|Digital Charts Bonanza|
Part 3: New Ways to Extend the Use of Data
By Ben Ellison — March 2002
NT+ is designed to be backward-compatible with existing C-Map plotters, but to utilize all features most units will require software upgrades (often neatly delivered on a special memory card). Navionics, too, is working with its various partner plotter makers in anticipation of introducing its own new and improved data format later this year.
All these electronic chart makers are also finding new ways to extend the use of their data. Maptech’s Pocket Navigator, which can be used to download charts and routes to a PDA-type handheld, can now be purchased with a slick GPS sleeve for the Compaq iPaq. Nobeltec has a similar product called Pocket VNS in the works. C-Map has been particularly busy. Its NT/PC CDs enable certain PC charting programs like Raytech and Maxsea to work with its charts. Another product called PC Planner gives plotter users a chance to build routes at home or down below with mouse and keyboard speed.
Planner, at $179, consists of software, a blank memory card, and a twin USB card reader. Pop the blank in one slot, and a regular C-Map card in the other, and you’re off: viewing your charts on the full glory of PC monitor and making plans in the comfort of your nav station or home. It’s easy to write routes, waypoints, and marks to the user card; and many plotters are already able to read them (others may require upgrading or a direct wire connection).
I suspect that you’re getting the picture. In addition to a wealth of good choices, these are great times for navigators. While much credit should go to the vigorous companies involved, our government also deserves some applause. All these charts I’ve been discussing are scanned or traced from original material that the United States uniquely offers copyright-free. That’s why foreign digital charts are generally more expensive and offered with fewer features and in fewer formats.
Such government generosity may eventually cause the next major shakeup in digital charting. I recently spoke with Dick Davis of raster chart maker SoftChart. His company, along with sister PC charting developer Nautical Technologies, has seemed rather quiet lately. In fact, they’ve been hard at work with the National Image and Mapping Agency (NIMA) to help prepare and display a massive worldwide vector database known as DNC (Digital Nautical Charts). The primary client is our military, but apparently NIMA is considering offering at least the U.S. portion to the public for free downloading. Companies like SoftChart could easily repackage them and compete with yet lower prices and more add-ons.
I’m not suggesting that anyone wait for DNCs, but it surely is looking like the trend is our friend. At least within our country, no navigator need go without at least one full set of electronic charts.
C-Map Phone: (800) 424-2627. Fax: (508) 477-6168. www.c-map.com.
Garmin Phone: (800) 800-1020. Fax: (913) 397-8282. www.garmin.com.
Maptech Phone: (888) 839-5551. Fax: (978) 792-1091. www.maptech.com.
Navionics Phone: (800) 848-5896. Fax: (508) 291-6006. www.navionics.com.
Nobeltec Phone: (800) 946-2877. Fax: (503) 579-1414. www.nobeltec.com.
SoftChart Phone: (631) 288-0264. Fax: (631) 288-0294. www.softcharts.com.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.