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Happy New Year

Happy New Year to you all from the Nuno team!

It's about the time of year we change the name of the application.

Last year it was called Nuno Navigator 2014. This year we are going for Nuno Navigator 2015.

Best wishes for 2015...

Changing the Nuno application caption

The Black Rose

Black Rose is a 52’3” wooden gaff-rigged ketch built in 1999 at Maylandsea in Essex, UK. She was designed by her owner Michael Emmett (assisted by many good sailors) and is based on the traditional oyster fishing smacks which were to be found around the southern North and Baltic Seas three or four centuries ago. 

Michael will be visiting the Baltic again during 2015. In addition to tending to the flax sails, cast-iron windlass and varnish work, Nuno Navigator will be on board to provide continuous GPS plotting of positions on a standard laptop PC alongside some sat comms wizardry from Navidatum. The Splice M2M terminal gives Michael satellite messaging, weather forecasting and lots of other features while he is out of cell phone coverage. It also provides a GPS NMEA feed.

Tim Scott-Douglas went on a test trip down the river Deben in darkest December (0°C, 32°F) to prove the system and enjoy a weekend’s sailing. 

Michael has been sailing around the Thames Estuary all his life in all weathers and knows it like the back of his hand. He has also been to Holland, Germany, Belgium and France many times over the years but this time there will be new places to visit and changes such as colossal windfarms offshore to plan for. Easy access to the charts is essential as is communication between navigator and helm.

The WW1 compass box is just the right height!  

We started off by putting a laptop running Nuno above the chart table. Paper charts below. The paper charts are staying for now. 

Though cold it was a bright crisp December day in Suffolk and after sailing under canvas all the way down the river to Felixstowe Ferry we turned back up river with the young flood tide. 

Having passed straight by two pubs on the way down, third time lucky on the way back we managed to persuade Michael to anchor at the Ramsholt Arms for the night. 

The Ramsholt is remembered fondly by generations of sailing families spread all over the world, many of whom will never have seen it in mid-winter with a log fire blazing. A memorable evening and then back aboard for one of the skipper’s (nearly as) famous suppers. 





I bet he didn’t believe his eyes at sunrise either!


We have another instance of electronic charts being suspected of a role in a marine accident. The USS Guardian ran aground at 0225 17 January 2013 (1825 UT 16 Jan 2013) on the Tubbataha reef in the Philippines and it looks fairly likely that ignorance of horizontal datum and failure to ‘maintain a proper look-out’ (IMO COLREG 1972) were to blame. There must have been a series of ignored alarms and indications that all was not right, but somehow the app (DNC plotter) was believed.

“Since DNC mapping is used for safe navigation by Guardian and other U.S. Navy ships, Navigator of the Navy Rear Adm. Jonathan White also today released precautionary guidance to all Fleet and ship commanders. White’s message states, “initial review of navigation data indicates an error in the location of Tubbataha Reef” on the digital map.

The Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship had just completed a port call in Subic Bay and was en route to Indonesia and then on to Timor-Leste to participate in a training exercise when the grounding occurred.”


The source data for Electronic Navigational Charts (ENC) as stipulated for ECDIS and presumably the imageDigital Nautical Charts (DNC) as used by the US military comes from National Hydrographic Offices and is shared by agreement between friendly powers such as UK and US. Here are some snapshots of the paper and ENC charts of the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea. The data includes centuries of observations and measurements, often with supporting notes on validity and advice on use. It is perilous to ignore the advice but in these days of an app for everything and continuous warning messages from gadgets, the critical details is often lost.

The following are all current, corrected charts which would pass any Port of Flag State inspection. They represent more than enough information for any self-respecting navigator to cross the Sulu Sea without running into anything, the cautionary notes are well-known to seafarers as can be seen here in the continuous series of chart notes on surveys dating back to 1850!


Chart 4507 1:3,500,000 Philippines to Bismark Archipelago


The vessel was on passage from Subic Bay in Luzon north of the Sulu Sea to somewhere in Indonesia to the south. Plenty of sea room to avoid the reef and in an area well known for its sensitive natural environments.

