Member Steve asks [edited for brevity]:
We are planning a 3 to 4 year circumnavigation leaving next July and are well on our way with our preparations. However I’m struggling and a bit stumped with navigation software and electronic charts.
I have the new Raymarine E125 chart plotter for our catamaran and a Mac Pro computer that will act as a redundant navigation system as well as for route planning, weather routing, etc. I have not yet purchased any navigation software or any electronic charts.
Evaluating Navionics charts I discovered that I can purchase charts [for a round the world voyage] for approximately $1500 but I can only use them on the chart plotter. I can not use them simultaneously on my Mac. If I wanted to do this then I’d have to purchase them twice. That seems ridiculous.
Am I missing something here? Could you please offer a solution or advise for the above, knowing I’d have the E125 and a Mac computer? This could be apart from the Navionics. I just don’t want to have to purchase charts twice.
Hum, a tricky one! I should start off by saying that, although I’m an electronics technician by training, I don’t keep up with all the latest in electronic gadgetry.
Frankly, once I go through getting our stuff working and keeping it so, I have little interest in such things and much prefer to tinker with and think about The Big Five (see sidebar). So, I’m not going to get down in the crab grass (as we say in Bermuda) of the specifications of plotters and chart programs. Rather, I will have a go at helping from a more overall systems point of view.
Sharing Cartridges, or Not
The only way I know of to use the same charts on a computer and a plotter is to use C-MAP cartridges and then buy a USB reader to plug into your computer and use a navigation program like this one from Digaboat that can read the charts from the USB reader.
I have tried this and, although it works, it’s not a particularly elegant solution and I’m not even sure you can get the reader any more. Even if you can, this does not help you with your Raymarine plotter, since I don’t believe they use C-MAP.
Also, the problem with this solution, or one like it, is that you have no real backup since, if the chart cartridge dies or gets damaged, you are in deep yogurt with no charts.
Might Not Be a Fix
Basically I think that most chart companies are going to want to get paid twice for supplying their charts in different formats so I’m not even sure this is solvable with the gear you have, or maybe at all when mixing plotters and computers.
John Sticks Neck Out
But is that really that bad? I know its de rigueur in the cruising world to try and get charts for little or nothing and be offended if the issuing authority, or the company that reformats and packages them, charges much at all for them. On the other hand, making good charts involves a huge amount of work, as does vectoring them, so if we want them to be there and up to date, we need to pay.
Frankly, $3000 (twice $1500) does not seem unreasonable for two sets of electronic charts covering an entire circumnavigation—a fraction of what the same used to cost on paper, even in the good old days of government chart subsidies.
OK, I suspect that didn’t fly too well. How about this? On Morgan’s Cloud we get around the backup problem by having two computers both loaded and ready to go with all charts and software. (Most computer based navigation programs allow you to have the software and charts on two computers.)
You could buy a cheap windows laptop as a backup and then use the Mac you already have with BootCamp to run a windows navigation system. By the way, although I’m a Mac user and used to be an Apple dealer, I recommend the Great Satan…uh, Windows…for navigation and weather—cheaper and more software choices. This option definitely has trade-offs, which I discuss in depth in this Online Book.
And, of course, going the full computer navigation route means your plotter won’t have a lot to do, although I guess it would still be a screen for your radar, if you are so equipped.
Or, let’s see (I’m now talking about 150% more than I know), how about keeping the plotter and buying an iPad and loading charts onto that as a backup? I know you would still be buying the charts twice, but charts for the iPad tend, I believe, to be a lot cheaper. Maybe you could even buy an older iPad second hand. Might be your most cost effective choice?
Don’t Buy Everything
Here’s another thought. You say your circumnavigation is going to take three to four years. Even if that’s the way it turns out, that means that by the end of your voyage your charts will be as much as four years out of date unless you buy an update service of some type, and that will cost you each year.
So maybe the best thing to do would be just start off with charts for say the first year and see how it goes from there? Sure, you might spend more in the end, but plans do change and this would mean that you only buy charts for places you are pretty sure you are actually going, rather than the whole works.
Of course you could mix and match this strategy by getting all the charts for say the plotter, and just enough backups for the computer for the first year.
Either way, one of the biggest benefits of electronic charts is that they are easier to keep up to date and this plan preserves that.
Also, if there is one thing I have learned from my some 45 years of messing with electronics and computers, it’s never buy anything before you need it since by waiting it will almost always be better and cheaper.
The Elephant in The Room
Of course this whole discussion is about electronic charts, but what about the ultimate backup: paper charts? At one time, not long ago, I would have said that all boats should have a full set of paper charts, but now I’m not so sure. (I’m cogitating on a post about exactly that, so let’s not go there now.)
If you did decide that you should have at least some paper charts, say passage planning and a few strategic ports, the electronic backup problem goes away.
I’m guessing that those of you with more interest in, and knowledge of, electronic gadgets than me will have better ideas to solve Steve’s problem. Please leave a comment.
But please don’t get into the whole paper chart, or not, debate now. I will be posting on that soon and at that point we can have a real knock-down, drag-out, shit-fight. Just kidding, we never do that here at AAC.
In light of my comments about the reasonableness of chart pricing, everyone should know that we at AAC have a partnership with Jeppesen C-Map in which we licence rights to our Norwegian Cruising Guide on an annual basis.
Having got that out of the way, that’s not the reason for my rather unusual position. It’s the result of having spent much of my working life putting bread on the table by selling my own intellectual property—wouldn’t want to be hypocritical.
I summarized the great information we received in the comments to this post, in this post.