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Old 09-02-2013, 02:23 AM   #1
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Laptops for Navigation

Hi all,

I am seeking thoughts/guidance on using a laptop for navigation?

Pardon my ignorance but some options I am considering if feasible are:
1. Laptop with chart software connected to a hand held GPS as a back up large scale view.
2. Can you get a small screen plotter to display on a laptop with a suitable data cable.
3. Any other suggestions for using a laptop for navigation

I have an Ipad with Navionics loaded and am impressed but understand that it's reliant on a phone signal for navigation.

I have not got a boat yet but initially will be used on Moreton Bay, QLD, OZ and it's a bit of a minefield with shallows and sandbars.

Thanks,

MG
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Old 09-02-2013, 05:26 AM   #2
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Mark, I also am in Queensland, and sail the Morton Bay, and have Navionics on my iPad for the back-up and upper help navigation, and can assure you it is more than adequate, and as long as you have the version of pad with the built in GPS, it is not limited to mobile phone service, but uses the satellites just like the purpose built GPS units. If you don't have the GPS then yes, you would be limited to mobile phone reception - not a good idea - or you could purchase a USB plug in type GPS module, a better solution to get you launched, so to speak, and something you could use on a laptop or iPad.
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Old 09-02-2013, 05:28 AM   #3
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You have described a fairly common approach. Many boats use a laptop tied to a handheld GPS for navigation. Three limitations with this approach. Most laptops screens are not viewable in direct sunlight, laptops are not waterproof, and handheld GPS need an external antenna if used inside the boat, such as in the pilot or wheelhouse.


I used this arrangement for years until I bought a bright 15" monitor and connected it to my laptop.
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Old 09-02-2013, 07:25 AM   #4
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I covered around 3000 miles over the last 2 years with just a laptop and a $29 usb GPS antenna sittin on the dash of my interior pilothouse. I use the free OpenCPN charting software and free charts (US Coastal) from the US NOAA website.

Most chartplotters don't output their screen data but I will not say it can't be done...

On most fiberglass boats with 2010 and later GPS antennas, external is not necessary.

Make sure you have a good little inverter to plug into for longer voyages and at least one spare if you can't turn on a 110V or otherwise AC power source (or a compatible DC to DC converter that works with your laptop.
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Old 09-02-2013, 05:42 PM   #5
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I do the same as psneeld, using my 11 inch netbook as a nav display. I would like to follow Bay Pelican's lead with a dedicated 15-18 inch fixed monitor fed via vga or hdmi.
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Old 09-03-2013, 07:14 AM   #6
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I've been using my ipad 4 with GPS and inavx for navigation in the 1000 Islands along with another nav app that integrates Active Captain. Works great for me except of course the small issue that I can't actually see the screen in sunlight (or even daylight!). So yesterday I ordered the iPad Hoodi
iPad Sunshade | Hoodi

which seems to be a much-needed product. I'll post a review once it arrives.
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Old 09-03-2013, 10:10 AM   #7
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Ditto Psneeld. Stuff the expensive chartplotters and being held for ransom for their over priced proprietary maps. A laptop tied into your autopilot & system electronics and running OpenCN (or any software) along with the official NOAA raster charts is the way to go. (I have two high-end chartplotters which came with the boat and I never even turn them on).
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Old 09-03-2013, 02:14 PM   #8
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I have used OpenCPN running on a laptop via an inverter on 3 different boats, for years. It works very well, and the free (US) charts makes it a very cost-effective solution.

I've gone a step further this summer. I have followed the lead of many other people on the web, and have built a dedicated chartplotter using a Raspberry Pi. For those who are not familiar, a Raspberry Pi is a $35 microcomputer (Full disclosure: more like $75 when all is said and done).

While the rest of the project is still under development (it's going to power a hydraulic pump to be an autopilot as well), the chartplotter feature is completely up and running and only took about 4 hours to set up and build. Performance is not fantastic -- but at 7kts it is more than usable. I am very very satisfied.

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Old 09-03-2013, 04:51 PM   #9
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A big thank you to all responses to date.

Moving ahead I have a Garmin GPS72 early model with a data cable that has a multipin computer end and I would like to experiment further with interfacing. Planning on continuing the experiment with an Asus Notebook.

Can any one advise:

1. I am in Australia so obviously the free US electronic charts are of no use to me. Can anyone advise if Garmin has a preferred brand type of chart for compatibility?
2. Can anyone give me a link to Garmin compatible multipin to USB adaptor?

Is this all I need to continue the experiment or is there something I have missed?

Thanks,

MG
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Old 09-03-2013, 08:56 PM   #10
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I'll admit I am a little heavy on electronics, but I have two Lowrance chart plotters/sonars (one at the lower helm and one at the upper helm) and also run Coastal Explorer on a laptop at the lower helm. The Lowrance units provide the GPS fix to Coastal Explorer through NMEA 0183 and NMEA2000 as well as depth information. I ran an IPad or an Android tablet as a remote display of the laptop at the upper helm. Next summer I will run a USB monitor at the upper helm. I control the laptop from the upper helm using a wireless trackball. While it may sound complicated, the only trouble I had all summer was the tablet interface to the laptop; that's why it is going away next summer.

Both Lowrance units were primarily operated as sonars/fishfinders, used to control the Sirius XM Radio channel, and when in tight spots used with a side scanning sonar to look for large immovable objects close to where we were anchoring. They also monitored engine oil pressure, temperature and alternator output over the NMEA 2000 network and would alarm at a limit I set rather than when the idiot lights came on. While chart plotters aren't cheap, they do an awful lot that's not related to navigation. At times I would shift over to them for navigation if the raster charts or vector charts were lacking in detail. The Navionics chip of southeast Alaska had more detail and better scaling on the chartplotter than the charts available free from NOAA.

