Join Date: Jun 2004
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There is no reluctance to answer the quetsion, there is just no simple answer! As everone stated, before You start with electronic charting system, see to that You have a 'paper' set up of Your cruising area, and add a GPS of next of any kind to it.
If cruising area is the US waters, probably the cheapest solution would be NOA chars and reading software as the charts are free. Then is the question if You want to invest in a GPS system with charts included? Garmin, Raymarine, Simrad You name it, they all have. Some You have to load the charts from a CD, some use special Memory stics (C-map). Cruising in smaller areas this is an acceptable solution, cruising the world, rather expensive. The advantage of theese systems are they are 'bullet proof' and rather stable, but screen size may be somewhat small for costal navigation in difficult areas. Theese systems are rather power economical compared to next step: lap top and chart soft ware. For lap tops there are almost a jungel of programs, some 'free', some 'demo' some You simply buy! As for chart systems I preferr either C-map or Transas, but both rather expensive. In highly traffic areas these charts are frequently updated, in the more remote areas as atolls in the pacific etc there may be problems (probably why You sometimes find reefed boats on both sides of the reef openings!)
However, before starting computerized/electronic navigation - old fashioned paper charts are amust! Then it is all up to Your need and not forget Your wallet what to choose!