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Old 08-12-2011, 02:59 PM   #1
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hello all, i'm new to this board and new to cruising....

we bought our first boat, 37 feet .... and off soon.

now i would like some advise from other sailors. as we are on a budget ... we need some setup for navigation. i have 500 $ to spend, have a laptop already.

should i buy a chartplotter- with charts?

or a handheld gps?

or a gps locator for my laptop and use open cpn?

i try to avoid buying used chartplotter etc, would like to get new stuff, i found raymarine and garmin might have something in my pricerange?

any ideas, suggestions,advise would be helpful.

thanks to you all...
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Old 08-12-2011, 09:05 PM   #2
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Got the same problems Newbie, have decided to go with an eee pc for below at the nav station with Polar Navy and ENC's. In the cockpit I'm using a Garmin GPS, handheld, the gpsmap76 which has a worldwide basemap. The handheld can also be fed nmea depth data so that is about all I really need. Its a good setup because the handheld is a backup also in case the laptop gets wet. Eee pc's are good because they use little power and they run at 12 volts. Nasa marine instruments make a nmea wind transducer that can be fed to the laptop. I'm really impressed with the garmin handheld, big screen, easy to see in daylight and uses very little power. Depth is the most important instrument so just use a nmea active transducer and feed it to the handheld. Consider AIS, seriously.

People have sailed all about the planet just using handheld gps's. I think a couple of the lower priced garmins is the go.

Best of luck,

Pete.
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Old 08-12-2011, 11:24 PM   #3
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People have sailed all about the planet just using handheld gps's. I think a couple of the lower priced garmins is the go.
People have sailed all over the planet just using paper charts, dead reckoning, and celestial nav. It's really only in the past 20 years (maybe less) that everyone thinks they've gotta have all the toys.

I was trying to use OpenCPN since it is one of the few providers which will work on a linux machine. However, gave up in disgust and spent the $50 for Polar Navy's program. Well worth it though we do NOT navigate with the computer--rather we just do route planning there and we keep regular charts aboard where I navigate and plot position the "old fashioned" way. You should do this lest your GPS and back ups fail. Plotting your position on paper is still a standard activity for responsible sailors. Simple is good.

You could easily be set up with netbook, puck gps, and Polar Navy's chart program for your $500 budget. You'll have to source charts (that aren't free) once you leave the free NOAA US chart areas. Even if you're not keen on open source OS (linux) you might consider putting a dual boot Ubuntu (linux) OS on whatever machine you get. If you're on a budget, you'll find the open source software (free mostly) to be better than having to pay licensing fees for numerous Microsoft compliant software packages.

On our boat, we also use a Nokia N810 (a device that was designed not as a phone but as a phone-sized wi-fi hotspot finder) with MAEMO mapper (and NOAA free charts) in the cockpit much as someone would use a hand-held GPS. Except out N810 came used from Ebay and I have to put it into a ziplog bag if I'm worried about it getting we. You'd find a handheld GPS for much the same price, but we like the flexibility that the N810 provides since we can walk around town and find wi-fi hotspots and download email, everything with this little gizmo plus it happens to have a built in gps. You can find the N810 for $100 to $200 used on Ebay. The follow-on is a cel phone and much more costly (the N900 at about $400 min.) so that doesn't help your situation at all.

We have AIS on-the-cheap as it is built into our Standard Horizon VHF radio. The particular radio and a set of paper charts would let you navigate without a computer, btw. It has the ability to insert way points and gives you bearing and distance to the way points you've put in. More work to enter them on the VHF, but if you're traveling on the cheap, you could have VHF, AIS, GPS all together there for not much money.

That radio is the Standard Horizon Matrix AIS GX2100. Though many places sell it for about $400, you can find it for as little

as the the $320 range online. If you haven't already purchased a VHF radio w/DSC, this is a good deal for you. If you buy a separate AIS, you're looking at money for a good antenna splitter fast enough for the AIS (that splitter will cost you as much as the radio, btw) OR you're looking at a separate VHF antenna for the AIS and you won't find an AIS for as little as the radio. So, again, it's like "free AIS" with your radio. We did eventually also purchase a command mic for that radio so that we could see the AIS traffic in the cockpit on it while the radio remains inside. That command mic will set you back another $180 though, so pretty much a luxury.

For about $70 you can get GPS to your AIS on that radio (and to your computer) with a Garmin 18x PC GPS Navigator.