The next bit of his intended voyage would have been in the Archipelagic Sea Lanes around Sulawesi and East Timor/Papua New Guinea to take part in a training exercise.



Chart 3811 1:500,000




Chart 967 1:725,000






Chart 3483 1:1,500,000



That note on the chart say “reefs rep to extend 1.5 miles seaward 2005”




clip_image004What was he doing within ten miles of the reef in the pitch dark - the moon’s altitude was -57° at the time? It was virtually low tide but with only a metre or so range that would not have made the difference between sinking or floating.

Below: ECDIS ENC showing a point plotted using the same co-ordinates. It would be interesting to know the co-ordinates which they were working to.

clip_image002[17]Never mind faulty DNC data or 1.5 mile errors, this is an example of ECDIS assisted casualty which would not have happened if the navigating team had looked at all available sources of information. Not just charts and publications but radar, echo-sounder or even looking and listening out of the window which I am sure told a vivid story at sunrise! Where has this vital information been lost (lost may be the wrong word here as there has obviously been a decision not to include it in the data for the ECDIS or DNC apps).

There was a lot of talk about ‘smart’ vector charts (now known as ENCs and DNCs) versus ‘dumb’ raster charts (ARCS etc) some years ago and a lot of spurious assertions as to the intelligence of the data. It makes little difference if the app is running on a mobile phone, am ECDIS or a nuclear bomb-proof naval command and control system, the only intelligent element of the system is the human navigator.


Teach the navigator how to navigate, not how to use an app.


I am guessing that he was trying to go east-west through the channel about 1.52nM north but just got too close to the reef - same school of navigation as Captain Schettino of the Costa Concordia? clip_image010

It would have been no significant deviation to leave the lighthouse to port, he was only 4 nM from it when he hit the reef so he must have been able to see it out of the window as well as on radar. I don’t actually think he was show-boating as it is an uninhabited atoll and it was dark, but he chose to believe his DNC instead of everything else.


There is no ‘error in the location of the Tubbataha Reef on the digital map’, it is referenced to a different horizontal datum. Digital maps can never be any more accurate than the source data which they have been constructed from and it will be a while before the remote (from US and Europe) parts of the world are referenced to the WGS84 spheroid.

Even state of the art cutting-edge aids to navigation apps require a true understanding of how they work and safety back-up using MKI eyeball pointing out of the window.




Digital Certificate Magic

Nearly all the code that comes out of CherSoft is digitally signed. You might reasonably ask ‘So what does that mean and why should I care?’. Well, the signature provides proof that the code came from CherSoft. It also proves that the code has not been tampered with. So, not only can you be sure that you are getting exactly what you think you are getting but also that nothing has been added (like a virus) or taken away or fiddled with. This is actually a pretty strong guarantee. It is also pretty important. In fact it is considered so important that most of the requirements for handling and checking digital signature are built right into the Operating System.

Here is some technical stuff. It is easy to copy and edit files – so how do digital signatures prevent tampering? The clever bit is the use of asymmetric cryptography. Now the math behind this is a bit evil and well beyond me, however the practical upshot is that it is possible to encrypt something with a private key that can only be decrypted with a public key (a key is a string of digits that is used in the encryption algorithms). You can’t use the public key to work out what the private key is (that’s the asymmetry bit). Signing the code involves creating a digest and then encrypting this with the private key. A digest is  a summary of the code which will always change if the code changes. Imagine taking every 100th letter from a book. If the book changed then the sequence of letters would change. A digest works (very nearly) like this. It is much shorter than the whole book so it can be encrypted or decrypted quickly.

So if we give you our public key and sign the code using our private key then you can use the public key to be sure it came from us.

How do you get our public key? Easy – we put it into a certificate. This is a file which contains some information about us (CherSoft), an expiry date and our public key. When Windows checks the files before installing them it looks for a signature and checks it against the certificate. The certificate is appended to the code but you can, if you want, download a copy of it here.

