Porta-Bote Enhancements for 2008 Next Steps


The Porta-Bote proved to be an excellent platform upon which to build the world’s first fishing boat for the blind.  It’s light weight, stability and handling were crucial to the deployment and trialing of the various electronic systems.  It’s only down side rests with the portability aspect of the boat in that each time the boat was transported to a new location for test trials, the boat had to be unfolded and the electronic systems reinstalled.  The process then had to be reversed at the end of each test trial.  For this reason, future testing of technologies and systems will first need to meet the criteria of portability to stay in sink with the Porta-Bote’s primary characteristic.

In keeping in line with the theme of portability that Porta-Bote represents, further developments and testing on the Porta-Bote in 2008 will focus on implementing and testing a minimum of carefully chosen devices.  Criteria for their selection includes:

  • Reliability under all weather conditions;
  • Powered electrically with both batteries and capable of receiveing power from the Boat’s battery;
  • essential for operation of the boat;
  • necessary for the safety of the operator and others;
  • Essential to the independent operation of the Boat by people without sight;
  • Minimum wiring requirements;
  • Ease of set-up and take-down;

Trials with the Porta-Bote will continue with the following components: 

  • A single detachable sonar sensor with speaker to be used for scanning ahead of the Boat;
  • A second hand-held sonar device for use by the operator;
  • A hand-held talking GPS system with speaker;
  • A handheld talking compass for use in determining orientation of the Boat;
  • A handheld beeping compass for use in active navigation;
  • Portable VHF radio and home base;
  • A remote beeping locator tag system for marking stationary objects on the water or on shore;
  • A talking depth sounder consisting of a talking unit and a transom mounted transponder or one housed in the foot of the trolling motor;
  • Attachable bow and stern lights;

The configuration for the 2008 version will differ from that trialed in 2007 in that the automobile sensor will be eliminated along with the computer speakers.  Only one sonar device will be mounted on the bow as oppose to three.  The biggest differences in the 2008 version will be the “bread crumb” feature on the GPS, inclusion of a detachable depth sounder, and experimentation with a bow-mount electric motor.  (The transom mount trolling motor will continue to be field-trialed, but I also hope to be able to test Minn Kota’s bow mount motor with the Auto Pilot and Co-Pilot features.) 

It’s my hope that once the correct combination of the above devices has been determined, any small boat (10-14 feet powered with an electric trolling motor), could  be made accessible and safe for fishers without sight and the general public. 


The electric trolling motor tested throughout 2007 was a Minn Kota Maxum 40lb transom mount unit.  While the motor performed well and offered the pilot full control of the boat, the design of the tiller and position of the motor’s head (high above the transom) made it difficult to determine if the motor was pointed dead ahead.  It was easy to be out by several degrees, often resulting in the Boat moving along the lake in a “zig-zag” pattern.  Plans are underway to fabricate tactile indicators for installation on the transom mount Minn Kota to assist with maintaining a true course heading. 

Trials of the bow mount Minn Kota with both the Auto Pilot and Co-Pilot features are also being planned.  Auto Pilot gives the pilot the ability to give course corrections after which the AP’s electronic compass and remote tiller controller maintains the course heading – making course corrections automatically as needed to stay on the compass heading.  The CoPilot is a wireless remote for use in controlling the trolling motor’s speed and direction, and eliminates the need to use a foot peddle and the associated wiring.  Fabrication of a mount for the bow-mount Minn Kota will be completed over the winter. 


An audible compass is currently being built by Tactic marine in the U.K.  This digital compass was first engineered by Tactic for use by blind sailers in 2004.  The compass is not effected when the compasses position moves off the horizontal, such as the case when encountering waves.  It also provides real-time navigational  feedback to the pilot through a series of high and low tone beeps (high tones mean the Boat has drifted off course to the Starboard, and low tones means to the Port).  The faster the beep tones are repeated, the further the pilot has allowed the boat to drift off course.  The only draw back to the Tactic compass is that it doesn’t announce the cardinal positions.  For this reason, a talking compass like the Robitron will be kept aboard. 

Humanware is slated to release an update to their Trekker talking GPS that will include the bread crumb feature for the first time.  This will allow the pilot to record and save routes, and then re-navigate the route from beginning to end, or to reverse the course at any time.  At present, Trekker provides the pilot with the ability to navigate in a direct line from one point-of-interest to another. 

Top-Water Sonar:

One solution to eliminating unwanted feedback from waves being picked up by the handheld sensors on the bow of the Boat is to fish on smaller bodies of water that are calm, such as in the early morning or late evening.  However, one can not count  on calm seas every time one sets sail.  For this reason, ways of mounting the sonar device higher on the bow are being explored.  Of course, with a bow mount trolling motor, one could mount the device on the motor’s head, which would give the added functionality of being able to horizontally rotate the sonar device by means of the motor’s electronic steering controls. 

Depth Sonar:

Unfortunately, it was not possible to capture data from the Lowrance X510C fish finder and make it talk.  At present, this unit is not configured to output NMEA 2000 data.  However, discussions are underway with a developer in Australia who built a limited number of devices that capture the older NMEA 0183 standard code, and a transom-mount smart transducer was identified that will output NMEA 0183 code that should provide access to depth, speed, distance traveled and water temperature.  The cost for these products is $500 for the talker component, and $300 for the smart transducer.  My plan is to have both these installed on the Porta-Bote for next season. 


The first season of trials on the water may have raised just as many questions as were answered.  Still outstanding are several key elements, but answers seem to be coming closer by the day.  My international network of advisors and supporters is also expanding rapidly, as is my network of local friends and volunteers.  I owe them all a great deal of thanks for believing in me and for their on-going support.  However, it’s not over by a long shot…


  1. Mount Gps says:

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  2. Glen says:

    I too am a low vision fisherman who read your article. I contacted Realtime Control, the manufacturer of the Marine Talker, talking depth sounder in Australia. They no longer are manufacturing the talker modem. I still need to find a talking depth sounder. Do you know of any other companies who manufacture a talking depth sounder system?

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