off is convenience, durability and accuracy.
Electronic charts coupled with GPS are extremely convenient. You look at the screen
, and, well, there you are. That's your position, relative to everything around you.
Plotters are a lot more durable (and so are laptops) than just five years ago. I still wouldn't want my laptop (A Mac Powerbook) to go through a 360 degree roll, but it's not one of the things I would worry about at that point.
So the big trade
off to me is accuracy and convenience.
simply aren't up to date. Paper, you need to keep them up to date, but if you do, they're far more accurate than an electronic chart from five years ago. (I tell you this after an instructor let another student and I sail around hunting for a light for forty-five minutes before he asked us to check the date on the chart. The light had been removed more than four years ago.)
There are charts, and there are charts.
NOAA has a Print On Demand program that will give you a chart that was current
within the last couple weeks, and then you only have two weeks of Local Notice To Mariners to add before it's current
. (They come out every week on Wednesday, here in District 13.)
Compared to that, Maptech
puts out chart booklets, one of which still shows the light we were hunting for, because they were last updated in the summer of 2005. You need to run through over 600 LNMs to bring those up to date. Their up-to-date book, which they sent me when I whined, is up to date through 2010. So I only have a couple hundred LNMs to look through. (There are other problems with the Maptech books
, not the least of which is a non-standard legend.)
Not everyone cares about up to date charts, but speaking from the experience of that class, it matters. I've also had the reverse problem: at night, I was looking through binoculars and saw four lights where the chart showed two. The other two had been deployed since the chart was updated.
The downside of up-to-date paper charts is that NOAA 1:25,000 charts feel like they're four feet high by seven feet wide. They're huge. They're bigger than the nav station you think you're going to do your chart work on. They're bigger than the cockpit
table. On a small, fast boat, they're bigger than the damn cockpit
. They're enormous. And the place you want to look at will either be on edge of the hidden side, or square in the middle, where you have to unfold the whole damn thing. I can see using them on an Iowa class battleship, where you have an entire, dedicated compartment for them, as well as two seamen and a boy to help you handle them, but they're a screaming pain in the ass on a cruising sailboat.
I'll give Maptech this: their chartbooks, particularly the chart kits, are exactly the right size, as well as a reasonable scale. But they ain't even close to up to date.
For convenience, nothing beats a good plotter. I use an iPad
, because I move from boat to boat, and it has to go with me, but it's hard to read in direct sunlight. The one I've seen that I really like is a Garmin, with the big screen
, mounted on a hard mount next to the binnacle. Touch screen, ridgid, waterproof, bright, and extremely convenient, glance at it and know where we are. Last updated in 2007. If you want to hunt for where lights used to be, it's definitely the tool to use.
I like some of the handhelds I've seen, but some of them are way, way too small for me.
I will admit that if I hear a splash and the headcount comes up one short, I'm not going to screw around with paper before I get on the VHF-- I'm going to get the fastest electronic fix I can, and read it straight off the screen to the Coast Guard if at all possible.
So my conclusion doesn't advocate any of them-- it advocates all of them. I prefer multiple GPS systems for position, and a minor hobby of mine is comparing one to another, using my iPad
as a baseline. On my favorite boat (I'm in a charter
fleet) I have the GPS and plotter at the nav station on a computer, iNavX
on my iPad, Navionics
on my iPad and Navimatic on my iPhone
. Three separate GPS systems, ranging from iPhone
to a dedicated marine
set, a raster electronic system and two vector systems.
For paper, I have the Maptech kit, and I'm slugging my way through the old LNMs to get it up to date. When I finish, not only will people look at me with their mouths hanging open, but it will be the most valuable chart in the world, given the hours I'll have in it. If I finish it before I die, there'll be no way I'll be able to afford to replace it. It has long since passed the limits of necessity and reason, and has become my reason for living. Tilt We Must.
And I have monster, 9x12 foot NOAA 1:25,000 Print On Demand charts.
As long as the electronics agree with my NOAA charts, I'll use them.
But I check.
If I had to pick one system, and rely only on it, it would be the Print On Demand charts.
Best of luck!