SailNet Community banner

1 - 20 of 39 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
36 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
I am being lured by the siren song of cheap dollars of buy it now on ebay one of the $99.00 GPS mouse and a gazillion charts that turn my otherwise unsuspecting laptop into a chart plotter.
However the old adage of " to good to be true" is ringing in my ears. Does anyone have experience with any of these? Are they worthy of my investment or should I just buy a Garmin with the appropriate chips?
thanks
Jim
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,517 Posts
Do you plan on keeping it at the helm or down below on the nav station? There's been many discussions around the merits/drawbacks laptops for helms, but it mainly comes down to this.

If you factor the cost of making a laptop weatherproof (ie panasonic toughbook) and also factor in the diminished viewability of the laptop screens in sunlight, the cost/benefit equation quickly evaporates towards some of the lower end Garmin GPS/Plotter units.

I think most everyone will agree that a laptop at the nav station is a great tool for planning purposes or a backup to the GPS/Plotter at the helm. I have my macbook attached to my Garmin 76CSx (run xp in parallels) for planning and tracking purposes (easier than swapping out my chart chip on my Raymarine C80).

Some people are real fans of Raymarine's E series devices and running a laptop with Raytech RNS so that they can get all the functions over the Raymarine network on their laptop including the Radar. Thats unique to Raymarine I believe.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,828 Posts
I have used a laptop for 7 years now along with Maptech. The only problem I have had is theft, so I bought new charts, and laptops. We sail flat, and our nav station is VERY visible from the helm. It would depend on location of where it sits, and you visibility of the unit........i2f
 

·
old guy :)
Joined
·
1,061 Posts
We have used a laptop at the nav station for ten years. Have used FUGAWI and a Garmin 48, then a Garmin 76 and now a Garmin 440. Both in fresh water and salt water environments.

Would not leave home without it.

We also have all the paper charts, RADAR, AIS and the appropriate radios.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,889 Posts
I, too, have used a laptop at the nav station for many years. My laptop runs XP, dummed down a bit for more stability, and Maptech's Offshore Navigator. A cheap Windows98SE laptop, programmed exactly the same way, constitutes my backup in case the main laptop goes south.

I very much favor the raster charts (which are free for U.S. charts) because they are EXACT copies of the real paper charts, which I keep close at hand as well.

I will not buy a chartplotter unless and until someone comes out with one which will take raster charts. The vector charts on all chartplotters today leave me cold -- they don't look like "the real thing", they don't include loads of shore detail which are useful for navigation, and they may/do contain errors which were introduced during the digitizing process.

Yeah, I know all about the "virtues" of vector charts but I'm not convinced.

My laptop chartplotter is powered by a Furuno GP31 at the nav station. I have three identical ones, all programmed exactly the same way with waypoints and routes from Maine to the Eastern Caribbean. One of these is mounted at the helm. The third is a backup.

I, too, can see the plotter from the cockpit. Several years ago I experimented with putting a remote LCD screen in the cockpit. No matter where I moved it, I found it to be VERY distracting. Further, it absolutely spoiled my night vision -- I like to sail at night -- no matter how low the screen brightness was set.

I concluded that I really don't want anything in the cockpit that's not absolutely essential and might destroy my night vision. Another experienced night sailor who sometimes sails with me thinks my red night lighting throughout the boat is too bright. I tend to agree with him.

Finally, I agree completely with the comment that nothing beats a laptop chartplotter for planning purposes. It has become essential to my style of sailing.

BTW, I have an identical setup on my home/office computer -- Offshore Navigator and all the charts. This allows me to do planning, checking, etc. in comfort on a big screen, save the results, and transfer them to the laptop and the GPS.

FWIW,

Bill
Old Curmudgeon & Navigation Instructor :)
 

·
Grasshopper
Joined
·
908 Posts
I very much favor the raster charts (which are free for U.S. charts) because they are EXACT copies of the real paper charts, which I keep close at hand as well.
Vectors are free too.

I will not buy a chartplotter unless and until someone comes out with one which will take raster charts. The vector charts on all chartplotters today leave me cold -- they don't look like "the real thing", they don't include loads of shore detail which are useful for navigation, and they may/do contain errors which were introduced during the digitizing process.
If you're going to wait until they make a plotter that read rasters, then you're never going to get one.:D ...doesn't matter to me though.

