I love paper charts- the look, the feel, marking where I’ve been, practicing dead reckoning, all of it. I was planning my Gulf Islands and Princess Louisa trip which was already requiring the San Juan Islands, Gulf Islands and Desolation Sound chart books, as well as the 3311 chart set for the Sunshine Coast. To also purchase large scale charts for all the nooks and crannies I wanted to visit would have cost hundreds more dollars. I have a handheld Garmin GPS, but last year in Canada I found I preferred the Navionics US and Canada App which was easier to read and operate on my phone or iPad than the Garmin, and in some instances was more accurate. I knew I would be in locations with no cell reception, so the accuracy of the Navionics would be lower, and buying a fancy chart plotter was out of the question. My solution was the Bad Elf GPS Pro which is a satellite GPS receiver that will Bluetooth to other devices and allow me to turn my iPhone, iPad or iPod into chart plotters.
Bad Elf has several different versions of the GPS with different features and capabilities. The Pro model cost me $149.99 through Amazon and it provides latitude, longitude, altitude, speed, time, a downloadable track and can be paired with up to 5 devices at a time. There are higher grade models provide that barometric pressure readings and more precise location services for surveying applications. There is no monthly subscription fee. I paired it with my iPad for a bigger picture display, but also my phone for when the sun made the iPad hard to see or I needed to enlarge something quickly without moving from behind the wheel to reach the iPad. They can be used for aviation, vehicle navigation, biking, hiking, geocaching, cycling – pretty much anything you can imagine where you might use a GPS. You can use the simple map that comes with the app, or use other apps such as Navionics, Google Maps, etc. The accuracy is reported to be as good as 8 ft, although mine usually read about 15 ft. It’s also water resistant, although not waterproof. Mine took a little spray and a few sprinkles, but it’s not meant to be submerged. A small zip lock bag would take care of any worries in the rain.
At the moment they are only compatible with iOS devices. The website says you can use them on some of the apps that Android supports, but you still need an iOS device to do your initial set up or to download your trips. The website lists an incredible number of apps that it is compatible with for various activities. There are 18 marine based apps (you should check first if you are considering a purchase), including one for an anchor alarm that I hope to try out soon.
I’ve had no problems bluetoothing to my iPhone, iPad or iPod (I plan to try one of the compatible hiking/walking apps), and I’ve been very happy with the battery life. I’ve been able to use it through three full cruising days without recharging, and it recharges very quickly – I’m estimating about an hour. A 12V adapter comes in the box, so I could leave it charging the entire time I’m traveling, but I like being able to scroll through and look at my latidtude/longitude, heading, time, etc. If I were going to leave it charging, I would probably want it mounted to a window in case that affects satellite tracking.
You are able to change how you want the latitude and longitude to be displayed, and I breezed through this part during the setup which was a mistake. When I was trying to mark my position on the paper chart, I discovered that I had gone with the digital format which completely confused me. It took me a few tries and an internet search to figure out I needed to go into the app on my phone to change how lat/long were displayed.
Being able to download and share your tracks is a nice feature and it will record up to 100 hours of trip data before you have to download the trips onto one of your devices. Once you’ve turned the Bad Elf on and paired it to your device, simply press and hold the GPS button until it says GPS LOGGER STARTED. If you repeat this process yo have an option to record a POI (point of interest) or to turn off the logger. Once you are finished with your trip, go to the Bad Elf app on your device and it will tell you how many trips are available for you to download. Once they are downloaded on your device they will be cleared from the Bad Elf to free up more trip memory. There will then be another bar on the App telling you how many trips have been downloaded to your iPhone or iPad. Tap this tab to view and name the trips – there will be a default name like “Monday Morning Walk” so you will want to keep up on the renaming. As you can see from the photo, I had to rename 18 trips at once. With the Navionics app you can view the trip either as as standard map or as a satellite image.
Once this is done you can share the trips as a GPX file, KML file, Twitter, Facebook or via email. I emailed a trip to myself to see what it would look like, and it actually gives you all of the trip data as well as a screenshot and the two file versions.
What could they do better? The compass only reads in true, not magnetic. It took a little research to figure out why it wasn’t agreeing with my autopilot or the compass on my binnacle. I would prefer to be able to switch it over to magnetic, although technically I’m able to navigate in true with my charts and a little math. However I think for most things I would want it for, magnetic would be my preference. For those people with a proper navigation station, being able to view it on the actual Mac so that those below could see as well as those above would be a convenient addition. Apparently the high end survey model is able to display on Mac or PC with a USB cable. All of the versions I searched were splash resistant, but not water resistant. This isn’t a deal breaker since it’s small enough to put into the tiniest of dry bags, but would be a great feature. Lastly, adding functionality for Android users would be a nice touch as well.
In general I was very happy with the Bad Elf GPS Pro for this trip and I’m looking forward to trying it out with SafeAnchor and the Navionics Hike and Bike apps in the near future.