Sailing into the Digital Age: Leveraging Marine Electronics for STEM Education

Using marine electronics on Helen Mary R opens up a world of possibilities for interactive STEM learning experiences for young people.

Sailing into the Digital Age: Leveraging Marine Electronics for STEM Education

  • 7 min read

Using marine electronics on Helen Mary R opens up a world of possibilities for interactive STEM learning experiences for young people. With an array of sensors and instruments integrated through an NMEA (National Marine Electronics Association) 2000 network, we can capture many real-time data streams, providing young people with a dynamic and immersive learning environment.

Imagine young people being able to monitor and analyse live data from various sources, such as wind, barometric pressure, GPS, and depth sensors, right at their fingertips. This hands-on approach allows them to grasp complex concepts like navigation and meteorology in a tangible way, creating a deeper understanding and practical application for STEM principles.

Integrating gateways from Actisense and platforms like SignalK, enables seamless data exchange and visualisation. Young people can explore interactive dashboards, charts, and graphs, witnessing the intricate relationships between various factors affecting a vessel's performance. This visual representation of data enhances comprehension and cultivates critical thinking and problem-solving skills essential for STEM disciplines. 

For schools, we can transform Helen Mary R into a floating classroom where students can actively engage in real-world scenarios. They can calculate depths, time to arrival, velocity made good, analyse the impact of environmental conditions such as dropping barometric pressure, and optimise performance based on their observations and calculations. This practical application of theoretical knowledge ignites curiosity, promotes inquiry-based learning, and prepares students for future challenges in STEM fields.

Significantly, it opens up the possibilities for interdisciplinary learning, combining elements of physics, engineering, computer science, and geography. Students can explore data analysis, programming, and sustainable practices in sailing and marine environments.

Overview of Helen Mary R’s Data Network

At the heart of Helen Mary R, lies our NMEA 2000 network, a communication system interconnecting various marine electronics. This network acts as a central hub, allowing different devices and sensors to exchange data and work harmoniously.

The NMEA 2000 network is like a digital highway, enabling crucial information to flow freely between the various components aboard. For instance, the Autonnic Wind and Heading Sensors continuously transmit real-time data about wind speed, direction, and the boat's heading. This information is then shared with other devices on the network, such as our Raymarine Chart Plotters or data displays.

Similarly, the Airmar Speed/Depth/Temp transducer, equipped with additional sensors for measuring pitch and heal angle, relays valuable data regarding the boat's speed through the water, depth, and water temperature. This multitude of data points provides a comprehensive picture of the vessel's performance and surrounding environment.

The EM-Track B400 Class B AIS (Automatic Identification System) is another critical component integrated into the NMEA 2000 network. This system transmits the ship’s position so that other ships know its position and receive other vessels' location, identity, course and speed information, enabling enhanced situational awareness and collision avoidance capabilities.

Gateways

While the NMEA 2000 network is the backbone for interconnecting our modern marine electronics, we also have onboard older (no longer supported) equipment that communicates using the earlier NMEA 0183 protocol. This includes (now retired) Raymarine E-series classic chart plotters, radar, and ST-60 instruments at the helm, which display crucial data such as speed, depth, wind speed, and direction.

We rely on the Actisense NGW-1 Bi-directional NMEA Conversion Gateway to bridge this gap between the two data protocols. This ingenious device connects to our NMEA 2000 network. It seamlessly converts the data streams to NMEA 0183 format, enabling our older equipment to receive and interpret the information from our modern sensors.

Thanks to Actisense's generosity, we recently received additional equipment to enhance our capabilities. The NGX-1 NMEA 2000 Dual Gateway allows us to connect the NMEA data from the boat's network directly to our onboard Raspberry Pi computer, opening up a world of possibilities for data analysis. The W2K-1 NMEA 2000 to Wi-Fi Gateway will also be a game-changer for us. This device transmits our boat's data over a Wi-Fi network, enabling us to use Android tablets running the Navionics App to display real-time data from our sensors and update charts in real-time! This wireless connectivity enhances our situational awareness and provides a portable and flexible platform for interactive learning experiences.

