Social boating: the ability to send and receive live digital information, data, images and video while on the water.
Being connected while on your boat means many things — from telling friends and family you’re safe during an ocean crossing to posting the photo of a swordfish you just reeled in on a daylong outing in the Florida Keys. Or maybe it means making sure that fellow boaters are aware of an uncharted shoal or rock you luckily missed.
Just as people on shore are more reliant on 24/7 connectivity, the same thing is happening onboard, and a trend toward social boating is emerging. Many like it, some don’t – the bottom line is that it’s on the rise, as evidenced by the array of mobile communications products and apps coming on the market. The better your connectivity – remember, beyond the cellphone, there’s a galaxy of satellite Internet services, too – the more information you’ll have at your fingertips.
Intrigued by how this connectivity trend has gone to sea, we contacted some marine electronics experts and asked them to share general observations about the influence of shared, crowd-sourced content on boating.
Nigel Calder, contributing author for Sail magazine, is an expert on boat systems and diesel engines and has published several books on those topics.
Ed Sherman, host of the online Ed’s Boat Tips (edsboattips.com), is an author, electronics editor, and vice president/education, American Boat and Yacht Council.
Lenny Rudow, a skilled recreational fisherman, is senior editor for Dominion Marine Media and electronics editor for BoatU.S. Magazine.
Their answers might give you some food for thought as you consider equipment upgrades and make the rounds through the electronics booths at boat shows throughout the year.
What in your opinion is the value of “social boating,” or, user-generated content, in cartography?
ES: I was extremely skeptical at first, but do appreciate it more today. Years ago, when my wife and I went cruising, we used printed cruising guides. A lot of the information we relied on was time sensitive, and even with the most current edition of the cruising guide, already out of date.
NC: Crowd sourced charting is the future of charting in those areas of the world of interest to cruisers because hydrographic offices are going to be focused on shipping lanes. Navionics has really set the pace here. As the volume of soundings and other data that they receive goes up, statistically they can get to an acceptable level of accuracy.
LR: User-generated content (UGC) is already causing tectonic shifts in cartography. And 99 percent of those shifts are positive. Digital charts are getting better and better, quite literally by the hour. The biggest hurdle we face is getting those older boaters (looking in the mirror, here) to adapt to the technology and put it to work both for themselves and everyone else.
Where is social boating headed?
ES: As Internet access continues to become woven into the fabric of our day-to-day lives, I can only see the concept of social boating becoming more and more prevalent.
LR: The moment the new generation of boaters catch a fish or jump a wake they click off a picture and start a Snapchat. They not only want complete connectivity, they’re downright angry when they don’t have it. My bet is that in 10 years (if not less) virtually all boats bigger than a skiff will incorporate it.
Is the notion of going boating to get away from it all a thing of the past?
ES: The answer to that question may be linked to age demographics. Yet, as a baby boomer who spends much of his life in a connected environment, I find myself relying more and more on connectivity. Heck, I read two morning newspapers online now and I really miss it when I can’t access them.
NC: We don’t have any long-range communications on our boat (just the VHF). We don’t do any social media (no Facebook, no Instagram), and just get a Wi-Fi connection when in harbor or at pubs.
LR: A lot of us older boaters have zero desire to be connected while we’re out on the water. And on smaller boats in particular, saltwater and the devices that use Wi-Fi don’t always mix terribly well. But the newest generation of boaters, in my experience, sees things quite differently.
Is 24/7 connectivity making boating safer, faster, more fun?
ES: I believe that safety is enhanced. Personal locators, emergency warnings from multiple sources, online radar weather mapping that tracks thunderstorms in real time – these are worthwhile safety enhancements. As for the fun part, I do admit that I love watching Netflix content on my iPad, any time of day.
NC: The new suite of GPS satellites currently being launched will further improve accuracy of electronic cartography.
LR: While it can add a layer of safety, it’s never a good idea to rely on anything as glitchy as an Internet connection for emergency communications.
So what do you think about social boating and being connected on the water? Comment below and let us know!
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