A Radar-Assisted Collision Page 4

Electronics — December 2004
By Ben Ellison

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Canadian Electronic
Chart Fight Continues

Last winter a royalty fight flared up between the two major manufacturers of chart cards and a small company called Nautical Data International (NDI), which has the exclusive right to sell and/or license electronic versions of Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS) charts. (For more details, see “Electronics,” April 2004.) For a while C-Map and Navionics had to stop offering Canadian chart cartridges, causing considerable concern amongst Canadian and border-state boaters. Then, as the season loomed and negotiations dragged on, the two chart vendors decided to sell their products without an NDI license, putting some of the proceeds in escrow for eventual royalty payment. NDI sued, and the matter is currently being argued in a Toronto courtroom. If NDI prevails, expect increased chart prices to compensate for royalty fees that C-Map and Navionics say are well above international norms.

The bigger picture is that international norms seem to be changing, even disintegrating, and chart costs will become more variable from one country to another. I’m told that some foreign hydrographic authorities will soon instigate significant royalty increases on the theory that users, not taxpayers, should finance data collection. Meanwhile, the U.S. government takes the opposite approach, claiming no copyright on data. NOAA is now actually giving away charts in PC format, which is encouraging increased competition—around chart features and pricing—among the vendors.

GPS-Equipped EPIRB and PLB Problems Solved
In January and July I reported not only on the terrific advancements being made in the worldwide satellite rescue system known as COSPAS-SARSAT, but also on testing done by the Equipped to Survive Foundation (ETS) that revealed significant performance issues with the optional (but valuable) GPS self-location feature on McMurdo EPIRBs and PLBs. The company subsequently offered a free upgrade to such units ( 800-576-2605 for more information) and then conducted another round of tests similar to ETS’s. West Marine participated in both tests, and company representative Chuck Hawley says he was “very impressed” with the ability of the upgraded McMurdo beacons to get GPS fixes in the simulated real-world conditions.

This issue highlighted both the need for tougher standards on safety gear and the value of independent testing organizations like ETS. Hawley notes that the testing was “a great learning experience for us and I believe the industry as well” and that West Marine, along with BoatU.S., will sponsor more ETS rescue beacon tests this winter.

Homeland GPS Spoofing Detected?
Back in April 2002 I wrote about how vulnerable the GPS system is to jamming and spoofing. So far the feared possibilities have not materialized. In fact, the vulnerability may be contributing to our security. A recent issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology reports that large GPS errors have been noted in the vicinity of several nuclear facilities. Researchers driving within a quarter mile of these plants found that GPS units from multiple manufacturers all indicated speeds twice what they were actually making and altitudes off by thousands of feet (position errors are not mentioned). Pilots near one facility also noted “anomalies.” The magazine theorized, “such gross errors could be induced by transmitting low-power ‘corrections’ and could effectively ‘spoof’ a cruise missile or other [GPS] guided weapon.” A U.S. government official queried on the issue replied, “Those are areas we just don’t talk about.” There are few locations where a boater might navigate that close to a nuclear facility, but the situation should remind us all that GPS anomalies, whatever the cause, are quite possible.

Next page > JRC JHS-182 AIS > Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

This article originally appeared in the November 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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