There are different types of Garmin 18X models the "PC" one has the RS 232 connector and also has a 12V cigarette lighter plug. In a photo of it you'll see the DB9 pin which is commonly known as RS 232 connector. It is a good indicator that you'll get the NMEA 0183 output needed.

Stay away from any 18X that says "USB" because it won't work/doesn't have the correct NMEA 0183 and/or won't have the right physical format of

DB9pin.

Of course, I'm giving you all that detail so you can get the GPS that will ultimately work with your AIS. You'd actually have to get a little converter to stick on the end to take the DB9pin to USB for your net book computer. However, having the right pins for "eventual" AIS might be smart if you have to buy a puck GPS.
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Old 08-13-2011, 01:56 AM   #4
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Yes Rebopeep they certainly have, people have rowed across the tasman too. 20 years ago those were the "toys". i see so many sextants for sale secondhand now that I'm guessing most have abandoned the technology. I don't think a gps is a toy, its a tool better than any sextant. Why would you suggest using dead reckoning if you can suggest gps with a chart? Unless your joking. I agree paper charts are great but they are expensive, very expensive. The above mentioned budget would not strech to many at all. I took my gps for a drive down the road to check the speed reading and I can actually see the track on both sides of the road. The accuracy must be near one metre!! Get two handhelds, one mapping the other just lat. and long. plus the charts on the computer plus a few paper charts as you go. Or get a printer and print your own charts from Polar Navy or Seaclear2. Don't need the handhelds to be very flash, bottom of the range is great. The good thing with these handhelds is they are waterproof and even float, though I doubt anyone would be able to see one that went overboard, so good in the cockpit also good to take with when tripping about on foot. Wouldn't it be great if we could get one with AIS as well.
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Old 08-13-2011, 07:13 AM   #5
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Yes Rebopeep they certainly have, people have rowed across the tasman too. 20 years ago those were the "toys". i see so many sextants for sale secondhand now that I'm guessing most have abandoned the technology. I don't think a gps is a toy, its a tool better than any sextant. Why would you suggest using dead reckoning if you can suggest gps with a chart? Unless your joking. I agree paper charts are great but they are expensive, very expensive. The above mentioned budget would not strech to many at all. I took my gps for a drive down the road to check the speed reading and I can actually see the track on both sides of the road. The accuracy must be near one metre!! Get two handhelds, one mapping the other just lat. and long. plus the charts on the computer plus a few paper charts as you go. Or get a printer and print your own charts from Polar Navy or Seaclear2. Don't need the handhelds to be very flash, bottom of the range is great. The good thing with these handhelds is they are waterproof and even float, though I doubt anyone would be able to see one that went overboard, so good in the cockpit also good to take with when tripping about on foot. Wouldn't it be great if we could get one with AIS as well.
Hi, Danblu

I really wasn't kidding. Having every tool available is prudent. Relying on one single technology alone is not. If you're doing celestial nav and you have overcast skies, you'll be happy for the GPS But don't poo-poo away the old techniques which are tried and true. A friend of mine had overcast skies for 44 days of his 51 day Northern Pacific crossing (this was about 15 years ago). Surprisingly, my friend who was sailing a 30 ft vessel with no navigation aids other than his paper charts, his atlas of pilot charts for the North Pacific, a taffrail (Walker) Log, and plastic sextant made land fall within 60 miles of his expected location in British Columbia.

Helpers for navigating include simple things like a good watch and a taft log. There are a range of technologies as well. We used to think Loran would be around forever but now that's not so. Have you ever wondered about the radio towers shown on your charts? RDF used to be a common technique for coastal cruising but not so much any more. Yes, GPS is a great technology for cruisers use. Don't count on it always being right. We spent a month in the Sacramento Delta and our GPS (plural more than one) showed us sailing along on top of the land and the stone levies sometimes when clearly we were smack in the middle of the channel. Don't count on it always being there for you either. Even if you have multiple GPS aboard, there are reasons beyond your control that you may not have a fix. Link to recent article about (rare) x-class Solar Flares.

Paper charts--Cruisers have traded charts for years and have made tracings of each others charts when needed. It is great to have charts on the computer so readily, yes. But--no, I wasn't kidding. We use the paper charts and its just part of logging our progress and keeping track of where we are. My husband is a retired Navy fighter pilot--he is so used to DR that he's a walking navigation computer. I actually do all the navigation because I feel that I'm the one who needs the practice! However I don't think that David would travel without the paper charts and I KNOW I would not do so. Sure--I love having a GPS, it gives me a warm fuzzy of reassurance that my senses are right and interpretation of the charts are correct.

