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Old 12-31-2005, 11:48 PM   #1
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Default Laptops and Handhelds?? Use or No!!

I am new to the cruising/sailing community and am gathering information before I scout out my first trip. I am kinda an electronics "Guru" I guess my friends say, but with all of this technology out there, do many of you bring it aboard?? (laptops, handhelds, etc.) How do you manage accounts while gone, plan new trips, search weather, etc. from on board, again i'm new so sorry for the ignorance, thanks
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Old 01-01-2006, 02:37 AM   #2
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At one time in our cruising life were all new, not so smart, and looking for answers to our many, many questions, and most of us still are looking for new answers to old problems; no need for you to apologize.

I am no guru, but I am a novelty freak. If it's new and unique I want to have it. The year that we left to cruise (1986) I left computer behind. Before the first 12 months were out I announced that I had to have a computer on board. Back then they weren't very fast, floppy disks were the transfer medium, and printers were large and bulky and amazingly power-hungry for such a primitive device.

Going on 20 years, I'm on my fifth laptop/notebook computer, and third printer. One of those five was a cheap knock-off that wasn't worth the money I paid for it, and it didn't last very long as a result.

They have been invaluable. Electronically saving information reduces paper and clutter on the boat. Electronically paying bills, receiving statements, etc., keeps mail problems to a minimum. Keeping in touch is easier. And recently I've been using charts on the computer to plan trips and create waypoints to be transferred to the GPS. I still don't trust it as much as our old paper charts, but used together, in my mind, improves our navigating accuracy. Still room for mistakes, but a bit less likely.

I still have to use internet cafes when outside the US, but I can download data and bring it back to the onboard computer, which reduces the time at the cafe and associated costs. Or, bring my computer and connect to their network. For bank information I like being able to use my own computer.

I haven't got an internet enabled PDA, but I'm thinking about it!
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Old 01-01-2006, 03:52 PM   #3
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Oh. I have a WIFI and Blue Tooth enabled Palm LifeDrive.

If you were doing digital charts with your PDA, better to get the Windows CE PDAs... that is not Palm.

And the Palm that I got is only good for some internet pages. Works very well with Yahoo (my own page and emails), but cant be used with my banks' webpages... and quite a few others too. Maybe just an OS related problem or a incompatible browser...

Just something to watch out for.

Happy sails,

Lang ... crew, on board S/V Calliste
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Old 01-01-2006, 04:49 PM   #4
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I am also a technofreak, I guess. I keep two laptops on board with one of them wrapped in aluminum foil and stored away as protection against a lightning strike. Same for the third GPS. Two GPS are installed and ready to operate at any time.

I use the computer for the following:

1. Radio Email. I use the Airmail program (http://www.airmail2000.com) with the SCS PTC-IIex PACTOR3 controller (http://www.scs-ptc.com) and an Icom IC-M710 SSB radio.

2. Weather information.

a. I receive daily GRIB files via email which are displayed using the ViewFax program, part of the Airmail program.

b. I receive daily virtual buoy weather information via email from Buoyweather.com (http://www.buoyweather.com).

c. I copy HF Weather Fax charts from various stations using the GetFax program, part of the Airmail program.

d. When an internet connection is available (see #11 below) I download weather information from selected sites.

3. Navigation.

a. I use the MaxSea electronic charting program and the Sea Clear II program (especially in the Philippines where there are an abundance of BSB charts available, unlike the SE Asian rergion).

b. GPS waypoint transfer. I have a Furuno GPS and use a transfer program (http://members.chello.nl/cbeekhuizen) to upload and download waypoints between the GPS and the computer.

c. Sight reduction. When the mood strikes and the sextant is dusted off, a sight reduction program is the lazy sailor's means of finding LOPs or a position.

4. Safety I have an Automatic Identification System receiver (Nasa A.I.S. Engine) and use the Yacht-AIS software to display vessels equipped with AIS (over 300 tons and passenger vessels as required by IMO). Links are: Nasa A.I.S. Engine (http://www.allgadgets.co.uk/) and Yacht-AIS (http://emmel.alfahosting.org/english/start_en.htm) For a description of this see http://yachtvalhalla.net/projects/ais/ais.htm

5. Website design and maintenance. I maintain a website which I call Valhalla's Mooring Page (I don't have a 'home' other than the boat). See the URL below. I use the Microsoft Front Page program for website maintenance and have it located on the Yahoo! server. I use the Corel 12 Photopaint program to manipulate photos for the website.

