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Author Topic:   Electronic Nautical Charts
69boo307 posted 07-31-2009 09:24 AM ET (US)   Profile for 69boo307   Send Email to 69boo307  
I need to rant a bit about electronic charts and their formats. The main thing you pay $200 for with say a Navionics card is to get them in some proprietary format on an SD card. Yeah they have alot of extra information as well, but the key part of it is that it is in a format useable by your chartplotter. The charts themselves are freely avaiable from NOAA, but only in the form of a Raster image or ENC. So far I'm finding the ENC all but useless though. It seems like there is a conspiracy to make it extremely difficult to utilize the free NOAA charts in an electronic fashion, so that you have to pay someone to get it in a useful format. I did find that Navimatics has free Google Earth formatted versions of some of the NOAA charts, but while I can import it into Google Earth and view it, I can't actually convert it to a format that I can use on my boat. Unfortunately I don't have a PC with Google Earth on my boat, which makes the charts pretty well useless for anything other than a curiosity for wasting time on my PC.

Does anyone have experience with working with ENC charts on their PC? If so what software do you use? Anyone interfaced it with Google Earth, or actually managed to convert it into a format that can be copied to an SD card and read by their chart plotter?


K Albus posted 07-31-2009 10:08 AM ET (US)     Profile for K Albus  Send Email to K Albus     
Boo, I feel your pain. I have $800 worth of electronic chart cards, and I need to get a couple more at $200 apiece over the next couple of years. The ones I already have are essentially outdated because there is no way to update them with information for the Local Notice to Mariners reports issued by the Coast Guard.

Regarding the NOAA free ENC data, I think I've come up with a reasonably-priced solution. You can buy a "netbook", which is a essentially a miniature laptop computer, for about $300. You can also download free software that allows you to use the ENC data. And you can buy a GPS antenna/receiver that will plug into the USB ports on the netbook for about $35. That should give you everything you need to use the free ENC chart data on your boat, all at a cost of less than $400. With this set-up you could have up-to-date free electronic charts available at all times.

I don't believe there are any waterproof netbooks currently available, but there have been announcements indicating that they should be available soon.

There are a couple of potential drawbacks to such a system. First, you need the space at your helm to keep the netbook. Second, there is no way to hook a sonar transducer into the system. Third, the netbook would probably have limited battery life (I don't know if 12-volt power cords are available). Fourth, if you boat in or near Canadian waters like I do, I'm not sure that Canada provides free ENC data.

In any event, I've thought about putting together a system like this to use in addition to my current chartplotter/fishfinder. Maybe I'll try it next spring.

69boo307 posted 07-31-2009 12:49 PM ET (US)     Profile for 69boo307  Send Email to 69boo307     
Yeah, space is at a premium on my 15', and there is little in the way of weather protection. That's why I went with a fairly small combo unit.
jimh posted 08-02-2009 07:30 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
69boo307 posted 08-03-2009 09:52 AM ET (US)     Profile for 69boo307  Send Email to 69boo307     
I found one good resource online, They have some free Google Earth charts that are considerably more extensive than the Navimatics version. It includes photos and information for marinas and other various points of interest, along with all of the navigation information. You can also pay for a monthly subscription for more extensive content, but the free content looks more than sufficient.

They also have a free tool that can be used with Google Earth to create waypoints, routes, and tracks, and convert them directly to a .gpx file. I tested this with my HumminbirdPC software and it was able to read the exported .gpx. Using this I can at least set up waypoints and a couple of planned routes for my beach vacation in 2 weeks, and store them in my chartplotter. I attempted to also export the marker buoy and other navigational points on the chart as waypoints, but wasn't successful with that yet.
The way I get all this to my chartplotter was simple, I bought a 2GB SD card for about $10, and a USB card reader. HumminbirdPC can import a .gpx file and then store it on the SD card, and when you plug the card into the chartplotter unit it automatically picks up the data.

This solution does NOT, however, allow you to actually save the entire chart with all of the navigational data in a form readable by the chartplotter.

69boo307 posted 08-03-2009 09:54 AM ET (US)     Profile for 69boo307  Send Email to 69boo307     
Just an additional 'use case', I was able to use the EarthNC data in Google Earth to locate a marina within walking distance of the condo I'll be staying at, and reserve overnight dockage for the week. :) The GE plugin let me see photos of it and linked me to their website, and I emailed them from there.

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