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  1. #1
    Plomong is offline Registered User
    Location : Bilbo, Spain (Basque Country, actually)
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    Default PC Plotter Software -- one man's view

    For some time now I have been examining the possibility of installing a PC-based chart plotter onboard, as an alternative to buying a standard plotter from any of the well-known manufacturers. The PC would then also receive Navtex messages and be the onboard internet node.

    Recently (and "encouraged by the cold winter weather) I have looked into this matter in greater detail, evaluating 18 chart plotter software packages against the following requirements:

    1. Charts must cover the UK and Ireland, western France, the Iberian peninsula and the western Med (northern coast only) as far as Corsica and Sardinia.

    2. Must be intuitive to use, with a user-friendly interface, especially for panning and zooming, route creation and modification, etc.

    3. Changing from one chart to another should be seamless and not require manual selection of the next chart, either when panning or when zooming or scaling in or out.

    4. AIS, with graphical and numeric presentation of CPA and TCPA.

    5. Tidal heights at ports and tidal diamonds, preferably with graphical presentation, but not essential.

    6. Dynamic tidal stream arrows.

    7. Good route and waypoint management.

    8. Ability to import and export routes and waypoints to / from a Garmin 76C hand-held GPS would be nice, but not essential.

    9. Must run on Windows XP, and also Win 7 (for the future).

    10. Bearing and distance between any two arbitrary points, one of which may be Own Vessel or a navigation aid.

    11. On-screen presentation of GPS position, COG, SOG, and other instrument data received on an NMEA link, in numeric form.

    12. Logbook. Possibility to add manual entries would be useful but not essential.

    13. Day/Night modes, sometimes called Screen Dimmer.

    14. Print charts and lists of routes and waypoints.

    15. Easy transfer of all info between the on-board EeePC and the home tower (HP 6000).

    16. Be as inexpensive as possible, taking into account the package itself and the charts needed to cover UK + Irl, W France and N Spain (cost of W Med not an influence here).

    The packages I have evaluated are as follows:

    Note: "not demoed" means I did not try a demo, not that one does not exist -- it may, just I did not try it.

    PC Plotter 5000 (demo) (www.pcplotter.com)
    SeaPro 3000 Std (demo) (www.euronav.co.uk)
    Belfield chartplotter (not demoed) (www.tideplotter.com)
    TIKI Navigator (demo) (www.tiki-navigator.com)
    TIKI Navionics Gold (demo) (www.tiki-navigator.com)
    Imray Digital Charts (demo) (www.imray.com)
    OpenCPN (demo) (www.openCPN.org)
    Offshore Navigator (demo) (www.maptechnavigation.com)
    Software On Board (demo) (www.digiboat.com)
    SeaClear (not demoed) (www.sping.com)
    Smarter Track PC Navigator (not demoed) (www.digitalyacht.co.uk)
    MaxSea Easy (not demoed) (www.maxsea.com)
    Navmaster Superyacht (not demoed) (www.pcmaritime.co.uk)
    Neptune C-Map Planner Plotter (demo) (www.neptune-navigation.com)
    Neptune Plotter Planner Plus (not demoed) (www.neptune-navigation.com)
    Memory Map (not demoed) (www.memory-map.co.uk)
    C-Map PC Planner (not demoed)
    Navionics NavPlanner (not demoed)

    Before reading the results, please take into account that these are the opinions of the evaluator, based on demos and information provided on the corresponding product web sites or in documents provided through the web sites (user manuals, etc), and using as evaluation criteria his specific requirements. Thus, these results are subjective.
    When a package does not meet my requirements, I give the reason, no more. This does not imply that it would not be ideal for your requirements -- try it yourself -- maybe it is just what you are looking for.

    One general comment: I found the vector charts better than the raster charts. Especially the zooming and panning, seamless jumping from chart to chart, etc.

    PC Plotter 5000
    This, and SeaPro 3000 Std, are clearly my favourites. Excellent. One complaint: when own vessel is presented with the boat shape instead of the standard round circle, it could be more visible, maybe using the same symbol as used for AIS targets.

    SeaPro 3000 Std
    This is marred by the small size of the symbols used for most navigation aids (buoys, beacons, etc).

    Belfield chartplotter
    Does not yet calculate or present CPA/TCPA (rumoured coming soon).
    Only covers UK and Irl. Coverage for W Europe, said to be under consideration.

    TIKI Navigator
    Waypoint and Route Management not to my liking.
    User interface not very good, in my opinion. Would take some getting used to.

