Chart plotter apps

Moderator: GreenLake

Chart plotter apps

Postby kokko » Sun Feb 14, 2016 10:33 am

I want to initiate a discussion of the various chart plotter apps available and their merits. We can also discuss the merits of dedicated gps
devices

Since this forum eschews commercialism, I'll await approval before identifying what I use, and what dedicated gps I have disposed of.

I have been using one for several years. When we sail on Superior, it is a great secondary source to the ship's chart plotter.

In my regular causing grounds of White Bear Lake, MN and Teal Lake, WI, I don't need it for navigation, but it does drop a recorded track which I
can refer to later.
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Re: Chart plotter apps

Postby GreenLake » Sun Feb 14, 2016 9:27 pm

@kokko: as long as you are neither manufacturing or selling a device or otherwise directly or indirectly benefiting from an increase in sales I would see no conflict of interest and therefore would expect a review by you to not be biased other than by honest enthusiasm :). I think frank (but truthful and detailed) evaluations should be useful to the forum users, and when discussing motors, for example, we've never beat about the bush.

I happen to use a dedicated GPS. I don't own any charts for it. I place it where I can see it from across the cockpit to get an occasional reading on current speed.

I download the tracks afterwards and look at them in desktop application. Those tracks help with accumulating and processing "local knowledge". For example, there are places where the wind bends or disperses; sailing close hauled will mean sailing a curve. Two boats starting close to each other may end up widely separated on the other side. Those effects show up when you look at old tracks.

I don't need a chart plotter. A plotter comes in handy when you need to locate your position with some accuracy but far from land marks. An example are shipping lanes that have open water around them. Their boundaries tend to not be marked, but you need to know not to stray into them. The other is to find a passage among shallows that are entirely under water. Neither are a concern for where I'm sailing. We have shipping lanes in some areas, yes, and we also have fog, but to maintain a costly device for something that I've encountered once in a decade seems overblown.

I don't have a phone with a GPS. Not yet, at any rate. If I had one, I might be tempted to use it, with a waterproof case. Instead, I have a waterproof dedicated unit that, if it does fall into the water, isn't going to carry all my personal data with it :) I did get a unit with a USB port, so I can download the tracks. (Garmin 72H. I selected mine based on an online check, but find that a number of other sailors here use the same or almost the same model).

All of this is still pretty recent. Until a few years ago, I drew "tracks" from memory, based on which landmarks I tacked under. Worked pretty well for daysailing, because around here there are enough landmarks close and far. Only reason to take a bearing would be to know how close you are because distances are hard to estimate. I used to bring a laminated section of the local chart, and a compass and one day we took some bearing and added them to the chart (with erasable markers) using one-dollar bills as rulers. Memorable trip.
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Re: Chart plotter apps

Postby jeadstx » Mon Feb 15, 2016 2:48 am

I use a dedicated GPS. I use a DeLorme PN-60w with a SPOT transmitter. The SPOT is used mainly when sailing on the Texas coast so others can track me if they want, it can also send an SOS message if I get into trouble. Since my work the past 30 years has been making CAD maps in the environmental field (electrical mechanical CAD work before that) I had some ideas of what I was looking for in a GPS unit. I wanted one that I could load aerials, topographic, and NOAA charts into as needed for the areas I would be sailing and the DeLorme unit fit the bill for me. Plus, I had been working with DeLorme mapping software (in addition to other GIS CAD programs) since the early 90's. With the ability to add data on a 32gig SD card, I have plenty of room for my charts and aerials. The support software that goes on my computer is good.

I've had the GPS unit in the water several times and it is fully waterproof. My older PN-40 got some water in it (spray) while changing batteries one year and temporarily messed things up until dried out. I then upgraded to the PN-60w, but still use the PN-40 as backup. The PN-40 got about 11 hours use time off a set of lithium AA batteries. The PN-60w gets about 3 days off a set of lithium batteries.

When I sail the Texas 200 each year I have about 850 waypoints loaded to cover all possible routes I can take over the 220 mile sail we do. I also have my aerials and NOAA charts loaded in the unit. I carry paper maps with aerials and NOAA maps overlaid that I can cross reference with my GPS (or vice versa) when I need to. The GPS also provides tide info, as well as speed and bearings, and the other data you would expect on a GPS. The route tracking is downloaded at the end of the trip to correct waypoints for future sailing in the area. We have a lot of "skinny" water and oyster reefs on the Texas coast.

I also make the downloadable charts for the Texas 200 event. They are in the process now of being updated for the 2016 event with the latest available NOAA data/charts.

