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Is 'What3Words' The Future of Navigation?

By: Bill Jennings

As computer data storage capacity has expanded exponentially, many new and innovative applications have surfaced. I recently discovered one such application that will be of special interest to boaters. It is called What3Words.

Everyone in the field of transportation is accustomed to using longitude and latitude to identify specific locations on earth. This coordinate system is accurate but difficult to remember and easily misread. To address this concern, a British group named What3Words has designed an alternate location system. They divided the world into 57 trillion small squares and gave a different name that will never change to each square. Specifically, every 3 meters square, (or 9.8 feet square), on our planet has been given a unique name, using a combination of three different words from the English language. For example, using the co-ordinate system, the exact entrance to the What3Words London headquarters is 51.520847 -0.19552100. If you use the What3Words system it is simply referred to as ///filled.count.soap.

In five years of development millions of people have come to rely on the system to describe locations quickly and accurately. From remote postal deliveries to identifying emergency service requirement locations. For boaters, it can be a super cool new tool-- and it is free. Simply download from the app store.

Here is what makes it great for boaters: it provides a simple, safe, and reliable method for summoning help. First, open the What3Words app on your cell phone. When the blue dot stops moving, your present three-word location will be displayed at the top of the screen. Provide this three-word location to people who can assist you and they will have your exact location.

Using the global grid system incorporated by What3Words your rescuers will be able to quickly identify your location. They simply open the What3Words app and enter the three words you provided. Then by switching to satellite mode on the app, a map will appear and they can identify your exact location. By zooming in on the map they can convene directly on your location within the aforementioned 3 metre grid square. If your rescuers do not already have the app, they can download it at no cost.

While What3Words can be a lifesaver, there are many other ways it can be useful. For example, if you want to meet someone in a park, you can provide them with the appropriate three words, and you will both end up within the same ten square feet. Whenever you want to tell someone how to find your place, all you need to do is give them the three words that identify your front door. You may also find that particular locations that are meaningful to you will generate a What3Words that works great as a boat name or piece of boat decor (fun example: ///awesome.boating.lake is actually a lake in Mexico).

The What3Words addressing system is already in use by businesses in over 170 countries. It is available in 35 languages and used daily by hotels, travel companies and disaster response. Tata Motors and Mercedes-Benz have signed agreements for automotive applications. Recently, several 911 call centers in Canada have begun to use it as wellThe RCMP have already logged successful use of the app in their rescue cases. Since many areas in Canada have no fixed address it is easy to understand why the technology will save teams vital time in locating callers. Detractors have pointed out this proprietary system is privately owned and perhaps could better serve the world if it were not controlled by one company. We will see what happens, but for now it is an amazingly useful app at an amazingly low price.

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