Review of the Bad Elf GPS Pro Bluetooth GPS Reciever

Bad Elf GPS Pro

Bad Elf GPS Pro

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 App Map and Display

Bad Elf App Map and Display

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.

Bluetooth Display

Bluetooth Display

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.

Position Display

Position Display

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.

App Display Screen

App Display Screen

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.

Standard Display

Standard Display of a Saved Track

Satellite Display

Satellite Display (Before Renaming) of Saved Track

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Email Sharing

Email Sharing

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.

Strait of Georgia

Strait of Georgia

Crossing Strait of Georgia

Strait of Georgia (Navionics)

 

What The Fog?

October 1, 2015

I may have been a mile out from South Pender when I hit the fog or it hit me. It seemed to go from a mile away to 100 feet away in minutes. I looked behind me at what had been clear, and I couldn’t see any farther. I was surrounded, and it had happened so fast. There was still blue sky overhead. Then I heard a very big horn.

Surrounded by Dense Fog

Surrounded by Dense Fog

Sitting in Bedwell Harbour that morning, I was about to cross back from Canada to the U.S. on my first solo trip “abroad.” It had been a great trip — 13 days with nothing to do but find and explore new places. At 8 a.m. I awoke to find the harbor fogged in, so I went back to sleep. There was no big rush; I had left myself six days to get back to Seattle in case of bad weather because fall in the PNW is notoriously unpredictable. Knowing fog was finicky, I also had no desire to push it, but I was anxious to get the leg of the trip with a customs stop on the U.S. side over.

I got back out of bed again around 10 a.m. and looked around — the harbor was almost clear and many boats were leaving. I still couldn’t see Boundary Pass outside so I took my time making breakfast while listening to the weather radio. There wasn’t much on the channel about visibility due to fog. When I finished and stowed everything, the harbor was totally clear and I could see past the markers out into the pass so I decided to leave.Fog Clearing

Fog still lingered far in front of me, but it seemed to be burning off nicely and there was a bright blue sky above. There was next to no wind, so I had to motor. Soon thereafter I was enveloped by fog, and then came the horn.

I saw this big guy on AIS and heard him far before I saw him

Saw on AIS and heard him far before I saw him

When I heard it my thoughts were flying by — What do I know? What do I remember? Where am I? Where are the other boats? What do I do? Glad I bought extra air horns!

Here’s what I did next and what I would do in the future.

I was grateful for several things:

The navigation classes. I knew how to follow contour lines once I was close to shore, how to do dead reckoning, and what sound signals to listen for and which to use.

The Marine Traffic app on my phone (that’s exactly what it’s called). AIS is an amazing technology and I was lucky to have cell reception for it. This allowed me to see larger vessels that are registered with AIS (all ferries and freighters) and I could see how fast they were going, and in the case of ferries, what their route should be. It also allows me to see photos of some vessels, which is nice when multiple are getting close, and some recreational vessels as well. Although I heard the giant freighter in front of me before I could physically see the upper reaches of its deck as it passed, the ship was on my MT screen so I knew what to expect. Hearing the horn of a vessel that large and not being able to see it is terrifying. Be aware there may be some lag time on updates, so positions are approximate.

Note the AIS had refreshed 1 minute before and ferry speed

Note the AIS had refreshed 1 minute before and ferry speed

The Navionics App, which is also on my phone, and is turning out to be better than my Garmin GPS. During the last month there have been multiple incidences where my chart or my Garmin were not up-to-date on markers, but the Navionics had them correct. It also just seems easier for me to read and navigate with it. I can also quickly measure distances, and though I would never be without a paper chart, it’s a very nice backup to have.

Crossing Boundary Pass in Fog

Crossing Boundary Pass-Almost Home!

Getting the Canada plan through my cell provider. I’m not sure how many of my navigational apps would have worked without this, but for $25 extra a month it was a great choice. Planning ahead to get international coverage even a few miles from the border was worth it.

Multiple full air horns. It really sucks having to sound those things off — and I would say this could be in my top two reasons not to go out in fog. I’m grateful to have watched someone do things correctly before it happened to me and I will always have several fresh air cans on board. An earplug for the one ear that I couldn’t plug with my finger would have been nice, too.

My Radar! Granted, I didn’t know how to use it, but I knew how to turn it on, and had other things to start correlating it with. It wasn’t the security it had the potential to be, but it was better than nothing.

Boat at 270 Degrees

Boat at 270 Degrees

Same Boat as on Radar - Appears Farther Away Due to Refresh Time Delay

Same Boat as on Radar – Appears Farther Away Due to Refresh Time Delay

Shortly after the AIS and radar photos and already crossed my bow.

Shortly after the AIS and radar photos and already crossed my bow

 

I also wish I had done many things differently:

Not leaving in the fog. I thought it was clearing, but fog obeys no rules. Just because a bay clears, it doesn’t mean the water outside has.

I had no radar experience. I had planned to practice with it in clear conditions to learn to recognize things, but I hadn’t gotten around to it. I will now get around to it! I did start comparing it with my Navionics and Marine Traffic to get an idea of how it worked and I still need more training in other things I could do with it such as using range alarms.

Stuart Island to Starboard

Stuart Island to Starboard

Fog Stuart Island From Boundary Pass

Stuart Island From Boundary Pass

I should have written down my latitude and longitude as soon as I noticed I was surrounded by fog and started dead reckoning in case my electronics failed. I was so good at this on my way north, but I became lackadaisical with it as I got comfortable with my surroundings — bad idea. I had the chart right there, but had too many other things on my mind.

I should have started monitoring the vessel traffic channel sooner, and I will start doing this on a more regular basis rather than just relying on the Marine Traffic app. There is a lot of information that can be gained by listening to that channel (5A or 14) and you can also request to know if any large vessels might be crossing your path.

Overall I re-learned that there are multiple ways to stay safe if something fails. There is so much more I could have used than I did, but I am grateful for what I had. With the amount of ferry and shipping traffic we have in the Puget Sound, San Juan Islands, Gulf Islands and Strait of Juan de Fuca, when it comes to fog, you can’t have too many backup plans.Fog Stuart Island