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» Online Classroom   » Electronic Chart Navigation   » Public Discussion of Electronic Navigation   » Chart Software Suggestions Wanted

   
Author Topic: Chart Software Suggestions Wanted
Dan Cline


 - posted February 10, 2006 05:50 AM      Profile for Dan Cline           Edit/Delete Post 
I'm getting ready to purchase echart software, and have obtained information from the manufacturers of the following products:

1. Maptech Chart Navigator Pro
2. Nobeltec Visual Navigation Suite 8
3. Faruno/Maxsea Navigator+
4. Fugawi Marine ENC Ver. 4

Do any of you have recommendations, preferences, suggestions, etc. to help me sift through the manufacturers' hype?

Some additional information: I primarily sail on Lake Michigan, my boat's electronics are Raytheon (Raymarine these days), and my wife is a weather fanatic and good weather overlays will tip the balance (yes, I need her permission every time I get a new toy...).

Thanks!

Dan

From: Midland, MI
David Burch


 - posted February 10, 2006 08:51 AM      Profile for David Burch           Edit/Delete Post 
In making a comparison of this type, one should have in the list The Capn (thecapn.com). My guess is that The Capn and Nobeltec VNS are the two most popular at the moment. A newer one is also the Coastal Explorer (rosepointnav.com)

Each on the list has specific virtues, and some actually excel in some areas, but may not be optimum in others. The choice here will depend much on your specific navigation goals and on your own person preferences on the interface and controls.

I might add that the requirement of weather overlays can also be solved other ways. I would recommend a careful look at the Weather Net/Grib Explorer package as an alternative solution to obtaining and displaying weather information. With this solution you have much more control over your weather data acquisition and the option for far more types of data.

In other words, if you find a nav program that you like, but are not as happy with its particular program for weather data, then you can solve that problem in other ways. My guess is for sailing on the Lakes you mainly care about wind data, and all of the nav programs that offer weather include that in some form. It is very important however, to understand what type of data (grib) is bring provided by such systems. This is the subject of our online marine weather course. It is not the same type of actual forecast data being provided by the National Weather Service. The data can in fact be used to great advantage if done with proper procedures and precautions.

Some of these programs carry out weather routing, which does require some input of grib weather data, but these are complex applications that can often be solved exterior to the navigation software in a more transparent manner.

Also, if one is looking into sailing in waters with tidal current flow, the way the programs incorporate current information would likely far outweigh options of weather data display.

In the end, however, your own comfort with the interface will likely be the dominant factor and each of the programs has working demo versions to help with that. But since these are all big programs with many options, one has to treat the use of the demo as if you had already purchased it. That is really work on it. Don't give up if something cannot be figured out immediately. In other words, one program may have a more "intuitive" interface, whereas another works in a way you might not have expected, but in the end solves the problem more effectively.

Also, these days, one is definitely looking for a program that will display both vector and raster charts. Especially now that the BBS format charts are public domain and the S57 vector charts are becoming more popular.

Note that some programs let you overlay vector onto raster charts, which is an interesting comparison.

Also, with any software program, especially complex ones involving hardware interfaces like these, the quality and availabilty of tech support is a key issue. You might try yourself when running the demos to see how this works, or find people using the particular program and ask them about tech support...

From: Starpath, Seattle, WA
Dan Cline


 - posted March 13, 2006 06:23 PM      Profile for Dan Cline           Edit/Delete Post 
After researching and trying demos of several eChart software packages, I ended up purchasing Coastal Explorer by Rose Point Navigation. See http://www.rosepointnav.com/

Several features appealed to me:

1. It has a very clean and modern "look and feel" that I found intuitive to use. If you spend time with Microsoft Office products, you'll be right at home with this software.

2. It comes with vector charts covering the entire US.

3. Loading new charts is essentially automatic.

4. It includes tide and current predictions, weather information, and incorporates guidebooka and coast pilot information in the charts.

5. It works "out of the box" with the Garmin GPSmap 76CS GPS with a direct USB connector.

6. Customer support was very responsive to my requests for help and additional information about certain features.

I would be happy to share my experiences with anyone out there who may be interested in this software.

Dan

From: Midland, MI
David Burch


 - posted March 13, 2006 10:04 PM      Profile for David Burch           Edit/Delete Post 
Wow! thanks very much. You can't beat that for a good plug. We should tell our friends at Rose Point to check it out.

These choices are always going to end up being personal, and to some extent dependent on the application (coastal only, high seas, foreign and US, with or without strong currents, etc).

I will add a few notes and questions to help others with this same choice, marked ====

1. It has a very clean and modern "look and feel" that I found intuitive to use. If you spend time with Microsoft Office products, you'll be right at home with this software.

