Many forums aim to be the Facebook for sailors. The idea of a virtual meeting point for the water sports community, especially for blue water sailors and liveaboards, really sounds appealing at first glance. A global online virtual harbour where like-minded people can meet for future trips, where old friends check out in which harbour to meet next springtime in another part of the world. Or where deck hands search with a online post for a ship to cross the ocean instead of drawing attention to themselves with a cardboard sign at some godforsaken jetty.
Developed during the winter break
Reality shows that a project like this is not easy to make it a success. Many ambitious forums have hardly been able to get beyond the stage of showing boring text threads for decades. A new attempt was made in 2017 by the British long-distance and liveaboard sailor Steve Neal: During the winter season in the Marina di Ragusa in Sicily, he developed the website noforeignland.com – initially only as an ”intranet“ for his marina neighbours.
The site was frequently used, and so Steve, who has been on the yacht ”Amalia“ together with his partner Helen for years, opened the forum for everyone in 2018. Steve’s idea: Sailors want to share nautical and personal information, for example about popular anchorages, with other sailors.
Icon show hurricane holes
This was Steve’s personal approach: To keep their friends up to date online. Not only do they want their online platform to make life on board easier for friends and acquaintances. They also want to be able to follow them on their journey online by tracking. The platform contains all this and much more. Is it this what defines a Facebook for sailors?
The interface is a combination of nautical maps, taken from the Garmin subbrand Navionics and from Google Maps. Steve Neal uses small icons for popular marinas, hurricane holes, shopping malls and anchorages. The real highlights are the moving icons: the community members’ boats. Anyone who wants to can be tracked on the website. In this case the registered boat pulls its wake on the map, depending on its course.
Input from the users is welcome
No long registration process is required to join the club. All that a future user has to do is to create an account, and the journey can begin! The boat can be registered here as well. If you have the MMSI of your own vessel at hand, the start is very easy, and everything else works quickly and almost by itself. Even single persons can be added as crew members to the boat.
For those who sail regularly through the social networks, a link to the individual Facebook and YouTube page can be added to the profile. Also other links can be included in the profile, e.g. to the donation platform Patreon, which is currently used mainly by sailing bloggers in the US, or to the boat’s own blog. Every registered user can contribute tips that Steve publishes after approval. The rules for this are not public, though.
Over 400 hits in the Mediterranean Sea
How many yachties use the forum so far is not clear. While only 14 Noforeignland members are currently around on the Canary Islands, the map in the Mediterranean shows about 400 members.
To speak of ”swarm intelligence“ is maybe still too early. On the other hand, there are many indications that you can meet here many experienced and well-travelled sailors. They can, for example, give sailing tips or share wreck warnings.
Apart from the map with its simple icons there are numerous forums, from the nudist spot “Naked Sailors & Naturists” to “Sailing4Families”. But here the participation ends quite abruptly: In the subforums almost nothing happens.
Payment model in two steps
Maybe that will change soon. From my own experience as a long-distance sailor I can confirm that the founders of noforeignland.com attach great importance to accuracy and check the tips entered so that a reliable database is created. Information and places can be filtered by type, post can be rated by the members and favorites to the own profile can be added.
All the information and features that have made this site popular, Steve wants to continue to offer free and accessible to all. But, of course, servers and website maintenance cost money – even though there is no doubt that a lot of heart and soul goes into what the family Neal and the community have built up as far. And they still are working on it day after day.
This is why noforeignland.com also has a two-stage payment model via the micro-payment provider Patreon. If you transfer two US dollars a month, you can post in the forums. If you find the service worth five US dollars a month, you’ll receive additional special offers such as additional photo upload options and a note on your boat page that identifies you as a “sponsor”.
Atlantic tracking also possible
Offshore tracking will also be made possible for anyone using Iridium GO!, Iridium Satellite Phone Messaging, Garmin inReach and SSB/Pactor modems. You can also track your way across the Atlantic or long passages in this way.
All non paying members can only upload one banner picture and four pictures in their profile. Further functions are still in the stage of planning.
Privacy at the anchorage?
You can easily check in with your boat via a check-in button at a place on the map or connect your AIS to the site to track your position on the map. This is how you are found in the sea of data. All the data you feed in is public.
Whether a social network for sailors is a curse or a blessing – everyone has to decide for himself or herself. The operators of the site find that it is another benefit to be able to follow other boats virtually. Compared to marinetraffic.com, where you can only follow a limited number of boats for free, Noforeignland allows you to monitor the movements of all members – if they are registered on the portal.
fullwidthimage url=“https://floatmagazin.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/2019-09-30-Norforeignland-27.jpg“ alt=“noforeignland“ caption=“The map is an open book, also for thieves“ copyright=“© Noforeignland“][/fullwidthimage]
Thieves could look too
Some people love it when you see who’s anchoring around you. Or friends and relatives can see where you are at home. But you should think about how much you want to reveal: Whether you check in your boat at one point, connect your AIS or enrich your profile with a blog, social media channels and pictures. Because with a lot of stored information you can quickly become a see-through sailor in a sea of data. Or a victim of theft, because even people with less good intentions could see that you are not on board at the moment.
Like everything else, a community website has its advantages and disadvantages. Many liveaboards use it to follow friendly sailors. Or they arrange to meet someone nearby for a beer at sunset or a trip together.