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Author Topic:   Raster Charts on NAVICO Chart Plotters
bluewaterpirate posted 01-16-2013 11:52 AM ET (US)   Profile for bluewaterpirate   Send Email to bluewaterpirate  
This morning it was mentioned on the Panbo blog that NAVICO chart plotters will display certain raster charts created by a small chart publisher in the NE USA.. A view of HDS-9 Gen2 Touch Display with raster charts is shown.


[I rewrote Tom's original article to include a bit more description of what was being announced--jimh]

jimh posted 01-16-2013 12:42 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
The charts mentioned on Panbo in raster format are from a small publisher in New England. That publisher only makes charts for the eastern coastline of the USA. The chart publisher acknowledges that his charts are made from the NOAA official charts, presumably from the BSB4 format raster charts that you can get for free by downloading them from a NOAA website.

The charts appear to be about $70 for each set, with a set covering only a small region of the coastline. The publisher says they have enhanced the chart presentation, but we should not mistake the notion that NOAA did the main body of work in creating these charts--the hydrologic surveys themselves.

The appearance of these charts may be linked to a method that NAVICO has provided for chart publishers to make their cartography work with NAVICO units through a cartography toolkit application development system. See Cartography-Toolkit/

This Cartography Toolkit provides a method for chart publishers to convert their charts into the format used by NAVICO, the NAVICO Marine and Outdoor Database (NMOD) format.

It is too bad that the NAVICO chart plotters could not be adapted to use the free NOAA raster charts. Perhaps that may be in the future. It is doubtful that NOAA would take the time to adapt their charts to the NMOD format. It would be more reasonable to expect that NAVICO would just support the BSB4 standard format. That would allow NAVICO chart plotters to use the free NOAA charts.

In looking at the business model of recreational marine chart plotter manufacturers, there seems to be two popular approaches. GARMIN makes chart plotters that only use Garmin-published charts. This seems to be an approach that is in the Garmin DNA. Garmin began with automobile GPS receivers integrated with small chart plotters with excellent highway maps. They made billions--literally, as both the founders are billionaires--by selling GPS receivers bundled with their own highway maps. Garmin continues this approach today in marine GPS receivers and chart plotters.

Another vendor with this model is Humminbird. They seem very parochial about the charts, publishing the charts which their devices can use themselves. They even went to the unusual step of preventing other brands from being able to use their maps. Previously you could by the Humminbird cartography and use it on a Lowrance, but no more. If you want those charts you must buy a Humminbird plotter. I suspect that there are profits to be made in being both the chart plotter manufacturer and the publisher of the charts that plotter will use, and perhaps some synergy. If you have really good charts, then you encourage sales of your chart plotter with them. It may also be much cheaper to bundle cartography with a chart plotter if you also own the cartography. This eliminates licensing fees on a per unit basis.

NAVICO, and others, follow a different model. NAVICO makes chart plotters, but it allows their chart plotters to use cartography from other providers, mainly NAVIONICS at the moment. However, there does seem to be a bit of a rift developing between NAVICO and NAVIONICS. (Despite the similar names they are independent companies.) NAVICO is publishing their own brand of charts called INSIGHT, and have recently added a feature of self-chart creation to them, while at the same time locking NAVIONICS out of this realm.

The USA is somewhat unique in providing all of its official charts for free. Most countries charge for their charts--even Canada! I have to note that in the USA we provide free charts but make citizens provide their own health care. In Canada the citizens get free health care but have to buy their own charts. The optimization of this difference in philosophy is to be a Canadian who does a lot of boating in USA water.

jimh posted 01-16-2013 12:55 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
In terms of creating a business advantage for a particular chart plotter, it seems to me--perhaps completely naively--that a chart plotter manufacturer who offered a plotter that could use free charts in the USA would be at a big advantage compared to others who could only offer expensive charts.

I have not studied this, but I believe the NOAA charts are not copyrighted, and can be freely reproduced and distributed. I don't see what would stop a manufacturer from supporting charts in that format.

The disadvantage of providing a chart plotter that can use free charts in the USA would, of course, be the notion that selling charts for use on that plotter might be much more difficult.

This leads to an interesting question: if I am a chart publisher, it is very important that my charts be useful on as many chart plotters as possible. I cannot sell a chart if there is no chart plotter to use with it. This makes me wonder: who pays who in the chart publisher--chart plotter relationship?

Does a chart plotter maker pay a chart publisher to use their charts? Probably, but there may be another influence at work. Perhaps the publisher agrees to a lower price because he needs some manufacturer to make a device that can use his charts. Sometimes these models of buy-sell will reverse. An example is seen in television networks. At one time the TV networks paid local stations to air their programs so they would be in wide distribution. Now, this model has reversed somewhat, and local stations pay the network a fee to get the programs, as there are many distribution channels now available.

