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.

Darrell Nicholson, editor of Practical Sailor, grew up boating on Miami’s Biscayne Bay on everything from prams to Morgan ketches. Two years out of Emory University, after a brief stint as a sportswriter, he set out from Miami aboard a 60-year-old wooden William Atkin ketch named Tosca. For 10 years, he and writer-photographer Theresa Gibbons explored the Caribbean, crossed the Pacific, and cruised Southeast Asia aboard Tosca, working along the way as journalists and documenting their adventures for various travel and sailing publications, including Cruising World, Sail, Sailing, Cruising Helmsman, and Sailing World. Upon his return to land life, Darrell became the associate editor, then senior editor at Cruising World magazine, where he worked for five years. 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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