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Go Back   SailNet Community > On Board > Gear & Maintenance > Electronics
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  #11  
Old 08-10-2009
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I really thank all of you for the replies. Most informative. I think that I will get the mouse and the software for the laptop and also get a raymarine plotter that will eventually hook up to the rest of the raymarine stuff on the boat.
Awesome guys thanks again.
Jim
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  #12  
Old 08-11-2009
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Quote:
Originally Posted by daddyhobbit View Post
I am being lured by the siren song of cheap dollars of buy it now on ebay one of the $99.00 GPS mouse and a gazillion charts that turn my otherwise unsuspecting laptop into a chart plotter.
However the old adage of " to good to be true" is ringing in my ears. Does anyone have experience with any of these? Are they worthy of my investment or should I just buy a Garmin with the appropriate chips?
thanks
Jim
I run MaxSea on my P4 (and MBP) connected through a either a Garmin 276C or 478. I don't have any experience with the GPS mouse.

As for Garmin charts, you should check their site. It seems that they've pulled all their charts due to inaccuracies (and other reasons that they're not publishing).

I won't use any software that locks me into one specific chart provider. Some companies produce better regional charts than others. There are a number of charting programs out there (check Practical Sailor) that will do what you need for a reasonable price and won't lock you into the proprietary format.

I use the chart software to plan the route, then upload the waypoints to the GPSs (which I know and trust more than some of the boat systems). The GPS tells me everything I need to know: lat/long, XTE, COG, SOF, DTG, and other info that gets transferred to paper charts.

I carry paper charts and plot on them. The trend in large boats is to requiring electronic and paper charts.

Comments about scan accuracy are well found. I'm sure all of us have been driven to distraction when map based GPSs tell us to turn down a road that doesn't exist, or hasn't been integrated into the mapbase despite being years old.

One example: I was bringing a 145' yacht into an unfamiliar anchorage one dark night. The charts sat on the chart table, in proper order, and we had the radars (2) spinning. We called out range and distance bearings, depths, and the occasional buoy. I plotted them and provided the captain with depth changes, course changes, and times to course change. It was a tense time and the crew was silent. We made it in fine, dropped the hooks, and only then looked at the electronic charts. In some cases we were shown aground and others matched the paper charts. Neither the captain or I ever considered following the electronics; radar and visual bearings were far more accurate and real world.

Finally, a lot of mariners consider the display on a chart plotter as gospel. It is not. The wise mariner uses every source of data to arrive at his position; whether fixed or DR. On deliveries, I prefer charts and my eyes to the tube on the nav station.
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  #13  
Old 08-11-2009
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I had a friend who bought a GPS mouse from Garmin, and helped him get it to work. We had to use Fanson's GPSGATE program to create a virtual com port for the charting softwar, but it worked fine after that. BTW, you can get the USB GPS's for less than $50 on Ebay, and GPSGATE Express is $13 after your free trial runs out.

The biggest advantage of the laptop charting programs is that you are not tied to proprietary vendors who charge $$ for changes. When we got an AIS receiver, SeaClear was a free download for the laptop to give us charting with AIS targets. How much did you pay to upgrade your chartplotter to AIS??

I absolutely second oceanscapt on using every input you have for navigation-GPS waypoints, paper & electronic charts, radar, visual ranges and bearings, depthsounder, eyeball, ears, wave patterns, etc. If all those inputs are agreeing, full steam ahead. If one or more disagree, its time to slow down or stop until you figure out why.

Electronic charts are based on paper charts, most of which were made before the surveyor knew his longitude and latitude to the accuracy that your GPS does. I have seen paper charts 1.75 miles off (Tonga), but they are usually consistent errors, as the surveyor used distances and compass bearings to record features like points and reefs--if you forget the GPS and use ranges and bearings these charts are still useful.

The differences between electronic and paper charts are usually datum errors, but I did find one BSB chart of the approaches to Bermuda which was 8 miles off in latitude (put the cursor on a line of latitude and the chart program read exactly 8 miles further north).

I did a delivery on a boat where the laptop was off 0.6 miles coming into Grand Canaria. It turned out the boat had been in Croatia, and someone had reset the GPS to some obscure Croatian datum. Resetting the GPS to wgs84 had us within 0.05 miles on both electronic and paper charts.

I was on a power boat (just for cocktails) in Tobago Keys this year which had two high end chartplotters. The one downstairs was OK, but the flybridge (different brand) was off by 0.8 miles. It turned out this chartplotter had a feature down in the menus whereby you could set the datum by clicking on a known point on the chart. The really scarey thing was this chartplotter didn't give any warning that it was using a user-generated datum!


