Members' Online Book: Navigation and Marine Electronics, Chapter 13 of 21

Navigation System—Plotter Or Computer?

Our comparatively late adoption of electronic navigation (summer 2008) was, for more than any other reason, due to the difficulty we had in making the decision between a dedicated chart plotter and a computer running a navigation program.

Either way, we had specific selection criteria that had to be met before we would switch to electronic navigation:

On Deck

We firmly believe that to be safe, short-handed crews must be able to do all their navigation in the cockpit without having to scamper down to a below-deck chart table every few minutes. This meant that a cheap generic laptop computer was out and we would need to buy a screen or plotter that was waterproof and daylight readable.

Large Screen Size

After experimenting quite a bit, we established that our ability to keep in touch with where it’s at is dependent on viewing a certain minimum area around us on the chart without panning or zooming. Therefore, we decided we needed a good resolution screen with a minimum size of 15 inches (38 cm) measured diagonally.

Easy to Use

Quick and convenient operation is, in our opinion, vital since the more time we spend fiddling around with electronics the less time we are looking up at the real world. Therefore we wanted at least a numeric keyboard and preferably full QWERTY, since we find entering data into an electronic device by scrolling way too inefficient.

Plotter or Computer?

Clearly a computer or plotter meeting the above criteria was going to cost some serious coin, making it important to get our selection right the first time. So before writing the cheque we put together a list of advantages for each technology:

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Meet the Author


John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.