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Old 06-04-2014, 19:52   #1
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Free PC Navigation Software - OpenCpn

OPENCPN Free Navigation Software

OpenCpn is an open source navigation software program, suitable for PC's and Laptops. It is THE most widely used navigation platform for bluewater cruisers. It is FREE! So are the charts for New Zealand and many other regions. This is NOT pirated software. It was written for boaties, by boaties, and is continually evolving.
Personally, about 18 months ago, I changed my boat’s system from primarily a commercial navigation package to open CPN. I did this due to cost - my previous radar had failed (approx 10 year old Nobeltec radar, made by Koden). The replacement unit here in New Zealand was over $5000. The new, digital radar that worked with OpenCpn cost $1700 landed in NZ, and installed in the boat.
First, let’s clear up a couple of points. PC's on boats work fine. In fact, some of the modern proprietary plotters are in effect a PC, often running a customised Linux version hidden from the user by a menu system.
I use standard office laptops, but PC's, external monitors and other accessories can be as tough and as waterproof as any purpose designed unit if that is what you want. A spare PC can be carried, programmed and ready to swap in, for a very low price. I’ve never seen anyone carry a spare primary plotter, as they are too expensive!
Facilities on OpenCpn are the same as most modern plotters - Obviously, it's primarily a chart plotter, but all the overlays are available – Radar, AIS, Weather, etc. Most of the additions to OpenCpn are known as “plugins”. To have them on your system, simply download them (link below), and follow the instructions (normally simply copy them to your “plugins” directory). Once that is done, any configuration required can be done by clicking on the spanner icon on the OpenCpn toolbar, selecting plugins from the menu and then setting preferences. There is a button to enable/disable the plugin concerned. It really is very easy!
Connecting OpenCpn to your PC is required to get the best out of it. It really needs to be connected to GPS as a minimum to get good benefits from it, however it can also control your autopilot, repeat your instruments, display your weather forecast (grib files), overlay radar images etc. The connections are the most difficult part for most users.
The radar connection is a bit different to the others, as it uses Ethernet (like a computer network cable), but the other devices all connect via NMEA. If you only have NMEA 2000, you will need an NMEA 2000-NMEA 0183 converter to get your data to and from your PC. Either way, you will also need a USB to Serial converter to get your data from the 2 wire NMEA connection into the USB ports on the PC. More complex systems may need multiple ports to connect to (I have a single USB to Serial Hub with 5 ports), but again, these devices are cheap and the connections are just a repeat of the 2 wire NMEA connection. Once you have done one, you can easily do lots!
Unfortunately, the traditional support companies often do not support, or do not know how to support PC based connections to their equipment. NMEA connections are simple, and this should not be the case, but I guess they are protecting their markets. It’s working – good PC systems have been around for more than 10 years!
One developing area is transducers (masthead, speed (water), temp, etc etc) are beginning to be produced that “speak” NMEA directly, allowing them to be connected to just about anything. This is great for the budget boatie, as it means that you are no longer forced to buy a complete system from one supplier – mix and match is fine.
OpenCpn’s website is OpenCPN | Official OpenCPN Homepage and you can download it from there. All the plugins are there as well, and a link to the support forum. Oh yes, and a link to the chart download areas.
Download it! Have a play on your PC/Laptop, and I’m sure you will be pleasantly surprised...
If you need hardware, have questions or wish me to cover something else, have a look at my website Neptune's Gear or send me an email
Cheers
Matt
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Old 06-04-2014, 20:12   #2
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Re: Free PC Navigation Software - OpenCpn

Been testing out OpenCPN on my Dell Latitude 10 tablet for a few months and can report mostly satisfaction so far. Thank you for your writeup!
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Old 07-04-2014, 00:44   #3
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Re: Free PC Navigation Software - OpenCpn

Out of curiosity what Radar did you buy??
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Old 07-04-2014, 00:53   #4
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Re: Free PC Navigation Software - OpenCpn

Hi Chall, I picked the 3g from Navico ( a lowrance one - all the 3 G's are the same, made by Navico). The 4g would have been better, but as I'd just returned to New Zealand after a 20,000 nm voyage, I was too poor for that! I am currently writing the user manual for the BR24 radar plugin for opencpn... Cheers
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Old 07-04-2014, 01:01   #5
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Re: Free PC Navigation Software - OpenCpn

Thanks Matt.

