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Go Back   SailNet Community > On Board > Gear & Maintenance
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  #1  
Old 11-09-2004
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I need new a gps/chartplotter, autopilot & depth. From reading the archives, it appears that most manufactures have good units and loyal supporters. At this point I''m concidering Garmin, Raymarine and NAVMAN.

I have come to the conclusion that the maps that the units support will be the deciding factor. I want to use my laptop to plot our route, then upload it to a GPS/Chartplotter at the helm. Intigrating the autopilot with the plotter would be nice but not that important to me. Our cruising area will be the Caribbean.

Do any of you have an opinion on which charts are the best for this application? (The one thing that bothers me about Garmin is the cost of updates and new chart areas)

Thanks
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Old 11-09-2004
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Ian, I think you''re zeroing in on the right criteria: available support (especially given your Caribbean plans) and the media cost. With plotters offered by mfgrs. who have their own proprietary software, it''s obviously the software that keeps on paying dividends well after the hardware is installed...so doing a full-up price comparison (including all the areas you might possibly visit) is a good idea. Except...

...charts vary considerably down in the Caribbean, not only between chart publishers but also from one region to another. Were I you, I''d ask the vendor ''finalists'' to show you samples for several different regions of the Caribbean and make your own call on what you like/dislike. If you''re making the typical run, I''d consider looking closely at a Bahamas chart, a coastal chart for the DR, one or two of the ''standard'' EC islands (perhaps a French one plus an independent island nation), and then I''d look at the N coast of Trinidad and/or VZ, depending on your plans. This will give you a good spread for areas where the source charts should be quite different. I wouldn''t worry about looking at the U.S. coast and PR/USVI areas because those charts will be current and of multiple useful scales, and are available to all publisehrs because they are not proprietary.

Re: service sources, I''d suggest you check your vendor ''finalists'' for representation along the eastern chain plus PR/VI''s, and definitely to confirm they have a repair option in Trinidad (Chag Bay) given that it''s a common storm season destination.

Good luck on the trip!

Jack
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Jack,

Thanks for the excellent suggestions. I feel that the charts are the actual product that we use, while the gps/chatplotter is merely the tool to acces the charts.

I have looked at the promo charts that each use and I find it very difficult to filter those features that are truely important from the b.s. As I''m sure you are aware, each manufacturer is better than the other two.

I''m hoping that the question would stimulate a discussion on the charts without involving the hardware used to access them.

Thank again
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Ian:

"I feel that the charts are the actual product that we use... I''m hoping that the question would stimulate a discussion on the charts without involving the hardware used to access them."

Well, that being the case, I''ll put in a plug for NOT choosing a chartplotter and instead relying on CD charting software. I realize the Startrek helm is considered very state-of-the-art these days in many cockpits, while the thought of an electronic display at the chart table (most likely a laptop) seems ''awkward''. However, I see it just the opposite: If someone feels the need to consistently be staring at an electronic representation of reality rather than helming the boat, that to me is distracting and potentially unsafe.

But to your point about charts being the important ingredient: Why use a laptop and individual chart CDs? Because you then actually have a choice of which charts for which areas. E.g. the German CYC charts of the E Caribbean are outstanding and far exceed, in readability, detail, currency and accuracy, the other products I''ve used or looked at down there. The CMap products are distinctly better for some ''off the beaten path'' areas (e.g. in the Central Caribbean and the N coast of S America) and there were times when using The Cap''n navigation software was the easiest way to do flight-planning before transferring routes to paper charts as well as GPS. I guess it depends on one''s expectations, as I''d rather have a choice that made sense for a given cruising area than a one-size-fits-all proprietary product.

Jack
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After many years of the old fashioned approach we equipped our new boat with a RayNav chartplotter at the helm and a laptop hooked into the system at the chart table below. Uses C-Map NT+. We got a card reader so can take the chart cards and laptop home. Planning a long trip down the Aleutian chain next summer and being able to plan routes while away from the boat is nice.

