At the Waggoner Cruising Guide, we’ve been debating the future of paper charts for the last several years. Founder Robert Hale believes that paper charts are still critical. In the past he felt chart plotter screens were too small and the cartography seemed cartoonish. Bob now supplements his paper charts with a laptop running Coastal Explorer software.
At my lower helm I have 3-4 chart plotting devices going at all times—maybe too much information. One chart plotter is the unit that came with my boat, a Standard Horizon with a 5” screen and C-Map cartography. This was a good unit when it was first introduced some 12 years ago, but the screen is small and the cartography can be misleading. A few times this season it showed me on land. I would not rely on it as my sole source of navigation information. Next to it is my new Lowrance HDS9 Gen 2 with touchscreen and StructureScan. I supplemented the Lowrance cartography with a Navionics chip covering Puget Sound, British Columbia, and Southeast Alaska. Next to this I have an iPad with Navionics mounted on a RAM Mount with a suction cup to the helm side window. If need be, I also have Nav software on my laptop with an auxiliary GPS unit. Electronics overkill? You bet.
What I don’t have near my helm are paper charts. They are tucked away under the mattress of the v-berth. I have not consulted them once this season, though I occasionally miss their “big picture.”
My initial concern, years ago, was that people using only electronic charting might be on the wrong scale or zoom level, and go right over a rock or reef. It has happened. What I have observed this year is a new way to use the iPad and chart plotter simultaneously. I set my courses on the chart plotter and use it at a large scale where I can see depths and underwater obstructions. The iPad is my wide angle view. I use it like I used paper charts—I can see far ahead and make navigational planning decisions. With the touch-screen of the iPad, I can pinch and zoom, or pan quickly across the charted area. The 2-screen view gives me close navigation and the benefit of the big view I would have on a paper chart.
In fog, I have AIS on my chart plotter. I scan the radar and the chart plotter often, and periodically glance at the iPad to see how the trip is progressing.
Some of you may be asking, “What about carriage requirements for paper charts in Canada?” This law was changed years ago and “paper” charts are not required if you have “adequate local knowledge” of the area. This may be a bit ambiguous, but multiple chart plotters and an iPad qualify.
What about electrical failures? If the power on your vessel goes out the internal battery on the iPad or laptop allows it to continue operating as a stand-alone system.
How do you keep the iPad from crashing to the floor? Managing Editor Sam Landsman has been using his iPad and a RAM Mount for years. Once I saw the RAM Mount in action I understood why. Instead of inelegantly fumbling with an iPad in rough seas, the iPad sits securely in a cradle at the helm. RAM makes a variety of mounts, from suction cups to screw in bases that suit almost any installation.
I finally have what I think is the right combination of technology for my style of safe, comfortable cruising. The cost of the new chart plotters can be high, but the ease of effective navigation and the increased safety factor makes it worth it. Hmmm. Purchase $2,600 worth of paper charts to go to Alaska or a chart plotter and new cartography chip that tell me exactly where I am?
Managing Editor Sam Landsman Says:
I use three primary electronic navigation systems aboard my boat: a Simrad NSS 12, a dedicated boat laptop running Coastal Explorer, and an iPad running iNavX.
The Simrad display sits front and center, right next to the radar. It’s loaded with Navionics vector charts, which I find easier to use than the included Simrad charts.
To the right of the radar screen I have the iPad mounted on a RAM Mount, running iNavX (with AIS and GPS data fed in over Wi-Fi, via Vesper Marine XB-8000). I also use Navionics charts on the iPad.
On the chart table across from the helm, I have a boat laptop running Coastal Explorer. It’s loaded with NOAA raster and vector charts, CHS raster charts, and C-Map charts. I can switch between each of these with a single keystroke, but most often I’m running either NOAA or CHS rasters, depending on if I’m in the U.S. or Canada.
Safe Harbour’s helm
Since I rarely have paper charts open, I particularly like using the raster charts on the laptop. They have the look (if not the feel) of traditional paper charts, but they take up a fraction of the space and the boat’s position is plotted electronically. Coastal Explorer seamlessly quilts the charts together, so it’s easy to pan and zoom across literally hundreds of charts.