We've literally lived with OpenCPN
for the past four months. Cindy and I left Florida
in March, on our 'endless summer' cruise
. Its July 4th weekend, and we find ourselves in St. Croix, USVI. The cruise
is wonderful, and specifically, OpenCPN
has been a wonderful, truly enabling tool.
After thoroughly using and depending on this tool, I feel entitled to critique it, in the hope of improving the OpenCPN experience for others. We have several friends in the South Pacific
who depend on Open CPN
. We have friends in the Bahamas
that we turned on to OpenCPN.
A little background on our boat
We are a sailboat, Moody 425, British built center cockpit sloop
We keep a relatively new PC running Windows 7, at the Nav station.
It has 3 Serial
to USB converters plugged in:
One inputting NMEA
, and all the instrument data from our Raymarine Wind
, Speed and Depth
instruments. It also outputs info to the Raymarine autopilot
One inputting AIS
One connected to our Pactor Modem
, hooked to a HAM radio
for Winlink email
, position reporting, and downloading GRIB and other weather
We also have a Garmin Radar
plugged in through the LAN connection. We display AIS
target, GRIB files, and Radar
information on the OpenCPN display. By the way, the way OpenCPN manages AIS information is the best we've seen, ever, even singling out the Kannad Emergency MOB
beacon we purchased. We can't say enough good about the Radar, GRIB, and AIS interfaces.
Prior to hoisting anchor
, we always have a route
plotted on OpenCPN. We are fairly religious about this, viewing this as much a safety
issue as a convenience. Neither one of us likes to spend much time behind the wheel
, except when manuevering in port, so we let the Nav computer run the autopilot
on most passages. When negotiating reefs
buoys, nets, other boats closeby, and otherwise using eyeball navigation
, we hand steer, still using OpenCPN as a reference.
In the cockpit
(the nav station is down below) we have two used Datalux Tracer, daylight readable, robust police car tablet PCs with touchscreens, running Windows XP. We found these on Ebay. One is in a Navpod at the helm
, viewable from behind the wheel
, the other in the front of the cockpit
, viewable from everywhere. The Datalux PCs are only supplied 12 volts from ship's power, to run. Connection to the Nav station PC is via wifi
, using Teamviewer, free remote
. They all connect together via our onboard wireless router which, when in port, is hooked to a Ubiquity Bullet for internet
. Both cockpit PCs display and control the nav station PC. Cindy, a retired software Engineer
, set this system up. After a bit of teething and finetuning, it works extremely well. (If anyone is interested in the details of this system, please contact us directly. We have lots of setup info in addition to what we've published on the OpenCPN site.) As a backup to this system, when approaching a harbor or manually steering
, we have an iPad
at the helm
, running Garmin
Bluechart. Belt and suspenders
My critiques on functionality are few. Most all have to do with visual appearance/ergonomics.
We use the dashboard plug-in continuously. We keep two dashboard windows open: One using text with depth
, SOG, STW, GPS
position and time. The other with Analog info: Apparent wind
direction/speed, True wind direction/speed, and True wind compass
direction. Barometric pressure would be useful, but we currently have no NMEA
data input for it.
Generally, we are not positioned right behind a display, so our old eyes have to stretch a bit to see things. Ease of viewing is essential. Information 'at a glance' is critical at times. Night viewing, which we do often, is also important, and even more difficult to see some details. The dynamics of sitting at a stationary PC in good lighting
, vs moving around the cockpit of a rocking, pitching boat
in infinite variations of lighting
are very different. Our requests below reflect our usage while at sea.
The information bar at the bottom of the screen
, displaying SOG, COG, cursor LAT/LON, and distance from ship (scale is unimportant to us) is very useful information, but is invisible in any cockpit lighting situation, and at the Nav station in a moving, pitching boat. Making the appearance more like the Dashboard text data, with larger black font and white background would make this important data infinitely more visible. We have SOG and COG on the text Dashboard, so that isn't so important to us. Cursor LAT/LON is, as is distance/bearing from cursor. Making this bar appear more like the Dashboard text, black font with white background, and larger, would make this data useable.
info, with the black background and small text is not readable in most cockpit lighting conditions, and only occasionally when we are directly in front of the screen
at optimal viewing distance. A rare occasion. Making the route info appear like the Dashboard text window, or just incorporating the route info into the Dashboard would be ideal.
A change was made to the route information. Used to be a single
click to the title changed it from leg to full route info. Now it requires a right click and second selection click to make the change. Please change this back. Much easier on a moving boat, when you can do this with a single
click. Generally, having to perform mouse positioning and clicking on a moving boat is difficult when the boat is pitching in even light seas, and you have to hang on with one hand and control a mouse with the other. Even placing a finger accurately on a touch screen is a challenge at times. Reducing the amount of mouse actions is an improvement.
We like the Dashboard feature, and use it constantly. Its nearly perfect. We like the variable font size for the text, and wish this feature transferred to the text data (wind speed, etc) on the analog gauges. We find it very difficult to read wind speed data on the analog Dashboard because of font size. Increasing the font size is one of our requests.
The grey background for Dashboard text titles makes the title unreadable in most lighting conditions. Moving the title to the same line as the data and keeping the white background with black text (most legible) would make the title more useful and reduce the space required for the dashboard window. For the analog dashboard display, change the title info line from grey background to white.
We use the compass
true wind direction more than we originally imagined. Very useful. Unfortunately the nice compass rose centered in the display hides the direction needle when viewed from anywhere but directly in front of the display, at ideal viewing distance. The apparent wind direction and true wind direction gauges have just a small boat in the center, allowing viewing of the needle from any distance/angle in the cockpit. We'd like to see that compass rose either lighten up considerably, or go away, possibly with only small dots or dashes at 30 degree increments around the compass perimeter, and N, S, E, W markations at the perimeter.
We use the text time info, UTC, occasionally, often having to convert to local time for our own navigation
purposes. As we age, this hurts our heads more and more. Though UTC has value, a local time option would be very useful. In fact, adding the local time as an analog display would be even better. As much 'info at a glance' data, as can only be supplied by analog gauges, is more useful to us. So, adding local time and analog time is a requested addition to the dashboard plug
The underlying theme to this critique is to improve visibility and ergonomics for a moving boat in a typical seaway, under typical ocean conditions. Not surprisingly, the functionality of OpenCPN is excellent. Chart management is very good. Navigation/route functions are excellent. AIS data management is the best we've seen. The Garmin radar experience has been superb. GRIB file viewing is a powerful tool. Everything we do aboard revolves around weather
, so we use the GRIB viewer continuously.
To summarize our requested changes:
Improve visibility of info bar at the bottom of the screen, with large black font, white background.
Similarly improve route information visibility.
Change toggle of route info from leg to route, back to single click
Make adjustments to Dashboard font affect Analog data also (wind speed window in analog gauges)
Change grey background for Dashboard data titles to white. Move title to same line as data to reduce window size.
Remove or de-emphasize compass rose on true wind direction analog gauge on Dashboard to make needle more visible.
Add local time to Dashboard. Add analog clock to Dashboard.
One feature addition that would be quite useful to us would be a route/weather prediction tool:
Incorporated with Grib file viewing
Takes route info that has average speed entered into route properties
When GRIB is animated, the ship would travel through the route hourly at the defined speed as grib views progress.
This would give a good approximation of what seas/wind/waves to expect over time as the route progresses.
Our last update was in December, 2013, so don't know if any of the above inputs have been addressed in the latest beta release.