Gizmo south leg 1: offshore, online & inReach


Cape May, NJ:  So far, so good except that I obviously haven’t yet integrated Panbo writing into my delivery/cruise routine. Sorry about that, but I’ll get back in the groove now that we’ve slowed down and also now that Gizmo and I have our sea legs back. It’s been a while for both of us!  Moreover, I’ve had a chance to test electronics in demanding conditions — like two night time entrances to unfamiliar harbors — and that’s really sharpened my thoughts about what works well and what doesn’t. Today, though, I’m going to discuss my tracking and staying-in-touch with home strategies…

First of all, there’s the DeLorme inReach, which is working out just as I had hoped. The iPad screenshot at top shows how I was using it on Friday as we rolled down the coast of New Jersey. While it was sending track messages every 10 minutes to my online ShareMap, I was also messaging with friends and family (feel free to try it). Note that inReach was also tracking me on a NOAA chart every second and providing GPS to other navigation apps on the iPad. And if Gizmo had broken down, I could have placed a “help me” call with location and member ID to TowBoatUS just by pressing the message button on the inreach hardware. Had the things gone really wrong, I could have sent a distress call to GEOS, who would have patched me into the USCG SAR system. (There have been a few inReach-enabled SAR situations now, and the two-way messaging has been a big help in at least a few; I’m hoping I can report details eventually.)
   One little issue I’ve come across is that the inReach only holds 30 track points in memory and hence if you leave the Earthmate app closed for over five hours it won’t download your whole track (though they’re still going to each user’s ShareMap and personal  DeLorme Explore web spot, which saves and displays everything). You can see the results on that top screen, particularly when my mate and I got thoroughly engrossed in the scenery along the East River and New York Harbor (where at one point we had 146 AIS targets, all neatly handled by the Vesper Watchmate 850, though that’s another story). At any rate, the image below shows how I was using the inReach much of the trip. Yes, the iPad is in a ScanStrut/Lifedge waterproof case so I could have used the two way messaging in pretty gnarly conditions (though the case has some issue I’ll cover soon). What’s hard to make out though is that the inReach is on ship power, not AA batteries…


Indeed, just before I left Maine, DeLorme passed me an Auxiliary Power Adapter (APA) that is a great accessory for boats, planes, and cars. As shown below, it replaces the battery door and thus maintains the inReach’s IP68 ruggedness, though of course you need a protected spot to plug the APA in. But that well-made cigarette-lighter-style plug does have a 3 amp blade fuse and its voltage regulator can purportedly handle anything from 10 to 30 volts and even a 40v surge. It would be nice if the $80 APA also included a good way to hold the inReach in place, but there is a nice RAM Mount available and I think it’s designed to work with the APA. Difficulty securing the inReach well in rough seas is why Gizmo’s track across the Gulf of Maine (see our ShareMap) has holes in it. If I’d velcroed it at the lower helm earlier — or better yet for sky view RAMed it to the fly bridge — I’m sure the track would be continuous…


That difficulty aside, it was no surprise that inReach tracking was more consistent than using the mAIS app to put Gizmo’s position on via cellular. The two screens below show how well the inReach tracked (and messaged) way off Boston while mAIS missed a lot of miles. The iPhone screen of the MT app, incidentally, was taken last Monday by my brother-in-law  — thanks, Rich! — who was keeping tabs on us. But if you look at our MT “itineraries” now you’ll see that this tracks have been replaced by newer ones. But then again this service is completely free, if you have a smartphone or pad aboard, and Friday’s track suggests that it never missed a track point down the whole Jersey coast…


Similarly the mAIS track below shows only one small cell hole while we bobbed along from Newport to Port Jefferson (arriving at 4am to swing happily to a big mooring while seeing 40 knots SE gusts). In the interests of full disclosure, though, I should note that I installed an Wilson cell booster and Digital Antenna cell stick just as we cleared the Maine coast, and it often results in a two bar increase in reception. In fact, I’ve often been getting a fairly high speed data connection while underway (either via USB or WiFi) and could have been posting Panbo entries had it been calmer (and had there been fewer little boat issues). So, for the most part, the inReach really wasn’t needed on this trip, though I still really like having all its abilities on tap. I’ve also been enjoying Gizmo’s high power WiFi setup in all the ports we’ve been to, as it’s been providing an Internet connection fast enough to stream video on (we’re 7 episodes into Louie CK 😉  It’s a three layer data strategy, and I’m liking it. More to come soon, I promise!


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.

