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Discussion Starter #1
I bought my first laptop for use while traveling and onboard. (Using my desktop for years for other stuff). I have an adequate plotter on board and dont anticpate trying to tie the laptop to the plotter at this time. I just want to have a back up on board and a toy to do some minimal planning at home. Im aware that there are free NOAA charts and also more extensive/expensive software available but I dont know how they all relate to each other.
Whats the simplest way to start learning? Can someone direct me to a primer on the subject ?
 

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Sea Slacker
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I'll plug our product since this is just on topic :)

PolarView (Polar Navy) is still in alpha, but we are an efficient chart viewer for ENC (vector) charts from NOAA (and, incidentally, GRIB weather files). (and a new "beta" release is coming as soon as powers that be implement our S63 credentials so that non-US users can open their charts too :) )


BTW, don't swear off using a computer connected to the rest of your instruments. There are challenges in setting this up correctly, to be sure - but there are also advantages including versatility and system flexibility.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
How about some place to look for basic explanations of choices, types, etc.
Something like the equivalent of Don Casey on computers/charts. And of course, cheap is always a good starting place when learning.
 

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Telstar 28
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Basically, the US government provides free charts in two electronic formats. The BSB format was developed by the government and Maptech and is basically a raster scan of paper charts. It is a purely graphic format for all intents and purposes. The newer format is the ENC format, and is a vector format file. These files store the information in a database and use a mathematical definition to define each item.

There are a lot of programs that can use the BSB format charts. Seaclear II is one of the free programs that can use them. Many commercial programs can use them as well.

Not as many can use the ENC format charts.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
So is the basic idea that I can get free charts from NOAA but all I can do is look at them. If I want to putz around with waypoints at home or if I want to use them underway with a usb gps then I would need to get some software which would use those free NOAA charts. I realize that software features cost money but would Seaclear be as good a choice as any to start the process as its free and would allow me to get experience and knowledge about what to spend money on in the future?
 

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Hmmm
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Yes, SeaClear will work for you and is the best way to go because it's free. As for the USB GPS antenna, stay away from ones like Garman that are proprietary and will not work with SeaClear or any other software other than their own.

[Edit] correction, if you do have a Garman it will work but you need to do a google search for a free application that will fool it to work with any software. I forget the name of it but it does exist but it's kind of a hasstle to have an extra piece of software running.
 

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Hey man yo no hear. Bigdog just told ya. Download Seaclea11 (free) Download goverment charts(free). Install seaclear. copy charts you need to a folder on your hard drive. Put all charts in a folder, go into each folder you need (index included in download of charts) and put into one folder usally in the c drive windows program files seaclea11 charts but you can put it anywhere on your hd. Restart, open Mapcal (included in SeaClear11 download) Go to Tools, Set Directory and point to the folder we created with all the charts in. Next while still in Mapcal go to tools scan for new charts and it should find all your charts. Close Mapcal and open Seaclear11 you might need to pick the right comm port for your gps. Simple, open up device manager with the gps hooked up find the device and go to propertiers and see which comm port it is using. In Seaclear11 go to tools properties and select comm ports and assign it the correct port. Restart Seaclear11 and you should see the gps data displayed, it might take a few min so relax, smoke,drink and or both. If all is well, read the manual because all that I am posting is in there. If you want to read enc charts you need different software and it's way cool but, cost some cash but the previous post looks like something I will be testing. I use Seaclear11 with bitmap charts and I think imoh its a very good piece of software and is stable. I can help with problems if you pm me. This has been well discussed in this site but I hope some of this helps. I sometime need to read it several different ways to get it I just hope this is one to somebody:)
 

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Sea Slacker
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(Obviously I have a vested interest in this, however the following is my deeply held personal opinion as well).

Raster charts are very important when used in their proper form - *on paper* (as indelible backup that works when you have no power and electronics are fried). Raster charts were the available medium in digital form for a while, until standards for vector charts were (somewhat) agreed upon, and CPU power became available to process them in reasonable time. At this point, using digital raster charts is at a very least inefficient.
 

