Friday, June 4, 2010

Chartplotter Update

Although the laptop loaded with SeaClear chartplotting software and a GPS puck is a good idea on paper, practical use revealed something very different. There were a few problems with the system, at least, on Skylark there was. I have touted SeaClear in the past, so I wanted to follow up for those of you thinking of going this route.

Don't get me wrong, SeaClear is a great for trip planning. I love it and will continue to use it when figuring out distances, way points, etc. For the price, free, its ease of use and general functionality, it's the way to go in my opinion. Since it uses NOAA charts which are also free to download, it's a win-win. With that said, unless you have a nice, dry and light controlled pilot house, I would recommend a true charplotter. Here is why...

There were multiple issues, but the biggest draw back is the glare from the sun making the screen virtually unreadable. Most of the time, we were unplugged from the inverter, so it was running off it's battery and very dark. It became a little frightening coming into Morehead City with nothing but a black screen and channel markers all over the place. Using it on deck was impossible, so we had to keep running below to find a dark corner to crouch in and yell up way points. Of course night time use is a lot better, but its still tough to use on deck.

The second draw back we found was having to charge the batteries all the time. This brought the house bank down pretty quickly. Of course having methods to keep up with the batteries like solar or wind chargers would help with this one, but I think it just not worth it in the end, it just takes too much juice with out a dedicated charging system.

The last draw back back was having a laptop in a rocking, sometimes violently moving boat. There is no "safe" surface on Skylark where you could put the laptop without the possibility of it flying across the boat. Allan's laptop went soaring across the cabin but miraculously landed on the settee cushions. Between that and the salt, I have been told by other cruisers you are lucky to get a few months out of it before it's dead from corrosion. You can get a Toughbook, which I would suggest anyway if you bring it on board for long periods, but they are a bit expensive.

So for the trip to Jacksonville, I went ahead and got a Garmin GPSMAP 441 Chartplotter. I got a great price and it comes loaded with all of the east coast charts as well as the Bahamas. Buying charts separately for these things costs a fortune, so I think it was a good deal. It gets mounted directly to the boat, is made to get wet and can be read in the sun. Power usage is low, so there you go, a perfect package all rolled into one.

Quick overview:

The GPSMAP 441 has faster map drawing and panning speeds. Plus, these waterproof units, have a high-sensitivity internal GPS receiver,compatible with various NMEA 2000 components

The GPSMAP 441 is a compact chartplotter that features an ultra-bright 4” QVGA color display along with an improved high-speed digital design for increased map drawing and panning speeds. It’s ready to go with an easy-to-use interface and a built-in, satellite-enhanced basemap preloaded with all U.S. coastal areas, including Alaska and Hawaii as well as detailed charts for Bermuda. The GPSMAP 441 also accepts BlueChart® g2 Vision cards for added features and functionality such as high-resolution satellite imagery, 3D views and Auto Guidance technology.

The GPSMAP 441 comes ready to go with preloaded U.S. coastal area map data. For areas outside the U.S., the GPSMAP 441 has a worldwide basemap with satellite images in place of more traditional maps. The GPSMAP 441 also comes standard with a high-sensitivity GPS receiver for superior satellite tracking and quicker acquisition times. In addition, the GPSMAP 441 can receive U.S. graphical weather data via optional GXM 51 satellite receiver/antenna. And with an SD card slot, it’s easy to add additional maps without connecting to a computer.

I am looking at a 21watt solar panel as well to help with off-shore battery charging, but that's another post. :)

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