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Old 09-04-2013, 09:20 AM   #11
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What I did for my secondary system. I have a carputer under my helm. Look on Ebay it is a computer that is packaged for a car with all the 12 volt interface you need so it will run right off the boat batteries. I added an all electronic hard drive and a 19 inch touch screen monitor. Last I added a USB GPS. The system is loaded with OpenCptn and NOAH charts. The cost is about the same as a laptop but the video is much better and touch screen eliminates keyboard. The system is tucked away and accessible by USB. My primary system is a full Garmin getup of 4210s and sonar and radar and autopilot and AIS
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Old 09-04-2013, 09:38 AM   #12
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I still vote for laptops/pads because I can sit here in my recliner and plan my next trip or look stuff up in a minute without moving.

Granted I have a second laptop and independent GPS for redundancy...all for under $900.

But everyone has something else and starts at different point in the process of electronics so no one shoe fits all.
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Old 09-04-2013, 12:03 PM   #13
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My primary system at the helm is a Garmin 4212. All its integrated extra features such as gauge monitoring and alarming, North American tide and current tables, charting and course monitoring, fathometer, fish finder, etc. make it hard to do without.

I do like Open CPN on the laptop for sitting down at the table and planning a cruise or a fishing trip. It's a good resource to have on hand. I have been thinking about installing an all-in-one pc at the helm with OpenCPN, but then I loose the table use, it needs an inverter and it may have the same dim viewing screen problem as a laptop? This would allow us to use the fish finder full screen on the Garmin. Anybody have one of these PC's??

Just a thought, it may be more trouble than it's worth.
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Old 09-04-2013, 12:47 PM   #14
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Portable Lap Top with portable GPS running Nobeltec Odessey software. What ever you get make sure you can load it on a PC so you can plan trips at home/office, down load and as back up. We have a dedicated PC at the helm and a back up PC.
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Old 09-04-2013, 01:05 PM   #15
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For all that use laptops on a boat, I have been able to find a 12 VDC power supply for everyone one I have used eliminating the need for an inverter. One thing to note is that the laptops are power hungry using almost 3-4 amps all the time the power supply is plugged in. I have always put the laptop into a switch at the helm and shut it off when the engine is off.

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Old 09-04-2013, 01:48 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tpbrady View Post
For all that use laptops on a boat, I have been able to find a 12 VDC power supply for everyone one I have used eliminating the need for an inverter. One thing to note is that the laptops are power hungry using almost 3-4 amps all the time the power supply is plugged in. I have always put the laptop into a switch at the helm and shut it off when the engine is off.
Excellent point and excellent suggestion. This is the #1 reason I decided to build a dedicated chart plotter using a Raspberry Pi - I wanted to use the anchor-watch function overnight, and power consumption becomes an issue with the other devices I've used.

For comparison the Raspberry Pi consumes about .3 amps (by spec, this is untested) without a display.

Since the LDC screen will consume 1-2 amps on its own, I plan to have it on an external switch. Overnight, I would turn off the display, but leave the computer/OpenCPN running with anchor-watch on, alerting me to issues with a speaker and/or very small LCD.

All in theory of course -- I'm still building it!
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Old 09-04-2013, 01:54 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Edelweiss View Post
I do like Open CPN on the laptop for sitting down at the table and planning a cruise or a fishing trip. It's a good resource to have on hand. I have been thinking about installing an all-in-one pc at the helm with OpenCPN, but then I loose the table use, it needs an inverter and it may have the same dim viewing screen problem as a laptop? This would allow us to use the fish finder full screen on the Garmin. Anybody have one of these PC's??
The All-in-one PC is an intriguing idea as well.

I enjoy the "at the table" planning feature as well and don't want to lose it. To resolve, I plan to have multiple instances of OpenCPN - one at home, one on the laptop, etc. Plan a route on any of them, and you can export it onto a USB thumb drive. Get to the boat and upload on to your boat's version, and start the journey.
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Old 09-04-2013, 01:56 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Phil Fill View Post
What ever you get make sure you can load it on a PC so you can plan trips at home/office, down load and as back up. We have a dedicated PC at the helm and a back up PC.

What Phil said. I didn't even need to post.
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Old 09-07-2013, 05:02 AM   #19
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I did run my boat with a lap top for many years prior to installing my glass bridge. When I used the laptop I also used a docking station that had my GPS, auto pilot, and cameras tied into the docking station. When I left I just removed the laptop and left the docking station in place. I did also hookup a better sun light proof screen to improve visibility. It was also installed inside the pilot house, but I could move my screen to the fly ridge and had a wireless mouse and keyboard. Now this may be getting a little more complicated than you would like, but worked fine and was fairly inexpensive.
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Old 09-07-2013, 06:24 AM   #20
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Matt

The idea of being able to turn off the screen/monitor and still have the computer running overnight is one I have put into place using a much simpler system. The external monitor is connected to the PC, however, its AC power comes through a separate outlet which is switched. Thus I can turn the power off to the monitor at night. The alarm for the chart plotter is connected via the PC to an external PC speaker which will wake the dead. Thus the alarm will go off even though the monitor is shut off. Admittedly it takes a second or two for the monitor to be powered up when I do rush to the helm to see what is going on.

Marty
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