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Go Back   SailNet Community > On Board > Gear & Maintenance > Electronics
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  #1  
Old 08-08-2009
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Laptop as a Chart Plotter

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
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Old 08-08-2009
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Do you plan on keeping it at the helm or down below on the nav station? There's been many discussions around the merits/drawbacks laptops for helms, but it mainly comes down to this.

If you factor the cost of making a laptop weatherproof (ie panasonic toughbook) and also factor in the diminished viewability of the laptop screens in sunlight, the cost/benefit equation quickly evaporates towards some of the lower end Garmin GPS/Plotter units.

I think most everyone will agree that a laptop at the nav station is a great tool for planning purposes or a backup to the GPS/Plotter at the helm. I have my macbook attached to my Garmin 76CSx (run xp in parallels) for planning and tracking purposes (easier than swapping out my chart chip on my Raymarine C80).

Some people are real fans of Raymarine's E series devices and running a laptop with Raytech RNS so that they can get all the functions over the Raymarine network on their laptop including the Radar. Thats unique to Raymarine I believe.
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Last edited by night0wl; 08-08-2009 at 12:55 PM.
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Old 08-08-2009
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I have used a laptop for 7 years now along with Maptech. The only problem I have had is theft, so I bought new charts, and laptops. We sail flat, and our nav station is VERY visible from the helm. It would depend on location of where it sits, and you visibility of the unit........i2f
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Old 08-08-2009
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We have used a laptop at the nav station for ten years. Have used FUGAWI and a Garmin 48, then a Garmin 76 and now a Garmin 440. Both in fresh water and salt water environments.

Would not leave home without it.

We also have all the paper charts, RADAR, AIS and the appropriate radios.
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Old 08-08-2009
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I, too, have used a laptop at the nav station for many years. My laptop runs XP, dummed down a bit for more stability, and Maptech's Offshore Navigator. A cheap Windows98SE laptop, programmed exactly the same way, constitutes my backup in case the main laptop goes south.

I very much favor the raster charts (which are free for U.S. charts) because they are EXACT copies of the real paper charts, which I keep close at hand as well.

I will not buy a chartplotter unless and until someone comes out with one which will take raster charts. The vector charts on all chartplotters today leave me cold -- they don't look like "the real thing", they don't include loads of shore detail which are useful for navigation, and they may/do contain errors which were introduced during the digitizing process.

Yeah, I know all about the "virtues" of vector charts but I'm not convinced.

My laptop chartplotter is powered by a Furuno GP31 at the nav station. I have three identical ones, all programmed exactly the same way with waypoints and routes from Maine to the Eastern Caribbean. One of these is mounted at the helm. The third is a backup.

I, too, can see the plotter from the cockpit. Several years ago I experimented with putting a remote LCD screen in the cockpit. No matter where I moved it, I found it to be VERY distracting. Further, it absolutely spoiled my night vision -- I like to sail at night -- no matter how low the screen brightness was set.

I concluded that I really don't want anything in the cockpit that's not absolutely essential and might destroy my night vision. Another experienced night sailor who sometimes sails with me thinks my red night lighting throughout the boat is too bright. I tend to agree with him.

Finally, I agree completely with the comment that nothing beats a laptop chartplotter for planning purposes. It has become essential to my style of sailing.

BTW, I have an identical setup on my home/office computer -- Offshore Navigator and all the charts. This allows me to do planning, checking, etc. in comfort on a big screen, save the results, and transfer them to the laptop and the GPS.

FWIW,

Bill
Old Curmudgeon & Navigation Instructor :-)

Last edited by btrayfors; 08-08-2009 at 07:11 PM.
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Old 08-08-2009
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Quote:
Originally Posted by btrayfors View Post
I very much favor the raster charts (which are free for U.S. charts) because they are EXACT copies of the real paper charts, which I keep close at hand as well.
Vectors are free too.

Quote:
Originally Posted by btrayfors View Post
I will not buy a chartplotter unless and until someone comes out with one which will take raster charts. The vector charts on all chartplotters today leave me cold -- they don't look like "the real thing", they don't include loads of shore detail which are useful for navigation, and they may/do contain errors which were introduced during the digitizing process.
If you're going to wait until they make a plotter that read rasters, then you're never going to get one. ...doesn't matter to me though.

There is only one problem with raster charts, and that is how often they are updated. Since rasters are just scanned copies of real charts, a raster is not updated until the real chart is updated...and in many cases that can be 'years'. Not so with vector charts. Vector charts are updated very regularly, many charts being updated weekly. If the real chart had an error in it, the scanned raster chart will have the error also. Since the real chart is used in the digitizing process in making the vector chart, any error in the real chart will also be transfered to the vector chart...but the error can be corrected and distributed much faster than with a raster chart. Another limitation between rasters and vectors is the amount of information contained contained in the file, where vectors have huge amounts of information contained in them that can be updated anytime. [/QUOTE]

Quote:
Originally Posted by btrayfors View Post
Yeah, I know all about the "virtues" of vector charts but I'm not convinced.
Reminds me of the old saying "You can drag a horse to water but you can't make them drink."

Quote:
Originally Posted by btrayfors View Post
My laptop chartplotter is powered by a Furuno GP31 at the nav station. I have three identical ones, all programmed exactly the same way with waypoints and routes from Maine to the Eastern Caribbean. One of these is mounted at the helm. The third is a backup.

