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Author Topic:   Netbook Computer As A Chart Plotter
Hoosier posted 01-19-2010 10:45 AM ET (US)   Profile for Hoosier   Send Email to Hoosier  
Has anyone put a chart plotter system together using a netbook computer and a USB GPS? Having a 10-inch screen is really attractive. From what I've found on-line a nice system would run about $300.
Chuck Tribolet posted 01-19-2010 02:34 PM ET (US)     Profile for Chuck Tribolet  Send Email to Chuck Tribolet     
I use a fairly high end laptop with Microsoft Streets and Trips
on the road and it works well. I also run Global Mapper on
it and have played with the GPS connection, but I wouldn't take
it on the boat.

With a netbook, I'd have the following concerns:

Operating system: A fair number of Netbooks run Linux.
Disk space for charts.
Closed system (some netbooks are somewhat locked up)
12V power.
Screen readability in the sun (my Lenovo T61p is really hard
to read even inside a hard top car. On the other hand, my
other computer (Lenovo W700) is quite readable, but it's got
an expensive wide-gamut display for photography stuff. I
don't use the W700 for car nav because I don't have a 12V
powersupply and because it's so darn big (17" display and
fullsize keyboard with numeric keypad).

Now, a Netbook tablet computer would be an interesting idea.


number9 posted 01-19-2010 02:37 PM ET (US)     Profile for number9  Send Email to number9     
No but it has certainly crossed my mind to and slip it in a large enough ziploc bag. What's required other than GPS sensor and power? It would also make a great backup system.
K Albus posted 01-19-2010 03:01 PM ET (US)     Profile for K Albus  Send Email to K Albus     
David, it's been discussed here before, but I don't think anybody has reported trying it. The biggest problem you'll have is finding a waterproof netbook. Panasonic's Toughbook line of computers looks like it's up to the task, but I don't believe they're as small as netbooks, and they typically cost about $2,500 or more.

A company named Clevo supposedly makes a nice-looking, waterproof, touch-screen netbook, but I haven't seen it for sale anywhere.

I don't think an "un-marinized" netbook would last very long in a small, open boat like a Boston Whaler, even if you have a canvas enclosure for the boat. The computer will eventually get wet somehow.

Number9's idea of using a ziploc bag is not a good one. The netbook would undoubtedly generate some heat, and the bag would act to trap condensation which would eventually get to the netbook.

Hoosier posted 01-19-2010 04:51 PM ET (US)     Profile for Hoosier  Send Email to Hoosier     
Thanks for the link, Kevin. My thought is that the package would be more of a mobile planning tool and display for a benign environment, not a full time primary chartplotter. It would be something to use to plan the next day's cruising while dockside or for those occasions when the bigger display is needed at sea. The rest of the time it would be in a waterproof case, securely stowed.
20dauntless posted 01-20-2010 12:07 AM ET (US)     Profile for 20dauntless    
I've experimented with laptop navigation and have it aboard as a backup and for trip planning. I've run GPSNavX on both a MacBook and MacBook Pro with good results.

I've got an Asus 1005HAB running a clean copy of Windows 7 that I'd like to get set up for use as a chartplotter. It only cost something like $279 and is surprisingly functional. Hard drive space is a non issue, since it came with a 160GB drive and the NOAA raster charts (free to download, by the way) and the Canadian Hyrdographic Service charts for Seattle to Alaska take up about 1GB.

The biggest problems I have are input control in a boat that is moving in a seaway and finding a place to set the laptop down. I should also note that I've never tried this on an open Whaler, only in the relative security of the pilothouse on my 22 C-Dory. Power is provided by a 300W inverter.

I think I will try OpenCPN ( later this week and see how I like it.

K Albus posted 01-20-2010 12:26 AM ET (US)     Profile for K Albus  Send Email to K Albus     
Another free chart plotting program which uses free NOAA raster charts is SeaClear II, which can be found at: The instructions for it are not great, but once you figure out how to use it, it is very simple to use.

You can also use the Sea Clear II to download and print any of the free raster charts available from NOAA on your home printer, on normal-sized paper. And you can zoom in on portions of charts and print the zoomed portion on normal-sized paper. Its a nice resource for free.

jimh posted 01-20-2010 01:23 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
I have an excellent GPS receiver that runs off a USB port. I have a very high-end laptop computer (MacBook Pro with 2.4-GHz Intel Core2 Duo). I have several chart software packages, and many free NOAA charts, both in rasterized and vector formats. However, this does not make an effective marine chart plotter on a small boat because the display cannot be easily seen in direct sunlight.
Plotman posted 01-20-2010 10:22 AM ET (US)     Profile for Plotman  Send Email to Plotman     
The ferries near us have been using this system with great success, but they are in an enclosed pilot house.