There is only one problem with raster charts, and that is how often they are updated. Since rasters are just scanned copies of real charts, a raster is not updated until the real chart is updated...and in many cases that can be 'years'. Not so with vector charts. Vector charts are updated very regularly, many charts being updated weekly. If the real chart had an error in it, the scanned raster chart will have the error also. Since the real chart is used in the digitizing process in making the vector chart, any error in the real chart will also be transfered to the vector chart...but the error can be corrected and distributed much faster than with a raster chart. Another limitation between rasters and vectors is the amount of information contained contained in the file, where vectors have huge amounts of information contained in them that can be updated anytime. [/QUOTE]

Yeah, I know all about the "virtues" of vector charts but I'm not convinced.
Reminds me of the old saying "You can drag a horse to water but you can't make them drink." :p

My laptop chartplotter is powered by a Furuno GP31 at the nav station. I have three identical ones, all programmed exactly the same way with waypoints and routes from Maine to the Eastern Caribbean. One of these is mounted at the helm. The third is a backup.

I, too, can see the plotter from the cockpit. Several years ago I experimented with putting a remote LCD screen in the cockpit. No matter where I moved it, I found it to be VERY distracting. Further, it absolutely spoiled my night vision -- I like to sail at night -- no matter how low the screen brightness was set.
Plotters can be distracting until you get used to them, and only use them for general reference while you're manning your post. If the brightness of the plotter bothers a person's vision at night, they can either turn the brightness down or turn the display off while at watch...the plotter will still be on with the display off.

Finally, I agree completely with the comment that nothing beats a laptop chartplotter for planning purposes. It has become essential to my style of sailing.

BTW, I have an identical setup on my home/office computer -- Offshore Navigator and all the charts. This allows me to do planning, checking, etc. in comfort on a big screen, save the results, and transfer them to the laptop and the GPS.
I agree that they are great for pre-planning.


FWIW,

Bill
Old Curmudgeon & Navigation Instructor :)
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,517 Posts
I pray for the day that the major plotter manufacturers get off their proprietary kick and make a device that takes NOAA raster or ENC charts...

Some of these netbooks have me intrigued. Some have built in EVDO/Aircards and even GPS. If someone "hardened" it for military use, then we'd be talking. Perhaps a touch screen...who knows.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
177 Posts
The raster charts are scanned copies of the "real" charts? Where do the real charts come from then? Each revision is made by hand with pen and ruler?

Obviously, NOAA's been making charts with computers for decades. The raster charts are made on a computer and serve as the masters for the paper charts that are printed out. There is probably the same GIS database behind both the RNC and ENC charts.

I have used a GPS that uses raster charts, Megellan's Triton hand held units. Of course you can't just load any GeoTIFF you happen to have and use it with the GPS, that would be too useful. All GPS manufactures seem to hate their customers, it's not just Garmin. But the Tritons can load raster topo maps from the National Geographic Topo program. (The maps don't come from NG of course, rather the USGS. Funny how all these GPS companies sell maps funded by the US taxpayer for big bucks).

Anyway, using a raster map with a GPS sucks. Doesn't help that the Triton software is a POS either....

The problem is that the raster map was made to be printed on paper at something like 300 DPI. Your typical GPS has a screen that's more like 50 DPI. If you make the map the same size as the paper version, it's unreadable because of the loss of resolution. Small text is just a blob. Thin lines disappear. If you zoom in until you can see the detail properly, thick lines become huge and all the larger text on the map has become giant size and you need to scroll around just to read stuff. If rotate a chart made with East up so that North is up, all the text gets rotated too. Makes track up display pretty bad too, but that's not a problem on the Tritons because they can't do track up...
 

·
Sea Slacker
Joined
·
1,789 Posts
One idea that I am exploring (both for personal use and as a product) is to use a small "netbook", such as Eee PC with a chart software product. As a user because I would enjoy a system like that on my boat. As a product because PolarView (to which I am partial, of course :) ) is designed in part to run on systems of that type.