6. Photograph archives. We have digital cameras and maintain our photo archives on the computer and burn them onto CDs for long term storage.

7. Correspondence. We use the Microsoft Word program.

8. Printing. The printer is an ancient Canon BJC-250 which runs directly from 12 volts.

9. Calling cards. We print our own calling cards using the Print Artist graphics program.

10. Language training. We use programs to learn foreign languages, presently struggling through learning Bahasa Malay.

11. Internet. Wireless internet access is becoming popular in marinas. When it is not available we use a cell phone with GPRS capability and infrared connection to the computer for quick access to grab some weather data. At an Internet Cafe we use a memory stick/flash drive to bring data back to the boat.

12. Entertainment. We play DVD movies on the laptop. Some games are availabe when things get boring ... which is rare.

13. Reference. The Encyclopaedia Brittanica is instantly available and takes up virtually no apace or weight on board :0)

And I'm sure we will think up another use for the computer as time goes on.

Terry Sargent
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Old 01-03-2006, 09:57 AM   #5
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thanks for the input "ALL"!! will keep in mind
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Old 01-11-2006, 01:10 PM   #6
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I would like to blow a little more life into this debate and expand it a little to include plotters.

I have used laptops at sea now for a number of years. I connect my laptop to a GPS and use Navmaster software and Admiralty ARCS charts. Now, this pulls quite a bit of electricity so, wanting to be less battery dependent, I started looking at plotters as an alternative.

There is some nice stuff out there, all of it more rugged than laptops and much of it watertight too. Also, plotters are more economical on the 'electrickery'. Great I though, I must get a plotter. But then I started asking questions about chart corrections. Using ARCS on a laptop, my charts can be corrected (updated) as often as I like but using plotters there seems to be no way of weekly correcting the charts in accordance with Notices to Mariners. Surely, one of the greatest benefits of digital charting is having absolutely up-to-date charts? Whilst accepting that plotters offer a great step forwards in navigational safety the chart correction issue seriously worries me.

One other disadvantage of the plotter is the chart coverage. All systems provide coverage for the major cruising grounds but more remote areas are not always covered. Admiralty ARCS and ENC charts however cover the entire globe.

The laptop can also be connected to an AIS engine and A|IS 'targets' displayed in scale on the chart. Neat but, admittedly, not essential.

One other advantage of the plotter is the price of the charts. Compared to ARCS MaxSea wide, for example, is substantially cheaper but, I would have to add the cost of the plotter.

Given that I would be taking my laptop along anyway I have decided not to go for the plotter (at the moment at least) but use some of the cash the plotter would have cost me to buy a second, back-up laptop. For the rest of the cash, I can now buy more ARCS or EMC charts and pay for a subscription for chart corrections.

I am interested to hear the thoughts of others on the plotter versus laptop/PC issue.

All the best,

Stephen

yacht Nausikaa
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Old 01-11-2006, 10:18 PM   #7
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We've always carried a lap top and on last yacht used that as our plotter, interfaced to our regualar GPS system. We used EuroNav's SeaPro software which we found had super charting detail and lots of facilities to help plan routes / work tides / weather etc as well as optimise boat performace.

We used a GPRS card to access email / web when close to / on shore across Europe. About as slow as a 54 kbs modem but plenty sufficient for our needs.

On newer yacht we still carry a lap top for route planning / emails / web acess / regular uses but now with G3 comms card (much faster than GPRS) - and now have dedicated Raymarine E kit with combined plotter / radar. Chart detail not quite as good as with SeaPro / laptop but overlay radar on E series is something we now could not live without - overall its is a lot more robust and easier to use when underway - and we have a repeater on deck.

Hope this helps.

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Old 01-13-2006, 01:13 PM   #8
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Hi John/Swagman,

Sounds like some nice kit! I am honestly impressed by Raymarine's E-series; and I like their waterproof, daylight visible computer monitor but it all comes at a price. The monitor's price tag here in South Africa is about 30,000 Rands. Divide that by 10 and you'll get the approximate price in Sterling which, even if the number is smaller, is still large enough to cause the bank manager heart flimmer.

Just to get back to my main concern though, how do you correct your charts? Say a ship sinks in the English channel and the wreck is a danger to shipping (like the Texaco Caribbean did and was), a Notice to Mariners will be issued immediately and that will be incorporated in the next weekly edition of Notices to Mariners issued by the Hydrographic Office. The old system was to get out pen and ink and enter a wreck symbol in the appropriate place on the chart. Later on, tracings were used, although not by all, to update charts. Now, when the Admiralty produces digital charts (ARCS and ENC), the weekly corrections are done by running the corrections on the PC. But how are the charts on a plotter updated? Methinks they are not, until a new issue of the chart is produced.