One of the owners I spoke to said that the whole setup was under $400. They also use the netbooks for maintenance logs.

Chuck Tribolet posted 01-20-2010 11:29 AM ET (US)     Profile for Chuck Tribolet  Send Email to Chuck Tribolet     
Hoosier, that would probably work for what you want. And you
could do e-mail. Get a Pelican case to keep it in.

Though I, spoiled with two machines with a 1920x1200 display,
would probably not enjoy it. It would beat the heck out of
a 640x400 or whatever chartplotter for planning, but I'm
spoiled. Oh, and the second display that switches between the
two: 3840x2400 pixels, but it's not very portable.

BTW, for running it off 12V, an appropriate inverter should have
no problem supplying enough current to run a netbook, the key
question is whether the netbook power supply can handle the
possibly ugly wave form that come out of most inverters.
You definitely don't want a square-wave inverter, most are
modified sine wave, and a very few a true sine wave.


Jefecinco posted 01-20-2010 04:04 PM ET (US)     Profile for Jefecinco  Send Email to Jefecinco     

The subject of using computers aboard boats has been discussed at some length on There is quite a lot of information from a mostly larger boat oriented group.


Buckda posted 01-20-2010 05:10 PM ET (US)     Profile for Buckda  Send Email to Buckda     
David -

My Dell Inspiron 700M is generally aboard my boat whenever we're cruising. I use it to plan/plot the next day's course and download that to my data card on my Chartplotter.

I've been doing this since 2004. The other computer is no longer around - but it had nothing to do with water or exposure. It was stolen from my vehicle in downtown Chicago!



20dauntless posted 01-20-2010 06:14 PM ET (US)     Profile for 20dauntless    
I got OpenCPN running on my netbook and it seems to be a decent enough program. Granted, I haven't tested it on the boat, but I suspect it will work in a pinch.

Hoosier, I don't know which Whaler you have, but I think a dedicated plotter would probably be a better option. I certainly prefer using my Raymarine C80 to my laptop when underway, and it's probably much more reliable and durable.

Keep in mind that hard drives are potentially a big failure point. I keep a mirror of my hard drive for my Mac available at all times and it can be swapped out in just a few minutes.

jimh posted 01-20-2010 10:46 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
In terms of a small computer that has some application on a boat, consider the Mac Mini. The cost is reasonable, $600. The power consumption is extremely good--about 12-watts.

The drawback to the boat computer tends to be the cost of a display that can be seen in sunlight and also have water resistance. Even bargain-priced displays with those credentials start at $1,500.

Hoosier posted 01-21-2010 12:40 AM ET (US)     Profile for Hoosier  Send Email to Hoosier     
Thanks for the input. Here's where I am in this project, I'm trying to find an ASUS eeePC 1000HE on eBay for around $250. I'm focused on it because there is a well documented way, on Hackintosh, to load Mac OS X on it. A USB GPS receiver is readily available, as is reasonably priced charting software like GPSNavX. The ASUS has a 12 VDC car adaptor that will run off my boat's power bus without the need for an inverter. I have a "primary" Lowrance HDS-5 chartplotter, so this rig is for planning, backup, and "other stuff". The netbook's foot print is less than an 8 1/2 by 11" sheet of paper, so a "weather resistant" bag shouldn't be hard to find. This is one of those "winter projects" for the boat.
20dauntless posted 01-21-2010 11:54 AM ET (US)     Profile for 20dauntless    
Hoosier, I love Mac OSX, but I don't really see why you'd go to the trouble of making a hackintosh. I've found a clean copy of Windows 7 to be very stable on my netbook and the range of navigation software is much broader on Windows than it is on OSX. You can also still get netbooks (I think) with XP, which if installed without all the garbage that comes on most computers is reliable as well. And for a computer that may be relied upon to get you home, I don't think I'd want anything "hacked."

To be honest, I don't think GPSNavX is any better than OpenCPN. And OpenCPN supports vector charts, if that's important to you.

Just my thoughts...

