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Electronic Navigation

Everyday more and more people buy a computer for home use. But, why not havea computer on board?

Computers on board can help you budget expenses and track boat maintenance.Cruisers find them useful to help manage their personal affairs from remotelocations, handle customs or immigration paperwork, maintain the shipsinventory, and assist with communications, especially e-mail. Many sailorsbecome interested in on board computers because they want the ease ofelectronic navigation and charting or to get weather informationinexpensively. Children on board can use them for education andentertainment. Racers want the integrated and instantaneous informationneeded for a winning performance. Quite often, a computer becomes the mostversatile and most used bit of equipment on board.

Itís simple to set up a computer system to accomplish all these activities.But before you rush out to buy one, you need to consider the following:

1. What applications do you want to use? Will you be using the computer fornavigation and an occasional letter home? Will you also monitor yourbusiness and investments from sea? Do you want weather fax capability?Specialized software often has a minimum hardware requirement.

2. What size and kind of sailboat are you using? All boats have space and powerlimitations that can affect the choice of a notebook over a desktop system.Can you use it at the nav station or must the computer be present in thecockpit? Will it be exposed to water and the elements?

3. Whatís your cruising area? Some manufacturers have repair depots all overthe world. Others require shipment back to the U.S.

4. How long will you use it? If you want to use your computer for more thanthree years, purchase a more advanced system now. Software updates tend torequire more system power. Also look for systems that can be easilyupgraded.

5. Budget. Buy the best system you can afford. At todayís bargain prices youcan fit a very powerful computer into almost any budget. If you invest in awaterproof and foam insulation case to protect your laptop, then you may notneed to buy that marinized computer. Remember, you can buy two or moreconventional computers for the price of a marine system.

I can already hear most of your questions and objections: Which computer should I buy?: How do I keep it safe and secure from the elements?: A marinized computeris too expensive.: I hate computers!: I hate Windows!: I donít haveenough room, money, power, computer literacy, etc.

Yes, there are some obstacles, but fortunately most of them have been solved or can be worked around. More on this in the next articles.

Computer choices

Which computer should you buy? There are literally hundreds of choices.Virtually any of todayís new notebook or desktop computers is capable ofrunning charting or communications software as well as most household oroffice applications. I donít want to give out brand names, but I do suggestthat you contact a marine electronics store that specializes in marinenavigation and can help you choose a computer thatís right for you. Two ofthe best are Landfall Navigation, Greenwich, Connecticut, and Complete CruisingSolutions (formerly Waypoint), Alameda, California.

I suggest that the following features be considered in your buying decision to make your computer easier to use and give you more versatility and performance:

1. Choose an IBM compatible PC. Apple/Mac marine software and otherapplication choices are more limited and can be more expensive. The IBMcompatible computers are less expensive, more adaptable, come in hundreds ofdifferent configurations and have thousands of software programs available.

2. Purchase the best screen you can afford. Active matrix screens arebrighter and crisper than dual scan, especially in sunlight. The newerdaylight viewable screens are starting to come down in price as demand andcompetition increase.

3. Purchase more RAM versus a faster processor. Most laptops come with 16 MBRAM as standard, but more and more offer 32 MB as standard with upgrades to64 MB. Increasing to 32MB RAM will significantly improve system performancefor less cost than the next faster processor. Donít even try to run Windows95 or 98 on less than 32 MB RAM and 64MB RAM is highly recommended.

4. If you choose a notebook computer, get one with an internal CD-ROMplayer. Electronic charts are less expensive on CDs and CDs are more amore robust storage medium. With the use of some good external speakers, youcan even play your music CDs through the computer.

5. Buy a bigger hard drive. The smallest hard drive currently available is1.4 GB and the size increases with every new computer model. The newestnotebooks now come with 3.2 GBs and the desktops are up to 17.2 GBs. While1.4 GB is a massive amount of storage, you will need more if you are storingelectronic charts on the hard drive. Remember: Hardware giveith, softwaretakeith away. Pay the extra money now and upgrade to the larger capability.

6. Use Windows 95 or 98. Windows 95 offers many performance advantages overWindows 3.1 so upgrade if you have the older system. Some new programs willonly work with Windows 95. If you are using an original Windows 95 system,there are several upgrades out called service packages. These can bedownloaded from Microsoft online on installed by your local computer store.If you are buying a new computer it will come with Windows 98 alreadyinstalled.

Next time I will talk about keeping your computers healthy on board.

Jim Sexton is offline  
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