Now if you are paying attention then you should be asking ‘ah ha, but how can we tell the certificate is genuine?’. Maybe you have landed with some virus ridden code and they supplied a certificate with it as well. This loophole is closed by digitally signing the certificate. We don’t do this. Verisign do it for us. In fact we pay them quite a lot of money to do it for us. Verisign sign our certificate and then the public key to  verify that signature is stored in a Verisign certificate. Verisign are known as a Certificate Authority. They sign a lot of certificates and their public key unlocks all of them. The certificate containing imagetheir public key is known as a root certificate. You can trust it because it comes from a well know source and it is ubiquitous. If someone attempted to forge our public key certificate they would not be able to use the Verisign certificate because the private key for that is kept very private. So the certificate chain leading to a trusted root certificate is your guarantee that the code is exactly what it is supposed to be.

The CherSoft certificate is signed by an intermediate certificate which in turn is signed by the root certificate.

This stuff is a bit technical and involved. Fortunately it is also quite effective and, for the most part, handled by the Operating System (Windows) in a way which makes downloading and installing stuff safer. If you ever see a message along the lines of ‘This code comes from an untrusted source’ then you should make sure that you are confident that you know exactly what it is before going any further.

The Verisign certificate needs to be installed on your computer. So how does it get there? Turns out that there are several mechanisms of which the easiest is that the Windows Update service will do it for you. Keep Windows up to date and there will not be any problems (not this sort of problem anyhow). If you do not update your PC then a problem can arise because the one of the root certificates becomes out of date. We do see this occasionally especially on shipboard computers which never get to see the Internet from one year to the next. If your root certificate is out of date you may get to see this:


The solution is to download the missing or out of date certificates. You can get the Verisign intermediate certificate here and the Verisign primary root certificate here.

Copy the information for the Certificates as explained on the web page. Then paste them into plain text files (use notepad) and save it to a file whose extension is .cer.  Follow the instructions to create a .cer file for each missing certificate. Copy the certificates to the PC. Right click and choose ‘install certificate’. This requires Admin privileges. Choose ‘Automatically select the certificate store…’ when asked and accept all other defaults.

If you want to check signature on our code manually then download the Nuno Navigator installer and right click on the file (called nunonavigator.exe). Click on the Digital Signatures tab.


Click on the CherSoft Ltd signature and choose details.


Automatic Identification System (AIS)

Each vessel fitted with an AIS transponder transmits its identity, position, course, speed and other information over a VHF channel. AIS1This is compulsory for vessels over 300 tons and all passenger ships. Quite a lot of other vessels carry them as well.

So if your boat has an AIS receiver on board you can track these vessels if they are in range, typically 20 miles or so. If the receiver has a display at all it is usually a bit rude and crude – the real trick is to feed the AIS information into your chart display system. Now you can see the AIS targets overlaid onto your navigational chart and this starts to get useful.

AIS was intended and designed as a collision avoidance mechanism however you really need a graphical chart based display to properly realize this. Nuno™ now supports AIS (hooray!) and makes a great way to display the information.

Even on a smaller boat there is a lot to be said for getting an AIS receiver. They are pretty cheap these days and benefit in terms of situational awareness is brilliant.

Configuring AIS in Nuno™ is pretty easy. You need an AIS unit with a NMEA output and then you just plug it in. That’s it. Depending on your set up the AIS NMEA stream may be multiplexed onto your GPS feed or it may be a separate connection. Either way just plug it in and Nuno™ will find it.

AIS targets are displayed as little green symbols with a vector arrow representing speed and direction. Ticks on the arrow are at one minute intervals. Hover the cursor over the target to see additional information such as name, destination and cargo. The scope of the information being broadcast can vary quite a lot.

AIS5Here is a really handy technique: Create a pencil line and drop one end onto the marker for your boat and the other onto an AIS target. The line will display range and bearing to the AIS target. Even better the line will ‘snap’ to your vessel and the AIS target and update as they move. Very useful for keeping an eye on another ship.

Nuno™ with AIS capability is being released soon. Very soon. Maybe even today. This is available as a free upgrade to all users with a current license. There are lots of other improvements in this release and some great new features just around the corner.