To me this is dangerous practise. Digital charting gives us an accuracy mariners never previously have known but, unless charts are corrected, that accuracy is wasted and an unknowing skipper could be ploughing onwards towards a, for him, uncharted wreck or other danger.

I know a possible response is, well the wreck will be buoyed. Well, so was the TEXACO CARIBBEAN but that did not stop the German vessel BRANDENBURG from hitting the wreck. After that the wreck was marked with more buoys and a light ship and, despite the wreck site being lit up like a fair ground, the Greek vessel NIKI wran onto the wreck. All in all the incident, in 1971, resulted in the loss of 52 seamen.

Can this happen again in more digitally enlightened times? Well, unfortunately, yes. In 2002 the Dutch NICOLA hit the semi-submerged TRICOLOUR, despite the area being buoyed and, supposidly, a French warship in the area to warn approaching vessels. The incident almost was made worse when a Cypriot flagged vessel, the NDS PROVIDER, was spotted by a British aircraft heading directly towards the wreck. Fortunately the aircraft was able to make contact with the NDS PROVIDER and warn her of the danger.

I love digital charts and plotters would be, because of their relative robustness, the obvious choice if only the charts could be readily updated. I would love to hear the industry's views on this.

Safe voyaging all,

Stephen

yacht Nausikaa
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Old 01-13-2006, 07:44 PM   #9
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Hi Nausikka,

The E series is much faster than the C series - but if cost is the issue then suggest you check out what you can get a C series for. It has 90% of the E features - but can be sourced ex USA for 50% of cost.

Re chart updates. On both our old laptop plotting program and also with Raymarine E, anyone can overlay a symbol or note onto the electronic chart. We do it all the time with favoured locations etc.

Also most electronic chart providors offer chart update services albeit for a cost.

Good luck with whatever you decide to get.

Cheers

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Old 01-14-2006, 12:21 AM   #10
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Hi John,

Thanks for your reply.

I'm pleased that the charts san be 'written' upon. That gives an opportunity to at least place a warning of a danger or hinder to navigation.

I'll keep the forum posted if and when I buy a plotter and offer my thoughts about them after some real life experience.

I'm off to Scandinavia for a week now but I'll try to look into the forum when I have the opportunity.

All the best,

Stephen

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Old 01-16-2006, 07:39 AM   #11
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I plan on bringing my laptop on a pacific crossing. I loaded some plotting and nav apps. I'll hook up my garmin to it and improve my nav and plotting skills.

I also found this very cool celestial navigation program MegaStar 5

Something to keep me busy while out riding waves.
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Old 01-17-2006, 02:37 PM   #12
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Regarding plotters and GPS.

I've got a GPSMAP76C with Bluecharts for South East Asia.

Been using it everyday in my voyage from Singapore to Lkw and will be using it on way up to Phuket.

I am very happy with it. Its been splashed and slooshed around in the cockpit, its been out in the sun and also used in the dark, its proven its worth. I used it with a cable plug in to a 12V supply and also to laptop. Bluechart details are not as good as the C-maps or ENCs, but they will do just fine together with my papercharts.

Also use this when kayaking. Great for keeping tracks, especially on uncharted rivers. I found this to be very useful.

For how I use it, this h/h GPS with plugin to laptop is just what I needed, and it is alot less costly than plotters.

Happy sailing folks

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Old 01-18-2006, 05:05 PM   #13
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Re Laptops - one story showing how robuest they can be.

Two years ago on passage along UK south coust but en-route from Lymington to Portugal - we were hit by a bigger than average wave when beating in fresh conditions.

I was below playing with laptop plotting software and stupidly having a big can of beer to one side of the chart table.

The wave action made the can leap in the air - to land upside down right in the middle of the laptop keyboard. I watched stunned as 375 cc of lager flowed into the computer.

It did short out - a splutter - and screen died in seconds.

I dumped the battery out quickly, but watching the frothy beer pouring our the disc drive and other exit points, really did believe it would never work again.

We stopped over in Falmouth to buy a new laptop - but on Sues advice actually rinsed the laptop with warm water (from the tap) and left the wet laptop in warm air locker to dry.

No one was more suprised that I when it fired up OK the next day - and we continued to use the device for a further year until we sold it with that boat!

T'was a Sony Vaio - not an expensive unit and around 3 year old - but I've purchased Sony's ever since.

Cheers

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