I suggest DR because that's what I/we do. The GPS is just a "yep, the DR is correct" for us. If you don't DR all the time you're not going to be able to naturally and capably do so when you need to. Practice makes for excellent navigation skills. If one is not interested in being an excellent sailor, well, then, yes, stick with the GPS alone.
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Old 08-13-2011, 10:15 AM   #6
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Redbopeep,

Dead reckoning is a skill that comes with experience. For someone new to navigation the gps will be used no doubt about it. Both yourself and your husband sound like you have developed this skill over a long period of time during which maybe gps was not as available as it now is. GPS seems like a very reliable technology, even working well under serious cloud cover which is why I say gps is better than sextant. Even a sextant can be dropped over the side. By having 2 or 3 aboard most likely one will still be going at the end of a journey, most likely three. Even Cat one in NZ now accepts 2 gps's instead of a sextant, tables etc and those old sailers are hard core. I hear what your saying and I applaud your skills, however, newbies can't possibly use them well enough. Gps is safer. I use paper charts also, getting my position from the gps of course. Not only are they good for position information but also helps one to become a better sailer by providing info such as Velocity Made Good to see which tack to stay longest on, Speed to see how the sail setting has improved matters, Laylines to plan tacks . Sure one can get into trouble if relying too heavily on any technology but your example above about being on land when sailing is the chart not the gps. Thats why I suggest using ENC's, same charts that shipping uses. I can't say exactly now but the whole east coast of New Zealand in ENC's was less than $20!! Prices vary depending on which country. I'm just trying to suggest here that a couple of handhelds is a pretty good navigation system in careful hands. Having Garmin gps with Bluecharts and also a laptop with Polarnavy and ENC's and a printer is pretty hot stuff.
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Old 08-13-2011, 09:21 PM   #7
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Danblu--don't get me wrong, we use GPS. We love GPS. We just think someone new to navigation is foolhardy if they do not learn to navigate traditionally and use the skills enough to be proficient.

"I hear what your saying and I applaud your skills, however, newbies can't possibly use them well enough. Gps is safer." Here, you are wrong. If someone new to ocean voyaging is so incapable of navigation that they cannot DR accurately (checked by their GPS aboard--that is indeed responsible), they should not be cruising. Compared to many things it takes very, very little time and effort to become a proficient navigator. Here in the US courses in navigation are available to help new sailors get the skills they need to cruise safely.

I've sailed for 30 years, taught basic sailing in the mid-80's, but I never really had a reason to really navigate until post-2003. Even though back then I had a notebook computer with charts and a chart plotting program, I chose to do myself a favor and learn to navigate properly. With two navigation courses (offered by my sailing club) and a few trips on the water, I was able to easily perform the navigation required for safe cruising.

Depending upon the supporting equipment on the boat, a sailor may be "stuck" using their GPS for checking distance and position. Realistically, the easy way to DR without GPS is to have a taffrail log since at the end of the watch--or day--or week, you can get the info of exact distance traveled by the log. Such a (mechanical) device does allow someone to combine other tools to obtain a lot of good information--with your boat's speed transducer and the TRL, you can figure out information about currents; with a CN fix, drift and position.

Sure, a GPS is a GREAT tool. I just cannot encourage any cruiser to ignore learning DR/CN or to not use all the other great tools. Coastal cruisers can benefit from RDF, greatly. Sometimes older boats come equipped with it and it's smart to learn how to use it.

I laughed when I read what you said "it's the chart not the GPS!" GPS is translated to a chart position for use by humans. If you don't have a chart, your GPS is useless to your navigation. Whatever datum is used by the charts that cruiser is able to obtain is what he/she will live with. The bottom line to the (new) cruiser is if they are relying upon GPS and charts, they're relying on something that may or may not be correct. The combination is highly likely to be correct. Sometimes it is wrong, that's all.

Indeed GPS SEEMS like a reliable technology in terms of big picture. But in addition to large global glitches (did you read the link and note what was said about GPS satellites in 2006?) there can be local interference precluding the use of GPS unexpectedly in an area. If someone is coastal cruising--they would hopefully be able to pick up landmarks and use their compass to make their way into an anchorage (or whatever) as needed. You cannot really count on one technology (GPS) really being there for you as a cruiser. It is a single tool. If it is the only tool one has available, that is, again, foolhardy IMHO.