How do you get it? Easy. Run Nuno™ up on a PC with an internet connection. If an upgrade is available it will tell you in the Support Centre pane and there will be a download link for you to follow.

Looking out of the window

P8049657A concern commonly raised during discussions around electronic navigation systems is the way that they can contribute toward incidents. The scenarios usually revolve around lack of training and an over reliance on the computer software. In fact several grounding incidents have been directly attributed to this. In each case the ECDIS was not correctly set up for the conditions, presumably because it was not well understood. At the same time other more traditional approaches to navigation such as looking out of the window were being neglected. The inevitable result is a lot of unhappiness.

So what is really going on here? How come a system which is designed to make navigation safer is causing problems instead?

First off, we should probably assert that electronic chart systems are, for the most part, a big benefit. Very basic properties such as accuracy of positioning and ease of chart updating set such systems head and shoulders above paper charts. I can go on with a long list but you probably already know it. So where is the downside? At CherSoft, there are two issues that we are very aware of: first up the screen is not as big or clear as a paper chart, secondly the user interface can act as a barrier. Good software should be mitigating these issues by making optimal use of the screen real estate and by being easy to use. Obviously, if the software is easy to use then training is less of an issue.

But there is another angle to this.

A long time ago when Microsoft Word was a DOS application I was asked about how to set up the page layout. I had never looked at this at all before but I gave it a go and it only took a few minutes to get sorted. The secretary was impressed with my knowledge of Word. Of course I was actually making it up as I was going along but the results were fine so that didn’t matter. I’d never had any training on Word and I did not have a detailed knowledge of its settings. That was not so important because I did know the principles behind it and understood the general approach of the User Interface. My knowledge was to do with the domain rather than the details.

Understanding navigation systems is the core issue. Many systems, particularly the professional, type approved ones, are devilishly difficult to use. This may surprise you. Certainly if you had paid several thousands for a state of the art system then you might hope it would be quite approachable. The trouble is that not only are the User Interfaces, for the most part, quite primitive, but also the mechanisms around obtaining and updating charts tend to be complex. The latter is mostly associated with the dragon of Digital Rights Management. These factors mean that training, of necessity, has to be concerned with a lot of detail.

We think that the navigation system should be easy to use. It should be sufficiently easy to use that someone with knowledge of navigation and some elementary computer skills should be able to use it. I am not going to claim that Nuno™ achieves this yet, but it is what we are aiming for. This still leaves a gap though. It still leaves space for the fatal over-reliance on computers. Perhaps this is more of a cultural thing than a specific training issue. I suspect that the more you know about computers and their weaknesses then the less likely you are to drop unsuitable responsibility on one. Another way of looking at this is to consider that a computer, however clever it appears, is just a tool.

I think there needs to be convergence. The electronic tools should be useful without demanding specific knowledge. At the same time the limits of the tool should be understood at a domain level rather than in terms of the detail. My hope would be that the increasingly computer savvy people driving the ship will be using these tools so that they can spend more time looking out of the window rather than less.

Joined up charting

Charts are square, countries aren’t, it’s a problem. There may be a vision of a utopian world where country boundaries are straight and align with a geodetic grid but the reality, as usual, is much messier. The tricky bit is that each national hydrographic office will create ENC cells with bits missing. The political ramifications of drawing a map of someone else's country can be severe. Politicians just don’t like this sort of thing and Google have managed to upset people to a remarkable degree by misplacing the odd line. So the only sensible thing to do is to create chart up to the national boundary and then stop. Of course by safe I mean politically safe. For the mariner it is a pain in the transom akin to sailing off the edge of the world.

US-Canada ENC Harmonisation

This means we end up with multiple ENC cells of the same area at the same compilation scale but from different providers. The reason you might care about this is that you could easily end up with duplicate or similar features from both cells overlaid on each other. Depending on how your chart display software renders this it will probably look a mess, could easily be confusing and might even be dangerous.

