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Old 22-06-2020, 10:38   #1
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Chart plotting software, free or paid for.

Does anyone know and good articles that describe what is available, and the pros and cons? The sheer amount of articles out there is daunting.

Currently I have an Android phone, a windows laptop, and an ipad2 and I'd like to figure out some kind of chart plotting setup between the three of them. There is just so much out there I don't know where to start.

I have no instruments to hook into them. None. I'd need to get a GPS unit for the laptop or iPad.

-AT
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Old 22-06-2020, 12:41   #2
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Re: Chart plotting software, free or paid for.

While I am slowly learning more about the software that's out there, the higher-priced ones tend to not be mentioned as much. I haven't run across a good article that covers what you're looking for, so I'll just kick things off with a list. You should also search this forum for previous threads asking similar questions.

So, here's a rough list to start (happy to expand/update if others want to kick in suggestions):

--- The "apps" (phone or tablet) ---
  • Navionics: everyone's heard about it; it will show you charts (Navionics/Garmin) and do basic routing. You pay annually for the charts.
  • iSailor: much prettier, and I've heard better quality charts (Transas). You pay annually for the charts, and for any other features, e.g. AIS, tides, etc.
  • iNavX: claims to support a wide variety of 3rd party charts.
  • TimeZero iBoat: iPad, suspect charts are C-Map or Navionics but haven't played with this yet.

--- The "navigation tools" ---
  • OpenCPN: Free, and gets you into "real" navigation. Opensource, runs on everything but an iPad, can do just about everything you need, a bit rough about the edges.
  • SEAiq: low-cost, the recreational version is based on their full version designed for piloting, runs on everything but Android.
  • Rose Point: has a few different apps at different price points, includes cruising guides, Windows only.
  • MaxSea TimeZero: not cheap once you add in its weather routing tools, but that seems to be a distinguishing feature.

Finally, a brief note on charts. Some companies sell both the charts and the software, e.g. if you use the Navionics app, then you use the Navionics charts. Others focus on the software and assume you will purchase charts elsewhere. Only in a few countries, the US being one, are official government charts made freely available.

I like SEAiq because it 1) runs on my phone, laptop, and iPad, 2) has features I consider important such as AIS course vectors and the ability to annotate the charts, and 3) the price is good.

For you, a good no-cost start would be to play with OpenCPN on the laptop. Others may have good ideas for the phone/tablet setup. I like being able to sync chart data across devices, but I think your device mix may make this more difficult.
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Old 22-06-2020, 13:03   #3
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Re: Chart plotting software, free or paid for.

Actually, there is NOT quite a lot of choices (I counted 6 global or large area options on a quick Google count). Mind many things are just repackaged stuff.


I would start with a free solution of your choice. And if I were not happy with quantity or quality I would try our an alternative solution.


Try to find something that is best for your area. E.g. in the Caribbean we use NvCharts but when we return to our side we switch to Cmap. Etc. For very few chart systems cover the whole world, and many local or niche options are darn good compared to the global players!



In fact there are only few big players and the difference are rather platforms and visuals than anything else.


Start with what is free. If unhappy, try out an alternative.


PS On the App and hardware side: it is nice to have something that accepts as many carto choices as possible - some Apps and some platforms allow you to use only one carto option. This solution is good for many users but not for all users.



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Old 22-06-2020, 13:38   #4
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Re: Chart plotting software, free or paid for.

Quote:
Originally Posted by requiem View Post
TimeZero iBoat: iPad, suspect charts are C-Map or Navionics but haven't played with this yet.

MaxSea TimeZero: not cheap once you add in its weather routing tools, but that seems to be a distinguishing feature.

Our old Windows laptop version of TimeZero offers a choice of NOAA raster, NOAA vector, C-Map vector, and Navionics vector charts. Last two are optional and extra cost. NOAA charts are free and annual updates are easy. I would guess iBoat offers the same choices, but don't know that for sure since we don't use iThings.

