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  Topic Review (Newest First)
09-22-2013 04:46 PM
Re: PC Chartplotter advice?

My paper chart / existing non-chart-plotter gps, back up system. Used for route planning and back up system under way.

Old laptop (Dell Studio 1535) $0.00
8gb usb stick $10.00
GlobalSat BU353-S4 GPS rcvr $45.90 (incl shipping)
Navigatrix Linux based OS $0.00
NOAA Raster charts (all) $0.00

Total cost ~$56.00

How to install.

Connect laptop to internet.
Download NOAA charts and extract to directory you can easily find later. (30 min depending on your internet connection. See Notes below)
Download Navigatrix and follow instructions to install on USB stick as bootable device (15 minutes)
Setup laptop to boot from inserted USB device and reboot using USB stick.
Will not mess with your current OS. (5 min)
Plug in USB gps receiver. (30 sec)
In Navigatrix open Menu > Navigation > GPS-Panel to verify receiver is working
In Navigatrix open Menu > Navigation > OpenCpn
In OpenCpn open Options (Wrench Icon) > Display Make sure Enable Chart Quilting is checked
In OpenCpn Options switch to Charts > Loaded Charts Click on Add directory and maneuver to where you stored the extracted NOAA charts. Click on BSB_ROOT and then hit enter. Make sure "Scan Charts and Update Database is checked, then click apply. When DB is done thrashing around, click on OK.
Restart OpenCpn and click on "auto-follow" (Ship Icon)

You should see your current location on the appropriate chart. Zoom in if need be.

Total time ~ 30 minutes to install the base system.


GlobalSat USB GPS Rcvr Great little unit. Cheap and easy, its waterproof (IPV6) but mine works fine below decks on the chart table shooting through the fiberglass overhead. Your mileage may vary

Navigatrix This linux based OS has a great bunch of other apps that ship with it, and is designed as a marine operating system. While you can run it direct off the USB stick as above, it works better installed to the hard drive. Can be installed side by side with your existing OS (Window$) for dual boot. As it is a relatively new distro (based on Ubuntucore and Debian) it has some glitches, but support through the referenced website is good. Crew at Navigatrix is scattered worldwide from Europe to Panama to Fiji to Australia. All cruisers. Any problems or questions you can ask on the forum or PM myself. I probably won't be much help, but I can hook you up with the guru's.

NOAA Raster Charts These are the raster based (look like paper charts) offered by NOAA. On the page referenced in the above link, one of the first links you will see is for "ALL CHARTS" Current size around 2 gig includes all NOAA charts available. Optionally you can download zip files of a single Coast Guard district or a custom package of up to 20 files at a time. I downloaded em all as you never know where you might end up without a proper paper chart. These charts are updated weekly but as I usually rely on paper and the Mark-I eyeball twice a year is enough for me.

OpenCPN Only problem I have with OpenCPN it supports so many options, it can be a bit daunting to figure out. Good news is getting help is never a problem. Still learning myself.

Hope this helps someone looking for a minimal navigation system.
09-21-2013 04:14 PM
Re: PC Chartplotter advice?

Hands down go with OpenCPN. For charts do a search of torrent sites for the CM93 version 2 charts. I made a swap a while back with a fellow sailor here in NS of my CM charts for his Canadian charts done by the government and by far prefer the cm version of charts move detail. They are listed as offshore charts but are more then that. The only ones I have seen are world wide and a bit over a gig in size for the entire file.

I use an Emachines E627 with a BU 53 usb gps antenna. My only issue is that I've needed a sun hood for the display in order to see it from the cockpit as the laptop sits on the galley counter in my 22 footer.

PS as mentioned I also use it to play movies,play music take notes etc etc as well as internet connections when available. Oh yea with Hamfax and a shortwave reciever it is also possible to recieve and print out your own marine weather fax's.
09-21-2013 02:30 PM
Re: PC Chartplotter advice?

The only real attraction I can see to trying to adapt a laptop to the plotter role is the reduce number of devices on board and have the additional capability (movies, net surfing/wifi email etc) that a standard plotter won't (yet) do.

The challenge of protecting it from the environment means it's rarely going to be readily at hand at the helm.. I could also never understand radar displays mounted below at the nav stn.
09-21-2013 02:07 PM
Alex W
Re: PC Chartplotter advice?

The software for doing that might be cheap, but the hardware to talk to NMEA 2000 networks is not. The SeaSmart hardware starts at $500, and the Actisense is a bit cheaper at $200.

Garmin 541s starts around $500 for a complete plotter and includes NMEA 2000 support, I think I've seen it discounted for under $400. The 441s is $100 cheaper.