Fortunately the good people at the International Hydrographic Office have already thought of a solution to this. Unfortunately it requires a degree of international cooperation and we (I am speaking for the whole human race now) are not very good at that. None the less several countries have been giving it a go following the principles of the Worldwide Electronic Navigational Database or WEND. This is a great idea and would be even better if it worked. I am not saying it won’t work but there is a way to go yet. One small step in the right direction has just been announced by NOAA and the Canadian Hydrographic Service. They have conceded that the boundary between the US and Canada is not straight so they have agreed on using a wrinkly one instead.

ENC cells are often cataloged and managed by the coordinates of the cell corners. This is fine most of the time and implies that the cell is square. However within the cell is a coverage object which really defines the shape of the area covered by the cell data. This can be a polygon of as much complexity as needed. So if two countries cooperate they can arrange the coverage boundaries along the international border, each country then charts its own bit and everyone is happy. The UK and France are a good example of where this works well. What is happening up on the Canadian border seems to be a little different though. They are still dividing up who does what but, see the above diagram, they are not following the border. Instead they are making sure the the cells will fit together properly but Canada is charting some of the US and visa versa. Why are they doing it this way? I have no idea. Please tell me if you can shed any light on this. Pragmatically the reason does not matter too much. The end effect will (should) be a set of ENC cells which join up nicely.

Cracking Nuno

I was quietly browsing the internet the other day and came across a website which offered me a ‘cracked’ version of Nuno Navigator. This struck me as interesting so I promptly downloaded a copy and got the team here to have a look at it. I was actually quite intrigued to know how it had been cracked. In some ways I was quite flattered. Nuno does not really cost very much but someone had still gone to the the trouble of hacking it.

While the file was being examined I went off to see if I could find other free downloads of cracked versions of Nuno. Turned up a couple more. Now these all came off sites that were offering an awful lot of software by way of free downloads. In fact there appeared to be most of the applications that we more usually pay for. Someone has been doing an awful lot of hacking license enforcement systems.

imageFirst result back from the labs was that the certificate on what claimed to be the Nuno installer had changed. This is pretty easy to check for yourself. Right click on the file and then select properties. On the tab labeled ‘Digital Signatures’ you should see that the file has been signed by CherSoft. These signatures are pretty reliable. If it does not say CherSoft then it has not come for us.

The particular file we were looking at what signed with the name ‘Softdeluxe’. I have no idea who this is. We are not entirely sure what the file does either. It contains a couple of GUIDs which pop up in malware reports. It also contains a link to the Nuno download page. Best bet was that it would install something that you would imageprobably rather not have on your computer and then take you to our website or even just download the genuine Nuno installer.

The next one we found was even more exciting. This was signed by ‘EliteCom LLC’ and appeared to be a disguised installer for Filehunter-win32.exe which very much looks like malware – a Trojan of some sort. There are many warnings on the ‘net about this one.

We checked a couple more ‘free’ downloads and concluded that no-one had hacked Nuno but that there was quite a bit of social engineering going on. The main theme appears to be one of tempting you with a free/hacked/cracked download. By the time you discover you are not getting what you hoped for it has installed something malicious. They are not even picking on Nuno especially – pretty much any current software is getting the treatment.

So anyhow, if you want to download Nuno then come to our website. If you have any doubts about what you have downloaded then check the digital signature. This is what they are for.

Touchy, Feely Nuno™

Windows 7 supports touch screens. Ok, that’s not very big news, touch screens have been around for a while. Wikipedia tells me that touch screens date from the 60s. Not sure about that but they certainly crop up from time to time in museums, train stations and the sort of demos that look a bit forced. Overall I’d admit to being only peripherally aware of touch screens up to the day I encountered an iPad. Multi-touch, high resolution screen, quality software and suddenly it all makes sense. So much so that using the iPad touch screen felt natural within minutes.

Now sadly Nuno™ won’t run on an iPad (or maybe it does – watch this space) but there are some nice PCs around with touch screens and we figured that Nuno™ should be right at home with these. I find with charts in particular that I really want to reach out and touch them. Once you start doing this on a screen then there is no looking back. The touch screen doesn’t have to the replace the mouse and in many ways makes a nice addition to it.

