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Author Topic:   Crowd-source Bathymetric Charts
jimh posted 01-26-2015 11:09 AM ET (US)   Profile for jimh   Send Email to jimh  
Navico Insight Genesis: the Chart Revolution

For centuries, boaters have relied on someone other than themselves to create accurate depth charts for navigable waters. In the USA, boaters generally have relied in the federal government to produce navigation charts with water depth information. Even the waters most critical to commercial navigation are only surveyed at long intervals. Waters of no commercial importance may not have been surveyed in a century. Some navigable water has never been surveyed. This paradigm is about to change.

Within the last ten years, it became possible for boaters to create their own navigation charts with depth information. A SONAR capable of recording depth and position data to a file, some specialized software that could process the data, and computer skill on the part of the operator were needed, but one could create their own bathymetric charts from their own SONAR data with the input of some money and time.

About two years ago, NAVICO introduced a chart creation service they call INSIGHT GENESIS. This service moved the chart creation process to a remote server. A user had only to record the data, upload it to the server, and, after a short delay, retrieve a new chart based on the uploaded data from the server. This service also added an important new feature: the ability of the new data to be shared with others.

Data collected from a lot of people and then shared among them is called crowd-sourced data. Crowd-sourcing data via the connected internet has become an amazing resource. The website from which you are now reading this article is a good example of crowd-sourced data; it is full of information contributed by and shared among a large population of users. Insight Genesis chart data is similarly gathered and shared data. A lot of people collect SONAR data, and all that data can be shared with a global population.

When Insight Genesis was first introduced, a participant still needed some computer skills. The SONAR data recorded to a file on a chart plotter and SONAR combination device had to be moved onto a removable storage medium (like an SD Memory card), carried to a computer with internet connection, and uploaded to the Navico server. When the server had created the new electronic chart, that data had to be similarly downloaded to a computer, written to movable storage, carried to the chart plotter, and imported as a new chart.

With the introduction of new capabilities in their chart plotters and the addition of a WiFi router to the network of the boat, it is now possible to participate in Insight Genesis charting directly from the chart-plotter/Sonar device on the boat. New SONAR data can be gathered, recorded, uploaded, and turned into a new chart right from the chart plotter on the boat.

The simpler, easier, and less expensive a process becomes, the greater the number of people who will be able to participate in the process. The creation of new bathymetric charts from your own SONAR data is no longer an arcane art limited to a few computer-savvy boaters. Just about anyone can accomplish this with Insight Genesis and a modern Navico chart plotter.

For a time, Navico offered Insight Genesis in two tiers, a basic tier at no cost, and a premium tier with a yearly subscription fee. Just recently the features of the two tiers were changed, and the basic free tier now offers almost all the features available. The free tier's change to providing almost all Insight Genesis features is certain to further increase participation in the crowd-souring of bathymetric data.

The crowd-sourced bathymetric chart data is referred to by Navico as "Social Map." By registering (at no cost) with the Insight Genesis website, one can view new bathymetric chart data created by others. Today I visited the Insight Genesis website and looked for some crowd-sourced data for the North Channel of Lake Huron. I found an interesting survey of the passage known as Little Detroit. I have transited this passage many times. It is a narrow man-made cut through granite shoreline. Here is the Insight Genesis user-made chart:

Screen capture of Social Map for Lake Huron,North Channel, Little Detroit

The Insight Genesis website is located at:

Registration is at no cost. Browsing the "Social Map" resources is also free. This crowd-sourced chart server is just starting to collect data. As the number of people using the newer Navico products increases, I expect the volume and quality of the crowd-sourced bathymetric data to increase.

jimh posted 01-26-2015 01:43 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
ASIDE: my illustration above of the crowd-sourced data for Little Detroit may not be the best possible example, for this reason: that passage is already very carefully surveyed and charted by the Canadian Hydrographic Service, and their published charts, both printed (2268) and electronic, show the passage and its water depths in excellent detail. Since the lake bottom there is pure rock and not subject to any sediment build up, the date of survey--several decades ago--does not affect the accuracy of the chart in describing what is there now.

I selected that "social map" chart because it was one that was available and covered an area that many readers are familiar with. Crowd-sourced chart data for other areas may be more useful than this, as they may show bottom land data that is not well documented in official charts.

jimh posted 01-27-2015 09:30 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Here is a press release from just yesterday that expands upon the latest features provided by Insight Genesis:

https:/ / insightgenesis. wordpress. com/ 2015/ 01/ 26/ new-upgrades-inc lude-free-social-map-charts-blue-scale-depth-shading-metric-chirp-option s/

Regarding the difference between the free-use and the paid-use of this service, the press release says:

You can harness the power of Insight Genesis for yourself with a free account or a Premium subscription. With either, you can create, use online and on the water, and save to the cloud, both custom and Social Map charts; contribute sonar data; create, edit and store waypoints; manually adjust water-level offsets; and analyze weather trends.