At a cost of about $300 per machine with a 10" screen it makes a fairly decent navigation system supporting both ENC and RNC charts. A dedicated plotter with the same size screen would cost at least 4-5 times more and require charts that cost money too.

The drawbacks compared to a dedicated "hardware" plotter (like my Garmin) are lack of waterproofing (which means it better stay down below) and screens that aren't as easy to read in sunlight (though some netbooks have pretty decent backlight since they are designed for use on the road). Power draw is higher too, but netbooks are fairly miserly relative to other machines and quite reasonable overall. Dedicated plotters also tend to have more integration features (radars and such) but at the same time may not support GRIB data or, for example, provide connectivity etc, so I suppose functionality-wise it may depend on the target user.
 

·
Grasshopper
Joined
·
908 Posts
The raster charts are scanned copies of the "real" charts? Where do the real charts come from then? Each revision is made by hand with pen and ruler?
I'm sorry. What I should have specified was the real chart is the master chart that chart copies are made from. The raster chart file was scanned from either the master or the copy. Each revision may be made to a copy of the master, but I'll bet the master has to be revised too. I didn't think I eluded to the paper master chart being made by hand...or did I?

Obviously, NOAA's been making charts with computers for decades. The raster charts are made on a computer and serve as the masters for the paper charts that are printed out. There is probably the same GIS database behind both the RNC and ENC charts.

I have used a GPS that uses raster charts, Megellan's Triton hand held units. Of course you can't just load any GeoTIFF you happen to have and use it with the GPS, that would be too useful. All GPS manufactures seem to hate their customers, it's not just Garmin. But the Tritons can load raster topo maps from the National Geographic Topo program. (The maps don't come from NG of course, rather the USGS. Funny how all these GPS companies sell maps funded by the US taxpayer for big bucks).
It's called free enterprise.

Anyway, using a raster map with a GPS sucks. Doesn't help that the Triton software is a POS either....

The problem is that the raster map was made to be printed on paper at something like 300 DPI. Your typical GPS has a screen that's more like 50 DPI. If you make the map the same size as the paper version, it's unreadable because of the loss of resolution. Small text is just a blob. Thin lines disappear. If you zoom in until you can see the detail properly, thick lines become huge and all the larger text on the map has become giant size and you need to scroll around just to read stuff. If rotate a chart made with East up so that North is up, all the text gets rotated too. Makes track up display pretty bad too, but that's not a problem on the Tritons because they can't do track up...
I agree with your explanation. Even if they could make a raster work good with a GPS or plotter, you would still be left with only one layer of information. I hardly ever use rasters when preplanning or when I happen to use my laptop while sailing (to check against my plotter), but I have them for reference in case the vector does not show certain information I'm might be looking for...or I get out the real (copy in this case) chart.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
36 Posts
Discussion Starter #11
I really thank all of you for the replies. Most informative. I think that I will get the mouse and the software for the laptop and also get a raymarine plotter that will eventually hook up to the rest of the raymarine stuff on the boat.
Awesome guys thanks again.
Jim
SV Osprey
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
201 Posts
I am being lured by the siren song of cheap dollars of buy it now on ebay one of the $99.00 GPS mouse and a gazillion charts that turn my otherwise unsuspecting laptop into a chart plotter.
However the old adage of " to good to be true" is ringing in my ears. Does anyone have experience with any of these? Are they worthy of my investment or should I just buy a Garmin with the appropriate chips?
thanks
Jim
I run MaxSea on my P4 (and MBP) connected through a either a Garmin 276C or 478. I don't have any experience with the GPS mouse.

As for Garmin charts, you should check their site. It seems that they've pulled all their charts due to inaccuracies (and other reasons that they're not publishing).

I won't use any software that locks me into one specific chart provider. Some companies produce better regional charts than others. There are a number of charting programs out there (check Practical Sailor) that will do what you need for a reasonable price and won't lock you into the proprietary format.

I use the chart software to plan the route, then upload the waypoints to the GPSs (which I know and trust more than some of the boat systems). The GPS tells me everything I need to know: lat/long, XTE, COG, SOF, DTG, and other info that gets transferred to paper charts.

