The Kattack iPhone App

New News (from Chris Howell):
The Android app for Kattack is available through the

Search Kattack Mobile
The price is $9.99
By Bee Bednar and Walt Nuschke


Most of you already know what Kattack is (, but just in case you don’t, it’s a service that enables recording of GPS locations in real time. When viewed in sequence, the mapped locations become a video showing exactly where the tracking device is, its speed and its name at any given time. In contrast with SPOT units that post locations every 10 minutes, Kattack devices post every 5 seconds so the race details can be seen. When multiple J105s racing at the same time are tracked, the live Tracker display appears as a movie of all the boats in the entire race from start to finish.

The entire Kattack live tracking system functions using a cell phone with a custom app referred to as a Tracker, and a Web Player. A program referred to as a Publisher is used to create a finished version, including race statistics that can be replayed as much as you want. During the race, the Tracker records the locations and sends them to the Live Tracker (Kattack refers to this as a Feed), which displays them on a computer or smart phone screen in close to real time. One can view the race while racing, but the delay is large enough to essentially rule out any tactical advantage one might envision. This is the perfect tool for playing the race as it happens in the yacht club or for the people at home.

The Publisher formats the race for replay and adds interesting statistical data. This means that races can be replayed and rehashed to your hearts desire. Races can thus be tracked, displayed on a big screen TV and replayed as many times as desired. The displays can be used as teaching tools, for bragging rights, or in just about any way a local fleet might dream up.

There are currently two kinds of Trackers, both of which happen to be cell phones. One can be obtained from Kattack for a rental fee of approximately $125/year including data service. The other is a $9.99 iPhone or iPad app that utilizes the integral GPS to send tracking data to the J/105 Feed on the Kattack server. Utilization of the app minimally requires a standard data plan to enable communication between the app and the Kattack system. It is feasible to use a pay as you go data plan, as the amount of data is relatively low. The Publisher is owned by Kattack, and the J/105 Class has purchased an unlimited annual license from Kattack. It’s worth noting that Kattack is working on an app for Android that should be available in 2012.

Kattack has been in use full time during the 2011 season by two of our fleets4 (Toronto) and 6 (Long Island Sound)with excellent results. The Class license was used to run Kattack for Key West and the NAs, which allowed everyone to see the action as it unfolded. This proved to be a big attraction for those of us who couldn’t manage to be there.

The J/105 National Class License

Beginning in the Spring of 2011, the J/105 national Class Officers began discussing the merits of purchasing a Class-licensed Publisher. The idea was to make Kattack available to all local fleets in the hopes of encouraging local participation and to increase interest in the boat. Then-Class President, Bernie Girod, bought the original national Class license for national events.

In the process of understanding the details of the system, Walt made one thing clear from the start to make this an effective effort we would have to figure out how to handle the Tracker issue. Since he knew that the Kattack Trackers were really just cell phones, it was clear to him that modern smart phone app could easily make the device into a Tracker. Initially the focus was on the iPhone, and a couple of a failed attempts (one by yours truly) made the ride getting the iPhone app very bumpy, but we won’t dwell on that. Suffice it to say that we now have one and will have an Android version very soon.

At the Class Annual Meeting in Annapolis in October, the Class approved the purchase of a Class license that beginning in 2012 will be available to every fleet to track their races and regattas throughout the year. You will not have to use an iPhone or an Android to participate, but the focus here is just on the iPhone.

Getting the App

Getting the app is simple. Mac users can go to the app store from iTunes and do a Kattack search by typing Kattack in the search window at the top right corner. Hitting return brings up the page for purchasing the Kattack Mobile app. Downloading the app to your computer and syncing with your phone installs the app and makes the phone into a tracker. The app can also be downloaded directly to your iPhone by going to the iPhone store,, clicking on search, entering Kattack and then purchasing and downloading the app. The app should install automatically.

Setting up the App

Once you have the app, you need to set it up so that your boat and the regatta can be identified by the Publisher. Activation of the app begins with the Kattack logo as shown in Figure 1. This is quickly followed by a map (Figure 2) that should immediately show your current location. At this point you know the app is receiving the GPS information, but before you can use the app as a tracker you will need to set it up with your boat name, the race feed and a password for that feed. The Feed name tells Kattack where to store your data so all the information from one race is in the same place. You will have to get the password from the proper person, but everything else should be available directly from iPhone screens.