In the chart plotter--chart publisher relationship, it seems like the chart plotter makers are growing stronger, taking over chart publishing in-house, and reducing the options available to consumers.

jimh posted 01-16-2013 01:16 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Another problem in using NOAA BSB4 raster charts on a particular chart plotter may be the amount of memory space needed. I have a select subset of NOAA BSB charts stored on my laptop, mainly for the Great Lakes, and some parts of Alaska, and they consume 1.5-GB of space. In earlier generations of recreational boat chart plotters, 1.5-GB of persistence memory space may have been too much for the hardware of handle at a reasonable cost or price. Today, however, you can get a blank 8-GB memory card for less than $10 at retail. In bulk at wholesale they are probably less than $4. I think you could package a lot of NOAA BSD raster charts on a 8-GB memory card. The notion that the file size of BSB charts was a drawback might have been true in 2000, but it is not true in 2013.

Using NOAA BSB raster charts is not the most wonderful experience, as they are made in many different scales. Often there is a great deal of tiling of chart, and inclusion of large-scale chart insets can be a bit awkward when zooming the displayed scale. I presume that the chart publisher providing raster charts in NMOD format has perhaps handled these problems in a graceful way.

Presently, I have experience with NOAA raster charts in the very modestly priced software PolarView, where they are very nicely presented, but do experience some odd tiling artifacts in some zoom scale views. But, consider the free price tag on the charts, this is a easily tolerated drawback.

If I could see NOAA BSB charts on my NAVICO Lowrance HDS-8, I would be delighted.

Hoosier posted 01-16-2013 09:44 PM ET (US)     Profile for Hoosier  Send Email to Hoosier     
Interesting discussion. I'll put my sea-lawyer T-Shirt on and raise this question: If I run aground while using a proprietary set of chart data is the vender liable for the damage caused by errors in his product? If I'm using official NOAA charts the vender isn't liable. I would think it's kinda like weather forecasts, the TV station isn't at fault if you got swamped in a thunderstorm that wasn't in the flawed forecast received from the NWS.
Peter posted 01-17-2013 07:00 AM ET (US)     Profile for Peter  Send Email to Peter     
If I run aground while using a proprietary set of chart data is the vender liable for the damage caused by errors in his product?

The contours of the bottom of a body of water can be changed by a single storm. Superstorm Sandy is a great example. If you relied on the chart data after a storm like Sandy passed through your waters, you may find yourself aground where the chart says you should not be.

Most likely there is notice in the product documentation that the product may contain errors and the chart is merely an aid to navigation and such and a disclaimer of liability with respect thereto.

jimh posted 01-17-2013 09:17 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
A good example of a chart publisher re-using the official charts is the printed charts from RICHARDSON in their several Great Lakes chart booklets. They publish copies of the official Canadian and American charts. The chart quality is downgraded because the charts are presented in a one-color or two-color ink system, rather than the much more expensive four-color or five-color ink used in the official charts. Every page of a RICHARDSON chart booklet is clearly labeled "NOT FOR NAVIGATION." They are also much harder to read and much less useful than the official charts. The attraction is the cost. Instead of $25 per chart and buying 30 or more charts, a booklet costs about $100.

The notion that you would buy charts and then not use them for navigation is silly. Why would you buy charts except to use them for navigation? Perhaps you own a nautical restaurant and want to use the charts for decorations. But the publisher re-printing the official charts wants to protect himself, so he says his product is not to be used for the most obvious purpose that it is clearly intended to serve.

In the case of this New England chart publisher creating raster charts from the official NOAA electronic raster charts, there is the notion that the new charts are improved in their readability by some subtle changes in notation or coloring of chart objects. The main attraction is the ability to use them on your NAVICO chart plotter.

For me these new charts are not of interest for two simple reasons:

--there are no charts available for the areas I am interested in; the charts only cover the coastal areas of the Eastern Seaboard of the USA; and,

--I already have a way of using the free NOAA charts for navigation.

I use Polar Navy's POLARVIEW NS, a computer-based navigation program that can use NOAA raster or vector charts. This program costs less than one set of charts from the New England publisher, and, or course, the NOAA charts are free. For about $40 I have thousands of NOAA charts available. And, thanks to the wonderful features of POLARVIEW, I can get chart updates in a very simple, very fast, and very inexpensive (free) manner.

In order for me to get excited about raster charts on a NAVICO plotter, I need the raster charts to cover more areas, and to be less expensive.

Hoosier posted 01-17-2013 10:15 AM ET (US)     Profile for Hoosier  Send Email to Hoosier     
I have Polar View and it's a very user friendly product. One thing Jim didn't mention is it's multi platform, I have it on my iMac and a Windows netbook. Also for the $40 you get five installs, so if you have five computers it works out to $8 each, not bad....

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