The “Bad Elf” on Brick House

You hear of boats every year, running up on ‘uncharted’ , or “mischarted” reefs. I always knew that charts could be wrong and always calculate conservatively for this. Did you know though,  that not only can reefs and rocks be mischarted, but your BOAT can also be mischarted!? Yes…I never knew that either. Depending upon the quality and condition at any one given time, your GPS may not be representing exactly where you are!

GPS in a good quality chartplotter like a Raymarine chartplotter for example are generally accurate within 3-20 feet of your actual position. Many others are too. But in handheld devices, notably the many Android devices that are popping up everywhere, are often 5 cent GPS chips made in China. They can be up to 50 feet off of where you actually are! With more and more people relying on handheld smartphones and tablets to navigate, this could spell Disaster! Many long term cruisers get “kap” files which they create from Google Earth. These are wonderful in that they show the exact location of rocks and reefs, so you can steer around them even when you can not visually see them. But what happens if your boat is not being shown properly in relation to those rocks and reefs?

And how did I discover this?

Well, I decided that I would be not so cheap this time, and buy a good quality tablet. I baught an IPad. I didn’t need “cellular” service in it since I have a wireless hotspot on board and only planned to use it on the boat. I got the iPad home, and installed with my applications, and suddenly I realized that I had no GPS signal in it! Don’t all new devices these days have GPS? Isn’t a GPS a GPS? Wifi versions of IPads have no GPS at all.

So now what do I do? No refund or exchange was possible.

When I started researching for solutions, this is when I discovered the bad news about GPS chips not having any quality standards or requirements. I also discovered many devices that work great near land and cell towers, are much less effective at sea, away from beacons and cell towers. I had no idea. I thought they either worked 100% or not at all.

I then found the  Bad Elf GPS. There is one for under $100 that can connect directly to my iPads Lightening connector, but I chose instead a Bluetooth version that not only my iPad can connect to for an extremely accurate and fast GPS, but all of my other devices can too.  And the boat icon representing my exact location, here in the cockpit, shows that I am in the cockpit of the boat in this slip…not at the bow…not standing on the dock. That’s how accurate it is.

I’m so glad that this little Bad Elf has taught me a good lesson!