Internet of Things Goes to Sea


Version 1.0.0 of Signal K, the Open Marine Data Standard has now been released, giving developers a stable platform to test and develop new open-source hardware and software for sailors.

Designed to be a modern, open source, web-friendly and extendable data format for boats, Signal K converts, combines and expands the conventional NMEA protocols found on most boat navigation systems. It takes these older, very specialized formats and makes the data compatible with the latest mobile devices and internet-based communication technology we use every day. For sailors, it opens a new door to the Internet of Things.

Signal K is now over four years old. The odds of the project getting this far were very small. Only about 17 percent of collaborative software projects ever release Version 1.

Signal K, however, had some advantages. The developers were experienced boaters. (PS writer Bill Bishop volunteered for the project.) The marine market for electronics is large, and there was a distinct need for this new technology. The NMEAs critical recognition and support for Signal K gave it the traction it needed to make the last push.

Today the project has over 350 participants representing dozens of companies from the very large, down to independent software developers. This global collaboration is made possible via Slack, GitHub and a dedicated Signal K Google Group, creating a thriving community with new ideas, apps, and programs appearing at a quickening rate.

For more on the project, see Practical Sailor previously reported on this topic in 2105 (see Signal K and the Sailboat,) PS December 2015.

Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on marine products for serious sailors for more than 45 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising or any form of compensation from manufacturers whose products we test. Testing is carried out by a team of experts from a wide range of fields including marine electronics, marine safety, marine surveying, sailboat rigging, sailmaking, engineering, ocean sailing, sailboat racing, and sailboat construction and design. This diversity of expertise allows us to carry out in-depth, objective evaluation of virtually every product available to serious sailors. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser with more than three decades of experience as a marine writer, photographer, boat captain, and product tester. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.


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