Live Tracking and Locators


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CalTopo offers a few options to integrate live tracking into your map. The instructions on this page are for individual accounts. Team accounts have additional options, and all team tracking options are covered in the Live Team Tracking lesson.

Topics on this Page:

Location Sharing Overview

Sharing your location (without a team account) in CalTopo falls into two main categories:

  • Recording a mobile track to a map
  • Recording live tracks for a locator (Garmin inReach, APRS, ADS-B aircraft or other types of devices) to a map

The first option, recording a track to a shared map, is covered in detail in the Recording Tracks lesson in the Mobile Specific Tools and Functions chapter. Any mobile tracks that are being saved to a map will upload in near real time with a data connection or as soon as a data connection is reestablished. This function does allow for real time tracking for anyone viewing the map if the team members in the field have a reliable data connection.

Anyone with access to your map can see your recorded track update as long you have a data connection.

Recording live tracks for locators takes a little to a lot more setup than recording tracks with the mobile app. However this function allows you to record location updates to a map with and without a data connection for a wide range of devices, including Garmin inReaches, APRS and aircraft.

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Live Tracks

Please note: this feature has replaced the original Locator Group function. While some objects now require more information (i.e. IMEIs for Garmin inReaches), this feature adds support for a wider range of objects (including ADS-B aircraft) and the ability to record live tracks to a saved map.

You can now record live tracks to a map for a wide range of location sources- including aircraft as shown in this screenshot.

Depending on the location source, Live Tracks can allow you to record location updates in areas with and without cell service. The position will be updated at either regular intervals as specified by the location source’s plan/settings or by manually pushing updates.

How to use: Live Tracks must be added for each location source individually to each saved map. Please note that starting a live track for ADS-B aircraft requires a pro, desktop or team account; live tracks for all other objects are available to all users.

There are two ways to add a Live Track:

Method 1: Add a locator to a saved map

Open the +Add menu at the top of the Map Objects menu on the left side of the map viewer and select “Locator”.

Click the +Add menu and select Locator from the Map Objects section.

Select the type of device that you wish to record a live track for and the “Track Details” dialog will appear.

Select the type of device that you want to record.

Complete the form with your device information, label, color, etc. Device specific instructions for how to complete the form are shown in each Live Track dialog.

An example of a Track Details dialog for adding a Garmin inReach to a map. Note that device specific instructions are provided.

Please note for adding a Garmin inReach: each individual inReach’s IMEI number is assigned by Garmin. You can usually find it on the device itself, in the device settings or on the Garmin Portal Connect page.

Device info fields cannot be edited once you complete the form so double check that these fields are accurate. Track attributes can be edited as needed later on. Once you are happy with the form, click “Ok.” The next time that the locator reports its location, it will appear on the map as a map object and in the Map Objects menu in the Live Tracks folder (unless you designate a different folder).

Locators in the Live Tracks folder and on the map once they report their location.

Method 2: Record live tracks for aircraft from the Aircraft overlay

This feature requires a pro, desktop, or team account. Select the Aircraft overlay from the Map Overlays menu on the right hand side of the map viewer.

Select Aircraft from the Map Overlays menu

Click on the aircraft that you wish to record to the map and select “Record to Map” from the dialog that appears.

Click on the aircraft and select “Record to Map”.

The Track Details dialog will appear with the call sign/device ID field already completed. Fill out a label, color, etc and then click “Ok”.

Tail/flight number field will be pre-filled. Complete the track attributes fields as desired.

The next time that the aircraft reports its location, it will appear on the map as a map object and in the Map Objects menu in the Live Tracks folder (unless you designate a different folder).

To end a Live Track recording, click on the pencil icon to the left of the object in the Map Objects menu and select “Stop Recording” in the Track Details dialog.

Stop recording a track for an individual locator by clicking the pencil icon and then choosing Stop Recording.

To stop tracks for multiple devices at once, click on Bulk Ops at the bottom of the folder with the object. Select the object(s) that you wish to stop recording and then select “Stop Recording”.

You can stop recording for one or multiple locators by clicking Bulk Ops, selecting the object(s) and then clicking Stop Recording.

If you don’t manually stop a recording, the recording will automatically stop 24 hours after the last location update is received or once the track consists of more than 3000 points. Once a recording ends, the live track will be converted to a line object on your map and automatically moved to the Lines & Polygons folder in the Map Objects menu.

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Garmin InReach Integration

CalTopo offers integration with all inReach devices including the popular inReach mini and other devices. Recording a live track for an inReach does require some initial setup in Garmin’s inReach Portal Connect. Instructions for how to set up the Garmin side of things are shown below. Once you’ve completed these steps, you will not need to do them again unless you wish to change the connect key or other settings.

Garmin inReach Professional Plans

CalTopo uses inReach Personal Connect (IPC) to receive this information from Garmin. Use of IPC requires a professional account for your device. Garmin allows one or more devices on a single Professional plan.

More information about Garmin Professional plans can be found here: inReach Professional Plans. If you are already active on a Personal plan you can switch your account to a Professional plan by following Garmin's instructions for switching an inReach subscription to a Professional Account.