In all of these cases, a comparison of available inputs indicated something was wrong, and it was time to be very careful until we figured out why.
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Old 08-11-2009
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I'd like to thank Capt. Douglas Abbott for his excellent post. The fact that he and I seem to agree 100% notwithstanding, he has laid out some of the real world problems faced by cruising sailors today as they attempt to fathom the increasingly complex world of navigation electronics.

Bottom line: the Mark #1 Eyeball rules! Radar and fathometer and paper charts -- or exact reproductions thereof, i.e., raster charts -- are next.

GPS is an incredibly wonderful and useful tool, but in the wrong hands can be a tool which helps you toward disaster. Dedicated GPS/Chartplotters can help give you a feeling of confidence sometimes that you know where you are, while you speed on toward disaster.

Climbing down from my high horse, now :-)

Bill

Last edited by btrayfors; 08-11-2009 at 02:53 PM.
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We use Furuno GPS, connected to Dell laptop equipped with SailCruiser software and C-Map vector charts. I can ensure, that its dead precise. I mean not more than few meters (if even so much) error. In coastal races it's so important to have minimum clearance to save distance.

J
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Old 08-12-2009
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Quote:
Originally Posted by daddyhobbit View Post
I am being lured by the siren song of cheap dollars of buy it now on ebay one of the $99.00 GPS mouse and a gazillion charts that turn my otherwise unsuspecting laptop into a chart plotter.
However the old adage of " to good to be true" is ringing in my ears. Does anyone have experience with any of these? Are they worthy of my investment or should I just buy a Garmin with the appropriate chips?
thanks
Jim
Jim having a hockey puck gps and a bunch of charts is not much use without a piece of software called Navigation software. a friend of mine,
olaf_hansen01 at yahoo.com in Norway can help you set up completely for a very reasonable price. Contact him directly please
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  #17  
Old 04-09-2010
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A laptop can work great with the right navigation software. However if you do go for the old, cheap ebay laptop be careful that is is actually powerful enough and has enough disc space for the software and charts.
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Old 04-09-2010
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I have both a chartplotter and laptop with charts.
The chartplotter is better, if you can afford it its worth the extra cost. The main differences are
1. Stability. the chartplotter works 100% of the time within a few seconds of turning it on. The laptop is slower to start. It works most of the time, but dragging in the middle of the night you do not have time to fool around sorting out problems with windows.
2 Waterproof. The place for a chartplotter is at the helm.
3 Daylight viewing. even at the chart table sunlight can make the laptop screen hard to use.
4 Radar overlay. shows errors in the chart. Invaluable. (possible with a PC system but difficult and even more tempramental.

Last edited by noelex77; 04-09-2010 at 03:33 PM.
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Old 04-17-2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by noelex77 View Post
4 Radar overlay. shows errors in the chart. Invaluable. (possible with a PC system but difficult and even more tempramental.
+1 on the radar overlay at any time and in any conditions. I'll ocassionally turn the radar on in perfect conditions just so I can confirm that the radar setting are appropriate for where I'm at and confirm what I'm seeing on the chartplotter.
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Old 06-07-2010
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To me the biggest problems with using a laptop as a chart plotter (the original question) are: environmental; display; durability; design.

Heat - a big problem whether you're carbon or silicon based. If the laptops going to be running a lot, then getting the heat away from the electronics is going to be a prime concern. Many of the cruisers who use laptops have additional fans to circulate air around the unit to keep the internal temps down. Orienting it so that the heat naturally rises can reduce the thermal loads and prolong the life of the unit. And don't forget about cooling the laptop power supply.

Moisture - Then there's the problem of moisture - both salt and fresh. It's important to keep this away from the laptop. Most folks put their laptop away after use but if it's your navcomp, it might not be an option. You want to carefully consider where you'll be mounting it (and I recommend a firm mounting scheme), how you're going to get the heat away, and keep the water away.

Power - You've got to feed the laptop and unless the unit runs on 12VDC (wouldn't that be magical!), that means power conversion; either DC-DC or DC-AC-DC. Buying a small inverter may be more economically and utility feasible (AC for other appliances) than a dedicated DC-DC converter. I'd make sure the inverter works fine with the laptop power supply. And I'd carry a spare power supply too.

Display - there aren't many laptops whose display can be considered sunlight readable (at least without a hood, and probably without you wearing sunglasses). Size is nice but we've got a storage problem. I'd still get the biggest I could.

Durability - give very serious consideration to a ruggedized unit. They can be expensive but some military surplus units show up on the auction sites now and again. Considering the cost of these units, you may find it cheaper to buy 2 well built instead of 1 ruggedized.

I think we all agree that laptops weren't designed to run 24/7. But desktop/towers were. But many of us don't have the space for a tower, whether it be desktop, mini, SFF, or a mix. And a laptop's almost essential for us cruisers.

