— June 2002
By Ben Ellison
I purchased a used boat with an early 1990s C-Map cartridge plotter and wonder where I can find a place to trade the cards for the ones of Florida that I need. N.B., via e-mail
To be brutally frank, I'd say that your chartplotter is virtually worthless at this point and if you're lucky you may be able to use the old cards to get a discount from C-Map on new NT+ cards.
If you insist on using your old plotter, C-Map does still make, and even occasionally updates, its early 90s-style CF-85 cards, and you can exchange your old ones for the current version of different areas (for a fee). But before you do, you really ought to compare how your old plotter looks and performs against the latest generation. I think you'll be amazed at the difference. The early plotters tended to look like Etch-A-Sketches, and functions like zoom and pan, which you'll use a lot, were ponderously slow. The hardware has gone through several generations of significant improvement, and we're right now seeing another big improvement in performance versus cost. There are good, five-inch, sunlight-viewable color plotters selling for around $700 and monochrome ones for much less.
The vector charts also keep improving. C-Map switched to its NT data format in 1995, along with a new card style, and to NT+ this year. Each step up in the data format brings more detail, better readability, and other features to the various plotters that use C-Map cards. The amount of coastline covered by a single card and the price per chart have also improved dramatically. You can now buy a SuperWide NT+ card that will take you from Wilmington, North Carolina, all the way down and around to Panama City, Florida, for $299; if you don't need that much area, there are smaller-area $99 and $199 cards. Meanwhile, a CF-85 card for Miami to Long Key still sells for $150.
To its credit, C-Map is currently offering a $50 discount for each CF-85 in working condition exchanged for an NT+ card. You can get more info on the company's various trade-in programs and coverage areas, and also a list of compatible plotters, at www.c-map.com.
In short, plotters and chart cards have evolved at a pace similar to that of personal computers, with the result that older gear has very little value. Sorry to trash a plotter you just acquired with a used boat, but I really think you'll regret trying to keep it alive. Thankfully, old boats are a completely different matter.
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@primediamags.com. No phone calls please.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.