Garmin Setup

These steps are done in Garmin's interface and require an active device with an active professional plan (see above). To begin navigate to Garmin's inReach portal and login.

You'll be brought to the main page of the Garmin account system. You'll select Settings in the upper right hand corner of the screen and then you'll navigate to Portal Connect. CalTopo uses the OUTBOUND Portal Connect, which is located at the bottom left of the Portal Connect page.

Click Settings and then Portal Connect to access the Portal Connect page. CalTopo uses the Outbound Settings in the lower left hand corner.

Copy and paste the complete URL with the connect key from the Garmin inReach Track Details dialog. The URL should have the following format (where XXXX is the designated connect key): https://caltopo.com/api/v1/position/inReach/XXXX. Once you’ve entered the URL, turn on the outbound connection by clicking the gray off switch to turn it green.

You can send a test message at this point to your map and it should display a dummy locator and a marker at that point. Make sure to save your settings on the Garmin site at the bottom of the page.

At this point you've successfully linked the inReach to CalTopo. To record a live track for the inReach to a map, make sure to follow the directions in the Live Tracks section and use the same connect key every time. The map will display location updates as your device posts these updates. Garmin devices may require additional settings to push updates. These can be set to occur regularly, or only on demand, based on your plan and preferences.

The inReach will appear in the Live Tracks folder and on the map once it reports its location.

Troubleshooting steps:

If you are not seeing location information flowing across from Garmin

  • Check that the connect key matches the URL that you entered in the Outbound Settings in Garmin
  • Ensure the URL starts with caltopo or sartopo and matches your map location
  • Check that the device IMEI is accurate in the Track Details dialog
  • Ensure Garmin Outbound Connect has a green on toggle and that you have saved any updates you made
  • Contact CalTopo support

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APRS Integration

APRS is a system used by the amateur radio community to send location and other data using radio. CalTopo maps can be set up to display APRS objects in various scenarios. In addition to APRS, it may be possible to record live tracks for commercial radios (depending on the radio). However at this time we are unable to provide support for how to set up specific radios to forward updates to CalTopo.

General Map Setup for APRS

While there are various methods to get your APRS messages into the CalTopo system (covered below), tracking them on your map is the same.

Please see the Live Tracks section above for instructions on how to start a live track for an APRS beacon. Make sure to create your live track with the callsign matching the CALLSIGN-SSID sent by the APRS radio. Also please note that you can no longer create multiple tracks from one callsign- you will have to create a live track for each transmitting radio.

Once you’ve started a live track for an APRS beacon, the beacon will appear in the Live Tracks folder in the Map Objects menu and on the map once an APRS message is received from the specified callsign.

The APRS beacon will appear in the Live Tracks folder and on the map once it sends an APRS message.

CalTopo Online (Active Internet Connection): APRS Messages Heard by Online Gateway

In some areas, APRS internet gateways have been established. Sites such as https://aprs.fi allow anyone with a web browser to view position reports that have been heard by these gateways. The https://caltopo.com and https://sartopo.com web sites are connected to these gateways so that you can track objects on your map with no additional setup.

  1. Ensure your APRS messages are making it to a gateway by checking APRS.fi or similar site
  2. Add a live track to CalTopo using the appropriate call-sign

Position updates at the gateway will now show up on your map. APRS objects on your map will also appear in Desktop or mobile offline versions of CalTopo that are actively syncing to the online server.

CalTopo Desktop connected to APRS radio

When you are running CalTopo Desktop, either with or without internet access, you can listen for APRS traffic using a radio and TNC connected to the computer (some radios have the TNC built in).

  1. Use a terminal program (such as PuTTY for Windows) to verify APRS traffic is present on the serial port (ex COM4 or COM7 on Windows, /dev/tty.something or /dev/cu.something on MacOS). Messages should be in plain text. CalTopo now supports devices in KISS mode (for example, TNC-X). To enable this mode, add a line to the properties file like the following: sarsoft.location.serial.COM4.kiss=true
  2. Edit your topo.properties file to add an entry for each serial port you want to monitor, and restart your Desktop server. (You will find this file in /users/myusername/CalTopo on Macs or c:\Users\myusername\CalTopo on Windows, unless you have moved it elsewhere.) Below is the code to add to your topo.properties file, after changing it to reflect your serial port:
    sarsoft.location.aprs.local.enabled=true
    sarsoft.location.serial.COM8=1200,8,1,0

While setting up local APRS, or as a troubleshooting step, you can add the following line to your properties file to display messages received by CalTopo:

log4j.logger.org.sarsoft.location.service.APRSLocalEngine=INFO
log4j.logger.org.sarsoft.location.service.APRSSerialThread=DEBUG

If your CalTopo Desktop is actively syncing with the online server, then objects based on locally received APRS traffic will sync to the online website and other connected Desktop or Mobile clients.

Forwarding locally heard radio traffic to the online server

Newly available to team accounts, you can forward locally heard traffic to the online server. Add the following line to the properties file: sarsoft.location.shareWith=ABC123

This will forward everything heard locally (serial port or HTTP) to a team’s Shared Locations layer. Please note that currently there isn’t a way to customize the label/color of these forwarded reports, but we do plan to add that ability to a future desktop release.

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