John
1976 Day Sailer II, #8075 - Completed the 2011, 2012, and 2013 Texas 200
1952 Beetle Boat Swan Catboat
Early Rhodes 19
1973 Mariner 2+2, #2607 - Completed 2014, 2015 and 2016 Texas 200
1969 Day Sailer I, #3229
Fleet 135; Canyon Lake, Texas
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Re: Chart plotter apps

Postby powpowhunter » Mon Feb 15, 2016 5:57 pm

I use a handheld Garmin Oregon, which will only accept Garmin's proprietary maps. I disagree with the proprietary nature of the Garmin maps, considering the map data is from public sources, and because they're so expensive. There are ways around that, but more I will not say.

openCPN is great just for looking at charts while I daydream, but the android app doesn't seem as fully developed as the PC version. I don't have any on the water experience with either though.

jeadstx wrote: I wanted one that I could load aerials, topographic, and NOAA charts into as needed for the areas I would be sailing

John- the DeLorme units will accept NOAA charts right off the bat? ENC or RNC, both? Free maps are awesome, and that's a huge plus. Doesn't help for inland lakes, but for big water where it's important, that's a huge plus for DeLorme.

kokko wrote:In my regular causing grounds of White Bear Lake, MN and Teal Lake, WI,

Is that Teal Lake, Sawyer County? My in-laws have a cottage on Lost Land and we sail a 14' Hobie cat and a litte 10' Cape Dory dinghy up there.
-Tyler
1977 DS2 #8389 "Tidenaut"
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Re: Chart plotter apps

Postby TIM WEBB » Mon Feb 15, 2016 11:17 pm

Bought my first GPS in 2011, a Bushnell Onix 400. Main reason I went with that one is that it had the downloadable satellite photos. Sure enough, they discontinued that service about 10 months after I bought it! But not before I got the aerials of most of my favorite local sailing grounds, plus everything for the FL120. It has all the waypointing/routing features one might need, and also has XM satellite wx ($10/month), which has come in handy on more than one occasion.

I fried that first one on my first FL120 in 2012 (saltwater intrusion that was totally my fault) and they replaced it no questions asked. The replacement they sent me went haywire for no apparent reason, so they sent me another one, again no questions asked, which I am still using.

Would I recommend this GPS to anyone? Certainly not, as it's long been discontinued and support is now non-existent. Bushnell seems to be more focused on helping golfers these days! But I'll keep using it until it finally croaks/no longer suits my needs.

I've also played around with an Android tablet onto which I can load NOAA charts, but so far have not found that to be any better than having actual laminated copies of the charts aboard ...
Tim Webb
1979 DS2 10099 The Red Witch
(I used to be Her "staff", in the way dogs have owners and cats have staff, but alas no longer ... <pout>)
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Re: Chart plotter apps

Postby GreenLake » Tue Feb 16, 2016 12:35 am

For planning at home I used to use paper charts. But now I tend to just view them with the NOAA chart viewer. There are a number of sites that give access to useful data for coastline management, and they also allow chart viewing (together with aerial photography. Or simply Google Earth. Some sites allow distance measurement between points while viewing their online mapping data. On the water, I rely on navigation by landmark. Works well for the areas I sail in. Once back home I load tracks into EasyGPS which can download, and from there I can save them as GPX files for a number of other programs to use. One I like is called GPS Track editor. It doesn't have any features specific to sailing, but it will color-code a track by speed. The feature is meant for hikers/joggers, but the speed ranges work well for sailing. There's support for overlay on satellite or map backgrounds, but I sometimes simply paste the track over a bit of the online NOAA chart.

I don't really want anything else to look at while in the boat (except perhaps a laminated paper chart if I go someplace new, to help identify new landmarks). But it's nice to be able to look back without the pain of taking notes. And you can create "art". This cat's cradle is from a recent afternoon race in variable and shifty winds from 4 to 18 knots. Yellow stretches are when we reached hull speed.
GP-2016-02-14-y.jpg
GP-2016-02-14-y.jpg (50.88 KiB) Viewed 10059 times
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Re: Chart plotter apps

