Is there any shareware or free software for electronic marine navigation that can be downloaded to the laptop and hooked up to the GPS, radar, and autopilot? Also, is there a product that offers weather information on the same chart?
Sue & Larry respond:
Cruising sailors have a knack for identifying, then spreading the word about anything that's both free and useful. Unfortunately, we've never heard of any public domain software for electronic navigation that's free. We are, however, starting to see many cruisers using electronic charting that runs on a laptop computer positioned at the nav station. It seems that the most popular software used by cruisers today is Visual Navigation Suite by Nobeltec. The software is easy to learn, straightforward to operate, and incorporates helpful features like being able to view tide and current data on each chart. You can easily plan routes in advance, then view your progress while underway when interfaced with a GPS. It'll interface, output, and receive NMEA 0183 data from all your other instruments.
Your source of weather will be independent of your navigation software. For receiving weather information while underway you're presented with several choices. If you're traveling in North America within 50 miles of shore, you'll likely be able to receive weather broadcasts on your VHF radio. For traveling further from home, you'll need equipment in addition to your VHF. An SSB radio will allow you to receive long-distance voice weather broadcasts while on the high seas. Add a laptop computer and weather fax software, and you'll be able to receive a plethora of weather charts along your journey. Lastly, you can employ private companies to provide you weather updates. These are commonly sent via SSB radio as well.