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Brian_vancouver 09-20-2013 07:09 PM

PC Chartplotter advice?
I'm lmost afraid to ask, but being not terribly computer adept, I am looking for advice on what software, maps and gps antenna/dongle I should get to serve as a PC laptop onboard chartplotter. This for use in the Vancouver, Howe Sound BC -- BC Gulf Islands region(s).

I have an older Garmin GPSMap 215, pretty basic, and I really would like to avoid the cost of a replacement dedicated GPS Plotter system.

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.

Can anyone make a overall system(s) suggestion?

Thanks folks,


PaulinVictoria 09-20-2013 09:13 PM

Re: PC Chartplotter advice?
I had previously recommended OpenCPN to another poster, my recommendation still stands, just make sure you go to the right site :rolleyes:
It will do everything you want, including tides, currents, lots of cool plugins etc.
The difficult part is charts, the only place you can officially get Canadian charts is from the Canadian Hydrographic lot, and they will relieve you of about $400 for the privilege of giving you the charts that your tax dollars already paid for. You can get NOAA charts for free, but they aren't good for Canadian waters. You can also sometimes get hold of other charts out there on that internet thing if you know what I mean.
As for GPS itself, if the Garmin you have will output NMEA 0183 then you might be able to use that via a serial port (or a USB), but it might prove easier to just get a GPS dongle. I would go for something wired as otherwise you can guarantee that the dongle will run out of power just when you need it most.

Brian_vancouver 09-20-2013 09:26 PM

Re: PC Chartplotter advice?
Thanks Paul,

I appreciate the advice, both for the platform and the charts. I would of course like to avoid the govt rate on the charts. Unfortunately, I have no idea of where to look for a reliable alternative, more so on how to get them installed.

Anyone have any idea on this?


Faster 09-20-2013 09:34 PM

Re: PC Chartplotter advice?
We're using Navionics HD on an I pad, next step is to get a GPS puck (the pad is wifi only). It's a $50 app and covers the Americas, have downloaded all the areas between Victoria and the Central coast, charts look great.

"Bad Elf" is one of the popular GPS modules, and there's another, cheaper but 'blind' (ie no display on the 'puck'), Dual XGPS150, and Garmin GLO are candidates. The Elf and XGPS communicate with the pad via bluetooth, that may work for you too.

We also put the pad into a 'hardened'/water resistant case for use in the cockpit. Even though we used it only as a planning tool and the odd time we were without the paper chart, it worked well. We do have another plotter in the cockpit.

PaulinVictoria 09-20-2013 09:42 PM

Re: PC Chartplotter advice?
Do you have a budget for this by the way? There are a number of commercial apps you can get on the PC which although obviously more expensive than the OpenCPN route (which is free), might be easier for you.

Brian_vancouver 09-20-2013 09:45 PM

Re: PC Chartplotter advice?
Thank you for the suggestions. I was wondering about the navionics iPad app? It was unclear to me on whether or not the charts were worthwhile, and detailed enough, for the general Vancouver, Howe Sound and Gulf Islands region. You think they're sufficiently detailed and practical? I always have paper charts at hand for those iffy situations and when the IT acts up.

As for an antenna, I would definately go with one that can be placed remotely under a clear view, and having a signal indicator would be helpful as well.

Is the system you're talking about relatively easy to set-up and use?


Brian_vancouver 09-20-2013 09:51 PM

Re: PC Chartplotter advice?
Hello Paul,

I'm ok with spending on this. Ease of set-up and use are both valuable to me. any thoughts?

also, I took a look around the gc site ( Canadian Hydrographic Service ) -- do you think these likely are these the charts I would purchase for the area I'm interested in? The cost is ~ $175, irritating but not the end of the world assuming the system isn't looking for annual updates. That was one of the problems with the garmin chartplotter unit I had, it required me to update the chart card every 12-18 mos for nothing that I cared about -- new harbour restaurants, dock layouts and the like.

Thanks again,


PaulinVictoria 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.

Faster 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.

eherlihy 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.

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