The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Tips, Tricks & Thoughts:


  • Do We Need A $10,000 Plotter?

    I just read a post over at Panbo on Garmin’s new top-of-the-line plotters that start at US$10,000 and go up from there.

    And, of course, to take advantage of all the features we will need to spend a bunch more on supporting gear.

    I’m sure those who are so inclined will be obsessing over all the cool features of these new plotters.

    But to me the bigger question is the opportunity cost of this stuff: What else we could spend ten to twenty, or even more, boat units on?

    A few suggestions for far more important things we could do with that much money on say a 40-foot cruising boat:

    All of the above will contribute far more to cruising safety and enjoyment than the ultimate plotter-based marine electronics system.

    Does that include the keel, rigging and rudder? Yup. If we are at sea with even the slightest nagging suspicion that all is not well in those areas, we will not be having fun!

    Got all that done and still have money in the bank? Sure, go buy a ten-grand plotter.

    I get that we need a good navigation system, but that can be done for way less in a bunch of different ways.

    Never forget to think about the opportunity cost of cool stuff.

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  • B&G Navigation App Not Ready For Use

    We ended up with a B&G system on our J/109, mainly because most of it was already there when we got the boat.

    Given that, I thought it would be a good idea to use the B&G App on our iPad, which we use to supplement the plotter.

    What a mistake that was:

    • No manual
    • Constant hangups
    • Clunky synchronization of routes with the plotter
    • Terrible and counterintuitive interface
    • Dangerous autorouting function

    I just canceled my subscription, thankfully before the two-week trial ran out.

    Back to TZ iBoat, which is, in my view, the gold standard for tablet navigation software.

    Hopefully B&G will get their app sorted out, since I would love to have a tablet app that synchronized routes with the plotter, but B&G have a long, long, long way to go to catch up with TZ iBoat or to even be a safe and functional app, in my view.

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  • TZ iBoat Updated

    I have used a bunch of iPad navigation software over the years, but TZ iBoat, by the same folks who have been doing navigation software on computers for some 30 years, is by far the best.

    Lots of reasons, but the most important is that it’s the only app that I can enter and edit a route on without being driven to distraction. No, not as easy as a computer with a mouse, but way better than a plotter.

    Anyway, TZ iBoat has just been upgraded with three new features, two useful, and one that should be avoided like the plague:

    • Autopilot Output: TZ iBoat is now able to send information to your Autopilot (NMEA0183 sentences via TCP) when a route is activated. Make sure to check out their user guide for more information under the “Help” section.
    • Bluetooth Mouse support: Many of our power users on iPad wanted a way to control TZ iBoat with a mouse. This is now possible.
      • This is a wonderful upgrade. A finger is just too blunt an instrument for entering waypoints and routes, and a mouse (or track ball) is best.
    • Instruments Damping and Offset: TZ iBoat offers new settings to offset and damp instruments (course, speed, wind…). Speed damping can be especially useful in some cases to stabilize the Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA).
      • Probably useful, depending on setup.

    Further Reading

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  • Updated: Our Tips On Using Tablets For Navigation


    We just updated our 11 tips to make navigating with a tablet easier and safer chapter based on our experience of doing just that on our new-to-us J/109.

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  • The Rolls Royce of iPad Waterproof Covers

    While I’m not a fan of relying on tablets exclusively for navigation, on smaller boats like our new-to-us J/109 they can be a good option, at least in conjunction with a plotter.

    However, the big problem can be how to charge a tablet and still keep it waterproof. The product pictured above solves that problem.

    I’m planning to order one for next season.

    On the same subject, here are:

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  • Navigation Where It Belongs

    I don’t care how much butchery it takes, we are having a plotter/radar at the forward end of the cockpit where it belongs, to supplement and backup the iPad we use for navigation.

    The plotter below-decks is useless when shorthanded and we don’t like plotters on the binnacle, either.

    The new on-deck plotter will act as an autopilot control head as well as show strategic information like laylines, should I have a rush of blood to the head and go racing.

    The new plotter is much smaller than I would like, but compromises are required on any boat, and the smaller the boat gets, the bigger the compromises.

    More on making the most of these small-boat navigation compromises.

    Mock-up of the fascia that I just made to assist the composite technician who is going to fix my butchery and make it look nice.

    Yes, I could do the glasswork, but it would take me three times as long and look half as nice—know your limitations.

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  • Don’t Play With Your Phone When On Watch

    I think we would all agree that smart phones are seductive and, as a gadget freak, I’m as susceptible to their siren call as anyone.

    Here’s a really good reminder to me, and everyone else, from none other than the US Coast Guard, of why we should not give in to smart-phone temptation:

    For approximately half of the two-hour transit, the Pilot on board the container ship placed and received numerous calls, texted messages, and drafted emails on their personal cell phone right up until the incident…

    …The Pilot was drafting an email on their personal cell phone in the minutes leading up to the planned turn south, when the vessel sailed through its waypoint and grounded.

    If a professional pilot can get sucked into his phone like this, are we immune?

    Better to have simple rules. Being on watch is just that. No:

    • YouTube
    • Facebook
    • Twitter
    • Reading
    • Texting
    • Games
    • Emailing
    • Or general phone-wan….

    I’m not even a fan of listening to music when on watch, because hearing something amiss has saved me huge grief on several occasions.

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  • iPad Clamp

    Well, this is better than duct taping it to the companionway, but it still feels like a kluge. Probably OK for round the bay, but I need to make it more waterproof and improve power feed. Even then I’m glad there’s a plotter below for backup and offshore use. Nice clamp from Scanstrut.

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