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Telstar 28
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The major advantage of BSB-raster format charts is that they always show all of their data, regardless of the zoom level. With the ENC-vector format charts, some data, like information for bridge height and such, can often be hidden until you either ask for it or zoom in to the appropriate zoom level. As such, until the ENC-based programs standardize the way they display such information, using Raster-based BSB charts is more foolproof.

Scosch—

I told you what software will work for the BSB-format charts. AFAIK, there is no free package, other than PolarView, which is in ALPHA testing right now, that works with ENC charts.
 

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Another choice is to buy the Maptech chart DVD (which gives you all US charts plus a lite version of their chart software) or a Maptech chartbook (which gives you both paper and electronic charts of the area plus the lite chart software). The DVD is under $100 and saves a lot of downloading. Chartbooks are about $125.
 

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Sea Slacker
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The major advantage of BSB-raster format charts is that they always show all of their data, regardless of the zoom level. With the ENC-vector format charts, some data, like information for bridge height and such, can often be hidden until you either ask for it or zoom in to the appropriate zoom level. As such, until the ENC-based programs standardize the way they display such information, using Raster-based BSB charts is more foolproof.
Reasonable zooming is an issue, granted (and I am sure every vector charting package is trying to do their best).
That said, BSB's only show all their information in readable manner at their "native" resolution. Zooming a few levels up will render text unreadable. Zooming down may make it unreadable as well (most charting packages botch a job of doing good image extrapolation).

Incidentally, vector charts also have their own "native" resolution. At that resolution (at least in a properly designed chart package) all objects and data should be shown. To see what "native resolution" is, if you happen to be trying PolarView, open chart manager and double click on chart entry. It will recenter on that chart and re-zoom to the native scale.

Scosch—

I told you what software will work for the BSB-format charts. AFAIK, there is no free package, other than PolarView, which is in ALPHA testing right now, that works with ENC charts.
At the risk of promoting other packages, there are a few options out there. In particular, without naming them, a popular Mac product is quite good (as long as you don't mind a "this is a trial" logo in the middle of the chart and occasional nag screen). A popular Windows ENC maker produces a free viewer (thouh IMHO the viewer is simply terrible). A number of other products provide trial versions that would work for a limited time (but give you an ability to explore their functionality for a while).

BTW, Polar View is going to become "beta" in the next release (which has been prepared and packaged and awaiting action by S63 data servers).
 

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I have been looking at Tiki which is a very nice program. but at this time only uses Raster charts. They are working on a new program that will allow the use of Navionics charts and that should be available in May. If you one only intends to cruise in US waters the free NOAA charts work very well but those programs that only use Raster charts are very limiting especially outside NOAA waters. Maptech is available for some of these areas but are not extensive in places like the Carribean.
Although a little more than expensive, than Tiki, Fugawi has a program which can use either format and is also a very nice program. To me nice is simple to use yet provides all the basic information.
 

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Note also, that both Tiki and Fugawi have demo versions which you can download and try. Just go to their website tiki-navigator.com or fugawi.com
 

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Old Fart
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The best free software I've found is Raymarine's RayTech Navigator. It will load the free ENC and BSB charts from NOAA and will also load Navionics electronic charts. You can plan trips and save your waypoints, etc. It saves the waypoints in the Raymarine format but another free bit of software called GPSBabel will convert the waypoints to anyformat you choose to fit your other hardware.

Raymarine makes their software available free with quite a lot of it blocked in the hope that when you see it and get used to it you will buy the fully implimented version.

Good Luck
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Thanks everyone. You have given me a good place to start my study.
What does AFAIK stand for?
Being in Alaska is a wierd time zone. I sit down to write after my dinner and everyone else has gone to bed. I get up and find plenty of posts cause its already mid day elsewhere.
 

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Telstar 28
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Scosch—

As Far As I Know. :)
 

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You might want t look at Coastal Explorer. There is a free download version that will give you an Idea of what it is capable. the free version uses the NOAA charts, It will only conect to your gps for the first 15 minutes each time you start it. You can access tide and current predictions and if you download the guides available online you can get information for the area. I think the full version is less than $400. The trial version allows you to plan and transfer waypoints to gps.
 
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