The radar overlays the chartplotter and having it at the helm is a valid safety measure compared to always having to duck below. I wouldn''t avoid having a plotter at the helm out of safety concerns. We can also watch the overlays on the laptop. Great stuff - as long as it all works. We take paper charts and a sextant too.
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Jack,

You wrote: >I realize the Startrek helm is considered very state-of-the-art these days in many cockpits<

In my original post I should have added my attitude towards paper vs electronic. I do not feel that it has to be either-or. E-charts are an excellent tool for planning and verifing what I see around me and what I have plotted on the paper charts. Using strictly E-anything is much too sterile, but using strictly paper charts is ignoring beneficial data derived from gps, etc. But this is a subject that has been beaten to death, so back on track.

You bring up a very good point that I had not considered ie: quality of data in different areas varies with each chart source. Can all these different chart packages be run on the same computer software are you using several software packages? What computer software have you found to work the best?

Ian
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Ian:

"Can all these different chart packages be run on the same computer software [or] are you using several software packages? What computer software have you found to work the best?"

It depends, of course...the answer you probably expected. In the Americas, my impression is that the major variable is whether the region under consideration has enjoyed significant commercial interest of some kind. (Examples are the Carib''s eastern island chain and of course all 3 coasts of N America). Areas like these offer one or more raster chart products and, while they are all pretty good, some are exceptional (as e.g. the CYC charts I mentioned earlier). These typically can be run on the same nav software (e.g. Cap''n) altho'' the market''s moved a lot in the last few years and I''m sure there are changes my comments don''t reflect. The defacto alternative of NIMA charts provide you with safe navigation but they sure do lack the detail to make thoughtful flight planning and cove-to-bay hops as well planned. Still, in some cases that''s all we''ve had to work off of (e.g. Haiti, DR, Jamaica etc.).

For areas that are less commercially traveled (much of the rest of the Caribbean other than the U.S. territories) and/or regions that span many separate govt''l entities in a small space (N Europe is a good example), vector charts seem to make the most sense. They ''look'' different but also offer customzing of the look to suit the needs of the navigator on any given day or area. These are typically offered along with a specific nav software program (MaxSea and CMap are both examples), and areas are ''unlocked'' on the CD as a result of what you pay and the codes you get. This tends to be more cost effective than e.g. buying BA, then Dutch, then German, then Swedish and finally Norwegian electronic charts (which is what we had to do when purchasing the paper charts for this last summer''s run).

I''ve tried to use a variety of these programs because, somewhat contrary to your statement, I do think the nav software is part of the ''steak'' and not just the ''sizzle''. For our current cruising (Europe), I favor using CMap''s nav software because the NIMA electronic charts I have, running on Cap''n, are IMO quite inferior and our budget doesn''t allow me to buy every individual country''s CD(s). Ironically, I so far haven''t been able to buy a copy of CMap''s nav software as they apparently don''t want anything to do with nav liability and prefer to just market the charts. Quite strange but a good illustration that product liability has a heavy influence in Europe these days, as well.

Keep in mind that, for copy protection purposes, dongles are now sold with some of these nav software packages. Perhaps it''s not a concern for the coastal sailor, but the thought of heading across an ocean while solely dependent on one dongle working (what if the laptop craps out? or the dongle?) bothers many of us. The software mfgr. is unimpressed by this concern (even Dashew''s outfit, which I would have thought would be sensitive to long-distance sailing issues) and tells you to just call them for a new code if e.g. you have to move to your back-up computer. Whether one is 300 NM from the Azores or ''only'' off the N coast of Hispaniloa, that isn''t a reassuring suggestion.

"...using strictly paper charts is ignoring beneficial data derived from gps..."

Not necessarily. Perhaps it''s just my own view of things, but what I find in the real world of cruising navigation is that people are so dependent on GPS and charting software (and therefore so rusty and usually also lazy re: paper charts), that they simply aren''t prepared to deal with paper charts effectively should the need arise. And besides, if one COULD use GPS in concert with paper charts, it would surely be far safer than the way we used to use paper some years ago when going down island, pre-GPS. It''s for that reason that we use a Yeoman plotter (not a CRT or LCD screen but rather a flat graphics pad on which the relevant paper chart always sits, with route plan laid out). Sliding a ''mouse'' around the chart, one can update the plot, route plan, take bearings, etc. with the accuracy of GPS because it takes a GPS NMEA input. It''s a great aid to paper navigation, and takes the desire to have back-up paper navigation from a nice thought to a practical but also accurate reality. Just something to think about...

Jack
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