Postby jeadstx » Tue Feb 16, 2016 4:13 am

Powpowhunter, The DeLorme doesn't accept the ENC or RNC NOAA charts as a direct download. The software may import ENC or RNC data, but to tell the truth I haven't tried as I have CAD/GIS programs where I do that. DeLorme has a site where NOAA charts, aerials, and topographic maps can be downloaded from that covers most of North and Central America (maybe more, haven't looked at other areas) that can be purchased and loaded into the support software (DeLorme Topo North America; Ver 10.0) and from there transferred into the GPS unit with the various waypoints and route info loaded as layers. To buy each chart or image file can be costly on a "per download" basis, they offer a subscription of "unlimited" downloads for $30/year. I have had the subscription a few years and I have downloaded a lot of data. Whereas NOAA data is not generally available for inland lakes, topo and aerials are available for those. I have downloaded (with my subscription) the coastline from Port Isabel, TX to Savannah, GA in both aerial and NOAA charts; I've downloaded the NOAA maps of the Great Lakes as well as the aerials along the shoreline; and out of curiosity when they announced the first "Race to Alaska" in 2015 the available aerials, Canadian Topographic maps, and NOAA charts that covered that route from Port Townsend, WA to the end point in Alaska. The downloadable data is kept fairly up to data.

Using the software on my computer I can plan routes and insert waypoints as well as other data. Then when I export to the GPS unit I specify with the software a what magnification I want to start seeing my data with NOAA charts or aerials (or topo if hiking). I can toogle between different types of images (aerial, NOAA, or topo) when viewing.

The DeLorme unit's SD card slot will also accept the Navionics navigation software on an SD card. I haven't bought the Navionics software at this time, but have read it works well.

John
1976 Day Sailer II, #8075 - Completed the 2011, 2012, and 2013 Texas 200
1952 Beetle Boat Swan Catboat
Early Rhodes 19
1973 Mariner 2+2, #2607 - Completed 2014, 2015 and 2016 Texas 200
1969 Day Sailer I, #3229
Fleet 135; Canyon Lake, Texas
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Re: Chart plotter apps

Postby kokko » Wed Feb 17, 2016 9:50 am

I have gone a different direction. FOr several years I used a Garmin 276C. When I switched to all-Apple at home I became frustrated with Gramin's
poor support of Mac and IOS. It also bothered me that Garmin would clip me another $100 every time I wanted a new "region" Lake Superior, Lake Michigan and Minnesota lakes each cost me $100.

Shortly after adopting Apple, I started with Navionics. They are vector charts and there is no additional cost for any region. You just select an area it downloads the best chart available. It has all the features that my 276C had, and is easier to use. THe Ipad version is ~~$55 and the Iphone ~15. I always drop a track, and it allows me to email the track to others, with the info about length of sail, avg speed and top speed.
Apple devices are notoriously water sensitive, so I have a waterproof case for each device.
A few years back they introduced Navionics Plus, which is a crowdsourcing data-gathering program. If someone is cruising along with a depthfinder, Navionics
can capture that data, and uses it to redraw the depth contours. The results can be striking. THe US govt occasionally recharts the depths. You can see the last time a chart was replotted on the paper charts from NOAA and other govt agencies. In some cases local lakes have not been plotted since the Great Depression when then sent guys out in a rowboat with a chain. The differences between the official charts and those redrawn by the Navionics Plus are really striking.
The navionics plus featuremust be renewed, nd they clip you half the orginal cost for another year. If you do not renew, you can still download all the official charts, and keep the last download of the Navionics Plus, but Navionics Plus will no longer update.
The other downside to smartphone apps is the gps receiver. Both Apple and Droid use a cheap gps receiver, then augment the signal fro the cell phone towers. If you are sailing within the cell phone grid you god fix (~6 feet at 95% confidence). Absent the augmentation, it can degrade to 100-200 feet at 95% confidence.
On the local lake, I get a strong fix, but when we are on Superior or in northern WI, not so. I bought a Bluetooth hockey puck from Dual that gets a strong fix for use when we are not in the cell phone grid.
I also use my Apple devices with an anchor drag app called Drag Queen when we are anchored out on Superior.
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Re: Chart plotter apps

Postby kokko » Wed Feb 17, 2016 11:18 am

Here is a typical track mailed from Navionics

http://tinyurl.com/j33gdla
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Re: Chart plotter apps

Postby jeadstx » Wed Feb 17, 2016 2:49 pm

One of the problems with cell phone applications is if you lose coverage. On the Texas coast, especially south of Corpus Christi, cell phone reception can be real spotty at best or non-existent altogether. The stretch from Port Isabel to Port Mansfield (about 45 miles) there is no reception at all. That area is along the coast of the King Ranch and there aren't even signs of civilization. That is one reason I prefer a dedicated GPS connecting to a satilite.