23 Responses

  1. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    One silly problem I have with mAIS is that I usually run it on my phone and then forget to turn it off when I go ashore. Thus yesterday’s track looks like Gizmo went biking to Cape May beach!
    But today I’m doing something different, using WiFi to make Gizmo’s AIS transponder and PC into a Marine Traffic receiving station:

  2. Retro says:

    Ben – I’d be interested to hear your comments on the ScanStrut/Lifedge iPad case, I have one of these cases which I have some issues with.

  3. Richard C says:

    I didn’t know Delorme had finally made an Auxiliary Power Adapter. I was waiting for you at the Northport Town dock with a box of batteries thinking you might stop here on your way south. Hope the APA works out well as it is a perfect fit for a product meant to be used off shore or for days at a time. It should be standard issue with batteries as a backup.

  4. Bill Lentz says:

    Ben the last couple of days the seas have been pretty rough off the coast of NJ. Sunday was a decent day but not ideal. It looks like you survived the NJ coast. I wish I would have known you were passing by I might have run out to say hello as you passed Litle Egg Inlet just north of Atlantic City.
    Happy safe motoring as you make your way south.
    MV Wireless One

  5. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Bill and Richard, thanks for the (potential) hospitality! But I’m glad to be nearing Baltimore, where I’ll hang out for about 10 days (partially so I can check out TrawlerFest and fly to IBEX). Then I plan to attend the Annapolis sail show before picking up a new mate and heading to Myrtle Beach (where I’ll fly to Lauderdale Show). The trip home in the spring will be unencumbered and slower 😉
    Today was another good example of cell limits and inReach coverage as we found a big hole in D. Bay, despite the booster.

  6. Michael says:

    Kinda wimpy innit, heading south in September? 🙂 And you’re missing some great weather in Maine!
    We found cell coverage spotty on the ICW, and especially between here and Norfolk. Right around the big cities, Chesapeake Bay is fine, but other places, especially the eastern shore . . .
    We enjoyed our time last year at Harbor East in Balto.

  7. Don Joyce says:

    So where are you now?

  8. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    “Kinda wimpy innit”… not fair from a guy with a motorboat as seakindly as Barbara Ann! But glad you liked Harbor East as that’s where I’m headed this morning.
    Don, we’re in Rock Creek, MD (as shown by both the tracking systems discussed above ;-). We’re still wondering why it blew hard from the north when we went up Delaware Bay and hard from the south as we went down the Chesapeake. Born under a bad sign?

  9. Michael says:

    Delaware Bay is (almost) always like that. I went in there once with a north wind and flood tide against it, and it was so snotty I said the heck with it and ducked into the Maurice River, where we found a beautiful (and calm) anchorage among the reeds. And an oysterman came by in his skiff and asked if we were in trouble.
    There is a pleasant pub just up the street from Harbor East — :James Joyce” — also a Lebanese restaurant.

  10. Bill Lentz says:

    Ben you entered a large area on NJ that has spotty cellular coverage depending on the carrier. These are my boating grounds from Barnegat Bay south through the Deleware up to Burington County. You would think as populated as the areas you have traveled in one wouldn’t need a satellite phone or data but if your needs are like mine I find using carrier and technology specific modems with the correct direct connection amplifiers and an external antenna a must have. Since I have a ham license in a real non business related emergency my HF and VHF ham radio always comes through. I recently canceled my FB150 (actually a Skipper 150) plan because my cruising has been limited and the current Fleet plans are out of touch for the casual low usage cruiser. I’m told pre-paid SIM’s are coming to the US soon, I’ll believe it when I see it. Until that happens or the FB rates drop the Skipper is simply in place for asthetics to match my KVH M3 dome. I have 3 complete seperate cellular based systems. The 1st is on VZW 700MHz LTE only using a 700MHz direct connect CellPhoneMate amplifier and external antena, AT&T 3.5G (using an Ericsson W35 and external antenna) and a Sprint USB card to a Cradlepoint router using a direct connect amplifier and external antenna. This is in addition to my Wave WiFi EC-AP-ER the CAT5 cables are routed to a Wave MBR400 for failover and switching between the various data networks. I guess you got to experiance it for yourself WiFi is alive and well in the NJ area and Chesapeake from many marinas.
    Keep up the reports as you travel south and it sounds like you are having fun.
    Bill Lentz

  11. Bill Parlatore says:

    Where will you be staying in Baltimore during TF? I will bring Spitfire up tomorrow to be at BMC Inner Harbor, where TF was last year, at the site of the Rusty Scupper. Harborview is a short walk from there.
    Would love to see Gizmo.

