Monday, June 25, 2018

sQuiddio introduces new APIs

We just released a brand new set of Application Programming Interface (API) endpoints.

The new APIs are aimed at mobile or web application developers who need access to a our real time, global feed of GPS position updates and other navigational data generated by thousands of boats through their AIS transponders, SPOT devices or the OpenCPN plugin.

For instance, using the API, a charter company can better manage a fleet of charter yachts through their own in-house web application to monitor each yacht's position in real time, be notified when a yacht checks in at a particular destination etc. Or a marina can monitor all the boats in the departing nearby anchorages and marinas.

The new endpoints build on the same API that powers the sQuiddio plugin for OpenCPN, and enhance that functionality by enabling developers to:
  • Obtain list of boats within range of a POI, or of another vessel
  • Obtain the full profile of a vessel, including make and model, contact information, LOA, draft, last reported position etc.
  • Obtain the most recent position reports of a Vessel or the entire set of vessels in a Follow list.

The APIs follow the widely adopted REST standard and rely on the JSON data exchange format, through a standard endpoint taxonomy that provides read and write operations on vessels, points of interest and users.

Test the app yourself with the online interactive API test bench. Or check out our Wiki page for documentation.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The largest global repo of sailing destinations

When we say that is a truly global service, it's not just a trite marketing statement: take a look at the geographic distribution of destinations in our database, users and daily check-ins in the new real-time charts on our about page.

Sure, the United States is a huge place: lots of boaters and great boating destinations (plus the historical advantage of having started here). But European countries have almost as many marinas and anchorages in our database. And what about our growing number of  Australian, Canadian South African etc. users?

And yes, there is some great sailing in the Svalbarg archipelago (latitude 78.8 North!) gets power boost

As turns almost 6 years old (yes, hard to believe: development work started in late 2012), we realized the underlying back-end technology was ...well.. starting to show its age. This was resulting in performance that had not kept up with the expectations of a more sophisticated and fast growing user base.

As a result, the back-end Ruby-on-Rails application has recently undergone a pretty substantial remake:

For the technologically inclined:

  • The  Ruby environment has been upgraded from Ruby v 1.8.3 to Ruby v. 2.3.3. 
  • The  Rails environment has been upgraded from Rails 3.2 to Rails 5.1.6
  • We are using a new category of instance types on our cloud provider DigitaOcean (or "Droplets", in their speak) with added CPU performance, RAM and faster SSD storage
  • We have made some changes to the MySql database structure that result in faster query time, 

This effort was not just about keeping our technology up to date to prevent obsolescence. It has resulted in major user benefits , namely a remarkable increase in performance, both in web-based requests on its web site, and API requests from clients such as the OpenCPN plugin.

Please note that, with a few minor exceptions, the user interface has not changed, so most of these changes will be invisible to you, the user. But you will certainly enjoy the fact that some pages now render in half of the time! 

With the opportunity, we have also rationalized and enhanced our APIs (Application Programming Interface) so that more and more applications can be developed on the platform. More on this in an upcoming blog post but until then you can enjoy a sneak preview here.

Happy discovery!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Better route planning: view Google Maps as OpenCPN charts

The issue with navigation charts

Like many fellow cruisers, I can't think of tools I regard as more indispensabile than my navigation charts and OpenCPN, my favorite chart plotter and navigation software. Both definitely fall in the category of "don't leave port without them". 

The problem with navigation charts (and navigation software in general) is that:
  • They do not offer visual clues as to how the location will actually look like. So they are great for ...well...navigation, but are somewhat lacking when it comes to planning a route and choosing among a number of potential destinations along the way.
  • They are sometimes not up to date: new structures (dock, bridges etc) may have been added since the chart was last updated. 
  • In some cases, they may not be 100% accurate. 
On the last point, I was recently reminded of how charts in developing countries may be affected by significant offsets while cruising in beautiful Baja California, where some charts were last compiled long before GPS became available, and were off by as much as a mile in a few cases!  

So I found myself using Google Maps as a way to complement my route planning exercises. And then I started asking myself: what if there was a way to view Google Maps (particularly the satellite images) right within OpenCPN? And perhaps save them to my hard disk so that I didn't have to depend on Internet connectivity?

