Inland Electronic Chart Data, Hardware & Software
I am looking for suggestions for a tablet or laptop based electronic charting setup based on ease of use, compatibility with best data source(s) and cost effective. Specifically, the purpose of this need is inland Navigation that is not covered, or not adequately covered by NOAA chart (perhaps I'm wrong about this) data along the northeastern third of the Great Loop. This topic has probably been beat to death elsewhere, I just haven't seen it.
As background, on the last boat, permanently mounted and "proper" electrical navigation hardware was limited to a 4" Garmin GPS/sounder unit and this was augmented with Android tablets (~$100)with built in GPS running the memory map App loaded with raster NOAA charts. The memory map app works very well for our purposes as it is extremely cost effective (~$15 for a suite of new charts), appears just like the paper charts we are accustomed to, and is extremely portable, allowing for planning off the boat or in another boat. While this setup has it's limitations, is not integrated with other electronics like AIS or auto pilot, it was effective and will likely continue to be our go to tool for coastal waters. That boat was sold (Mainship 34' mkIII) and the new boat (Mainship 390) is in Michigan and needs to come it's new home the Chesapeake Bay (pending settlement). That boat is a loop veteran with 17 year old electronics and from what I understand that the previous owner used an ipad with active captain and probably garmin charts on it. The obvious solution would be to just use whatever the previous owners used but I'm curious if there are other suggestions out there. I believe we stumbled into a bargain with the $115 solution to NOAA charting and something similar for inland waterways would be perfect.
The android tablets we have are now long in the tooth and are not compatible for some new apps so we plan to keep them for the current function but new devices will probably be needed for this new requirement.
I'm open to going with android, apple or Microsoft operating systems but want something with a solid state drive for battery life and preferably built in GPS. Looking to stay under $350 for the chart package(s) and want to avoid purchasing a $400+ unit installed in the boat that will probably be obsolete in 5 years. I'm not leaning toward or away from garmin but so far my search is taking me there for data sources.
I'm really not familiar with the mobile active captain apps, they appear to piggyback off of compatible, hardwired devices on the boat. Can it be used as standalone software if your tablet has a gps chip or do you need to be tethered to a proprietary gamin device? I'm hesitant to buy a chart package from them without knowing ahead of time. I was familiar with the active captain website and the marina data it held prior to garmin purchasing it, does this information download to a mobile device for offline use or do you need to have a data connection?
Thanks in advance to anyone willing to address my needy questions.