AquaMap is another decent tablet/phone app and they offer both Android and iThing versions.

Somebody has written a comparison article on many of the likely culprits. Last year some tie, I think. Can't remember that was Panbo or Bob423... but a search ought to turn that up.

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Old 23-06-2020, 09:25   #5
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Re: Chart plotting software, free or paid for.

I run C-Map on my phone and OpenCPN on my MacBook.

I have an old set of CM93 charts for OpenCPN which are fine for planning but I don't rely on them for day to day navigation. I use a USB GPS Receiver to get the positioning for the Mac.

C-Map allows free online maps as long as you are in mobile signal range but you can buy areas for offline download. Uses the in built GPS in the device but as always you should be careful as phones don't use Satellite Differential GPS but AssistedGPS using cell phone signals which is not quite as precise.

Both of these are backups to my main Raymarine Chartplotter with a full suite of digital charts
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Old 23-06-2020, 09:41   #6
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Re: Chart plotting software, free or paid for.

I would do it the other way round, decide which you want to use for your main chart supplier then look at which plotter will read them. A lot depends on how widely you cruise as this can have a big effect on chart costs. There is not that much difference between plotters and it is mainly 'ease of use' which is very subjective. For example some use drop down menus which some people find a pain in rough weather.

The one I like has not been mentioned, Software on Board SOB using Cmap charts. Very wide area chart disks are available at a reasonable cost and the look very similar to the Admiralty charts I grew up with.
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Old 23-06-2020, 09:52   #7
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Re: Chart plotting software, free or paid for.

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Originally Posted by roland stockham View Post
I would do it the other way round, decide which you want to use for your main chart supplier then look at which plotter will read them. A lot depends on how widely you cruise as this can have a big effect on chart costs. There is not that much difference between plotters and it is mainly 'ease of use' which is very subjective. For example some use drop down menus which some people find a pain in rough weather.

The one I like has not been mentioned, Software on Board SOB using Cmap charts. Very wide area chart disks are available at a reasonable cost and the look very similar to the Admiralty charts I grew up with.
That brings up an interesting point. And I had not really thought critically about the fact that the charts are separate from the reader.

Realistically, I desire free but will pay reasonable prices for "good" functionality. I've started a free trial with navionics. Still learning it but tide and weather are options on there I believe.

My immediate stomping grounds are between MA and RI. This will be at least through the end of this season. If my ambitious plans come to fruition, then I will head to three Caribbean for the winter.

At least from these replies, it seems like to get *the* best charts for the area, one chart supplier won't cover both of these areas.

-AT
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Old 23-06-2020, 09:55   #8
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Re: Chart plotting software, free or paid for.

With an iPad you have many choices. I have paid-for Navionics and free AquaMap on the iPad, along with Garmin that I got sort-of free because I boaught a cheap Garmin chartplotter. On my primary Raymarine chartplotter, I have C-map.

A big consideration is which charts work in which areas. Navionics is good and superior to Garmin, in my opinion, in Florida / east coast US, but don't use it in the Bahamas, where what you need is Explorer Chartbooks.

My feeling is that I'd rather have several softwares loaded, especially if they are free or close to free, but if I'm going to a new area I research what charts are most accurate in that area. If you never leave US waters, this is all much simpler.

But now that I've said all this, I find myself wishing, along with OP, that someone who put together a matrix of what software is best for what regions, cost, what hardware it will run on, etc, and put it all in one place.
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Old 23-06-2020, 10:09   #9
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Re: Chart plotting software, free or paid for.

As an addition to the o.p. Question: what works with active captain?

Keep safe y’all.
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Old 23-06-2020, 10:12   #10
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Re: Chart plotting software, free or paid for.

For those sailing in Europe, perhaps the bargain of the century is the Raymarine A70D MFD that comes pre-loaded with charts from the top of Scandinavia to the middle of Africa. I don't know how many "regions" are included, but to buy the charts region by region would cost more than the A70D.

Problem is that updates are only available region by region, not the whole database in this case.

