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  #1  
Old 09-29-2008
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[PC Navigation] Getting a USB GPS to talk to SeaClear

For long-term voyaging, I intend to use laptop based chartplotting for route planning, electronic charts and so on in addition to both a simple plotter and paper charts where necessary. To this end, I bought yesterday a Holux GR-213 USB GPS antenna. It's a SIRF III chipset with WAAS option that outputs NMEA 183 strings, and it loaded readily onto my Dell Inspirion 8200, a late 2003 laptop that runs XP SP2, and is not only "surplus to my needs", but carries two batteries, giving it about seven hours of runtime.

The Holux auto-configured itself to "virtual" port COM 4, and its rudimentary "GPS Viewer" utility acquired surprisingly rapidly and accurately. I was walking around the backyard (the lat/lon of which I know) and it works fine.

I had hoped to test SeaClear II with the free American ENC charts for Lake Ontario, but SeaClear "can not open COM 4", and no amount of fiddling seems to help. Suspecting it needed a nine-pin serial port connector, I loaded a utility called Prolific USB-to-Serial Port Emulator, which reassigned the GPS to COM 2. Again, Seaclear couldn't "see" the NMEA information.

I am at an intermediate to advanced level of skills with Windows, and I tried various fixes with port settings under Device Manager, with no luck. I can get the GPS to work and to supply lat/lon...but not to SeaClear.

I seek three bits of advice, therefore:

1) Would a USB-to-serial port dongle or connector work here, and if so, what brand or type has the proper pin set-up (1, 5, 9 or something...)

2) Does anyone know a patch or fix or technique to get SeaClear to read the output from any USB GPS or just this one? There is no Holux "USB to serial emulator" utility to my knowledge.

3) I don't have to use SeaClear, as this is simply at the testing stage of PC chartplotting. Is there a free navigation package that can run free downloadable charts and will recognize USB GPS NMEA input? It doesn't have to be good in terms of design, but I want to go out in the old boat before haulout and see how practical this is.

Your help is appreciated. I know SeaClear is popular, free and, while quirky, displays well and has rich features. I also know it's completely unsupported by its programmer, so I'm not going that route.
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Old 09-29-2008
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In my RS232 work talking to machine PLC controls work most older things (2 to3 years) that were not written to use USB to serial dongles dont work


They want the CTS/RTS hardware handshake and do like the software handshaking


It has become a big issue because of the serial port going away
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On a previous laptop it took me a long time to figure out that Com 4 had been disabled in the Bios. Turning it on solved my trouble on that computer.

My current computer has no 9-pin port, so I had to go with the dongle solution. I talked to a good marine electronics shop in Annapolis about which one to buy. They did have one for sale (I can't recall the brand) that they said they have fairly good luck with, but it's not 100%. The cost was sky high so I choose to look around a bit. I think the unsatisfying answer is that it's somewhat hit or miss. I tried a few, but the one below worked for me. You can set which Com port you end up on via the driver software.

USB RS-232 Serial Adapter DB-9 Male works with all Windows and Mac USBG-232MINI LOW PRICE $19.95

I'm going to leave the nav. package question to someone else.
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Old 09-29-2008
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I had to use a serial port emulator program in order for my PC to read the Garmin GPS. Then and only then could I get the programs to run properly.
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Old 09-29-2008
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Valiente View Post
For long-term voyaging, I intend to use laptop based chartplotting for route planning, electronic charts and so on in addition to both a simple plotter and paper charts where necessary. To this end, I bought yesterday a Holux GR-213 USB GPS antenna. It's a SIRF III chipset with WAAS option that outputs NMEA 183 strings, and it loaded readily onto my Dell Inspirion 8200, a late 2003 laptop that runs XP SP2, and is not only "surplus to my needs", but carries two batteries, giving it about seven hours of runtime.

The Holux auto-configured itself to "virtual" port COM 4, and its rudimentary "GPS Viewer" utility acquired surprisingly rapidly and accurately. I was walking around the backyard (the lat/lon of which I know) and it works fine.

I had hoped to test SeaClear II with the free American ENC charts for Lake Ontario, but SeaClear "can not open COM 4", and no amount of fiddling seems to help. Suspecting it needed a nine-pin serial port connector, I loaded a utility called Prolific USB-to-Serial Port Emulator, which reassigned the GPS to COM 2. Again, Seaclear couldn't "see" the NMEA information.
First off, SeaClear II only works with RASTER charts in the BSB format. It does not work with ENC charts at all.

