Another GPS option for PolarView & PolarCOM

May 5, 2011

Just recently I got a chance to order and use another compact USB GPS receiver – ND 100 by GlobalSat.

This receiver uses the same drivers as it’s cousin – the ever popular BU-353 about which I previously blogged here.

Since I already have the Prolific chipset drivers installed, ND-100 worked right out of the box. In my test it quickly acquired a fix and provided position to within about 5 feet – all *indoors*. It also appears to have a bit less of a stationary “course drift” than my BU-353s, though that could be individual device issue.

The primary advantage of this device is a form factor – rather than being a GPS “mouse” it is a “USB stick”, the size of average external flash drive, though it feels a bit heftier. It fits well into my netbook and avoids messing with wires. That said, one drawback may be that it requires additional space to the side of netbook, least it catches onto something and pops out of the USB socket. No big deal though, it can be plugged right back in – and no harm done. PolarCOM will reacquire the connection shortly.

All in all another good option, available on Amazon for about $35.

Navigation / Instrument Acronyms

February 22, 2011

Since users ask about these from time to time, here is the list of acronyms used to denote certain navigation related data items in PolarCOM instruments and elsewhere:

POS – position, that was easy
SOG – speed over ground. Speed of a vessel relative to stationary land.
COG – course over ground. Course of a vessel relative to stationary land.
VTW – speed (velocity) through water. Speed of a vessel relative to water.
HDG – heading. Compass direction into which the bow of a vessel is pointing.
DBK – depth below keel. Water depth measured from bottom of keel
DBS – depth below surface. Water depth measured from surface of water or vessel waterline.
DBT – depth below transducer. Depth as returned by transducer, unadjusted.
AWA – apparent wind angle. Angle of apparent wind as seen from a moving vessel, relative to vessel bow-stern axis.
TWA – true wind angle. Angle of true wind relative to vessel bow-stern axis.
TWD – true wind direction. Compass direction from which the true wind is coming.

VMG – speed (velocity) made good. Speed with which a vessel is moving towards its destination, as measured on a line between current vessel position and destination.
XTE – cross track error. In general, shortest distance from current vessel position to the nearby route leg.
BTN – bearing to next. Compass bearing to the next waypoint enroute.
DTN – distance to next. Distance to the next waypoint enroute.
ETEN – estimated time enroute to next.
ETAN – estimated time of arrival to next.
DTD – distance to destination. Distance to the final point of multi-leg route. Measured along the route.
ETED – estimated time enroute to destination.
ETAD- estimated time of arrival at destination.

ROT – rate of turn.
RDA – rudder angle
SDA – set and drift angle. Used in combined set & drift instrument.
SDD – set and drift direction. Used in combined set & drift instrument.

Any of the direction acronyms above may have a suffix of ‘M’ to denote that they are in degrees magnetic. Without this suffix, assume degrees true. I.e. HDGM vs. HDG.

GPS for PolarView & PolarCOM

February 17, 2011

GlobalSat BU-353

The question of which GPS to use with PolarView and PolarCOM comes up almost every day. There is certainly a great variety of GPS devices out there, with many pros and cons to each.

That said, based on user feedback, GlobalSat BU-353 GPS “usb puck” seems to be a definitive leader, for many years consistently getting high marks for reliability, precision and generally doing what these devices are supposed to be doing. This GPS supports Windows (XP, Vista, 7), Mac OS and Linux.

Drivers for Windows and Mac are usually supplied with device. You can also download drivers online by following this link. These drivers are from original chipset manufacturer and seem to work best. They are listed for “PL-2303”, which is a type of microchip used in GlobalSat GPS device. Linux already includes drivers in most popular kernel distributions.

The only issue BU-353 tends to suffer from is “wandering” speed/course
when at complete rest. This is easily remedied by using data dampening option in PolarCOM, under “Configuration->Data->Data Dampening”.

A going price for GlobalSat BU-353 seems to be around $35 at Amazon or elsewhere, so they are easy on the budget too. Follow this link to order one.

Downloading NOAA Charts from PolarView

November 26, 2010

NOAA is getting with the times and now you can find out about NOAA chart updates on Twitter here:

PolarView users can download and update NOAA charts directly from the program. Just follow these step by step instructions:

1. Open “Download” dialog by selecting “File-> Chart Download” menu or using keyboard shortcut Ctrl + ‘D’ (Windows) or Cmd + ‘D’ (Mac).

2. Press “Select” button to select area on screen.

3. Click on the first point on a chart. A yellow selector box should appear. Move the mouse to resize selector. Click on a chart again to stop resizing selector box and finalize selection.

