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PC Onboard? Page 3

Electronics — March 2005
By Ben Ellison

PC Onboard?
Electronics Q&A
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Is there a basic, inexpensive charting program to run on my laptop as a “bigger picture” backup to my plotter? B.W., via PMY Electronics forum
There are numerous good choices but also wide variations in pricing, user interfaces, types of electronic charts and GPSs supported, and so forth. Some research and experimentation—fairly easy, as many PC charting developers offer free downloadable demo versions—will likely pay off in a program best suited to you, plus a better overall understanding of what’s possible. Following are some notes on the latest in entry-level products along with links to help get your research started.

First there’s the significant news that Maptech ( is now including a free charting CD with each of its printed ChartKits and Waterproof Chartbooks. You get exact digital reproductions of the pages, including the familiar ChartKit suggested course lines and waypoints. This should really help novices make the visual transition from paper to PC screen, though the pages are ultimately not as handy or clear as full-size digital charts. You also get Offshore Navigator Lite software, which is quite capable, though a bit complex and lacking the useful big-button, big-number “underway” mode of the full version (which is now included with a $250 Digital ChartKit region).

Last year Nobeltec ( introduced the $10 eChart Planner, which includes large-area U.S. charts and a year of tide and weather predictions. It’s a good introduction to the company’s interface and vector chart style, and you can purchase additional mini regions of detailed charts and an add-on module that makes eChart into a full-fledged plotting system. Fugawi ( is a longtime developer of basic navigation software, and its latest $198 Marine ENC version supports NOAA’s free vector charts, which are now about two-thirds of the way toward complete U.S. coverage. Coastal Explorer (, also supports ENCs, and a just-announced $400 version will come with all U.S. charts in its own reportedly high-quality vector format.

My Maine neighbors who produce the well-regarded Cap’n Voyager ( also offer a First Mate version for $199 with a mini region of SoftChart raster charts, and up the way in Newfoundland, newcomer NavSim ( has just introduced Boat Cruiser, a $399 plotting program with unique simulation abilities. If you happen to use an Apple Mac, be aware of $50 GPSNavX ( You might also want to review the higher-end offerings from Nobeltec, Raymarine (, and MaxSea (, especially as each is acquiring more powerful hardware relationships (as mentioned in the column). And finally, note that the PC planning programs from Garmin ( and C-Map ( will plot a GPS position on the charts you may being using in your plotter, though not at the same time.

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: For fastest response, visit the Electronics forum at No phone calls, please.

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This article originally appeared in the February 2005 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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