Complementing navigation charts with Google Maps

While not designed for navigation, Google Maps are becoming an important compendium to route planning, working side by side with traditional navigation charts. Satellite imaging provides a great way to see how our destination actually looks like: how wide is the beach by the anchorage? Is the land covered in vegetation? Are there any unsightly buildings or industrial facilities in plain view from the anchorage?

Of course, we could always fire up our browser and go to to take a look. But what if we have no Internet access, as in most cases when cruising?

Enter a new feature in downloading google satellite images for any of the thousands of destinations in a format that is compatible with OpenCPN, and can be viewed offline and superimposed to other raster (.kap) navigation charts.   Maps can be downloaded at different levels of zoom: from highly detailed small scale charts for a specific marina or anchorage, to large scale charts covering entire regions.

How to import Google Maps into OpenCPN

Downloading and importing a Google Map into OpenCPN in .kap format is extremely easy:
  1. Navigate to the location you are interested in on (for instance,  the Treasure Island anchorage shown in the image above, in the San Francisco Bay) . I find it very convenient to do this directly from within OpenCPN using the squiddio plugin.
  2. On the Google chart, select the level of zoom you need for the chart. I normally download a high-definition 1 x 1 nautical mile chart covering the anchorage, and a larger, say, 6 x 6 NM lower definition chart covering the vicinity. If your itinerary covers multiple destinations, you can create a patchwork of different charts so that the entire area is covered at different levels of zoom. Use the + and - control on the Google map to adjust the level of zoom. See the table below for indicative chart sizes relative to their Google Maps zoom level.

  3. Google Maps zoom levels and Chart size
    Zoom Level Approximate Area
    covered by chart (NM)
    15 1 x 1
    12 11 x 11
    10 44 x 44

  4. Click on the download chart button, right below the map in the destination page. In a second or two your .kap file will be available on your hard drive. 
  5. Copy the file (or files) to your OpenCPN chart directory (go to Settings/Charts to find the directories OpenCPN is using).  I use Chart Groups extensively to organize my charts in OpenCPN, so I have created a specific group for Google Satellite Maps, which are saved to a directory contained within raster chart directory. This way I can view only and all the Google charts I have downloaded, or view them "quilted" with the other raster charts (which is useful when wanting to assess the accuracy of old raster charts).
  6. Update the chart database in OpenCPN (again, Settings->Charts->Scan Charts and Update Database). 
You are done! You can now view your Google Map in OpenCPN like you would any other chart. Zoom in and out, pan, hide them, see your boat's position on them, measure distances, create routes etc. Remember though, Google Maps were not designed for navigation, so stick to your navigation charts for the real thing, using Google Maps for route planning or verification purposes only.

Like anything on sQuiddio, this feature is entirely free, so play around with it and let me know what you think.
Happy route-planning!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Avoid Crowded Anchorages This Summer

Have you ever anxiously approached an anchorage wondering how crowded and busy it was going to be? Will it look like the beautifully secluded haven pictured on your cruising guide, or will it turn out to be every boater's nightmare with tens of noisy super-size yachts, reveling parties and loud music blaring all night? Perhaps even a cruise ship anchored right in the middle of it?

You can now check some real time vital statistics on the anchorage directly in many of the destination sQuiddio pages when you plan your next cruise. Thousands of checkins from boats large and small, including sailboats, recreational power boats and cruise ships are monitored every day to compile useful popularity stats in real time, and show key frequentation indicators in intuitive charts.

Add the rich selection of photos available in most pages, the famous Pupularity Index, other user's comments and you can truly....get the picture!

Don't be surprised again! Make your favorite cruise planning tool.

See the popularity stats on the top 100 cruising destinations

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Featured sQuiddio user: S/V Reboot

Our kudos and mos heartfelt thanks to Roger, advanced sQuiddio user and skipper of Sailing Yacht Reboot, a Catalina 42 Mark II. Roger has been one of the first users to deploy the embedded iframe in his blog, and has been sharing his thoughts and ideas with the team for a while.

Nothing like the constructive feedback from an experienced sailor and IT professional like Roger to make more helpful and fun.

Fair winds and happy sailing, Roger!