4. In “Download” dialog click “Find Charts”. A new window should open, as shown in the image below, presenting you with a choice of available ENC charts for selected area.

Chart in the list will have different color depending on current status, also shown in status column. Charts that are up to date will be shown in blue. Charts that are out of date and have newer version available, will be shown in red. Charts that have not been previously downloaded will be shown in black.

5. Select charts you would like to download or update. To select a block of charts, click on the first entry, scroll and Shift-click on the last chart entry. To select multiple individual charts use Ctrl + click (Windows) or Cmd + click (Mac).

To update existing charts, sort by “Status” column by clicking on column heading. Once sorted by status, you can select only those charts that are out of date or not installed.

6. Press “Download” button to download and install selected charts.

That’s all there is to it 🙂

Chart Update Window

PolarView NS Activation

July 22, 2010

Since the release of PolarView NS version 1.4 our licensing and activation process has changed to make it more user-friendly as well as support multiple activations per order. Here is a short description of terminology and entities involved:

– What is a PolarView NS installation:
Each PolarView NS installation is tied to a specific computer and operating system running on it. If you install PolarView NS on a new “physical” computer or if you replace an operating system on existing computer (such as going from Windows XP to Windows 7 or Linux, for example) – that copy of PolarView is a new distinct installation. Installations differ by the unique serial number which is generated by PolarView NS from properties of your computer and operating system.

– What is a PolarView NS serial number
PolarView NS serial number is a string of a form PNI-0000000000-1004037. The last component of this string indicates your product version. You can see your serial number by opening About dialog in PolarView NS.

Example of a PolarView NS serial number

– What is a PolarView NS license code

To enable PolarView NS functionality of a given installation, you need a license code. License code is a long string of hexadecimal numbers and, beginning with version 1.4, it is not usually necessary for a user to handle it directly. Each license code is generated for a specific serial number and turns on extended product functionality for a given installation with that serial number.
License code generated for one serial number cannot be used to enable a product with different serial number.

– What is a PolarView NS Activation
Activation is a process of getting the license applied to an installation of PolarView NS to make it work with a given computer and an operating system. During activation process, PolarView NS will contact our activation server, present its serial number and activation code and get back a license code.

– What is an activation code
Activation code is a string, usually of the form of XXXX-XXXX-XXXX-XXXX. If you order PolarView NS, you should receive your activation code in an email shortly after your order is accepted by payment processing system. Activation code has a specific number of activations (5 by default) assigned to it. Every time you use this code to activate a new copy of PolarView NS, you use one activation.
If you use the same activation code on PolarView NS with a serial number that was previously activated – no activations are subtracted from the total.
To avoid confusion, activation code may use numbers 1 and 0, not letters I and O.

Example of activation code entry

To use your activation code, open About dialog, switch to Activate panel, enter the code in the appropriate field and press “Activate Now”. If the code is correct, you will get a message notifying you that PolarView NS was successfully activated. You will need to restart PolarView NS to apply the new license. You must be connected to the Internet to use this activation method.

If your PolarView NS installation is not connected to the Internet, you can visit our activation web page ( from another computer. Please have your activation code and serial number from your PolarView NS available. You will enter them on the web page, and get back a license code. At that point, follow these original instructions for using a license code to activate PolarView NS.

Buying and installing S63 charts from ChartWorld

May 17, 2010

This article is out of date and remains here for archiving purposes. Buying and downloading S-63 charts from ChartWorld can now be done with a click of mouse directly in PolarView

S63 vector charts are produced primarily by official government hydrographic agencies around the world. They are sold through a number of value-added resellers. I buy my S63 charts from ChartWorld. In my experience, they have been the most accessible and their ordering process is relatively straightforward. Disclaimer: I don’t have any connection to ChartWorld, other than being their customer from time to time. Note, that while basic principles described here would apply to ordering S63 charts from any other source, specific details may differ.

Step 1
To buy charts at ChartWorld, or any other S63 chart distributor, for that matter, you need to have something called “User Permit”. “User Permit” uniquely identifies your chart viewer or navigation application software installed on a specific computer. S63 charts that you order, will be encoded using this value and could only be used on the same computer and with the same software product for which they were issued.

In PolarView your “User Permit” is shown in a text box in the lower right portion of Chart Manager. Look for a long hexadecimal string, as seen in a screen capture below.

Screen capture of Chart Manager, showing User Permit on the lower right. Your User Permit will be different! Use one from your system, otherwise your would not be able to install S63 charts!