    TIKI Navionics Gold
    Waypoint and Route Management better, but
    User interface not very good, in my opinion. Would take some getting used to.

    Imray Digital Charts
    No automatic detection of AIS targets within a specified range or time to closest approach.
    CPA and TCPA not calculated.
    AIS data only shown for the selected target.

    OpenCPN
    User interface is "different" and would take a bit of getting used to -- didn't like it.
    No drill-down to larger scale charts,quilting is a messy way of going about moving from chart to chart.
    No waypoint or route library (at least that I could see).
    Maptech (MemoryMap) BSB charts for Europe (outside UK + Irl) would seem to be some years out of date.

    Offshore Navigator
    No AIS.
    Maptech (MemoryMap) BSB charts for Europe (outside UK + Irl) would seem to be some years out of date.

    Software On Board
    Pan and Zoom not intuitive -- quite messy and prone to not do what you want. Maybe takes some getting used to???
    Export/Import to GPS76C would be via CSV files with external conversions -- messy.
    Most complete functionality, but user interface needs to be "windowized", a lot.

    SeaClear
    No longer being actively developed in a clear and directed manner by the person who originally developed it as a "hobby" activity.
    Maptech (MemoryMap) BSB charts for Europe (outside UK + Irl) would seem to be some years out of date.

    Smarter Track PC Navigator
    This seemed to be the same as PC Plotter 5000!!!
    Lite version is a simple graphical AIS radar-type display, without CPA/TCPA

    MaxSea Easy
    Poor product description on web, so not possible to evaluate this product properly.

    Navmaster Superyacht
    Navmaster Offshore does not include AIS. Superyacht version probably quite a bit more expensive.
    Poor product description on web, so not possible to evaluate this product properly.

    Neptune C-Map Planner Plotter
    Looks and feels like a planner that has some plotting functions added.
    User interface poor, in my opinion.

    Neptune Plotter Planner Plus
    UK + Ireland only, so not evaluated further.

    Memory Map
    Poor web description made it hard to "get to know" this product.
    Product looks like it was derived from a land-based system.

    C-Map PC Planner
    Primarily a planning tool, with some plotting added later.
    Poor web description made it hard to "get to know" this product.

    Navionics NavPlanner
    Seems to be just a planner, with no real-time functionality.

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ ++++++++++++++++++

    And so -- I am between PC Plotter 5000 and SeaPro 3000 Std, with a slight leaning towards the former because the Navionics charts look better than the C-Map ones, at least those supplied with the demo.

    If anyone out there has noticed any error in my appreciations as given above, please feel free to post such clarifications.

    Regards,

    Plomong

  2. #2
    toad_oftoadhall's Avatar
    toad_oftoadhall is offline Registered User
    Location : Med/Scotland/South Coast
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    Default

    Best post of 2011 AFAIK. Packed full of info.

    Thanks.

    Interesting to hear about Sea Clear. Used to be very highly thought of.
    Nothing I post is advice: DYOR.

  3. #3
    Robin's Avatar
    Robin is offline Registered User
    Location : Daytona Beach, Florida
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    Not sure what you find odd about OpenCPN which I'm currently playing with as it seems very user friendly to me. Not sure either what you meant about no draw down to larger scale charts.

    I'm currently very pleased with what I see in OpenCPN, but I have both raster and vector charts loaded (I'm looking at the USA and chart downloads are available free in both formats). Zooming in on the charts immediately goes to the next larger scale chart in vector format, which is the format you would get with C-Map for your area of interest. Quilting, or joining adjacent charts as seemlessly as possible is much better with vector charts than raster it seems and those would be my first choice, but raster ones are there if needed.

    As I understand it all routes you create stay displayed all the time unless you delete them. The manual explains how to copy the routes to a file, delete them from the plotter and re-import them all or singly as needed. I think waypoints are handled the same way.

    I also have SeaclearII which only runs raster format charts and I have these for all of the USA loaded. It isn't as intuitive as OpenCPN, but on my set up I can have both plotters running on the laptop, OpenCPN set to run vector and SeaclearII running raster charts and could toggle between them if needs be.

    I also have both C-Map Planner and Neptune C-Map Planner and a C-Map cartridge reader so could have those as 3rd/4th options running too!

    I all that lot are not enough I have an old Tsunamis plotter loaded but that takes being user unfriendly to new heights!

    All these can run individually or at the same time from one GPS, in my case a new Globalsat BU-353 USB plug in model and I have added Xport software to allow port sharing of data from this to all the other programs.
    Sermons from my pulpit are with tongue firmly in cheek and without any warranty!