==== This is definitely the case. They have the newest look and by far the closest compliance with "Windows standards."

2. It comes with vector charts covering the entire US.

==== This is a point that we might benifit from more information from you.

There are several ways that vector charting can be presented. First there are several sources of vector charts, some are proprietary (Transas, Nobeltech Passport, C-map, etc) and some are direct S57 format (free from the NOAA Chartmaker site), and then there are some ECS programs that use the US S57 charts, but require a special processing from the program manufacturer. Can you explain more about the vector chart options they offer.

3. Loading new charts is essentially automatic.

==== That is good, but it is also something we would expect from all programs, even though first impressions lead us to think this is not the case. I think it is fair to say that it is a user interface issue. All systems are more or less straight forward once you know the system, but some systems are more complex than others.

And in some cases, we may not want this to be fully "automatic." For example, if the automatic mode is automatically leaving the charts where they were loaded from, or automatically copying them to a folder the program requires, then this could be a limitation in some applications.

In any event, i have to agree that all aspects of user interface are crucial and one's impressions of this are crucial.

4. It includes tide and current predictions, weather information, and incorporates guidebooka and coast pilot information in the charts.

==== Here again some of the details might be important for other potential customers. There are -- in a very small nutshell -- two classes of the ESC programs, the more expensive ones (some $400 or more) and the less expensive ones (some $100 or so or maybe less). The expensive ones pretty much all include these features, some even with more features.

If currents are an issue in the area you will navigate, then these different ESC systems may have quite different options on the currents display, and these should be compared carefully, because with strong currents about, this is a very important option. Tides are not so crucial, as they are uniform over a large area and a simple table or graph presentation is adequate in all cases.

I would venture to guess that most programs have Coast Pilot data available, but again, the way it is accessed can vary significantly.

The question of weather data incorporated into the programs is a long topic, and it is my bias that this should not necesssarily be a key factor in choosing an ESC program. The reason is the technology is changing rapidly, and there are other ways to get versatile graphic weather data overlaid on charts that do not depend on an ESC program. Futhermore the type of weather data that is available to these systems are not oriented toward coastal and inland waters where seeing it on a chart might look nice, but be misleading... again, this is another topic.

5. It works "out of the box" with the Garmin GPSmap 76CS GPS with a direct USB connector.

==== "USB connector" ... that catches my eye and i need to look into this. Most that i know of require a serial port, and modern computers often don't have one, which leads us to USB to serial adaptors which at best require special care. That is certainly a plus. With that aside, most ESC programs should work automatically with essentially any GPS unit, especially if less than 7 or so years old.

6. Customer support was very responsive to my requests for help and additional information about certain features.

==== another absolute plus and always a key factor for any software product. To be fair, however, I should add that my experience has shown good support from all of the leading ESC manufacturers. It is a competitive field and they are all trying hard to support their customers. Since we might need help underway, a good test might also be to see how well the support works via email.

I would be happy to share my experiences with anyone out there who may be interested in this software.

==== excellent. thanks for that offer. There is no better soruce of information than someone actually using the product.

======= do these notes make sense? are there questions about these observations or other issues that Dan might answer about his program or more general ones?

Perhaps someone with experience with other programs such as The Capn or Visual Navigation Suite might also share their thoughts on their programs as well, pros and cons, etc.

From: Starpath, Seattle, WA
Dan Cline


 - posted March 14, 2006 05:13 PM      Profile for Dan Cline           Edit/Delete Post 
Let me elaborate on my initial comments based on Starpath's feedback:

2. It comes with vector charts covering the entire US.

==>All NOAA S57 charts and all Army Corps of Engineers Inland ENC charts are included on the CDs that comes with the software. It also includes vector charts proprietary to Rose Point Navigation that fill some of the gaps.

The program won't work with other proprietary vector charts, such as C-MAP and Navionics, and Passport from Nobeltec.

It will display raster charts in the MapTech/BSB format, including BSB4 and BSB5. It will also display photo charts derived from Digital Orthographic Quadrangle (DOQ) format and GeoTIFF format.

3. Loading new charts is essentially automatic.

==>Here's how it works: Select a menu item called "Download Charts." This launches your web browser and takes you to a page on the Coastalexplorer.net web site that has links to NOAA and Army Corps Chart Downloads. Select your charts, package them, and download them to a file called My Documents\My Downloaded Charts. Coastal Explorer opens the zip file, prompts you to find out if you want to delete the old zip file once unzipped, and then locates the new charts and adds them to its database. Voila! You can also specify multiple drives and folders for it to search for new charts, and you can even tell it to search your drive for any and all compatible charts on it! This is elegance.