I just don't see how to make a PC that is waterproof, useable in the sun, and has good integration for these price points. It's possible to beat something like my Raymarine e7d on price using PC hardware, but hard to compete with the system integration.
09-21-2013 12:45 PM
Re: PC Chartplotter advice?

Originally Posted by Alex W View Post
The problem with this solution is that it is a dead end. When you do want to integrate depth sounder, wind instrument, auto pilot, and other sensors you'll want a proper boat chart plotter.

A <$500 plotter (Garmin and Lowrance have multiple options) seems like a pretty good deal once you start trying to add device integration and ...
From a software perspective, Polar Navy has the integration covered with Polar COM (which is the bridge between Polar View and external data feeds).:
PolarCOM is a comprehensive set of navigation instruments and data multiplexor compatible with NMEA 0183 and NMEA 2000 over SeaSmart or Actisense protocols. It is available for Apple Mac OS X, Windows and Linux systems. Best of all - PolarCOM is free.

PolarCOM features include:
  • Comprehensive set of navigation instruments including position, speed, course, wind, depth
  • Highly visible digital and analog instruments
  • Multiple fully configurable instrument panels
  • Anchor, XTE, depth and arrival visual/audio alarms
  • Multiple modes of true wind calculation
  • NMEA 0183 compatible autopilot control output
  • AIS based CPA/TCPA alarm with better proximity estimate
  • Multiplexing several serial data inputs
  • Forwarding and receiving data over TCP/UDP network connections
  • Data logging and replay capability
  • Support for AIS (AIVDM)
  • Autopilot & current route: ECAPB,ECRMB,ECRTE,ECWPL
  • Support for SeaSmart NMEA 2000 gateway protocol
  • Support for Actisense NGT-1 NMEA 2000 gateway protocol
09-21-2013 12:32 PM
Alex W
Re: PC Chartplotter advice?

Originally Posted by Brian_vancouver View Post
I would like to be able to view current government (or better) charts, tides/depths (charted not via an integrated depth sounder), and my location/moving map. Other features, such as anchor drift alarms and the like would be nice, but not terribly important.
I think the cheapest good solution is a Nexus 7 tablet ($200) plus the Navionics chart package for it ($50 covers WA and BC).

The Nexus 7 has a built in GPS. I use one as my backup plotter and the screen is pretty good in direct sunlight and it doesn't overheat as easily as an iPad. Battery life isn't great (but better than laptops), and it's not waterproof (same problem with computers).

The problem with this solution is that it is a dead end. When you do want to integrate depth sounder, wind instrument, auto pilot, and other sensors you'll want a proper boat chart plotter.

A <$500 plotter (Garmin and Lowrance have multiple options) seems like a pretty good deal once you start trying to add device integration and the ability to handle weather and be read in bright sunlight.
09-21-2013 12:22 PM
Re: PC Chartplotter advice?

I forgot to mention that Polar View also integrates with the ActiveCaptain website. It will download all of the ActiveCaptain markers, and place them on the chart.

You can find out more here; Polar Navy - Marine Navigation Software

and no, I have no financial interest in Polar Navy.
09-21-2013 12:18 PM
Re: PC Chartplotter advice?

Since you are not afraid to spend some cash on this, I would recommend PolarView, from Polar Navy. The program costs a whopping $50, but then you can load it on up to 5 different machines. It is supported on OSX, Windows, and Linux. There is also a free trial version, which is good for 30 days.

I ran OpenCPN, and SeaClear for a while, but never did feel comfortable with loading new charts, or keeping them up to date. PolarView does this VERY simply. Click FILE, select CHART DOWNLOAD, click SELECT, use the tool to draw a box around the area that you are interested in, click FIND CHARTS. The tool finds all of the latest charts for that area. You can then select a source; NOAA ENC, NOAA RNC, Chartworld ENC, or Chartworld Navonics RNC.

The NOAA Charts are free, and the tool will give you an estimated price if you choose the Chartworld charts.
09-20-2013 11:10 PM
Re: PC Chartplotter advice?

We found the Navionics charts quite good.. as good as those on our C-map plotter, with slightly better resolution. If you have an Ipad, with the availability of the cases I think the screen size is good enough, holders are available and they will probably live in the cockpit better than a true laptop.
09-20-2013 10:38 PM
Re: PC Chartplotter advice?

Those are the right charts if you just want to buy them. I haven't used any of the commercial PC software out there so can't really comment on them, but they would usually come with charts I assume. I have the Navionics charts on my Android phone and it works OK, certainly no replacement for a plotter or paper though.
Keep an eye on consignment stores as well, I picked up an 8.4" colour chartplotter for $100 with a charts for the whole of this area.
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