Now Filming the Future

Google Street View is being used to capture waterways for boaters' enhanced enjoyment.

insta360 pro camera
The Insta360 Pro camera is making the Waterway View app possible.Insta360 Pro

Since 2012, Jim Hilker has filmed inside and outside of about 4,000 businesses for Google Street View, the technology that lets anyone click on a map to see a panoramic view of how a place looks in real life. About two years ago, he says, Google asked him and others to think about more uses for the tool. Then a year ago, he had an epiphany on the Intracoastal Waterway off Sarasota, Florida, aboard a friend’s 23-foot Scout.

“We were cruising and having a great time, but because of what I do with Google Street View, I thought it would be great if I could see where we could go,” he says. “We wanted to go to some other areas, but we didn’t know what they looked like or what was there.”

Fast forward to today, and Hilker — with help from the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, MarineMax and Boat Owners Warehouse — has filmed nearly 150 miles of the ICW, its connecting rivers, canals and more. His video is being packaged as a free app called Waterway View that lets boaters, from anywhere, see all along the waterways as well as inside everything from waterfront restaurants to shipyards.

“We’ve gone as far north as Jupiter Inlet, and we’ve covered all the areas south to and including the Miami River,” he says. “We’re going to finish up with southern Biscayne Bay, Ocean Reef and Key Largo.”

There has been a surprising learning curve, he says: Filming on the water is harder than on land, and the slower a boat goes (say, in a no-wake zone), the more trouble the technology has adapting. But he is working out the kinks and spreading the word to friends who stand ready to film nationwide.

“My plan is to roll out Waterway Views of the entire United States, including the lakes and rivers,” he says. “My goal is to do it in eight years.”

waterway view app
The Insta360 Pro mounts on a boat to create Waterway View. Teams are still testing to find “sweet spot” speeds when filming.Marine Industries Association South Florida/Jim Hilker

The Waterway View App

 It is free for boaters to download and use. Waterfront or other businesses can pay to advertise inside the app's content.

Categories that are part of the app for its initial launch include food and drink, stores, lodging, events, marinas, shipyards and general services.

Geofencing will let a boater put a radius around, say, the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. If something interesting is happening inside that radius (such as a waterfront concert or other event), the user receives an alert.

Click to call lets boaters tap the app to connect to whatever business interests them.

Not for Navigation

The Waterway View app is not for navigational use. It is meant for friends and family who are relaxing in the salon or cockpit, wondering about local shops, eateries and more.