4. It includes tide and current predictions, weather information, and incorporates guidebooka and coast pilot information in the charts.

==>Current stations appear as little vectors on the charts. Clicking on them will display current speed/direction, and will also display a graph over time of the current ebb and flow. Tide stations show as little diamonds; clicking displays current tide height and a graph over time of tide height.

==>Guidebooks and coast pilots: Right click on the chart to bring up a menu that allows you to see guidbook and coast pilot entries for that vicinity. One flaw: Info from Coast Pilot 6 has gaps in coverage. Rose Point is aware of the issue and is planning to correct it in the near future. I don't know if there are similar problems with other coast pilots.

5. It works "out of the box" with the Garmin GPSmap 76CS GPS with a direct USB connector.

The software understands Garmin's protocol and doesn't need to use NMEA 0183. My Garmin GPS is packaged with a direct USB cable -- no serial to GPS converter is needed. Coastal Explorer automatically detects the Garmin GPS when it connects to the USB port. NO CONFIGURATION IS NECESSARY!

There are some things to quibble about with this software: If you want the displayed ship to follow a route in dead reckoning mode, its course can only be changed in 10 degree intervals and its speed in 5 knot intervals. This is a little clunky but I didn't see it as a major negative.

I'm sure that as I get to know the software better I'll discover other plusses and minuses.

Dan

From: Midland, MI
David Burch


 - posted March 14, 2006 06:22 PM      Profile for David Burch           Edit/Delete Post 
The vector chart interaction seems very nice indeed. It is no surprise that it does not show the other vector formats as each is strictly propritary to their software.

The ACE charts of the Mississippi River are excellent. I have not used others of theirs.

We might also note again that the BBS format raster charts are now public domain (all US charts) and they will be kept up to date online for a simple download from NOAA chartmaker site.

Other points you mention seem good standards.

Do the current arrows change with time, ie can you click a button to have them change size or direction with increasing hour, etc or are they static, mainly showing the station locations?

thanks for the follow up.

From: Starpath, Seattle, WA
Dan Cline


 - posted March 14, 2006 06:33 PM      Profile for Dan Cline           Edit/Delete Post 
Yes, the current arrows change size and direction with time and you can push buttons to move forward and back in time (in one hour and one day increments) to see how they change. Deception Pass is quite impressive. Time is given in computer time, so for example, even though I'm looking at Deception Pass, time for me is given as Eastern Standard Time. I'm not fully familiar with this feature yet, however.
From: Midland, MI
Dan Cline


 - posted March 14, 2006 06:47 PM      Profile for Dan Cline           Edit/Delete Post 
To clarify my comment about time and Deception Pass: At 2143 EST on 3/14/06, current speed is 7.2 kt and direction is 270T according to the software. Do you get the same results for 1843 PST on 3/14/06?
From: Midland, MI
David Burch


 - posted March 14, 2006 07:05 PM      Profile for David Burch           Edit/Delete Post 
I will look into the predictions we get tomorrow. i just fixed your time. are these the times you meant. more later on user editing.
From: Starpath, Seattle, WA
Dan Cline


 - posted March 14, 2006 07:17 PM      Profile for Dan Cline           Edit/Delete Post 
One more fun bell/whistle: It will download and overlay aerial photographs from Terraserver on the chart segment you are viewing. The Terraserver photos can be faded in and out to see how well the chart lines up.
From: Midland, MI
Dan Cline


 - posted March 15, 2006 05:16 AM      Profile for Dan Cline           Edit/Delete Post 
According to Ed Lecuyer, Senior Customer Support Manager for Maptech, Maptech's new Chart Navigator Pro is a slightly enhanced version of Coastal Explorer, with the following additions:

- Complete 3D bathymetric "Contour" charts for the entire US.

- Chart Navigator Pro includes 13 DVDs including all available NOAA vector, Army Corps Vector, NOAA raster, Contour 3D, Navigation Photos, and Coastal Topographic Maps for the entire U.S. Coastline.

I was unable to locate a demo version of Chart Navigator Pro when I was doing my research.

Here is the link to the discussion: http://www.maptech.com/support/forums/messages.cfm?threadid=2354&CFID=5590&CFTOKEN=90790369

Dan

From: Midland, MI
David Burch


 - posted March 15, 2006 08:38 AM      Profile for David Burch           Edit/Delete Post 
thanks for that. Interesting reading. There are always pros and cons to being the new kid on the block.... also goes to show the power of the Internet for researching products and a great source of scuttlebutt.
From: Starpath, Seattle, WA


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