Quote:
I am at an intermediate to advanced level of skills with Windows, and I tried various fixes with port settings under Device Manager, with no luck. I can get the GPS to work and to supply lat/lon...but not to SeaClear.

I seek three bits of advice, therefore:

1) Would a USB-to-serial port dongle or connector work here, and if so, what brand or type has the proper pin set-up (1, 5, 9 or something...)
There is no USB-to-Serial adapter that allows you to use a USB-device on a RS-232 serial port AFAIK... There is very little market or demand for such a device and one has not been made commercially AFAIK.

Quote:
2) Does anyone know a patch or fix or technique to get SeaClear to read the output from any USB GPS or just this one? There is no Holux "USB to serial emulator" utility to my knowledge.
There might be a software driver that will allow you to emulate a serial port for the USB device's output, but I don't know of any such software. You might try looking here for the software you require.

Quote:
3) I don't have to use SeaClear, as this is simply at the testing stage of PC chartplotting. Is there a free navigation package that can run free downloadable charts and will recognize USB GPS NMEA input? It doesn't have to be good in terms of design, but I want to go out in the old boat before haulout and see how practical this is.

Your help is appreciated. I know SeaClear is popular, free and, while quirky, displays well and has rich features. I also know it's completely unsupported by its programmer, so I'm not going that route.
There are no free chartplotting packages that support ENC charts AFAIK. There are quite a few that support the older BSB format charts.
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Steve-

Unfortunately, what Valiente has is a USB device that he wants to connect to an RS-232 9-pin serial port if possible. What you're talking about is the exact opposite of what he needs.
Quote:
Originally Posted by SteveInMD View Post
On a previous laptop it took me a long time to figure out that Com 4 had been disabled in the Bios. Turning it on solved my trouble on that computer.

My current computer has no 9-pin port, so I had to go with the dongle solution. I talked to a good marine electronics shop in Annapolis about which one to buy. They did have one for sale (I can't recall the brand) that they said they have fairly good luck with, but it's not 100%. The cost was sky high so I choose to look around a bit. I think the unsatisfying answer is that it's somewhat hit or miss. I tried a few, but the one below worked for me. You can set which Com port you end up on via the driver software.

USB RS-232 Serial Adapter DB-9 Male works with all Windows and Mac USBG-232MINI LOW PRICE $19.95

I'm going to leave the nav. package question to someone else.
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Old 09-29-2008
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Ya have to set the COM Port in Seaclear's config but in order for the box to see the USB as a Com Port, ya need a driver.
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Old 09-29-2008
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Hello,

I bought a cheap ($20) USB GPS to use with SeaClear. It included driver software to create a virtual com port. I use the device manager to see which port the GPS grabs (it's not always the same), then go into SeaClear and use 'Tools' , 'Properties' , Comm to select the port.

Then it just works.

I don't remember doing anything special, but it's been over a year since I first installed it. Have you tried setting the GPS to a different port, like com 8 or higher, and then setting SeaClear to that?

My GPS is on my boat. I can get it and try various settings if you think it would help.

Barry
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Old 09-29-2008
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Thanks, guys.

SD, my error. I got my formats mixed up. As I said, while quite familiar with computers, my experience with chartplotters is fairly limited. With a pilothouse to protect it, however, the laptop as chartplotter solution has great appeal.

I have a serial port on the 2003 laptop, so I will try that and will try force-setting the COM port assignment to 8 or higher...maybe SeaClear will see it then.

I have the Prolific USB-serial port driver utility...I will tweak further with this. SD, I've downloaded one of those drivers you cited. I already tried the Delorme driver solution, but it didn't "see" my Holux GPS, despite evidence that it was sending a reliable poll of GPS birds and sending NMEA 183 strings.

My research on the "hit-or-miss" aspect of the USB-RS 232 connector solution agrees with what Tommay and Steve mention.

Any other non-SeaClear freeware suggestions? The BSB scans (which I assume are large raster formats/scans) don't intimidate me at all.
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Old 09-29-2008
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If I got it backwards, here ya go...

DB-9 Serial Adapter High Speed 230K USB SERIAL 765162 LOW PRICE $18.95

Opps....that's not it either!!!

Last edited by SteveInMD; 09-29-2008 at 04:29 PM.
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