Technically a touch screen, by default, drives the software a little like a mouse. This means that many applications, without modification, can already be used with a touch screen to some extent. Of course there is always scope for tweaks and improvements. As programmers we can accept the default behavior (ok sometimes) or dive in and create custom touch screen code. The diagram below shows what we have come up with in Nuno™. This seems to work quite well. There may well be refinements in the future.


P8052682I have been experimenting with an ELO 2242L 22” Touch monitor which is great fun although I can’t decide which way is best to mount it. Upright works quite well but is a bit tiring to use after a while. Might even cause the dreaded Gorilla Arm. Lying flat (the monitor, not me) is also quite good but it won’t naturally just lie on a table. Would be really nice to make a custom table for it although the ultimate chart replacement screen will probably need to be two or three times as big. Might even have teak edging.

Elsewhere in the CherSoft research labs we’ve been looking at a Motion J3500 tablet PC. This is a very nice bit of kit. Outdoor viewable display and generally pretty tough and portable. I could image using it ashore for planning with a keyboard, mouse and so on. Then taking it aboard and just using the touch screen to control it. The built in GPS works well so along with the automatic route tracking functionality in Nuno you can have a solution that really will just work. I guess in some ways this would be like having a plotter except of course that you could check your emails and browse the web in-between times. It features hot-swappable batteries too which is a pretty neat trick.

Nuno™ 2.5, the touchy, feely edition, will be out any day now.

Going to Mongolia

If you have checked the Nuno™ website lately you may have noticed a link on the main menu bar entitled ‘Mongolia’. We are supporting a team of young lads (Josh, Dan, Oli, Ollie & Rory) who are driving across Mongolia. This is a thoroughly worthy endeavor on its own. The guys have 10,000 miles or so of deserts and mountains to cross in a small underpowered van that they put together themselves. Nominally it’s a competition but really it’s about the sense of adventure, tackling the difficult and working as a team. The guys are also raising money for charity and if that were not enough they will also be donating what is left of the van and their equipment to the local communities around Broke YakUlaanBaatar (assuming they get there).


The Mongolian dessert has some remarkable similarities with the open ocean. It is a vast undulating expanse where you can go days without seeing even a hint of another person. Another commonality is that your cell phone won’t work. What has this got to do with Nuno™? Well we have fitted the team’s car with a Skywave satellite transceiver. This is nifty bit of kit which combines a GPS with a mechanism for sending and receiving data, worldwide, via satellite in a very cost effective way. There is an awful lot you can do with this and we are working at integrating it with Nuno™. For now the Mongolian Rally is a trial. The unit is set up to send back a position every few hours so we can track their position. They can also send and receive short messages. The Inmarsat ground station passes data back and forth to a CherSoft server and then we can make good things happen.

Here are some of the features we are planning:

When you are on-board you can connect Nuno™ to the Skywave box and use it as a positioning device. You will also be able to send and receive short messages - like a global SMS facility. Friends will be able to track your position on a dedicated web page – you only give the password to the people you want to see this.

When you leave your vessel you will still be able to track its position, on Nuno, using messages via the satellite network and the Internet. So straight away we can set up a virtual boundary fence and send an alert (SMS/email) if your anchor drags or someone moves your boat.

The unit supports a variety of sensors and these can be configured to keep an eye on things while you are away. Messages will be sent at regular intervals or immediately if an alarm is triggered:

imageBattery voltage with a trigger if it drops too low

Bilge alarm

Entry alarm triggered on doors or hatchways

Smoke/fire/gas alarm

Ignition alarm if someone tries to start the engine


There is a lot of useful functionality here. Can’t tell you any exact prices at the moment but despite the high-end sophisticated monitoring and messaging it will not be high-end prices.

In the meantime one of our trial units has just crossed Europe and is now bouncing its way into Asia. You can check their progress here. Good luck Josh, Dan, Oli, Ollie & Rory. Be safe and have fun.