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Old 02-02-2011
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I'm not saying that you can't use one for route planning...and I use MacENC for route planning regularly... but that you shouldn't be using the waypoints you pick in the route planning as waypoints, until you've actually sailed to where the waypoint it and have checked it to see that it makes sense to use it as such.

Another good use is to see what alternative landfalls you would have in the case of an emergency. I highly recommend writing up a summary of each harbor or inlet that you might have to make an emergency passage into. Include a brief description of the entrance, ATONs to follow, course distances and bearings, etc., so that in the emergency, you're not having to look all this stuff up. It helps prevent mistakes from being made when you're in the emergency and more likely to screw up.

However, almost anything you could do with the chartplotting/navigation software, you could do faster and easier with paper charts IMHO.

A chart plotter can be used quite creatively in many ways. Setting up proximity waypoints can allow you to clearly define an anchor watch and let you know if you're dragging. This is sometimes preferable to using the built in anchor watch feature, since you can customize it specifically for the anchorage in question.

You can also set up proximity waypoints to warn you of isolated, unmarked dangers that might be on your course.

The cross track screen can help you realize if you're being blown or pushed off course.

Using the GPS and checking your COG versus your heading, you can see what the effects of set and drift are on your course in many cases. Heading is the direction the boat is facing, COG is the actual direction the boat is moving in, and rarely are they the same.
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