  4. #4
    Helo&Craig's Avatar
    Helo&Craig is offline Registered User
    Location : Adelaide, Australia
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    Dec 2009
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    Default OpenCPN

    Just wanted to add I also find OpenCPN easy to use and route planning, editing waypoints, activating routs/waypoints seems fairly intuitive. I also havd had no problem zomming or changing charts (using raster charts). Mouse right click menu also has great selection.
    I tried lots of demo's of commercial packages before settling for the free OpenCPN.

    regards,
    Craig

  5. #5
    Jenaline IV is offline Registered User
    Location : Live: Farnborough. Sail: Chi, Solent, Poole
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    More informative than the recent article on PC Chart plotter software. Put your CV in, you may get a job ;-)

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Robin View Post

    I all that lot are not enough I have an old Tsunamis plotter loaded but that takes being user unfriendly to new heights!
    I accept that Tsunamis99 (the very old version) is pretty dire but the newer NaviGator is quite straightforward to use and is derived from the ECDIS package a lot of ships use. The charts are clear and creating routes is quite simple.

    I have a legal copy of NaviGator with English and French charts and use it all of the time but also have been playing with OpenCPN with CMAP93 charts.
    The OpenCPN works fine - drives the AP and now with the dashboard plugin displays the instrument data nicely. I do miss drying heights with CMap and the auto log generation that NaviGator creates.

    Cheers
    Work is for people who don't know how to sail!

  7. #7
    Robin's Avatar
    Robin is offline Registered User
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    It is Tsunamis99 I have and 'dire' doesn't do it justice!
    Sermons from my pulpit are with tongue firmly in cheek and without any warranty!

  8. #8
    seapro is offline Registered User
    Location : Port Solent
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    Default

    fyi - seaPro supports most chart formats. Navionics requires a one off license though it does mean one set of Navionics charts will work on both a chart plotter and computer. seaPro comes with a USB dongle meaning it can be installed on as many machines as you like, just the dongle needs to be in the one you want to use - ideal for planning at home. Just a matter of transferring waypoints.

    If there is anything I can help you with, please let me know.

  9. #9
    Join Date
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    Funnily enough I used that (T99) for some years without problems - it had features such as multiple GPS input, allowing you to display two boat positions. Mostly they were close together but in pre SA days I can remember where one took me towards Beaulieu river entrance and the other carried on up the Solent!
    No idea why and I never saw it again.
    That feature has been dropped since AIS and Radar overlay came along.
    Hooking it to sensors is no more difficult than any other plotter I have played with.

    I do like the log where it automatically records everything that is connected on a regular time - on trips I do record them in a log book as well but it's handy if you are busy on the hour...

    I have looked at a number of other plotters recently to see what is better and frankly nothing really floats my boat - the big advantage of OpenCPN is it is free but the charts aren't.
    Work is for people who don't know how to sail!

  10. #10
    Porthandbuoy's Avatar
    Porthandbuoy is online now Registered User
    Location : Firth of Clyde or Queensland.
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    <quote>16. Be as inexpensive as possible, taking into account the package itself and the charts needed to cover UK + Irl, W France and N Spain (cost of W Med not an influence here).</quote>

    Your choice of PC5000 + charts + even a low end laptop or netbook will set you back the thick end of 600. Ouch!

    I've got Memory Map with its 800+ UK charts running on my netbook. It does what it says on the tin but the user interface is poor.
    Prior to buying that I used SeaClear with scanned charts (I have access to an A0 scaner). Now though I have imported the MemoryMap charts for my sailing area into SeaClear. http://www.backbearing.com/files/Mem...o-SeaClear.pdf The two now use essentially identical charts and I have the user interface I like with SeaClear.

    I recently loaded OpenCPN and the CM93-2 vector charts. This is my first foray into vector charts and the jury is still out. The user interface is okay once you get used to it.

    My summary:

    MemorMap: Cheap as chips PC plotting with 800+ UK charts. Poor user interface. No AIS. No GRIB overlay. No NMEA instrument display.

    SeaClear: Free. UK Charts can be a problem. Nice user interface. AIS. No GRIB overlay. NMEA display for depth, speed and wind all possible.

    OpenCPN: Free. CM93-2 (January 2010) vector charts readily available via torrent download. Can also use raster charts but I've not tried that yet. User interface OK. AIS, GRIB overlay and NMEA instrument display all possible.

    Just my pennyworth.
    www.backbearing.com. Astronavigation resources.

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