Again, I love GPS, I'm not saying it's not a good technology--it is great. However, again, knowing how to use different navigation tools makes for a good sailor. There's nothing "hard core" about today's use of Celestial Nav. One can go do it long hand, sure, or one can simply get an application for i-phone, pda, computer that only requires the sailor to take the sighting. Significant weakness with overcast skys, for sure. No sky=no navigation and there are places in the world that missing a couple fixes combined with currents could put a sailor on a reef. However, the combination of CN and GPS is very good.

Today, new cruisers on a very tight budget might not have a computer. Some that I meet don't. Some people have really old GPS units that only provide Lat/Long info. They plot it traditionally on paper charts sometimes. The older the cruiser, the more likely it is that they are not willing to trust a computer and thus, they'll have paper charts along in addition to electronic charts.

Newbie sailor who started this thread is in good luck that he's got just enough money to get a basic system with GPS working. I hope that he also has just enough sense to learn how to navigate properly (if he doesn't already know how) and does so.

Fair winds,
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Old 08-13-2011, 10:36 PM   #8
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I'm sure Newbie is an intelligent person who would not put himself or his loved ones in any danger. In regards to the original question......I think a handheld gps is much cheaper and in some ways better than a fixed plotter. With Newbies budget he could afford 2 gps's and set up his laptop with a puck and some good charts. With a handheld it can live in your pocket is available wherever you go. Wish we could get them with AIS. What yacht is it Newbie?
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Old 08-16-2011, 04:03 PM   #9
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... and it simply is a great feeling to do the whole navigation, day and night, offshore and in costal waters without ANY electronic navigation aids!!!┬*Click here for our last year's experience without GPS.

Of corse, we all use GPS and maybe Radar for Navigation and it adds to the safety, because there is a backup. Even we use the GPS now as the┬* No.1. Navigation Aid but I doubt if it is a good idea to give up the traditional Navigation as the backup.

And Good Seamanship demands to use as many sources as possible to generate a true position.┬*

And last but not least: Is it a good idea to totally rely on a single US-military based system? Since years we are used to GPS signals that generate correct positions even for us private civil users. That has not been this way all the time.┬*

Uwe

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Old 08-16-2011, 10:52 PM   #10
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Hi Uwe, the original question had no mention of "how does one navigate" it was a simple question regarding which gps or chartplotter to use. No way would I attempt to teach anyone how to navigate through a forum. The original question " should I buy a chartplotter or a gps handheld? " is a good one. It opens up the possibility to discuss the pro's and con's of these systems. In regards to getting good value from navigation gear I think the first choice has to be a handheld gps at around or $150 US for a bottom range mapping handheld.

Also, being a motorcycle rider I get a laugh when people go all serious about sailing being dangerous as I think it would have to be one of the safest pastimes ever. Going to the shop is more dangerous than sailing! Yet people go about in motor vehicles without a bit of fear. Sitting in front of the tv is more dangerous than sailing, you will get weighty and die. In fact or according to stistics if you live in NZ and are male you have a 50percent chance of dying of heart disease and around 40 percent chance of getting to the grave via bowel cancer! Probably simial in the US.

Shipping relies on gps positioning heavily. In regard to relying on a military system going out. Can you imagine the havoc? All aircraft are using the system, all shipping and recreational seafarers, hikers. I think there is quite a weight of public interest to keep this system going. A solar flare could indeed cause problems but those would not end at gps.

My handheld gives an accuracy of between 5 and 15 metres according to the screen but it seems to be accurate to around one metre!! Its incredible technology.

Hey Uwe, shore its great to use the traditional and sensible methods of navigation and fun too, absolutely agree with you and your voyage mentioned above must have been quite an adventure. Surely though you will agree that if approaching a foreign shore , in fog and not having sighted your position for a week or so due to bad weather, you would get that gps out into the cockpit.
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Old 08-16-2011, 11:38 PM   #11
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Surely though you will agree that if approaching a foreign shore , in fog and not having sighted your position for a week or so due to bad weather, you would get that gps out into the cockpit.
GPS :- hand held, or a remote from base station are fine for providing coordinates. However,they do not provide info about the rock or other hazard below the surface. They don't advise the latest chart annotations when approaching any shore. In many parts of the world new Charts are not free, and therefore the OP's budget should include the latest updated charts for the intended passage/s. Without the relevant chart for the passage, the GPS may not have been chart datum configured correctly or even the need overlooked (not an uncommon failure)
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Old 08-17-2011, 05:27 PM   #12
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Agreed. The discussion is on pros and cons of handheld GPS, GPS with chart plotter/pc with charts.