We are about to redo Nav/instruments so having to make a few decisions ourselves at the moment. Love your site and all the info thanks.
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Old 07-04-2014, 02:36   #6
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Re: Free PC Navigation Software - OpenCpn

No worries. Happy to discuss anything your considering, even if I cannot supply!
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Old 07-04-2014, 16:55   #7
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Re: Free PC Navigation Software - OpenCpn

New Beta version of OpenCPN yesterday - You can download if from the same site - under downloads OpenCPN | Official OpenCPN Homepage
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Old 05-07-2015, 17:36   #8
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Re: Free PC Navigation Software - OpenCpn

I've been using Open Cpn since it first came out and its taken me safely everywhere round the world from the Caribbean to and through the Med, across the Indian Ocean, all up and down the US Eastern Seaboard and down to the River Plate. With a gps and, latterly, an ais receiver I couldn't be happier!

One point - I don't use "beta" versions, rathwer preferring to be on the cutting edge as opposed to the bleeding edge..... Tony
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Old 06-07-2015, 07:04   #9
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Re: Free PC Navigation Software - OpenCpn

In the case of OCPN, I have found their "beta" versions to be unusually stable. Most of the bugs have been only in those cases where they are introducing completely new features. In almost all cases, I have found the Mac beta's of OCPN more stable and usable than the standard release they are associated with.

This has NOT been my experience with most software, however.

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Old 06-07-2015, 09:09   #10
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Re: Free PC Navigation Software - OpenCpn

I'm sure you're right, Mark and I have tried beta's on my home computer without any problems. However my working sea-going computer sticks to stable releases...just in case!! Tony
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Old 06-07-2015, 09:42   #11
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Re: Free PC Navigation Software - OpenCpn

Does OpenCpn run on Linux? Specifically will it run on the little Raspberry Pi B+ and clones? Those are now way powerful and darned cheap, so cheap that having "backups" would be a no brainer.
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Old 06-07-2015, 09:51   #12
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Re: Free PC Navigation Software - OpenCpn

There's an excellent Linux thingy called "Navigatrix" - Google it. It uses Open Cpn and is packaged together with a lot of nautical goodies. There is also a huge and very helpful forum for those of us who are a bit "blonde" when it comes to computerology.

Unfortunately I can't really handle Linux so I use the Win version. One of my skippers uses it extensively though and reports that its brilliant.
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Old 06-07-2015, 10:50   #13
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Re: Free PC Navigation Software - OpenCpn

I used OPEN Cpn on a laptop at the nav station for the Annapolis Newport race with a GPS dongle. It worked great! We depended on the tides and currents plugins down the Bay and on the return and were able to create a track and compare it to our planned route offshore. I could have plugged in the AIS as well. Also it was good for the post race debrief.
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Old 06-07-2015, 14:48   #14
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Re: Free PC Navigation Software - OpenCpn

I have a dell laptop but it is my work machine, so I would be buying a new laptop for the purpose. Which leads to the question, what kind of demands does OpenCPN put on a laptop? I have read the specs for OpenCPN and it seems to say that it will limit caching to 1 gb RAM, but what about threading, and also graphics horsepower?
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Old 06-07-2015, 16:22   #15
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Re: Free PC Navigation Software - OpenCpn

Heres a question for you OCPN pros. I'm CPU inept. I just bought a Toshiba Click2 pro with solid state drive. I came with Windows 8 (hate it!). I have OCPN downloaded on it and I have a Garmin GPS puck with USB, with did not come with download software (like a CD). Of course I'm lost as usual. Should I wait for Windows 10 before continuing the insanity?
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