I carry paper charts and plot on them. The trend in large boats is to requiring electronic and paper charts.

Comments about scan accuracy are well found. I'm sure all of us have been driven to distraction when map based GPSs tell us to turn down a road that doesn't exist, or hasn't been integrated into the mapbase despite being years old.

One example: I was bringing a 145' yacht into an unfamiliar anchorage one dark night. The charts sat on the chart table, in proper order, and we had the radars (2) spinning. We called out range and distance bearings, depths, and the occasional buoy. I plotted them and provided the captain with depth changes, course changes, and times to course change. It was a tense time and the crew was silent. We made it in fine, dropped the hooks, and only then looked at the electronic charts. In some cases we were shown aground and others matched the paper charts. Neither the captain or I ever considered following the electronics; radar and visual bearings were far more accurate and real world.

Finally, a lot of mariners consider the display on a chart plotter as gospel. It is not. The wise mariner uses every source of data to arrive at his position; whether fixed or DR. On deliveries, I prefer charts and my eyes to the tube on the nav station.
 

·
Don Radcliffe
Joined
·
398 Posts
I had a friend who bought a GPS mouse from Garmin, and helped him get it to work. We had to use Fanson's GPSGATE program to create a virtual com port for the charting softwar, but it worked fine after that. BTW, you can get the USB GPS's for less than $50 on Ebay, and GPSGATE Express is $13 after your free trial runs out.

The biggest advantage of the laptop charting programs is that you are not tied to proprietary vendors who charge $$ for changes. When we got an AIS receiver, SeaClear was a free download for the laptop to give us charting with AIS targets. How much did you pay to upgrade your chartplotter to AIS??

I absolutely second oceanscapt on using every input you have for navigation-GPS waypoints, paper & electronic charts, radar, visual ranges and bearings, depthsounder, eyeball, ears, wave patterns, etc. If all those inputs are agreeing, full steam ahead. If one or more disagree, its time to slow down or stop until you figure out why.

Electronic charts are based on paper charts, most of which were made before the surveyor knew his longitude and latitude to the accuracy that your GPS does. I have seen paper charts 1.75 miles off (Tonga), but they are usually consistent errors, as the surveyor used distances and compass bearings to record features like points and reefs--if you forget the GPS and use ranges and bearings these charts are still useful.

The differences between electronic and paper charts are usually datum errors, but I did find one BSB chart of the approaches to Bermuda which was 8 miles off in latitude (put the cursor on a line of latitude and the chart program read exactly 8 miles further north).

I did a delivery on a boat where the laptop was off 0.6 miles coming into Grand Canaria. It turned out the boat had been in Croatia, and someone had reset the GPS to some obscure Croatian datum. Resetting the GPS to wgs84 had us within 0.05 miles on both electronic and paper charts.

I was on a power boat (just for cocktails) in Tobago Keys this year which had two high end chartplotters. The one downstairs was OK, but the flybridge (different brand) was off by 0.8 miles. It turned out this chartplotter had a feature down in the menus whereby you could set the datum by clicking on a known point on the chart. The really scarey thing was this chartplotter didn't give any warning that it was using a user-generated datum!


In all of these cases, a comparison of available inputs indicated something was wrong, and it was time to be very careful until we figured out why.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,889 Posts
I'd like to thank Capt. Douglas Abbott for his excellent post. The fact that he and I seem to agree 100% notwithstanding, he has laid out some of the real world problems faced by cruising sailors today as they attempt to fathom the increasingly complex world of navigation electronics.

Bottom line: the Mark #1 Eyeball rules! Radar and fathometer and paper charts -- or exact reproductions thereof, i.e., raster charts -- are next.

GPS is an incredibly wonderful and useful tool, but in the wrong hands can be a tool which helps you toward disaster. Dedicated GPS/Chartplotters can help give you a feeling of confidence sometimes that you know where you are, while you speed on toward disaster.

Climbing down from my high horse, now :)

Bill
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
994 Posts
We use Furuno GPS, connected to Dell laptop equipped with SailCruiser software and C-Map vector charts. I can ensure, that its dead precise. I mean not more than few meters (if even so much) error. In coastal races it's so important to have minimum clearance to save distance.

