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Maps in Sailaway

Posted on April 11, 2016 by Richard Knol

I will tell it like it is: Progress on version 0.5 is too slow. The biggest reason is that it is very hard to obtain maps with worldwide coverage.

There are plenty of 2D maps available, but Sailaway needs 3D maps. That means including heights and depths and preferably in a high resolution of about 10-20 meters. I find it very strange that we can download height maps of the Moon and Mars, but not of planet Earth. Of course NASA has something, but the resolution is about 240 meters and the vertical resolution is 10km / 256 = 40 meters. That may be fine for the Himalaya mountains, but it's useless for coastal regions.

There is the SRTM mission data that offers radar info at a 30 meter resolution for some areas and 90 meter for most areas. But it has many data errors and no info about the seafloor. The coastline of a country like the Netherlands, that is partly below sea level, looks unrecognizable.

So what about Google? They have an API where you can request height samples, not height maps. A few boats sailing along the coast for a day would have to make so many API calls that they alone would spend the entire daily budget of API calls for Sailaway.

The seas are full of buoys, windmill parks, shipwrecks, etc. These are typically found on nautical maps, but apart from the US that has excellent coverage and publicly available maps, each country has their own services. Most of them are paid, most of them have only local coverage and most of them are not digital. It makes you wonder how far we truly have come since the days of Columbus.

Sorry about this negativity. I guess I am just a bit frustrated. Sailaway started off as a fun project to create a realistic sailboat and now it seems it will have to do the work of mapping the entire earth by combining scarce, incomplete and sometimes incorrect data that has to be gathered from all over the internet.

There is also good news though: It will be awesome! You can add buoys, shallow areas, rocks, everything relevant for coastal navigation. The buoys will have lights that you can see at night, which will make nocturnal sailing as complex and as fascinating as it is in real life. Anyone who has ever approached the Netherlands from the North Sea in a clear night will know what I am talking about. Dozens of lights blinking in different colors and at different intervals. It really is an experience that is not easy to forget.


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