Begin by clicking on the Settings icon in the lower right hand corner of the Kattack Mobile’s display. You should then see the page shown in Figure 3. Entering your boat name, race feed and password is accomplished by selecting each of the three named fields in sequence.

First, select Boat Name by clicking in the corresponding field below the title. Enter your boat’s name, as shown in Figure 4, and then click the field below the Race Feed title.

The image in Figure 5 should appear on the screen. You may have to click on the upper right hand All Races Button to get the list, but the list usually appears automatically. Select the race feed you wish to enter and then scroll up and click in the Password field.

Enter the password you have been given for this race. At this point, you are at Figure 6. If all the information has been entered correctly, clicking Start Tracking enables your iPhone’s tracking capability.

To make sure all is OK, click on the middle button at the bottom of the display. The status display as shown in Figure 7 tells you if the app is working properly. If so, you can verify that you are now in tracking mode, and all is well.

At any given time you can change the race feed, boat name and password by repeating the process described above. To do this, click on the right most button. The screen shown in Figure 8 will appear. From this page, you can edit the name of the boat or add additional boat names, race feeds, passwords or simply stop tracking.

The iPhone Tracker

As a Tracker, the iPhone app is not without issues battery discharge, potential water damage, GPS signal and phone dropouts are concerns. In some settings, the internal battery of the device will probably handle all the races for a day, but it’s wise to have it on charge. One of the best solutions to resolving these problems is Walt’s iPhone Otter Box Kit as shown in Figure 9. This little yellow box is completely sealed against water and has all the necessary battery and USB connections to keep the phone charged. The internal foam lining keeps the phone dry and protected. The enclosure has 2 delrin rail clips that don’t show in the kit photo but enable easy mounting on the rail. The power adaptor mounts by either foam tape (included) or optional screw mount. An integral switch turns it on and off to eliminate battery drain when not in use. An LED light indicates when it is on, and a 10 ft. cable makes for easy connection to the boat’s battery. There is a waterproof connector to allow easy connect and disconnect. The unit is potted to minimize corrosion thereby eliminating a big problem with cigarette lighter devices. The best place to mount the adaptor on a J/105 is on the bulkhead directly under the aft hatch. This allows for a drip loop in the cable from the rail box and further reduces water related issues. As indicated in Figure 10, the best location for mounting the Otter box is on the push pit rail. This keeps the phone looking at the sky and maximizes the cellular signal.

There are, of course, a great variety of ad-hoc approaches to mounting the iPhone Tracker. One owner used a modified Tupperware container taped to the pushpit rail. Another used a Ziploc freezer bag (my favorite waterproof container) and kept the phone in his pocket. The iPhone-Ziploc setup or any other configuration can also be taped to the binnacle, but there may be some risk of getting it damaged by a main sheet. If there is a cigarette adaptor on board, you can leave the iPhone down below in a more or less insecure place. Generally speaking these approaches are certainly inexpensive, but considering the current price of the iPhone, Walt’s design appears to offer a practical, economical and secure solution to keeping the phone safe and the tracking process working at an optimal level.

Bee has AT&T service in Houston and has tested the app offshore and in a couple of local beer can races. The main problems have been with cellular signal loss that interferes with live tracking, but all the data is buffered in the phone and eventually it gets transmitted. This means that the playback has no data loss although it is common to see dropouts in the live track depending on the quality of local cell phone service. The Kattack trackers use a completely different service (Boost Mobile) so the results will vary versus an iPhone operating with either the AT&T or Verizon systems. Boost Mobile coverage maps are not nearly as inclusive as with the big carriers, but for the common venues the coverage has been excellent. If you watched live tracking at Key West this year (using Kattack trackers), you would have noticed quite a few dropouts. These dropouts disappear in the replay because the data eventually catches up when service returns. It is also important to note that cell signals are very directional and therefore subject to shadows cast by objects that don’t allow the signal to pass through. This is the primary reason why mounting the tracker on the rail is preferred. In the future, Bee plans to use his iPad2 S as a chart plotter so it will become the de facto tracker.