Hoosier posted 01-21-2010 08:56 PM ET (US)     Profile for Hoosier  Send Email to Hoosier     
Thanks for the tip about Open CPN, just downloaded the OS X version. This could be a solution, I can have the Windows version on a netbook and the OS X version on my iMac. Now I have to learn how to use it.
Hoosier posted 01-30-2010 09:05 PM ET (US)     Profile for Hoosier  Send Email to Hoosier     
Here's an update on this "project".
I bought an ASUS eeePC 1000HE on eBay, along with an external DVD drive and a USB GPS dongle. I received the GPS first and tried it out on GPSNavX on my iMac. It took a few emails to the GPSNavX lead developer to get the configuration correct. The GPS sends data at 38400 bps but GPSNavX has a default setting of 4800. Setting it to 38400 let the GPS position fixes load into GPS NavX. Cool, it works on my desktop.
The netbook is another situation. The GPS dongle shows that it's getting fixes but the software, OpenCPN and MapTech, can't "read" the NMEA sentences. After exploring forums about both products, it turns out that matching the baud rates is critical to getting data into the navigation application. Tweaking settings in OpenCPN got it to the point where it would read the time stamp on the fix but not the position data. A forum post had the same problem and the solution required resetting the baud rate in the GPS to match what OpenCPN expected. The dongle I have did not come with an application that lets me do that, so the solution is waiting on input from the OpenCPN developers. The MapTech Viewer has a preloaded list of GPS devices that aren't editable. MapTech has a generic GPS profile but it's not in the version I have. I'm working on getting that driver. I'll post another update when I get it all working.
jjjewett posted 01-31-2010 05:01 PM ET (US)     Profile for jjjewett  Send Email to jjjewett     
I have used a laptop to plot my trolling courses in Northern California where we rarely have rain and it is a very dry climate. I use the bathymetric maps coupled with my depth sounder to "ride" the contours of the lake. very effective.

regarding waterproof screens, I have found some cheap ones and have been very temped to use one. I was thinking a laptop in the console, and waterproof lcd at the helm.

8" waterproof LCD for $216:

5" waterproof LCD for $112

They appear to use DC and I suspect they would use 12v but who knows. That would need to be sorted out.


Hoosier posted 02-05-2010 09:24 PM ET (US)     Profile for Hoosier  Send Email to Hoosier     
I got it working. My HW is the ASUS eee PC1000HE netbook, an generic external DVD drive, and a GiSTEQ GPS dongle. The software is OpenCPN, Windows XP version, and the XPort serial port replicator, both free. I've got vector charts for the Great Lakes, downloaded from NOAA. It's a nice portable system that has an advantage over my HDS-5, it plays movies.
20dauntless posted 02-12-2010 08:30 PM ET (US)     Profile for 20dauntless    
I got up to the boat today and tried out my netbook as a chartplotter. I'm running an Asus Eeepc 1005HAB with Windows 7 and OpenCPN. My GPS puck is a Globalsat BU-353.

Plotting worked great, the software was pretty easy to use and I like having a backup on board. I ran the computer from my inverter and that worked fine.

But I have a big problem. For some reason, whenever the netbook was turned on my Raymarine C80 and Raystar 125 GPS antenna lost its fix. It didn't matter if the inverter was on or off or if the laptop GPS puck was plugged in or not. The pilothouse is small on my C-Dory (where I tried it out) and it didn't matter much where the netbook was.

Any thoughts of why this is happening? I'll probably use the boat again tomorrow and try experimenting some more.

number9 posted 02-12-2010 08:49 PM ET (US)     Profile for number9  Send Email to number9     
Probably would make a difference but did you also remove the power cord from both the inverter and computer?
I downloaded the OpenCPN and then some charts from the NOAA. The charts won't open and couldn't find info on how to add them to the OpenPCN. Would appreciate some advice on that. Not a whiz but no where near computer dumb. Thanks.

20dauntless posted 02-12-2010 09:49 PM ET (US)     Profile for 20dauntless    
I tried unplugging everything and it didn't make a difference. I think I'll try turning off the wi-fi and see if that makes a difference.

To get charts loaded in OpenCPN...

Make sure you unzip the folder you download from NOAA. Then open OpenCPN, click on the toolbox (wrench icon), click on the charts tab, find the folder where the charts are located, select it, click add selection, and hit ok. That should load the charts up.

number9 posted 02-13-2010 11:28 PM ET (US)     Profile for number9  Send Email to number9     
Thanks for the info on OpenCPN, will give it a try.
kglinz posted 02-14-2010 10:41 AM ET (US)     Profile for kglinz  Send Email to kglinz     
I've been using computer navigation for ten years. I use Nobeltec and Coastal Explorer. Nobeltec now uses C-Map charts and Coastal Explorer uses Noaa or S 63 ENCs. I don't use any "Free" nav software. If you "Buy" software it is supported. It's someones business. You can call the provider as a paying customer and get support.

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