John
1976 Day Sailer II, #8075 - Completed the 2011, 2012, and 2013 Texas 200
1952 Beetle Boat Swan Catboat
Early Rhodes 19
1973 Mariner 2+2, #2607 - Completed 2014, 2015 and 2016 Texas 200
1969 Day Sailer I, #3229
Fleet 135; Canyon Lake, Texas
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Re: Chart plotter apps

Postby kokko » Wed Feb 17, 2016 3:31 pm

That's why I bought the Dual Bluetooth receiver.
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Re: Chart plotter apps

Postby GreenLake » Wed Feb 17, 2016 8:12 pm

Looks like this is a topic where the solutions are all across the board.

It would seem to depend very much on sailing area and style what function a GPS (or GPS enabled phone) or chart plotter is asked to perform.

For the typical daysail on the closest lake (of moderate size) it may be hard to argue that it is essential to have a way to fix position; using the GPS as a log to tell speed over ground in real time is fun but hardly seems a critical need - I know I was able to estimate boat speed to within less than half a knot the first time a crew brought a GPS enabled phone on board. And a GPS does not seem much help in developing a feeling for the boat (same applies to reading the wind from the wave state - I don't bring my portable anemometer much any more).

For racing, the ability to review the race one more time is helpful, I find, but for me that review happens on land, and not in the boat. In other words, I don't need to know where I am, but where I was. The log function I run live, but haven't found that it helps me sail better. The DS responds so quickly to shifts and fluctuations in the wind that I've never been able to reliably relate GPS readings to changes in sail trim - because the wind usually isn't steady enough. (That's why people practice using matching boats that sail in the same wind). Our local races aren't under DS rules, so I could bring whatever I wanted, but I find reading a device during a race difficult and distracting. Using the GPS as knotmeter ist just about the limit, I've never managed to use heading information, for example. There's anyway so much traffic on the lake that any time spent looking inside the boat can be a gamble...

For extended cruises, or events like the Texas 200, I'd agree that there's a case to be made for viewing this as a required aid in navigating. I bought my GPS the first time I sailed outside my home territory. There are cases where navigation by landmark isn't feasible (featureless coast lines or extended shallows). Knowing where you are can be both more difficult and more essential in that situation. So, even if I'm a bit of a minimalist, I wouldn't argue against a GPS. I would not trust a GPS for navigation in narrow channels (no matter what the claimed accuracy happens to be). Too many of my GPS tracks (when sailing) seemingly have me taking a walk on the beach, and too many of my GPS tracks when biking along a river show me taking a swim... When doing critical navigation, being off by 40' to 100', is not acceptable, and even once is too many, so I always navigate those by landmarks or buoys (or, in boats so equipped, using the depth sounder).

What about chart plotters?

I've sailed on large and small boats that had installed or portable chart plotters. They are really nice when crossing (or sailing in the vicinity of) shipping lanes - very reassuring to see that neither the little boat marker nor the moving arrow is about to intersect, especially when you spot that tanker on the horizon that will magically be at your position in about less time than you can imagine.

I've also noticed how much the attention gets drawn into the device and away from the boat itself or the surrounding waters. The effect is worst for plotters mounted in front of the helmsman, but I've observed if for portable units as well. For me that is a big reason to not have a plotter on board. Not only because I sit behind a screen all day and like to use the boat to get away from all of that. But also, because lining up two arrows isn't sailing. When racing, if I watch anything, it would be tell-tales. When cruising, I would rather follow the wind shifts, than re-trimming my sails constantly so that I can sail a straight line. I prefer correcting the general course every once in a while, rather than continuously. With the immediate feedback from a device, there's always the temptation to do the opposite, to play a bit of a video game with the tiller as joystick. So, I'd avoid anything that distracts me from feeling the boat, reading wind and water.

Even in a small boat like a DS, I maintain that its possible to do any required navigation using the fix from a GPS plus a (laminated) paper chart. The lack of convenience of this method means that one would turn to it at some intervals, interspersed with longer periods of just sailing. Incidentally, for big boat skippers I have crewed for (in coastal waters), I've so far observed a noticeable inverse relation between their sailing skills and the number and complexity of electronic devices -- but admittedly my sample size is too small :).

However, that's just my perspective.

Beyond the question of what device, chart source or software platform to use, I would be interested in whether, and to what degree, any of you have experienced that distraction I've mentioned, and whether you have any habits or techniques to counteract it, if you are even bothered by it.
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Re: Chart plotter apps

Postby TIM WEBB » Wed Feb 17, 2016 9:43 pm

Great discussion indeed!

GL you make a good point about eyes on a device vs. eyes outta the boat. On my first FL120 (an area I had never sailed), I loaded up the GPS with every single waypoint and landmark I could get my hands on, and for instance, I would have sailed right past the cut around to Spectre Island if I hadn't happened to glance down at the GPS just as I was about to pass it!