Step 2

To order charts, you need to open an account at You will be asked for your User Permit during account set up process. Copy and paste “User Permit” exactly as shown in PolarView. If you make an error while submitting this value, ChartWorld web site will usually tell you – but don’t rely on this.

– Press “Register” button under login box on the top right of home page. Enter your personal details and submit. A new account would be created and details will be emailed to you. Your account login name is generated by ChartWorld and is usually a short string like “AB123”.

– Log into your new account. Click on “myACCOUNT” button from the menu button list. You will arrive at a page sub-titled “My Installations”.

– Click on “new installation” link. You will be presented with a form to enter details of your computer and software installation.

Sample installation page filled with details. Make sure to use your own “User Permit” value!

Note the “ENC User Permit/Backup” field. ChartWorld permits up to 2 different “User Permits” per installation. If you provide 2 “User Permits”, any charts you order for this installation will be supplied with keys issued for both of these permits. You will be able to use these charts on up to 2 installations of PolarView.

– Now that you have set up your account, click on “SHOP” button from the menu button list. There will be a “Search” box on the left hand side. You can search for charts by entering keywords such as place names or chart identifiers. For example, you can search for Virgin Islands or for specific chart cell names, if you know them.

– Search results will present you with a list of matching charts. For each chart you will see one or more prices listed on the right hand side. Prices are in Euros. These prices reflect different durations of chart update period. During the update period, you will be able to download any updates to your charts. Shorter update periods will cost less.
Note, that charts you buy do not stop working after update period is over. They will remain available and continue to work in PolarView. However, you will no longer be able to download these charts from ChartWorld – so make sure to have appropriate backup.

– For the British Virgin Islands each chart cell was priced at Euro 5.71 (about $7.50) for a 3 month update period at the time of last check.  NOTE: chart GB302006 is being replaced with chart GB402006, which should be available on ChartWorld shortly. I will post an update here, when available.

– Before adding charts to shopping cart, click on “Select Installation” button above and select installation you created in the first step.

– Add charts to your shopping cart by clicking on price/update period icon on the right hand side. When done, click on “GOTO BASKET” link above. You will be forwarded to your shopping cart and will be able to complete chart order with a credit card.

Step 3
Once your order is complete, ChartWorld will send you an email with link to download chart and permit files over FTP. Here is what this file list looks like for British Virgin Islands charts:


There are three files. Two of these files, with extension “.S63” are chart archives. The file with extension “.prm” is an archive that contains “Cell permits”, essentially – keys to unlock your charts. All of these files are Zip archives, even though they have unusual file extensions.

– Download these files. Rename each file by removing an additional “.S63” or “.prm” extension, so that they all have extension “.zip”.

– Unpack these archives in a location where you would like your charts to be installed.

– Chart cell files (with names beginning with “GB”) will extract into a sub-directory ENC_ROOT. You can extract all chart files into the same ENC_ROOT sub-directory. If your Zip archiver program prompts you to do so, agree to overwrite any files that may already be there. These overwritten files are not important for purposes of our installation.

– The last archive will contain a few files, of which you need one, called PERMIT.TXT. Extract this file to any convenient location of your choice.

Step 4
– Launch PolarView and open Chart Manager. Click on a “Manage Permits” button on bottom right. This will open a new window – Permit Manager.

– In Permit Manager click “Add” – a file dialog will open. Browse to location where you saved PERMIT.TXT file and select it. PolarView will read this file and install “Cell permits” for charts your purchased.

Permit file from our example above should install 3 chart permits, one for each chart cell. These chart permits will be listed in Permit Manager.

Screen shot of Permit Manager with new licenses added (and one expired license from previous installation).

– Close Permit Manager. Now, back in Chart Manager click “Add Directory” button, and navigate to disk location where you extracted S63 charts.

– Select ENC_ROOT sub-directory and press “OK”. PolarView will scan your selected directory for S63 charts. It will add all new charts to the list. At that point, your S63 charts should be installed and visible in the main chart window.

That’s all there is to it. Make sure to keep a good backup of all chart and permit files you order.

Tides & Currents (TCD) Databases

March 9, 2010

As you probably noticed, PolarView is supplied with a “copyright-safe” set of tides & currents for the US waters from NOAA. I often get asked for tidal data covering other parts of the world. The answer is that there is no “official” set of constituents that Polar Navy Co can provide for legal and organizational reasons.

