Free Navigation Software
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
, 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