaid contributions. I am disappointed about the uncertain future. Jeff has always nobly implying that AC would always be free for users which are the engine that feeds its vitality. I feel, Camelot seems a lot less shiny now.
    Recently on Panbo, there was/is a discussion about the ability of some modified Navionics cartography to be displayed by Garmin hardware via sd cards which was happily received by the beta testers. Jeff has always refused to permit Navionics to have AC data as a result of some rift years ago. Garmin immediately announced they are updating their software to prevent that possibility, thus reinforcing their closed door proprietary policy.
    Navionics has the best cartography I have ever used particularity in the lakes and rivers where I would run 4 different cartography simultaneously for comparison. Combined with their crowd sourced sonar charts it is much more detailed and complete than Garmin any all the others I tried. It is also less expensive (government excepted).
    The Garmin’s user interface is simpler, however their business model of pure proprietary charts and hardware prevents you from from using any other cartography. Even the free government cartography which is the most updated data source. Nor can any non-Garmin device to display Garmin cartography. Garmin’s cartography can not updated daily as can others that are capable of using the free government charts. Garmin’s blue mobile only works on iOS not Android devices.
    It’s a shame. Briefly, there was hope that we users (contributors) would have more of a choice, however it seems that door may shut. I doubt given Garmin’s tradition of a rigid closed business model that AC will continue to be offered to all other (most certainly not Navionics) in the future. Sadly, I can not help but feel I been duped by Tom Sawyer into painting the white picket fence. It remains to be seen if I will continue to paint that fence.
    I sincerely congratulate Jeff and Karen for their well deserved success, but I remain still apprehensive.

  22. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Thanks, Joe, but let’s acknowledge that business models change and that Garmin has opened its system to third party developers in some areas like watches and handhelds. Some of their apps also come in Android versions.
    For instance, I use Garmin Connect on my Samsung phone with the Quatix 3 watch, and my favorite watch face “NoFrills” was created by “HermoT” (who I thank), not Garmin. Check out the Connect IQ store here:
    I don’t know of instances where this sort of thing is happening on Garmin’s marine side, but judging from what I see at their developer’s site, any marine display manufacturer could build VIRB camera control and streaming into their product with no licensing fee:
    I don’t know if any of this is relevant to ActiveCaptain, but it’s wrong to think of Garmin having monolithic policies.

  23. Bob Austin says:

    Thanks to Jeff Seigel for his reply, since many of us have concerns, as outlined by the excellent post by Joe Pica. We will have to see how all of this developes. Garmin has to make money from the acquisition of the product. I cannot believe that it is only from a perceived increased sale of chart plotters, which are not that easily updated at this time. One of the beauties of Active Captain is the rapid updating of information: especially hazards, anchorages and depths.
    Many of us use an I pad to supplement our chart plotter of choice as essential in modern navigation: This gives us the frequent update of Active Captain on Garmin Blue Chart Mobile, combined with the excellent charts of Navionics to use as we run. We make our plans for the next day each evening, paying special attention to hazards, depths, including reviews of anchorages and marinas. We find that the Active Captain information is better than “Guides” and “Cruising books”. Not everyone can afford the latest large screen chart plotter, with updates every few months, nor will this serve as well as the role Active Captain now plays.
    I understand that Active Captain gets thousands of updates daily, and that there is a cadre of unrecognized volunteers who vet this information. Now that Garmin owns the product, will these volunteers remain or will they become paid?
    I also share the concern about security of the database of the E-cards and potential hacking or exploitation. Previously the data base was carefully guarded by individuals. Now a large company has access, and more chances for intrusion.
    We wish Jeff and Karen the very best in this latest stage of the evolution of Active Captain. We thank them for the effort it took to bring this information to all of us. I knew that this would happen at some point, and that there is an expense of maintenance of large servers to process the data.
    I have been following several vessels voyaging across oceans during the InReach transfer to Garmin, and so far no glitches.

  24. Capt Smithie says:

    anyone wants to see what will happen, take a look at how the Delorme Inreach programs have been changed by Garmin. Garmin is in business to make a profit, not cater to people who, as Joe Pica said, fell to painting the fence after listening to our nautical ‘Tom Sawyer’.
    What will be very interesting will be the response Garmin has when they find out just how many marinas and others were fed up with AC’s method of selling advertising – as in, you could remove negative comments about your facility if you bought an ad. and if you didn’t purchase, well gee, we have this policy….

  25. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Capt Smithie, what are the changes I should be seeing in Garmin inReach programs? Also, what is your evidence that ActiveCaptain allowed advertisers to remove negative comments?

  26. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Somewhat entertaining:
    And let’s note that “Capt Smithie” apparently could not back up his opinions.

  27. Mike Meador says:

    Fast forward to 2018. From instructions for downloading the ActiveCaptain app: “…this app is not recommended for non-Garmin chartplotter owners…” and “…your device is not compatible…” — a two-year-old HTC Android phone with current software. Enough said.
    The tool’s success was almost entirely due to the sharing community of mariners who were rewarded by having their contributions locked up by Jeffrey Siegel, the scumbag rip-off developer who sold it to Garmin.

  28. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    No, Mike, not enough said. The ActiveCaptain app is not the same as ActiveCaptain cruising info, now called the AC Community:

    The app is definitely meant for Garmin owners (and I wish they’d named it something else) but there’s solid evidence that ActiveCaptain Community info will continue to be free to other developers and to us boaters:

  29. My comment is a little late, but here goes. I don’t see any Garmin activity now (May 2018) that allows me to judge this move. Instinct tells me that this is a play to get control and allow Garmin call the shots. I’ll stick with that view for now.

    As Ben noted, I still have my hat and my 725 or so reviews to look back on, but not much else.

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