But here is what might be misleading to other readers, then thinking that it is enough to...

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┬* (...) Get two handhelds, one mapping the other just lat. and long. plus the charts on the computer plus a few paper ┬*charts as you go. ┬*(...)
I understood: The major efford and spending is done on the two GPS and a computer with digital charts and besides that a few ┬*paper charts are enough.

I wanted to stress the point that the major efford must be laid on up-to-date chart material - mostly official charts that get updated weekly - that can be red and used under all cicumstances (which include the knowledge of traditional navigation skills) and the rest of the budget can be used for the GPS - handheld and plotter. ┬*And as this is clear to all the readers, especially the ones who are new to sailing here on this forum, the question is indeed a good one!

Then it is perfectly okay to primarily use the plotter with up-to-date (!) digital chart material as long as all systems work - and for the worst case there are reliable paper charts that enable you to double check doubtful positions and to do a safe landfall. But therefor it is better to have a little more than just a few paper charts.

How do I do it: As I do not want to apply the latest chart annotations (MMNETSEA stressed the point why this is so important) to both the digital charts on the computer and to the paper charts, we keep just the paper charts up to date - this does not cost us anything as the weekly updates from the relevant hydrographic offices are available for free. ┬*The digital charts on the computer we use for planning only as they are more or less outdated and therefor possibly quite unreliable. And the small GPS with external antenna is running along while under way, showing the data that make navigation so pleasant and easy nowadays. And as handheld GPS are so cheap, it is not wrong to have one in spare.

But ┬*we don'1 forget how to use the seat belt even though we have a whole set of air bags for our personal safety while under way , because it is indeed much more dangerous to drive a car than to sail. ┬*

Uwe

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Old 08-17-2011, 11:16 PM   #13
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With Polarnavy, one can use ENC,s which can be updated via email. Thses are, I believe, the best charts available and at a reasonable cost. I think I need a lawyer to answer a simple question on this forum. Some of the above are absolutely rude, from redbopeep, suggesting I can't be a good sailer or navigator and even laughing at me! I wonder why people are reluctant to enter into this forum and can now see why. Who would want to make any statement here to have it pulled apart by self styled unfriendly experts. I took the above insults in good humour for a while but am getting sick of the constant critism. Why not simply answer the question in your own opinion redbopeep? I guess I'll now be banned from these pages as I've heard of happening to so many others. Personally ma'm, I don't give a damn.
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Old 08-18-2011, 06:52 AM   #14
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With Polarnavy, one can use ENC,s which can be updated via email. Thses are, I believe, the best charts available and at a reasonable cost. I think I need a lawyer to answer a simple question on this forum. Some of the above are absolutely rude, from redbopeep, suggesting I can't be a good sailer or navigator and even laughing at me! I wonder why people are reluctant to enter into this forum and can now see why. Who would want to make any statement here to have it pulled apart by self styled unfriendly experts. I took the above insults in good humour for a while but am getting sick of the constant critism. Why not simply answer the question in your own opinion redbopeep? I guess I'll now be banned from these pages as I've heard of happening to so many others. Personally ma'm, I don't give a damn.
Hi Pete,

Why on earth would CruiserLog want to ban your contributions? Over the last 3 years your posts have been very welcome, especially in their constructive discussion. It is a rare occurrence that a member of your standing is banned - at the most, one or two per year in the last 7 years. The reason usually for flaming or trolling. On the other hand, we do ban with immediate effect those people or organisations that spam, or phish. On other rare occasions we have had to close a Topic (Thread) "Guns on boats" a good example.

Pete, My understanding from our discussion "debate" on this topic is that different points of view were presented by each contributor from their perspective. Nowhere were insults traded or ability derided.

I, for one learned from yourself, details of NZ's ENCs, description of a netbook device etc... My perspective relates to where I am situated :- South East Asia, where we do not have ENCs - The paper charts that are available retail, are very expensive! Plus the issue that majority of these charts were made before 1920 only a few have been updated in the last 10 years. Fortunately different authorities have been sending out Notices to Mariners, which are available free, enabling annotating specific charts for a passage.

Richard
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