I, too, can see the plotter from the cockpit. Several years ago I experimented with putting a remote LCD screen in the cockpit. No matter where I moved it, I found it to be VERY distracting. Further, it absolutely spoiled my night vision -- I like to sail at night -- no matter how low the screen brightness was set.
Plotters can be distracting until you get used to them, and only use them for general reference while you're manning your post. If the brightness of the plotter bothers a person's vision at night, they can either turn the brightness down or turn the display off while at watch...the plotter will still be on with the display off.

Quote:
Originally Posted by btrayfors View Post
Finally, I agree completely with the comment that nothing beats a laptop chartplotter for planning purposes. It has become essential to my style of sailing.

BTW, I have an identical setup on my home/office computer -- Offshore Navigator and all the charts. This allows me to do planning, checking, etc. in comfort on a big screen, save the results, and transfer them to the laptop and the GPS.
I agree that they are great for pre-planning.


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FWIW,

Bill
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Old 08-08-2009
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I pray for the day that the major plotter manufacturers get off their proprietary kick and make a device that takes NOAA raster or ENC charts...

Some of these netbooks have me intrigued. Some have built in EVDO/Aircards and even GPS. If someone "hardened" it for military use, then we'd be talking. Perhaps a touch screen...who knows.
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Old 08-09-2009
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The raster charts are scanned copies of the "real" charts? Where do the real charts come from then? Each revision is made by hand with pen and ruler?

Obviously, NOAA's been making charts with computers for decades. The raster charts are made on a computer and serve as the masters for the paper charts that are printed out. There is probably the same GIS database behind both the RNC and ENC charts.

I have used a GPS that uses raster charts, Megellan's Triton hand held units. Of course you can't just load any GeoTIFF you happen to have and use it with the GPS, that would be too useful. All GPS manufactures seem to hate their customers, it's not just Garmin. But the Tritons can load raster topo maps from the National Geographic Topo program. (The maps don't come from NG of course, rather the USGS. Funny how all these GPS companies sell maps funded by the US taxpayer for big bucks).

Anyway, using a raster map with a GPS sucks. Doesn't help that the Triton software is a POS either....

The problem is that the raster map was made to be printed on paper at something like 300 DPI. Your typical GPS has a screen that's more like 50 DPI. If you make the map the same size as the paper version, it's unreadable because of the loss of resolution. Small text is just a blob. Thin lines disappear. If you zoom in until you can see the detail properly, thick lines become huge and all the larger text on the map has become giant size and you need to scroll around just to read stuff. If rotate a chart made with East up so that North is up, all the text gets rotated too. Makes track up display pretty bad too, but that's not a problem on the Tritons because they can't do track up...
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Old 08-09-2009
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One idea that I am exploring (both for personal use and as a product) is to use a small "netbook", such as Eee PC with a chart software product. As a user because I would enjoy a system like that on my boat. As a product because PolarView (to which I am partial, of course ) is designed in part to run on systems of that type.

At a cost of about $300 per machine with a 10" screen it makes a fairly decent navigation system supporting both ENC and RNC charts. A dedicated plotter with the same size screen would cost at least 4-5 times more and require charts that cost money too.

The drawbacks compared to a dedicated "hardware" plotter (like my Garmin) are lack of waterproofing (which means it better stay down below) and screens that aren't as easy to read in sunlight (though some netbooks have pretty decent backlight since they are designed for use on the road). Power draw is higher too, but netbooks are fairly miserly relative to other machines and quite reasonable overall. Dedicated plotters also tend to have more integration features (radars and such) but at the same time may not support GRIB data or, for example, provide connectivity etc, so I suppose functionality-wise it may depend on the target user.
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Old 08-10-2009
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tap View Post
The raster charts are scanned copies of the "real" charts? Where do the real charts come from then? Each revision is made by hand with pen and ruler?
I'm sorry. What I should have specified was the real chart is the master chart that chart copies are made from. The raster chart file was scanned from either the master or the copy. Each revision may be made to a copy of the master, but I'll bet the master has to be revised too. I didn't think I eluded to the paper master chart being made by hand...or did I?

Quote:
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Obviously, NOAA's been making charts with computers for decades. The raster charts are made on a computer and serve as the masters for the paper charts that are printed out. There is probably the same GIS database behind both the RNC and ENC charts.

I have used a GPS that uses raster charts, Megellan's Triton hand held units. Of course you can't just load any GeoTIFF you happen to have and use it with the GPS, that would be too useful. All GPS manufactures seem to hate their customers, it's not just Garmin. But the Tritons can load raster topo maps from the National Geographic Topo program. (The maps don't come from NG of course, rather the USGS. Funny how all these GPS companies sell maps funded by the US taxpayer for big bucks).
It's called free enterprise.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tap View Post
Anyway, using a raster map with a GPS sucks. Doesn't help that the Triton software is a POS either....

The problem is that the raster map was made to be printed on paper at something like 300 DPI. Your typical GPS has a screen that's more like 50 DPI. If you make the map the same size as the paper version, it's unreadable because of the loss of resolution. Small text is just a blob. Thin lines disappear. If you zoom in until you can see the detail properly, thick lines become huge and all the larger text on the map has become giant size and you need to scroll around just to read stuff. If rotate a chart made with East up so that North is up, all the text gets rotated too. Makes track up display pretty bad too, but that's not a problem on the Tritons because they can't do track up...
I agree with your explanation. Even if they could make a raster work good with a GPS or plotter, you would still be left with only one layer of information. I hardly ever use rasters when preplanning or when I happen to use my laptop while sailing (to check against my plotter), but I have them for reference in case the vector does not show certain information I'm might be looking for...or I get out the real (copy in this case) chart.
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