Two days ago we looked at the issue of having a viable and cost effective backup for electronic charts. The post garnered some really useful comments. If you have not read the first post, you may wish to do so know, otherwise this one won’t make a lot of sense.
Here’s my take on what we learned:
The Best Plotter/Computer Integrated Solution
The Furuno-Maxsea solution seems to be the most elegant and functional way to integrate a plotter and computer and have charts on both from the same licence without having to buy two sets of charts.
We are big time Furuno fans and we looked at this system before going the navigation on computer route. The big drawback is cost: It’s pretty easy to spend the thick end of US$10,000 or even more on such a system.
Also, Maxsea and Furuno have a track record of upgrading their offerings and leaving existing customers little alternative but to scrap a lot of expensive equipment, software and charts and buy new if they want to stay in any way up to date.
An iPad with all the required charts, preferably from a different vendor than the primary charts—get different charts, since errors during the vectoring process are common, but it is unlikely that two chart vendors will make the same mistake—makes a great and cost effective backup, particularly since it is easy to store the iPad in a metal case thereby protecting it from the ravages of electro-magnetic pulses that can trash electronics during a lighting strike, even if they are not connected to anything.
Several commenters suggested one or more cheap second hand computers preloaded with all charts and software as backups. While I certainly believe that a fully loaded spare computer is a good idea, particularly for anyone relying, as we do, on a computer rather than a plotter for navigation, I caution against going the cheap and/or second hand route for two reasons:
Speed is Required
Many of the more up to date navigation programs require a quite powerful computer, preferably with a separate graphic card to operate properly. Slow zooming at a critical moment could ruin your day.
CtrL-Alt-Delete isn’t fun
Keeping a Windows based navigation computer working reliably can be enough of a challenge without adding in problems induced by an out of date operating system—Microsoft no longer updates Windows XP, for example—and out of date drivers—if slow zooming is bad, think about getting the blue screen of death, just as you are transiting a tricky channel.
Worse still, is easy to see a scenario where the spare won’t function, when needed, because of updates made to the equipment attached to the primary that are not compatible with the software on the backup computer.
The bottom line is that a navigation computer, particularly if there is no plotter, is a mission critical system and is therefore no place to let our inner cheapskate shine.
The decision of whether to go with a computer or a plotter, or both, for navigation is a complex one. I discuss the trade-offs in this online book.
Whatever you do, I believe that it’s vital to have a navigation display in the cockpit. Bouncing up and down to the chart table like a demented gopher every time you need to navigate is not only inconvenient, it’s dangerous because it messes with your sense of where you are—what airplane pilots call situation awareness. We have more on this subject as well as general tips for safe navigation in this online book.
A big thank you to everyone who chimed in on this in the comments. There is no substitute for that kind of real world group experience and hard-won wisdom.