Live Tracking and Locators

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

Topics on this Page:

Location Sharing and Locators Overview

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

  • Recording a track to a map while in an area with cellular service.
  • Adding a locator object to a map, and connecting that to a devicee such as a satellite tracker or radio GPS via APRS.

The first option, recording a track to a shared map, is covered in detail in the mobile chapter lesson on recording tracks. If you record a track to a saved map, it will sync automatically to the map as long as you have cell service. Then, if you previously shared that map with someone, they will be able to see the track progress as it updates.

Locator options take a little to a lot more setup. Locators typically will show a short track behind the most recently reported location, so that as the viewer you can have some context as to the direction and speed of the locator.

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Garmin InReach Integration

CalTopo offers integration with all inReach devices including the popular inReach mini and other devices.

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, there is no price difference compared to the same Personal Flex plan per device.

More information about Garmin Professional plans is 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 how to for switching an inReach subscription to a Professional Account.

CalTopo Setup

Open CalTopo and create and save a new map. In order to add a locator to a map the map must be saved. Add any object to the map and you'll be able to save it (marker, line, etc). Click SAVE MAP in the top right corner as shown here.

You need to save a map before adding the locator object.

In the Add New Object Menu you'll now find the option for "Add Locator" as shown here. Which opens the locator dialog.

Add a locator object.

In the add Locator Dialog under type for an inReach type device select "Fleet".

Select Fleet from the first drow-down menu.

The fleet prompt gives several options for setup. These can be edited after setup easily.

  • Label - displays in your list of locator groups - all locators from this account will be imported based on this setup
  • Stop Listening - The period of time the map will update from the device position updates
  • Activity Timeout - How long since the last activity until the map stops listening
  • Track Length - How many points from the device will be posted, long tracks are limited to 1000 points
  • Color/Style - set the color and style of the track on your map that will be drawn by your tracker
  • Fleet ID - This ID is critical and will be used in the URL and setup on Garmin, something memorable should be placed here. This will be used in the next step of setup and should not be changed once linked to Garmin. For this example XXXXX is used. Choose your own ID combination of letters and numbers, preferrably at least 6 characters in length.

Fleet Object options.

Garmin Setup

The next setup 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 Garmin account system. You'll select Settings (circled with an orange 1 on the below image) and then you'll navigate to Portal Connect (circled with an orange 2 on the below image).

Fleet Object options.

CalTopo uses the OUTBOUND Portal Connect: The address varies based upon if you use the CalTopo or SARTopo server (typically first responders are on SARTopo server, others CalTopo server).

Once you are on the portal connect page, look for the outbound setting section. Enter the proper link there. See below for how to find/create your link.

Turn on the outbound connection (click on the gray off switch and it will turn green and display the word on as shown above). In the URL field place the following address, replacing XXXXX with your selected FleetID from earlier setup steps.

For SARTopo users:

For CalTopo users:

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. Ensure to save your settings on the Garmin site at the bottom of the page.

Remember to SAVE this setting.

At this point you've successfully linked your Locator to this map and the map will now display 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.

On the CalTopo side you'll see a locator group named as above, and any locators on that Garmin account that have posted a position within the specified listening period and activity time out. In the below example there is a single linked locator with a single point on the map.

When the InReach is sending tracking points, they will now show on the map as pictured here.

Troubleshooting steps:

If you are not seeing location information flowing across from Garmin

  • Check that the FleetID matches the URL in Garmin.
  • Ensure the URL starts with caltopo or sartopo and matches your map location
  • Check that the listen period hasn't expired (shown with a -- and notes time and date of expiration)
  • Check that the activity timeout hasn't been exceeded
  • 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. Your maps in CalTopo and SARTopo can be setup to display APRS objects in various scenarios.

General Map Setup for APRS

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

All location objects require the map to be saved PRIOR to adding locator type objects (whether inReach, APRS, or others).

See the section above and follow the CalTopo Setup to create a map and add a locator object. With the "type" field set to APRS, you will put the FCC call-sign of your station (ex: N7ABC, WA7ABC) in the call-sign field.

Fill out the locator edit box to set the settings for your APRS object. The callsign should be the same as the FCC call-sign of your station.

After finishing the steps above, your map will have a Locator Group with the label you specified. As APRS messages are received from the call-sign you specified, a Locator will be added or updated on the map.

It is possible to have multiple APRS objects using one call-sign by utilizing the SSID suffix (-7, -9, etc). In this case, your map will show one object for each unique call-sign + suffix identifier (ex: one Locator Group with call-sign "N7ABC" could result in two Locator objects on the map, N7ABC-7 and N7ABC-9).

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

In some areas, APRS internet gateways have been established. Sites such as allow anyone with a web browser to view position reports that have been heard by these gateways. The and 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 or similar site
  2. Add a Locator Group 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 currently does not support devices in KISS mode.
  2. Edit your 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 file, after changing it to reflect your serial port:

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:

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.

Setting up a CalTopo APRS gateway

In the local scenario above, only maps on the Desktop server will be updated with locally heard APRS traffic. If someone on creates a new map and Locator with the same call-sign that is not synchronizing with the Desktop server, the Locator object will never be updated.

It is possible to have your Desktop server forward all APRS messages heard locally to an online server. Add a line like the following to your properties file:


CalTopo Desktop listening to APRS gateways

It is possible to have CalTopo Desktop listen to the APRS gateways directly. You will need an amateur radio call-sign. Add the following lines to your properties file:<your-call-sign, ex: N7ABC>

Example of APRS use on a SAR mission. Some reported locations have been converted to markers to create a permanent record (Snowcat items in image).

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