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Old 02-08-2014, 06:35   #1
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Buy or Build GPS/Plotter?

I was looking at some units at BestBuy and it struck me, I have so many laptops (even a Toughbook) laying around, why not build one?

Questions here are (out of experience);

1. What is the best software package for chartplotting out there?
2. Which digital chart format is the most widely used?
3. What is the best (price/quality) GPS unit (pure GPS) I can hookup to the laptop?
4. Could not really understand the difference between GPS and plotters in the store, they both seem to have charts built-in? The kid trying to sell me one could not explain either.
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Old 02-08-2014, 08:24   #2
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Re: Buy or build gps/plotter?

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Originally Posted by de0xyrib0se View Post
I was looking at some units at BestBuy and it struck me, I have so many laptops (even a Toughbook) laying around, why not build one?
OpenCPN is free and excellent PC software for Windows. It can also run under Linux. It can use charts known as ENC/BSB/CM93 among others. But those 3 formats encompass the US and many other countries. Get a USB puck for about $100 to feed GPS data to the laptop. That is the only out of pocket cost you will have to build a full function plotter with charts of the entire US. There are tools that will automatically build charts from Google Earth for anywhere in the world. These will just be the satellite image with no depth or ATON information. Google OpenCPN plus check out their thread. The open development team uses Cruisers Forum for their development chatting and notifications to users.

OpenCPN - Cruisers & Sailing Forums
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Old 02-08-2014, 08:41   #3
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Re: Buy or build gps/plotter?

If you have the laptops then as T Dan said, Open CPN (free software) is the way to go. They have their own forum section here and a web site if you want to read up. To make it even better they have added radar support so you can buy just a dome and see the output on your laptop with the charts without paying for a radar screen.

You can download all US charts free from the NOAA web site Nautical Charts & Pubs in raster and vector formats (raster is a picture of the original paper chart, vector is a digital encoded version of the chart).

Unless the price has increased in the last couple of years I got my USB GPS antenna for about $30. It was the model recommended by Open CPN at the time and works great.
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Old 02-08-2014, 08:45   #4
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Re: Buy or Build GPS/Plotter?

In general chart plotters are fixed mount and have more functions than GPS units, by which I assume you mean handheld.

Depending on your intended travels and purpose, it's definitely a good practice to have a backup GPS. One option, if price is a consideration, is to buy a last generation chart plotter off ebay for installation up in the cockpit. You can integrate your laptop with the NMEA network so they share data.

Definitely play with OpenCPN on your laptops. Some of them, if they are older, might give you poor scrolling and refresh rates which might make it a bear. But it's a free experiment.
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Old 02-08-2014, 10:37   #5
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Re: Buy or Build GPS/Plotter?

Quote:
Originally Posted by de0xyrib0se View Post

1. What is the best software package for chartplotting out there?

2. Which digital chart format is the most widely used?

3. What is the best (price/quality) GPS unit (pure GPS) I can hookup to the laptop?

4. Could not really understand the difference between GPS and plotters in the store, they both seem to have charts built-in? The kid trying to sell me one could not explain either.
1) None is best. Many are fine.

Some are better suited for racers than others.

2) Hard to say. C-map, Navionics, BlueChart are popular and then there is a couple of other formats.

I would pick the one that covers my area best.

3) None is best.

I like Garmin 19x.

4) You have the choice between a pure GPS unit (no screen, just a puck that does the calculation and provides raw data for your plotter), a GPS plotter unit (as above but with a screen to present the data, often in a handheld format), and a full gps CHART plotter (as above but has the ability to show your position and track over a layer of a digital chart). Then there are some variations too.

Cheers,
b.
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Old 02-08-2014, 11:41   #6
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Re: Buy or Build GPS/Plotter?

Another vote for OpenCPN. If you install Ubuntu, and include the OCPN repo in your software updater, you will always have the most recent release. It is really becoming quite rich in features and available plugins.

As others have pointed out, US charts are free, and are frequently updated. There are "unofficial releases" of the excellent CM93 world chart portfolio for which nobody seems to be collecting payment for, and this can be a handy tool for planning long routes, but because the charts are so out of date you should get the official and up to date large scale charts for any foreign inshore waters you might transit.

Another thought... As a backup, pick up a Samsung Note3 or Mega, or similar size and quality android device, and install Marine Navigator. There is a similarly named app called Marine navigator, the N not capitalized, with a seahorse in the icon, and I don't recommend it. Marine Navigator, the good one, has a sailboat over a chart for an icon. Very versatile and functional. Another good app is MX Mariner, which I like except installing your own charts is a somewhat convoluted process. However if you never leave US waters, it is fine, and actually seems to do a better job of quilting charts, and switches more smoothly. Unfortunately, neither app will work with CM93. Navionics offers reasonably priced paid apps and charts for many cruising areas. The nice thing about a smartphone as a self contained portable handheld backup chart plotter is it is self contained and very portable. GPS is generally built right in. You can carry it out into the cockpit with you. A zip lock bag makes good expedient weatherproofing. Best of all, it is totally unconnected to your primary plotting device, for true redundancy.

I recently bought a BU353-s4 USB GPS for I think $34 and it works great on the laptop with Ubuntu. I was also gratified to find that my old gps dangle that came with Microsoft streets and trips works great under Ubuntu, as well. Thanks for the free Linux GPS, Bill!

Lots of free or low cost options out there, if you already have a laptop or smartphone or both. Or you can pay, and the sky is the limit. You might consider a weatherproof dedicated plotter for the cockpit, but I am fine with my android in a ziplock. For your navigation workstation, the laptop solution is much more versatile.

You could also run Linux on a rooted android tablet. I found the process to be kind of tricky but I did get it to work. Running Linux allows you to install OCPN and use the CM93 charts. There is a good thread on how to do that. I could not get the app to recognize the built in gps, but since then, there are tools for interfacing to an external gps.

Of course we would all love to see an android app that reads CM93 and other charts currently unsupported on android, or a port of OCPN to android, but that will likely never happen.

Since I passionately hate ios, I will let someone else mention inavx and other apps for iPhone and ipad. I find them fine for US waters but pretty much useless when you want to use other charts you already got, even if your idevice is jailbroke. Ymmv.
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