I'm typically a proponent of dedicated chartplotters (with integrated radar
and AIS) for long distance cruising, but for your described usage, a tablet option with a weatherproof enclosure would likey be all you'll need. (I'm assuming since you're prepared to go with paper alone, you're also not planning to play in the fog
much!). I use the same programs as Kenomac and find them fine for backup and planning for our cruising needs.
The problem might be your $500 budget
. You might get there with a used iPad
(make sure it's the cell enabled model so it has an internal GPS) or you'll have to buy an external Bluetooth GPS
also. Weatherproof case ($20-60) depending on what you can find. Then you've got iNavX
(~$50 from memory). Then the charts. Unfortunately Canadian charts aren't free like the US one from NOAA. Canada
has licensed their electronic charts. The West Coast
is divided up into 3 regions I believe (my internet
isn't the greatest right now so apologies for not confirming!), Outside Vancouver Island, Inside Vancouver Island & North of Vancouver Island (again from memory the last time I purchased charts online for the area). Last time I looked the Navionics
charts were broken up the same way and were around $130 US per area. So all up, you're pushing the $500 budget even with a used iPad
as long as you only need one area in Canada.
The other option that might be worth investigating would be the newer Windows based tablets. I've got a cheap
Asus tablet (paid about $300 Cdn for it and it already comes with a removable keyboard). I loaded OpenCPN
on it (free open source software) and there are global charts readily available as free downloads. The couple downsides are that the tablet doesn't have an internal GPS, custom weatherproof cases usually aren't available and it's Windows based, so viruses are a bigger problem. I've addressed these as follows: a Bluetooth 'Dual GPS Receiver' (~$100 online), a generic weathproof case and cheap
Bluetooth mouse (~$50-75 total without shopping
too hard! probably can find cheaper), and I leave the tablet offline and simply transfer files to it via USB stick from another computer I trust. The charts available are a few years old and wouldn't be considered legal
in Canada, but you say you've got paper anyway.
It's also close to the $500 budget, but it's another option for you to look at and you'd be off the 'App Leash' that comes with the iPad and Android devices. I love my iPad, but I'm getting tired of that part of it.