I'm not trying to slag the chart and guide producers; their job is impossible. I know one outfit that twice e-mailed 8,000 marine facilities looking for updated details to be included in its mapping product at no charge to the facility; it only got a 16-percent response, and of those that returned a latitude/longitude, 30 percent were wrong! And large-area, boots-on-the-ground research is nearly impossible, which I guess is why echo-chamber errors like that Willey Wharf/Public Landing mix-up may be common. My point is that we should acknowledge the problem and encourage improvements—even help make them. My vision of easier-to-use POIs involves electronics—surprise, surprise—but consider some of the gadget advances going on ashore.
How about the several car-navigation devices which can, with one click, use Bluetooth wireless to auto-dial a POI's phone number on your cellphone? Wouldn't that be handy, say, when rock and rolling your way into some unfamiliar harbor of refuge? I happened to meet Garmin's CEO Min Kao recently, and when I asked if this neat feature might eventually come to his marine line, he replied with a big grin and a nod. Good!
Last summer I tried a Navman iCN750, a portable car navigator distinguished by the fact that it contains a digital camera. The idea is that your photos are automatically geo-positioned so that you can use them later in lieu of addresses. Better yet, Navman's Web site lets you share these so-called NavPix with friends or the whole world. Dig around the NavPix Library, and you'll find my shot of a special and little-known Camden Harbor scenic overlook; download it to the right gadget, and it can guide you to the spot.
Yet another interesting example from car navigation is the somewhat comic battle going on involving European video speed traps. Apparently there are lots of them, but almost as fast as they pop up, drivers report them to certain Web sites, where they're collected as public or third-party POIs, which can be easily uploaded to nav devices made by Garmin, Tom Tom, and others. If properly coded these POIs can even deliver a handy verbal proximity warning, like "speed camera in one-quarter mile." Couldn't similar POIs make those chopped up no-wake zones in the ICW easier to negotiate?
An important lesson being learned ashore is that ordinary civilians can be a terrific source of data. Beyond the car-navigation stuff above, consider the user-generated POIs on world maps like Google Earth (try Amsterdam!) and more general examples like all the product reviews on Amazon or all of Wikipedia, the world's largest encyclopedia. Sure, skeptics can easily point out junk info on all those sites, but the larger, more amazing truth, I think, is how many people are willing to spend precious time sharing knowledge and opinions and how good a lot of it is.
That's why I'm particularly interested in a new marine service called ActiveCaptain. While it's just coming online, I've been privy to its development and am impressed that the lessons of land navigation, Wikipedia issues, etc. are understood. The company's motto is "Content, Communications, and Community," and the result is a Web site where users are encouraged to detail and rate not just marinas but anchorages, libraries, WiFi spots, and anything else of cruising interest. Access is free, important to attracting a critical mass of users; in fact there won't even be advertising, as ActiveCaptain's reward will come from the sale of cellphone and PDA software that can enhance the POI site (but is not necessary).
I think the time is right for such an online service—what with fairly fast cellular data service, to phone or laptop, finally almost ubiquitous along our coasts—and I plan to put my own POI knowledge where my mouth is by posting as much Camden Harbor local knowledge as I can at ActiveCaptain. What's more, for those of you who prefer paper, I'll post a printable map with the same info at my blog, Panbo, that's also hosted at Power & Motoryacht's boat electronics section. As much as I hope the electronics companies will improve POI features and access, we need to contribute, too. Are you ready to tell us about your harbor?
This article originally appeared in the February 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.