Design - I'd look for a brand name that might get me some support outside of your home country. I'd look for keyboard covers to keep the moisture out, a big drive, lots of memory, and good heat dissipation. External drives are a good idea as a backup device but if the USB/FW/eSATA ports go south and you've got all your charts on the external....

It might be worth considering getting a throw-away monitor that you can use in the cockpit when it's needed. Having a laptop that'll do that easily and supports the monitor/program resolution is worth considering.

It also might be worth getting an aux keyboard and mouse. If they get damaged then you can more easily replace it down island than the entire laptop keyboard.

If you shop carefully you can make that laptop do multiple duty. It can be your email link, movie/music source, photo editor, blogger, inventory manager, recipe cabinet, letter writer, and so much more.

Just not the navcomp. Just as the big white boats dedicate a computer to the navigation tasks, so should you. All it takes is one malware/worm/bug that you unwittingly downloaded to destroy your navigation source.

In full disclosure, I'll say that I sail with a laptop that does double duty as a navcomp. Every time I go to an internet cafe or log into a unprotected wifi network, or download email, I cringe. I run the usual software protection, keep up to date on software updates, and don't surf the net much. But I still have trepidations about something nasty getting into the navcomp.

And I've recently bought a second laptop (Mac this time) that has a PC partition and all the navcomp software as a backup and for planning purposes. It's my entertainment, paperwork, and blog unit.

So, I've got limited resources and space. What would I do?

1) I'd buy 2 laptops; one for general use and one for the navcomp. I'd buy the same model, outfitted the same. Make sure they more than meet the hardware/software requirements of the nav software. You don't need the fastest but I'd still get something near the top of the performance curve. Navigation software can be system intensive especially if you're navigating, recording waypoints/instrument data, or route planning.
2) I'd buy 2 external drives that are at least 2x the capacity of your laptop, have multiple interfaces, and a good reliability rating. I'd also consider getting externally powered drives in case the USB/FW port goes bad.
3) I'd demand restore and system disks for the computer. You're going to have to reinstall the software sometime, and having the disks with you rather than having to hunt all over the net to download the 5GB of files, search for a new set of serial numbers, drivers, and the support files, or pay for a DVD that should have come with the machine is not going to make you or I happy. Can't get or they won't give it to you without a fight? See #4
4) Before you add any programs to the laptop, back it up; preferably to a dedicated partition on the external hard drive.
5) Install the software and charts and back up to both external drives. Buy only the charts you'll use for that year. Chances are there'll be updates by the time you'll need them. If you download the charts, I'd burn copies of them to the external and possibly a DVD.
6. When you get the navcomp tweaked the way you like it; back it up to a new partition. Just in case.
7. Do regular backups to a third partition. That way you've got 2 chances to get your machine out of ER. Some backup software overwrites previous backups so having a dedicated partition gives you 2 chances to bring back the dead.
8. Give extra thought to mounting, cooling, and protecting the unit. One of the sweetest layouts I've seen was a vertically mounted laptop. The user installed 3 small 12VDC fans under the unit to force lots of air up along the back, the display was at eye level, the unit had a hood over the display to give some sun and moisture protection, and they had an external keyboard and mouse sitting on the desk. The could still access the DVD player, ports, and power plug. When things got tough they powered down the unit, bungeed the display closed, and put a couple trash bags over the unit; just in case.
9. Got some free time of feel like a challenge? Then consider networking the computers together. That way you can sit in the cockpit and still access files on the navcomp.

I spend the vast majority of my time in the cockpit when sailing. It's not that I don't like being below, but outside is where the action is; where I can see that just awash shipping container or long line or bilge oil slick or current/seaweed line. I've yet to see a "sunlight readable" display that can keep up with the sun for intensity, outlast salt water, or work as well as my eyes, ears, nose, and to a lesser extent, my brain.

My cruising routine is to use the navcomp to do the rough planning, then give the route a careful look-see on charts if I have them, or zoom in greatly (being aware that zoom is a two-edged sword) and check the route for obstructions. If things look OK, I generate a route and list of waypoints. I send the waypoints to the GPS and run the route. This tells me if there are conflicts with the GPS and navcomp. The navcomp gets shut down and the DGPS does the calculations, I control the autopilot, and we go off on our next adventure.

So, I'll stick to a boring GPS display with the basic info, do the hourly paper chart plots, and work on my fishing skills. If things get really tight, I may bring up a cheap display so I can see what the computer says as I navigate the narrow entrance.

But I sure can get a lot more accurate info by looking at the XTE on the GPS, looking at the changing water color, looking at the water state in the entrance, and lining up those range marks, than watching the tube. And if I go on the rocks, it's my fault, just as it is if I blindly followed the display. The questions is which navigation technique was better.
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Last edited by oceanscapt; 06-07-2010 at 02:31 PM.
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