J
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
994 Posts
I am being lured by the siren song of cheap dollars of buy it now on ebay one of the $99.00 GPS mouse and a gazillion charts that turn my otherwise unsuspecting laptop into a chart plotter.
However the old adage of " to good to be true" is ringing in my ears. Does anyone have experience with any of these? Are they worthy of my investment or should I just buy a Garmin with the appropriate chips?
thanks
Jim
Jim having a hockey puck gps and a bunch of charts is not much use without a piece of software called Navigation software. a friend of mine,
olaf_hansen01 at yahoo.com in Norway can help you set up completely for a very reasonable price. Contact him directly please
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
25 Posts
A laptop can work great with the right navigation software. However if you do go for the old, cheap ebay laptop be careful that is is actually powerful enough and has enough disc space for the software and charts.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
482 Posts
I have both a chartplotter and laptop with charts.
The chartplotter is better, if you can afford it its worth the extra cost. The main differences are
1. Stability. the chartplotter works 100% of the time within a few seconds of turning it on. The laptop is slower to start. It works most of the time, but dragging in the middle of the night you do not have time to fool around sorting out problems with windows.
2 Waterproof. The place for a chartplotter is at the helm.
3 Daylight viewing. even at the chart table sunlight can make the laptop screen hard to use.
4 Radar overlay. shows errors in the chart. Invaluable. (possible with a PC system but difficult and even more tempramental.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
739 Posts
4 Radar overlay. shows errors in the chart. Invaluable. (possible with a PC system but difficult and even more tempramental.
+1 on the radar overlay at any time and in any conditions. I'll ocassionally turn the radar on in perfect conditions just so I can confirm that the radar setting are appropriate for where I'm at and confirm what I'm seeing on the chartplotter.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
201 Posts
To me the biggest problems with using a laptop as a chart plotter (the original question) are: environmental; display; durability; design.

Heat - a big problem whether you're carbon or silicon based. If the laptops going to be running a lot, then getting the heat away from the electronics is going to be a prime concern. Many of the cruisers who use laptops have additional fans to circulate air around the unit to keep the internal temps down. Orienting it so that the heat naturally rises can reduce the thermal loads and prolong the life of the unit. And don't forget about cooling the laptop power supply.

Moisture - Then there's the problem of moisture - both salt and fresh. It's important to keep this away from the laptop. Most folks put their laptop away after use but if it's your navcomp, it might not be an option. You want to carefully consider where you'll be mounting it (and I recommend a firm mounting scheme), how you're going to get the heat away, and keep the water away.

Power - You've got to feed the laptop and unless the unit runs on 12VDC (wouldn't that be magical!), that means power conversion; either DC-DC or DC-AC-DC. Buying a small inverter may be more economically and utility feasible (AC for other appliances) than a dedicated DC-DC converter. I'd make sure the inverter works fine with the laptop power supply. And I'd carry a spare power supply too.

Display - there aren't many laptops whose display can be considered sunlight readable (at least without a hood, and probably without you wearing sunglasses). Size is nice but we've got a storage problem. I'd still get the biggest I could.

Durability - give very serious consideration to a ruggedized unit. They can be expensive but some military surplus units show up on the auction sites now and again. Considering the cost of these units, you may find it cheaper to buy 2 well built instead of 1 ruggedized.

I think we all agree that laptops weren't designed to run 24/7. But desktop/towers were. But many of us don't have the space for a tower, whether it be desktop, mini, SFF, or a mix. And a laptop's almost essential for us cruisers.

Design - I'd look for a brand name that might get me some support outside of your home country. I'd look for keyboard covers to keep the moisture out, a big drive, lots of memory, and good heat dissipation. External drives are a good idea as a backup device but if the USB/FW/eSATA ports go south and you've got all your charts on the external....

It might be worth considering getting a throw-away monitor that you can use in the cockpit when it's needed. Having a laptop that'll do that easily and supports the monitor/program resolution is worth considering.

It also might be worth getting an aux keyboard and mouse. If they get damaged then you can more easily replace it down island than the entire laptop keyboard.