Upon closer reading, one finds that the free-account user is limited only slightly compared to the premium-tier user. The difference seems to be expressed here:

Both free and premium users can:

--View, and contribute to online Social Map community of inland and coastal waters across the globe with the Insight Genesis Social Map

--Upload, view, and save your trip history
----Unlimited Sonar Log uploads
----See your boat trail overlaid on a satellite image with your custom map
----Automatic weather data from each trip to show you potential trends
----Review your sonar history (traditional and DownScan)

--Create and download waypoints for use on your unit

--Blue Shaded Maps with 1-foot contours from your Contour Maps- Personal and Social Maps for Lowrance HDS and Simrad evo2 units

--Download community submitted Social Maps for use on your Lowrance/Simrad/B&G display for use on-the-water

--Create, view, and save unlimited custom contour maps made from recordings of the sonar/sounder on your boat:
----Select high-resolution contour lines (10, 5, 3, and 1-foot increments) and depth soundings
----Identify depth transitions with gradually shaded color changes
----Adjust depths automatically in tidal waters, or with manual offsets
----Create notes, tags, and waypoints in your custom map

Now we get to functions reserved for the premium tier for unlimited use, and available for the free tier in a limited use:

--Merge and load custom maps-including both your private custom maps with waypoints, and the Insight Genesis Social Map- onto your Lowrance/Simrad/B&G display for on-the-water use. (Free-tier limited to Merge Up To 12 Trips Per Body Of Water)

Finally, features ONLY of premium tier:

--View and save vegetation/weed-line and bottom-composition layers overlaid on your custom map

--Choose to keep your custom maps private


With the premium tier, you can opt out of sharing your data with others. I suppose this might appeal to some competitive anglers who have found a productive location and want to keep it to themselves. Other than that, I don't see why a participant would want to keep their sounding data out of the crowd-sourced pool of data.

The premium tier gets exclusive access to the bottom composition layer and vegetation features. This, again, probably appeals most to anglers.

The only other difference between free and premium tiers seems to be in the number of times you can provide soundings for a particular body of water. With the free tier, you can only add your own data to your own chart plotter a maximum of 12 times per body of water. I suppose if you were intent on mapping your own local lake in a very extensive manner you might have to make more than 12 survey trips to accomplish it. Or, if mapping a very large "body of water" such as a Great Lake, you could only map a small portion of in 12 trips, and then you'd be shut out of getting more of your own data on your chart plotter.

The really important aspect of these plans seems to be the ability to actually get the data onto your chart plotter and use it. That is denoted by the phrase "on the water."

For more details, see


To accomplish any of this, you need to have qualified hardware. There is a list available on the Insight Genesis website at

The HDS series original or "Gen-1" devices cannot use the service. Many devices need to have the latest firmware to use the service.

jimh posted 01-29-2015 12:20 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
The Insight Genesis charting process uses data from the crowd in the form of sonar logs. A sonar log is not just a tabulation of depth sounder readings and position; it is a recording of the sonar signals themselves. The data files that a user will upload to the server for processing might be very large, many hundreds of megabytes of data file.

Exactly how the Insight Genesis server will process this data and convert the data into a bathymetric chart is not clearly described by Lowrance. Because they are taking a great deal more data than just a tabulation of position and depth sounder reading into their process, it may be reasonable to assume they are doing something with the data more than just plotting depth and position. If they were just getting a tabulation of depth and position, that data could be found in a recording of trail points, which would be a much more compact form.

Hoosier posted 01-29-2015 09:10 PM ET (US)     Profile for Hoosier  Send Email to Hoosier     
If Navico is really doing this:

"-View and save vegetation/weed-line and bottom-composition layers overlaid on your custom map"

they will have to collect sonar echo data and post process it to get this information.

jimh posted 01-29-2015 09:54 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Good point. That must be why they want the user to send them the actual sonar signals log, not just location and depth data.
Hoosier posted 02-11-2015 09:48 AM ET (US)     Profile for Hoosier  Send Email to Hoosier     
Guys (and Gals) you have to look at this: -2207520000.1423665836./1442131409356296/?type=1&theater

This is brilliant.

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