Rick as a side note how much did it cost to set up your system (notebook included). I am interested as a friend isdecided whether to buy a complete Raymarine/ Garmin system
or do it similarly to how you have. He is an IT professional so I am sure the technical issues he could handle.
I started by buying a Garmin GPSMap 640 on sale for $720 two years ago, but decided that I could get better features for less money by doing it myself, so I returned it unopened to WestMarine. Here's a brief rundown of my costs as best as I recall:
- MSI Wind Netbook $350 (but I already had one that had sat unused for 2 years, so it really cost me nothing)
- Industrial strength Bluetooth-RS232 adapters: 2 @ $58 each at USConverters.
- RAM Mount Toughtray kit for attaching to pedestal guard $80
- 4-port network box ~$7 at Radio Shack
- 2 RS-232 D-sub female plugs ~$5 each
- OpenCPN chartplotter software: free online
- NOAA charts: free online
I chose to use Bluetooth because I wanted to be able to put it anywhere on the boat without wires hanging around. You could do a wired hookup using USB-Serial connectors instead, and those connectors can be found for as little as $2 each. Many people are doing WiFi connections also, but that was more complicated and the power draw would be more than the Bluetooth adapters.
This setup gives me nice features that you can't get with a standard chartplotter. For instance, the RAM mount allows me to swivel the computer to view from anywhere in the cockpit. The boat is small enough that it helps to sit on the windward side when heeling, so I can turn the screen sideways toward me. Not much heeling in this pic, but you can see the netbook facing sideways:
Another thing that I like is that the GPS and AIS Bluetooth signals are "part of the boat." By that I mean that I can bring any Bluetooth-enabled laptop, tablet, cell phone, etc onto the boat and with appropriate software I have the ability to track these signals. Also, the GPS receiver is hardwired to the radio and on the same 12v circuit, so if the radio is on it always has GPS feeding the DSC. If the Netbook chartplotter dies, the GPS will still work independently of that, ensuring that the DSC function is always fully capable.
What I like most is the ability to run OpenCPN twice in side-by-side windows. One window is zoomed in to see local obstacles, the other one is zoomed out to see AIS vessels: