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Thank You, Mr. Gates Page 3

Electronics — October 2004
By Ben Ellison

Thank You, Mr. Gates
Electronics Q&A
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• Part 1: Mr. Gates
• Part 2: Mr. Gates
• Electronics Q&A
• Nav Sim
• Nobeltec
• Garmin

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• Electronics Column Index
• Electronics Feature Index

 Elsewhere on the Web
• Rose Point Navigation

What’s the purpose of “tracking,” and how does it vary from product to product? C.R., via e-mail
I recently interviewed a couple whose hairiest moment during a roundtrip cruise from New England to the Bahamas was dragging anchor one dark and stormy night in a tight, complicated Abaco harbor. They didn’t have the visibility or nerve to reset the hook but were able to get the heck out of there by retracing the track their plotter had made as they’d entered. (Then, as they jogged around offshore until dawn, they discussed ways they could be better prepared the next time.)

So there’s one safety situation where a track really helped. Another might occur if your GPS receiver—or, God forbid, your GPS signal—suddenly failed. A plotter or charting program will generally warn you about that situation and remember your last known position (it better!). But a track is like a visual log and can often be queried for details like speeds and courses you were making earlier, all of which might help as you commence dead reckoning. On a lighter note, I like to save tracks with the date and trip description as a sort of cruising diary. A neat feature of the Coastal Explorer (CE) program I wrote about this month (see main story) is its ability to easily save everything about a cruise— tracks, routes, notations, your last chart view, etc.—in one file that you can access later, share with friends, even post on the cruise blogging site available to CE users.

There are numerous other clever tracking enhancements out there. For instance, Nobeltec’s Admiral, also discussed this month, colorizes them to illustrate changes in any available NMEA data like boat speed or water temperature. I tried a Lowrance plotter/fishfinder last year that saves tracks along with sounding screens and plays back a split-screen video of what was underwater as your boat retraces its path over the chart. Other products have variations on these features, and there are also differences in how many track points can be saved and how much control you have when a point is created (every turn greater than one or ten degrees, for instance). A particularly common and valuable feature is the ability to turn a track into a route, which means it will be much easier to retrace, as you’ll have “bearing to waypoint” guidance and so forth, even autopilot control if desired. Using this feature is one of the new habits that the cruising couple has wisely adopted; before settling down in a new anchorage, they have their plotter create an exit plan, just in case. —B.E.

Got a marine electronics question? Write to Electronics Q&A, Power & Motoryacht, 260 Madison Ave., 8th Fl., New York, NY 10016. Fax: (917) 256-2282. e-mail PMYElectronics@primedia.com. For fastest response, visit the Electronics forum. No phone calls, please.

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This article originally appeared in the September 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.