Taxpayers pay to have the chart information gathered by marine surveys, why do we have to pay again to have the data?
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Old 23-06-2020, 10:18   #11
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Re: Chart plotting software, free or paid for.

On my MacBook I use MaxSea and NobelTec. Both allowed me to download free NOAA charts available online. But there came the problem about finding charts for foreign waters. 90% of the time I use a Furuno chart plotter with Cmap. Puget Sound Instruments located in Tacoma Washington State will make you Cmap chart cards with whatever charts you want on them and this is what I use in the plotter. A real marine plotter is much more reliable then your laptop or tablet.
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Old 23-06-2020, 11:33   #12
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Re: Chart plotting software, free or paid for.

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Originally Posted by kas_1611 View Post
Uses the in built GPS in the device but as always you should be careful as phones don't use Satellite Differential GPS but AssistedGPS using cell phone signals which is not quite as precise.
Assisted GPS helps mainly with acquiring an initial fix (downloading the almanac and ephemiris data directly from the satellites satellite takes time).

Apart from that, the receivers in most phones are just as capable as most other GPS devices. Still, it doesn't matter if your device is accurate to 1 m because one should never assume the charts are.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Siberian Sea View Post
On my MacBook I use MaxSea and NobelTec. Both allowed me to download free NOAA charts available online. But there came the problem about finding charts for foreign waters. 90% of the time I use a Furuno chart plotter with Cmap. Puget Sound Instruments located in Tacoma Washington State will make you Cmap chart cards with whatever charts you want on them and this is what I use in the plotter. A real marine plotter is much more reliable then your laptop or tablet.
That's good to know; the images on the MaxSea site imply Mac support, but their system requirements list only Windows. Have you tried getting a single Cmap license to work for both laptop and plotter? (I'm guessing it's not simple.)

I do like plotters for robustness and visibility at the helm, but unfortunately they're pretty far behind in terms of functionality.
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Old 23-06-2020, 12:11   #13
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Re: Chart plotting software, free or paid for.

In fact, smartphone gps can and will be as good a any other gps. It is all about the chipset used, and the programmers' skill (software/firmware).


I am also strongly skeptical re plotters being as good or better than laptop or tablet devices. I do not think we have official plotter service point statistics to claim that.


If anything, I would expect the opposite - mass market products to be more reliable, due to faster product cycle, cheaper prototyping, and bad rep from placing anything but the most reliable products to a very diversified, very quality aware market.



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Old 23-06-2020, 13:22   #14
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Re: Chart plotting software, free or paid for.

I cruised many years in the USA and never needed to buy electronic charts until we sailed to the Caribbean. NOAA has all the free charts you need and I really like OpenCPN to view them as a real time chart plotter on my laptop, all free. OpenCPN can overlay AIS, Radar, Grib, weather routing, etc... That said, I did buy a subscription ($15/yr) to navionics/boatUS on my phone when we left the country as a backup that was useful.


You can also share the screen on your laptop to have a remote display in the cockpit on your phone, tablet, etc.
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Old 23-06-2020, 14:12   #15
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Re: Chart plotting software, free or paid for.

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Originally Posted by Atcowboy View Post
Does anyone know and good articles that describe what is available, and the pros and cons? The sheer amount of articles out there is daunting.

Currently I have an Android phone, a windows laptop, and an ipad2 and I'd like to figure out some kind of chart plotting setup between the three of them. There is just so much out there I don't know where to start.

I have no instruments to hook into them. None. I'd need to get a GPS unit for the laptop or iPad.

-AT
As some mentioned, iNavX will work for your iPad and phone. The base App is $5, and you can add subscriptions for charts and services (weather, AIS, etc.) as you need them.

If you are in the U.S. there are raster charts available for no extra charge that you can download. Other areas you will need a chart subscription. There is a discount promo code active for forum members here.

I don't know about a clever way to get your phone GPS data to your iPad, so you probably will need an external device. But you don't need a GPS to plan and plot courses at home.
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