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Voyager tracking with a social connection

Jun 24, 2015
Combine GPS and geo-referenced charts with email and social media tools in a web interface and you get Farkwar, a tracking service written by a live-aboard voyager.

Combine GPS and geo-referenced charts with email and social media tools in a web interface and you get Farkwar, a tracking service written by a live-aboard voyager.

Just as people like to stay connected when ashore, voyagers increasingly want that capability as well, whether at sea or in far-off destinations. Voyaging blogs, email, social media like Twitter and Facebook, and position reporting have all become popular and now there’s a new position-reporting effort called Farkwar that aims to make position reporting easier and more social for voyagers.

The Farkwar site (farkwar.com) displays positions of boats and of self-organized “fleets.” You can burrow down to see the positions of the boats in the fleet, then to the individual boats and can also see info about each boat. This type of map-based position reporting has been around for awhile, but according to its developer, a voyager named Tucker Bradford, what makes Farkwar different is the easy way position reporting can be done via email and its built-in connection with social networking. “Farkwar meets a whole slew of needs that I have been wishing for in my travels,” Bradford wrote in an email. “In addition to the fundamental features (like parsing email for positions and other data), it provides seamless integration with social networking tools (Facebook and Twitter) that we already use to stay in touch with friends and family back home. For those less-networked, Farkwar provides a direct email option, too.” 

Voyagers start by registering their boat on the site, where they are provided with a “secret” email address to which they will send their position reports. Then voyagers need to set up a new address in the AirMail email via HF radio service. Bradford says that Farkwar has been optimized for AirMail, but that users can employ another email client if they wish. Then whenever voyagers want to report their position, they send an email with their position reported like this: “At 13/05/2014 04:36 (utc) our position was 27°27.22’S 153°01.55’E.” The Farkwar program reads the position and puts a pin on the map for your boat. What you write in the body of the message becomes a note attached to the pin.

Bradford is not only the developer of Farkwar, but as a live-aboard voyager, he’s the target market for the service. He and his wife Victoria and two children left San Francisco in October of 2011 aboard their Cal 43 sloop Convivia. They first sailed to Banderas Bay, Mexico and spent about five months there before crossing the Pacific by way of French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and Vanuatu. After making landfall in Bundaberg, Australia, Bradford and family continued on to Brisbane, where Bradford works for a company writing software for rainforest conservation. 

Farkwar was developed by Bradford during a programming camp in Australia that a friend asked him to organize. When he was done with the organizational tasks, he realized he wanted to do something to help voyagers like himself stay in touch and so developed Farkwar. “I feel strongly the best software comes from marrying technical skill with passion,” Bradford wrote. “And it’s easy to be passionate when you are scratching your own itch.”

Bradford noted that about a year into the development of Farkwar, which was put together with the Ruby on Rails framework, the user base exploded. “I started getting great feedback from a few core users and started noticing trends,” Bradford wrote. For example, he noted that when a member of a group of buddy boats posted a position, the other members of the group posted too, even if they had been silent for a while. Feedback like this allowed him to focus on features to make the site more useful. “I added the Fleets functionality,” Bradford wrote, “which makes it easy for captains to associate with other boats (for regattas, informal groups, or in the case of ‘kids boats,’ a special interest) and keep track of the group’s positions in an organized way. I added a few new parsers including one for Iridium Go! and another for DeLorme’s InReach tracker.

“Another feature that I had always really wanted to see in other position trackers was an easy way to export and import positions. I would like to be able to hand off my waypoints to friends that are following in my wake, or re-import them into my chartplotter if I change software (or just as a backup). I also want users to be able to bootstrap their accounts with past positions, if that’s something that they find valuable. Farkwar makes import/export as easy as drag and drop.”

Bradford enjoys getting feedback from users and improving the site. “It really tickles me to add these features and then watch them get picked up, slowly at first, and then with increasing enthusiasm as the social aspects take hold.” 

While Farkwar is a gift to voyagers, Bradford does include a way for users to make donations.

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