|Electronics — October 2004
By Ben Ellison
Thank You, Mr. Gates
What’s the purpose of “tracking,” and how does it vary from product to product? C.R., via e-mail
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.
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This article originally appeared in the September 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.