Now having done the trip 3 times and knowing the route, landmarks, and visuals, I find that I only load the places I haven't been to yet such as emergency outs, or places I've learned about since the last event such as resupply spots, etc. Route waypoints are no longer needed.

I guess what I'm saying is that for trips to areas I've never been to, I'll load very specific waypoints, but for areas I'm familiar with, I'm pretty much only using the GPS to record tracks, distance, max speed, etc., things one usually only looks at later on as others have observed here. The exception being that while sailing, I'll give it an occasional glance for real time speed if I happen to think I'm really sailing well and bookin' along! ;-P

I guess for me, a quick glance at a modern electronic device is really no different than a quick glance at the age old paper chart, compass, or knot meter ...
Tim Webb
1979 DS2 10099 The Red Witch
(I used to be Her "staff", in the way dogs have owners and cats have staff, but alas no longer ... <pout>)
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Re: Chart plotter apps

Postby GreenLake » Thu Feb 18, 2016 12:14 am

TIM WEBB wrote:... while sailing, I'll give it an occasional glance for real time speed if I happen to think I'm really sailing well and bookin' along! ;-P


... seeing it on the display makes it so much more real (why that is, I don't know, but I definitely know the effect!). Nothing elevates the mood more than seeing the knotmeter show that extra knot of boatspeed.

TIM WEBB wrote:I guess for me, a quick glance at a modern electronic device is really no different than a quick glance at the age old paper chart, compass, or knot meter ...


I've mounted my GPS on the transom - easy to see from anywhere in the boat, but really enforces a discipline of "quick glances".

Interesting what you have to say about waypoints. My method would be to stare at a chart (whether on paper or at home on the screen) for a long time before I go out on a new stretch of water. Definitely memorizing key landmarks and/or trying to predict what the view from the water might be like. I'd scan for bridge clearings, shallows and all similar features along a likely route, but I never set an actual course beforehand - there always seem to be contingencies like wind and current that call for some major on-the-spot decisions.

If I have to tack up a wide channel, I might try to locate the tacks on the chart to get an idea of progress, but wouldn't bother to set a waypoint at the end of it. Locally, even new destinations have been "impossible to miss", the biggest challenge being the one of figuring out which dock goes with a place that I've visited only by land before. Perhaps setting a waypoint for that would cheat me of the satisfaction of getting it right myself? 8)

I do know sailing areas where, even close to shore, there aren't many useful landmarks; in those cases, I'd take any help I can get. Haven't had to do my own trip planning / navigation under those circumstance yet, but was on one boat where the skipper used the depth contour to locate the route to a harbor entrance in early morning fog. That was cool.
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Re: Chart plotter apps

Postby jeadstx » Thu Feb 18, 2016 3:39 am

For me, a quick glance at the GPS is not distracting. I think it might be since I've worked with CAD for 37 years and needing to look at references around me while I'm working. I am also able to keep a good mental image of the charts in my mind while sailing. Even though I have waypoints set for reference I still need to keep an eye on the water when going through channels, things have been known to shift a bit from year to year. Also doesn't help on the Texas coast when the state decides to put in new oyster reefs from time to time and it takes a little while for the charts to be revised for the new obstacles, new markers don't always help.

I have been in situations on the Texas coast where several navigation channel markers have been shifted off the channel due to a storm and haven't been put back in place yet. I often use the GPS to verify that markers are in the correct place if something seems "off". A line of channel buoys where off the channel one year on the Tx200. My crew (who was at helm) wanted to follow the markers, I told him the markers seemed wrong and I would give him the heading we needed. My guess was right, we stayed in channel and eventually came upon the dredge that was re-setting them. A half dozen boats behind us decided to follow the markers and went aground on spoil piles from dredging. In that case the GPS was useful. I've also been in situations where the GPS had some large error for some reason. In 2013 my crew correctly determined there was an error of about 40 feet off on the GPS. We went with his instinct on that and kept a good lookout to keep from grounding. Works both ways I guess. When using a GPS or chart plotter or any electronics for that matter keeping an eye on your surroundings is very important. I always carry paper charts and compass as well.

John
1976 Day Sailer II, #8075 - Completed the 2011, 2012, and 2013 Texas 200
1952 Beetle Boat Swan Catboat
Early Rhodes 19
1973 Mariner 2+2, #2607 - Completed 2014, 2015 and 2016 Texas 200
1969 Day Sailer I, #3229
Fleet 135; Canyon Lake, Texas
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