Using these Actisense gateways, we have successfully bridged the gap between our older and newer equipment. This integration ensures that our crew have access to comprehensive and up-to-date information, fostering a more immersive and data-driven learning environment.

Pulling all this technology together is an app called SignalK that runs on our Raspberry Pi. SignalK is an open-source data platform designed specifically for marine applications. It acts as a central hub, collecting data from various sources, including our NMEA 2000 network, and processing it into a standardised format.

This platform provides a unified view of all our vessel's data and enables the development of custom applications and data visualisation tools such as Grafana. SignalK's open-source nature means that developers and enthusiasts worldwide can contribute to its growth and capabilities, fostering a vibrant community dedicated to enhancing maritime technology and education.

Enabling New Interactive Learning Experiences in 2024

In 2024, we aim to empower young people aboard to actively participate in data capture, analysis, and dissemination, creating a deeper understanding of the marine environment and sustainable practices.

Our most exciting initiative involves letting our trainees capture and publish boat data directly on our website via a ‘Ships Log’. This includes uploading our GPS track and wind and boat speed graphs, among other data points. By visualising this information, young people can gain invaluable insights into factors influencing a vessel's performance, such as wind conditions, currents, and waves.

Furthermore, we are fundraising to install solar panels, enabling us to monitor and analyse power generation data. With this integration, young people can track power usage, production, and engine utilisation, enabling them to calculate their carbon footprint for any 24 hours. This hands-on experience cultivates an understanding of sustainable energy practices and encourages critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

By harnessing the power of digital data streams, we can create immersive learning environments that engage students and facilitate understanding complex concepts. Students can witness the intricate relationships between various factors, such as wind speed, boat speed, and energy consumption.

For schools, we are enabling teachers to have a platform for experimentation, hypothesis testing, and data-driven decision-making, preparing young sailors for future challenges in STEM fields and environmental stewardship.

Integrating technology aboard is a powerful catalyst for engaging young people and creating a deeper understanding of complex concepts through a process we like to call "learning by stealth." 

By immersing students in interactive digital experiences, such as visualising real-time data streams and analysing performance metrics, we create an environment where learning becomes an organic and captivating endeavour. Without realising it, young people are actively grappling with intricate concepts from various STEM disciplines, including physics, mathematics, and environmental science. 

The hands-on nature of these experiences, coupled with the inherent appeal of cutting-edge technology, cultivates an insatiable curiosity and a desire to explore further. As a result, complex topics that may otherwise seem daunting become approachable and enjoyable.

Invitation to Learn More and Collaborate

We are incredibly excited about the possibilities that lie ahead as we continue to develop & utilise a technology platform that can be used to teach and inspire. Our voyages on Helen Mary R offer a unique and immersive learning experience, and we would love to collaborate with Cornish schools to develop further and refine these innovative educational approaches.

If you are a teacher interested in exploring hands-on, technology-driven STEM learning opportunities for your students, please contact us. We are always eager to take on new challenges and work closely with schools and colleges to create tailored voyages that align with your curriculum and learning objectives.

To learn more about upcoming voyages, please visit https://sailadventure.co.uk/sailingtrips or follow us on social media. You can also contact us at hello@sailadventure.co.uk to discuss your specific requirements and how we can work together to foster a love for STEM subjects among your students.

Together, we can chart a course towards a future where technology and maritime adventures converge, providing young minds with unforgettable learning experiences that will shape their understanding of the world and inspire them to pursue careers in STEM fields.

Contact

Morvargh Sailing Project is a Community Interest Company registered in England No: 07132688. Registered address: Willow Barn, Lower Bodwen, Redmoor, PL30 5AT

Location:

Fowey, Cornwall

Email:

hello@sailadventure.co.uk

Call:

+44 (0)7481 546577

Vessel Location:

50°20'00.8"N 4°37'46.9"W

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