  12. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Hi Bill, In retrospect I didn’t pick a sociable spot but I’m liking Habor East, right across the harbor from the Show but a long walk. Love to show you Gizmo though and will email you.

  13. Don Joyce says:

    So where are you now? You must be in Florida by now…..

  14. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Hi Don, I could give you a little gas about asking where I am on an entry about the two ways Gizmo is constantly tracked, but you’re sure not the only one who’s unfamiliar with services like this. Heck, a DeLorme honcho asked me where I was and I’ve been running his tracking product almost 24/7 for a month!
    MarineTraffic almost always knows where Gizmo is too; sometimes I’m even providing info on nearby boats.
    At any rate, I’m just leaving Atlantic Yacht Basin in Chesapeake, VA, where I had to do a two-day pit stop to fix a severe coolant leak. Not a happy deal, but AYB was great.

  15. Don Joyce says:

    Fair enough! Glad the leak is fixed. AYB is great. Quite a few friends have left their boats there in the sheds for safe storage!
    Sorry we missed you on the Chesapeake

  16. Ben Eriksen says:

    Hi Ben — saw you today on the ICW and gave you the double handed wave from a 35′ Caliber “Last Mango”.

  17. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Hey, Ben, I certainly remember your enthusiastic wave…and tried to respond with something inspired by Chubby Checker! One pleasure of this trip is spotting some young folk who seem as mesmerized with sailing/cruising/boating as I was in the 70’s. But I wasn’t quite as well organized as you are…really enjoyed checking out your site and look forward to seeing the film.
    If I sound a little sentimental, it’s likely because the last time I was here in lovely Oriental, NC, was in late November, 1977, aboard our good sloop Alice. A nice old gent showed us around town including how to eat pecans just fallen from the tree.
    It was a great moment during a late dash south, and we didn’t even know yet that we had a daughter in the oven. It was because of this general area that she almost got named Oyster Ellison, a fact she later mocked us for 😉

  18. Don Joyce says:

    I’ve been watching your progress on the ShareMap because of my interest in the inReach. Also because its just plain interesting.
    A couple of times,for extended periods, no updates are posted on the ShareMap. Is this operator error, or an inReach feature?
    I am looking for an alternative to SPOT, which is prone to my errors, namely that I forget to restart it every 24 hr….and family tracking me offshore become agitated…to the point that I tell them the SPOT isn’t working, so don’t look for the track. I’ve since let my subscription lapse as well.

  19. Don Joyce says:

    Does Delorme have plans to provide a bluetooth interface for PC’s and Mac’s as well?

  20. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Don, it’s only rumor but I suspect that DeLorme has a multi-platform SDK for interfacing with the inReach and is looking for partners. I asked Raymarine about this in Lauderdale, because the e-Series has Bluetooth, and while they acknowledged it as an interesting possibility, they said they have many interesting possibilities stacked up and wonder if widespread cellular coverage makes inReach too niche a system.
    Personally I disagree, but then again I live in a place where I can coastal cruise out of cell coverage in about ten miles! At any rate, the smart phone and pad inReach apps work very well, I suppose a PC interface is possible, and note that the new Garmin 7X4 series has Bluetooth.
    PS Operator error accounts for all the holes on my 1,000+ mile inReach share map except for the last one. I swear the inReach was in tracking mode when I did that last section of the ICW but I was pretty tired 😉

  21. Don Joyce says:

    Thanks for the response Ben,
    While I might eventually be a candidate for replacing a few navigation screens with iPads or equivalent, right now I’d love to be able to drive everything from PCs or Macs, including the inReach. Using the Spot Connect with an iPhone led to me frequently forgetting to start tracking over after each 24 hr period…simply because there was no other use for the iPhone offshore out of cellular range….I suspect I would entertain quite a few with my operator errors/forgetfulness with the inReach as well.
    Whereas I extensively use PCs and Macs while offshore

  22. Michael says:

    I wish one of these companies (Spot, DeLorme) would make some provision for an external antenna. Even if the device is waterproof, on a vwssel offshore you generally don’t want to go outside just to push the proper button. And you do have to get power to it.

  23. Gianluca says:

    Yellowbrick V3 MKI has the provision from an external antenna. A combined GPS/Iridium patch can be easily added. In the MKII version, only high end models can be configured for external antenna.
    However, adding an external antenna is not always a solution, because of the cable loss.

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