Nautica Digitale
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Article by
Dag Pike


A New Zealand company has developed an electronic chart system where an animated weather chart can be overlaid on the chart. The system allows a navigator to see the impact of moving weather systems along his projected track. This is thought to be the first time that the weather systems and the electronic chart have been so closely integrated and the system allows waether routing to be planned up to five days in advance.

This advanced weather system is based around Kiwitech's advanced electronic charting programmes. Designed to operate on laptops or PCs, these programmes can use MapTech raster charts or C-Map vector cartography. The basic charting system links the computer to a GPS receiver for real-time plotting of positions. Additional programmes can be integrated into this programme including tidal information and the advanced weather suite.

The weather suite of programmes receives digital weather forecast files via e-mail. The e-mail can be accessed via a mobile phone, HF radio or a satcom depending on the location of the vessel. These files are translated by the software into isobar charts, which can be overlaid on the navigation chart. The software also allows wind direction and speed, ocean currents and air temperature to be displayed. When these forecasts are animated, a moving picture of the weather can be displayed in relation to time.

With the advanced weather suite, the software programme will work out all the possible routes for the vessel to take and calculate the best one for the particular voyage. For this system to operate, the operating parameters of the vessel have to be entered into the programme. With the weather programme, it is possible to manipulate the weather so that the effects of any inaccuracies in the weather forecast can be studied. For instance, the movement of a depression can be slowed or speeded up to see what effect this might have on the local weather in the future.

For the racing yachtsman these weather programmes can provide vital weather information. It was used on six of the yachts in the recent Whitbread race and is standard equipment for all the yachts on the Around Alone Race now taking place. Kiwitech also offers a Racetech programme, which is based on advanced polar performance diagrams and includes a pre-start programme as well as the ability to vary any of the boat's peformance criteria to see their effect.

Also primarily for the racing yachtsman is a voice interface which can give essential information from the computer to the helmsman via an FM radio link, ear piece and microphone. Other programmes available from Kiwitech are an engine monitoring system based on VDO engine sensors and a weather fax programme.

For the fisherman, a programme allows the vessel's track to be coloured according to the sea temperatures and track colouring can also be used to show changes in other fishing related parameters. The navigation suite can also track up to 100 ARPA radar targets as well as tracking long line GPS floating beacons.

In addition to these extensive software programmes, Kiwitech offers a range of computers designed for use on board. Plus is a waterproof laptop computer and Kiwitech has developed its own ruggedised PC unit that can run all its programmes and be coupled to any suitable display and keyboards. This CPU unit has a hard drive which can withstand a 150g shock and it operates directly from a 12 or 24 volt power supply. All Kiwitech programmes operate on Windows 95 or 98.

Further information:Kiwitech, PO Box 5909, Wellesley Street, Auckland, New Zealand, tel. 0064/9/4153658, fax 0064/9/4153659.