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The problem with laptops is that they''re not waterproof. That precludes using them in the cockpit, I''ve used an obsolete model below by attaching it to the chart table with velcro. I wouldn''t dream of using an expensive new model below while underway unless the seas were very calm. All it takes is one wave to ruin the laptop for good.
However, I use the Maptech software at anchor to do route planning on the laptop. While underway it''s safely secured in a bag. I upload waypoints to my Raytheon radar chartplotter (waterproof and mounted at the wheel) the night before setting out.
The Maptech software is far superior to the Raytheon (and I suspect other chartplotters) for route planning; color and better resolution helps a lot, and it''s easy to click the mouse and move waypoints around. I highly recommend for route planning. Also, laptop displays are typically 1024x768 pixels now, the Raytheon mono radar/chartplotter is 320x240, color is 640x480. You can see much more of the chart at the same time on the laptop with Maptech. Also, the laptop''s keyboard is much, much faster than the trackpad for entering waypoint names. The route planning software comes with the regional chart for $150-200 and is quite complete. There is another piece of Maptech software which takes input from your GPS and allows you to see your boat as it moves. I haven''t tried that. Obviously that does the same thing a charplotter does, but you still have the problem that it is on a laptop.
I looked briefly at the Si-Tex. It would have been much more expensive than what I have, not counting the cost of the laptop which doubles for home use.
One also must consider the likelihood of a computer crash at a critical moment in fog or a narrow channel. Although Windows XP is much improved over Windows Me/95/98, I wouldn''t trust any Microsoft operating system when the safety of your boat and indeed you depend on it. It just may crash at the wrong time and require several minutes to reboot while the software scolds you for shutting down the computer incorrectly (which you had to do only because the software was defective in the first place) and scans your disks. Think of going through that as a freighter bears down on you in the fog or as you''re navigating between rocks unmarked by buoys.
As far as I can tell, the Raytheon unit is as close to crash proof as one can get.
It''s very beneficial to have a fully integrated system where one can look at charts and the radar at the same time. Having compass and autopilot input (I have a sea talk system with autopilot and speed/depth/wind) allows the radar and chart to be displayed north up or course (i.e. last autopilot course) up. If one is turning to avoid traffic, north up is a lot less confusing than head up. Also, it''s very helpful to have a current set and drift computation. That''s taking the GPS data and comparing it to the speed and compass data to calculate set and drift. I assume you can do similar things with the B&G system and NMEA interfaces.
The waterproof cockpit displays are very expensive, part of that is more intense backlighting to enable use in the cockpit during daylight. Non waterproof LCD displays are available fairly inexpensively. It''s difficult to understand the huge difference, one would expect that cockpit displays will come down in price, but it hasn''t been noticeable yet.
I would recommend using a laptop below for navigation only if you have an extra crew member available a good part of the time (and full time in fog or tight quarters) to do navigation below while someone else is at the helm. It''s just too easy to miss something if you''re jumping up and down between the helm and the chart table.
If you want to use a laptop while underway, perhaps the best solution would be to use the laptop (secured in a waterproof area) with a remote keyboard and LCD monitor at the nav station. The keyboard is cheap and dispensible, if the monitor gets wet you''re out $300-400 vs. $2000. However, you''d need an inverter for the LCD monitor and would have to worry about current drain.