Google Earth Afloat

This is additional information on navigational add-ons for Google Earth, and future changes in the technology, mentioned in this article in the May/June 2009 issue.

By Alex Morton

Google Earth is not just a collection of satellite photos stitched together to provide a picture of the Earth’s surface. It’s comprehensive enough that you can zoom in on your own backyard, or on the cove where you plan to set your anchor tonight.

Google keeps adding features, such as layers that show highways and local places of interest and even a website where cruising sailors can post their logbooks. Third-party vendors also offer products that further enhance the value of Google Earth to mariners. Here’s what Alex has to say about them.

Navigation add-ons

Despite the fact that it can display longitude, latitude, and information about individual destinations, Google Earth is not yet a marine navigation tool. It doesn’t include underwater obstacles, buoys, lighthouses, depths, or any of the other information so critical to safe navigation.

That’s where add-on marine navigation products come into the picture. The two that are currently on the market provide a wealth of information for the navigator. Due to current limitations with the Google Earth versions for the iPhone and iPod Touch, neither of these products is yet available on these platforms, but indications are that this limitation will soon be overcome.


EarthNC+ integrates conventional electronic charts directly with Google Earth. That means everything to be found in the charts is present when you use Google Earth. The result is satellite imagery with all the goodies.

Included are a number of dynamic features, such as hourly weather observations for U.S. and international lakes, coastlines, and oceans; three-day tide predictions for thousands of coastal locations; the VOS feed, which contains weather observations from ships around the world, updated hourly; and real-time radar and storm warnings from the National Weather Service updated every five minutes. The product also provides animated six-day, wind/wave forecasts for the world’s oceans, and animated high-resolution charts of sea-surface temperatures and currents.

EarthNC+ comes with all of the NOAA and Army Corps of Engineers ENC vector charts for U.S. waters, with layers that include wrecks, obstructions, fish havens, depth contours, point soundings, and the majority of the Army Corps of Engineers inland IENC charts. Altogether, more than 750 charts for U.S. coastal waters are included with EarthNC+. It also supports raster marine charts, which can be purchased separately. The raster support extends EarthNC chart coverage to the full NOAA RNC catalog of over 1,000 paper charts. Future coverage areas include the Central and Southern Bahamas, Turks and Caicos Islands, Hispaniola, the Sea of Cortez, and the South Pacific/New Zealand areas.

EarthNC+ is used by students and instructors at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. You can take a look at an online version that has many of the features of the full program at the EarthNC website.

Fugawi Marine ENC

Fugawi, which produces a conventional digitally based navigation product, uses Google Earth in a different way. The company has a plug-in that adds Google Earth support to its conventional Marine ENC product. Once the plug-in has been installed, Marine ENC operates in two modes: with and without Google Earth.

When you use it in Google Earth mode, Marine ENC divides a computer screen into two windows, one of which displays a standard digital chart, and the other, a corresponding view of Google Earth. The screens are linked, so that as you move through the chart, Google Earth moves accordingly, as does tracking data acquired from a GPS. It’s a unique approach to navigation, providing both an image and a chart simultaneously.

Fugawi’s Marine ENC with Google Earth support does not provide the broad range of dynamic information available with EarthNC+. However, Marine ENC not only includes the NOAA charts, but also allows you to import any standard raster or vector chart as well. That means it’s already covering the whole world.

Further information on Marine ENC and its Google Earth plug-in can be found at its website.

The continental shelf off San Francisco is clearly defined on both the chart and the Google Ocean rendition.
A Fugawi Marine ENC screen shows a chart of Isle Royale, Michigan, and Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Fugawi Marine offers a product that will display a chart and Google Earth image side by side.

Future changes

New images and features that display an ever-more-detailed, accurate, interesting, and useful globe are continually being added to Google Earth. The easiest way for boaters to keep up with what’s relevant to them is by reading the Google Earth blog. The blog’s creator, Frank Taylor, is a sailor who’s about to set off on the Tahina Expedition, a five-year circumnavigation of the world that will be logged and blogged on Google Earth. As a Google Earth partner, he’ll also be shooting thousands of pictures along the way that will become a part of Google Earth.

The archives section of the blog contains articles on the latest developments, links to other sites, and free layers you can add on to Google Earth, such as the GE Volvo Race tracker that will allow you to track the Volvo Ocean Race. It also includes place marks with links to pictures, stories, and videos of the event as it occurs.


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