That said, a number of TCD databases covering various areas of the world are available from various sources. Some of these files are collected and can be downloaded from this page. Please note that these are not in any way official, or guaranteed to be correct. They come from sources unknown and their quality can vary greatly. Also note that copyright status of such data may be not well established. Some of this data can only be legally used with free software. YMMV, as they say.

Tides in tropical paradise

Chart Legend

March 2, 2010

An item that’s been missing from our documentation so far is a chart legend for our vector chart rendering. Turns out – it’s not quite as easy to assemble, as I hoped. With all the effort we put into chart appearance and readability, there was little time left to organize and catalog our icons.

So, finally, here are essential symbols for our charts – IALA regions A and B (in day-time palette colors).

A few symbols in this list are new or updated based on user feedback, to improve visibility as well as to better reflect buoyage of IALA A region. They will be available beginning with the next version of PolarView.

PolarCOM “True” Wind Calculation

February 5, 2010

When used with “relative” (apparent) wind data source, PolarCOM provides two modes of “true” wind calculation. These modes are labeled “STW” (Speed Through Water) and SOG in the configuration. STW is a “traditional” method, used by most hardware wind instruments. It needs no GPS input and requires STW and HDG (your vessel heading) to calculate “true” wind. It also results in an approximation of “true” wind.

SOG mode provdes more precise “true” wind calculation, but it also requres COG as well as HDG. That means you still need a heading sensor to calculate “true” wind – having only GPS input without heading is not sufficient.

If you are interested in explanation as to why that is, read on:

Let’s say you have the following –
1. Relative apparent wind (from VWR/MWV NMEA sentence) as delivered by windvane
2. GPS information including COG/SOG.
3. nothing else

Consider this – your vessel is heading in some direction which is most likely NOT aligned with COG. Relative wind is a vector that you can calculate based on a coordinate system that has boat heading as one axis (and another axis perpendicular to it).

On the other hand your SOG (and SOG induced “wind”) is a vector that by itself can only be considered in a system with one axis along the COG (and another perpendicular).

Without heading there is nothing to reconcile these two systems and no way to do any reasonable operations on these vectors. You need heading to convert one of these vectors to the coordinate system of the other.

Here is a practical example using PolarCOM. The first set of dials (img 1) shows COG and heading that differ by 20 degrees. The true wind is calculated here based on SOG (and using both COG and HDG to adjust vectors). You can see true wind both relative to the boat (second dial from the left) and as an absolute direction (last dial on right). There is no STW (as the heading dial shows).

Img 1

On the second image (img 2) I adjusted heading to match COG. This is what would effectively happen if you used SOG for true wind calculation but did not have an adjustment angle (and assumed direction of travel matching heading).

It is quite clear that true wind resulting from such calculation is not the same as the one that results from properly accounting for COG/HDG difference. And the difference is not insignificant – 30 degrees and about 40% stronger.

Img 2

Incidentally, third picture (img 3) shows calculations using STW and heading. I set STW to be equal to SOG, which is not necessarily true, but it helps make an example simpler. As you can see it is also incorrect, but the result is essentially the same as when using SOG alone without proper heading. I.e. there is no gain in calculation precision.

Img 3

Linux Installation Instructions

January 22, 2010

Linux version of PolarView/PolarCOM requires no specific installation process. Download installation tarball to your disk, then follow steps shown in the following screen capture. Click on the image for better view.

Screen Capture of PolarView Linux Installation

Screen Capture of PolarView Linux Installation

Your Linux distribution must be “sufficiently modern” and have GTK2 available.

32 bit vs. 64 bit

Our applications are provided in “32 bit” version for widest compatibility. This allows our products to work on both 32 bit and 64 bit systems. On Linux, many 64 bit distributions do not come with preinstalled 32 bit compatibility libraries, so you may need to install these libraries before using PolarView or PolarCOM.

– Ubuntu & Debian users need to install one compatibility package. The following command usually does the trick: sudo apt-get install ia32-libs
 Users of Ubuntu 11.10 and above, please note that Ubuntu switched to a new version of OpenSSL. You will need to install previous compatibility version of OpenSSL by running: sudo apt-get install libssl0.9.8

– Fedora & RedHat users have a few more steps to take, see the following link for details:

Gentoo users (of 32 bit systems) may encounter a different issue. Seems like on Gentoo libpng version 1.2 may not be installed by default. The following magic incantation should help: emerge libpng:1.2 –oneshot


To remove PolarView from your Linux system, use “rm -rf bin” on the directory where you have installed PolarView. (This paragraph is placed here due to requirements of Google AdWords – we honestly don’t think you are that ignorant 😉 )