If you shop carefully you can make that laptop do multiple duty. It can be your email link, movie/music source, photo editor, blogger, inventory manager, recipe cabinet, letter writer, and so much more.

Just not the navcomp. Just as the big white boats dedicate a computer to the navigation tasks, so should you. All it takes is one malware/worm/bug that you unwittingly downloaded to destroy your navigation source.

In full disclosure, I'll say that I sail with a laptop that does double duty as a navcomp. Every time I go to an internet cafe or log into a unprotected wifi network, or download email, I cringe. I run the usual software protection, keep up to date on software updates, and don't surf the net much. But I still have trepidations about something nasty getting into the navcomp.

And I've recently bought a second laptop (Mac this time) that has a PC partition and all the navcomp software as a backup and for planning purposes. It's my entertainment, paperwork, and blog unit.

So, I've got limited resources and space. What would I do?

1) I'd buy 2 laptops; one for general use and one for the navcomp. I'd buy the same model, outfitted the same. Make sure they more than meet the hardware/software requirements of the nav software. You don't need the fastest but I'd still get something near the top of the performance curve. Navigation software can be system intensive especially if you're navigating, recording waypoints/instrument data, or route planning.
2) I'd buy 2 external drives that are at least 2x the capacity of your laptop, have multiple interfaces, and a good reliability rating. I'd also consider getting externally powered drives in case the USB/FW port goes bad.
3) I'd demand restore and system disks for the computer. You're going to have to reinstall the software sometime, and having the disks with you rather than having to hunt all over the net to download the 5GB of files, search for a new set of serial numbers, drivers, and the support files, or pay for a DVD that should have come with the machine is not going to make you or I happy. Can't get or they won't give it to you without a fight? See #4
4) Before you add any programs to the laptop, back it up; preferably to a dedicated partition on the external hard drive.
5) Install the software and charts and back up to both external drives. Buy only the charts you'll use for that year. Chances are there'll be updates by the time you'll need them. If you download the charts, I'd burn copies of them to the external and possibly a DVD.
6. When you get the navcomp tweaked the way you like it; back it up to a new partition. Just in case.
7. Do regular backups to a third partition. That way you've got 2 chances to get your machine out of ER. Some backup software overwrites previous backups so having a dedicated partition gives you 2 chances to bring back the dead.
8. Give extra thought to mounting, cooling, and protecting the unit. One of the sweetest layouts I've seen was a vertically mounted laptop. The user installed 3 small 12VDC fans under the unit to force lots of air up along the back, the display was at eye level, the unit had a hood over the display to give some sun and moisture protection, and they had an external keyboard and mouse sitting on the desk. The could still access the DVD player, ports, and power plug. When things got tough they powered down the unit, bungeed the display closed, and put a couple trash bags over the unit; just in case.
9. Got some free time of feel like a challenge? Then consider networking the computers together. That way you can sit in the cockpit and still access files on the navcomp.

I spend the vast majority of my time in the cockpit when sailing. It's not that I don't like being below, but outside is where the action is; where I can see that just awash shipping container or long line or bilge oil slick or current/seaweed line. I've yet to see a "sunlight readable" display that can keep up with the sun for intensity, outlast salt water, or work as well as my eyes, ears, nose, and to a lesser extent, my brain.

My cruising routine is to use the navcomp to do the rough planning, then give the route a careful look-see on charts if I have them, or zoom in greatly (being aware that zoom is a two-edged sword) and check the route for obstructions. If things look OK, I generate a route and list of waypoints. I send the waypoints to the GPS and run the route. This tells me if there are conflicts with the GPS and navcomp. The navcomp gets shut down and the DGPS does the calculations, I control the autopilot, and we go off on our next adventure.

So, I'll stick to a boring GPS display with the basic info, do the hourly paper chart plots, and work on my fishing skills. If things get really tight, I may bring up a cheap display so I can see what the computer says as I navigate the narrow entrance.

But I sure can get a lot more accurate info by looking at the XTE on the GPS, looking at the changing water color, looking at the water state in the entrance, and lining up those range marks, than watching the tube. And if I go on the rocks, it's my fault, just as it is if I blindly followed the display. The questions is which navigation technique was better.
 
1 - 20 of 39 Posts
Top