Friday, August 16, 2013

Navionics on a Tablet?

rev. 9-17-2013

While the chart plotter on my PDQ certainly works well enough, it's 1997 tech, the only maps loaded are for the PO's stomping grounds, and the disk and adapter have failed. The base map is +/- about 200 yards and lacks depth and day mark info. But since I'm an old school coast piloting guy, I really never worried over it; I have paper charts, know the Chesapeake fairly well, and it gives lat/long and speed very well. But then I was given a tablet.

I'm not into gadgets. I've got a dumb phone, no I-anything, and I don't text, tweet or Facebook. I blog and that's about it. My daughter thinks I don't understand these things, when in reality I simply don't care... and she does come to me whit computer problems. Go figure.

Simple slide-down mount made from an old car phone bracket and some bits of aluminum and FRP.

And now you know exactly how to find my home slip.

It always occurred to me that I might simply use a tablet when time came to upgrade. Far cheaper than a large screen chart plotter, the cockpit on the PDQ is quite dry, and multifunction. I was given a tablet by my office for time-in-service, so I'm experimenting. It is a low-end 10.5-inch tablet (Coby MID 1065) that lacks internal GPS, and so Navionics (Marine US HD) does not link up with locations. But it does have a very nice map set that is resident in the tablet (not Wi-Fi) with FAR greater detail than the NOAA paper charts, so it has earned a place. On a tablet with internal GPS I think it would earn 2 thumbs up. As is, a solid 1 1/2 thumbs for being free and for how much better a touchscreen makes Google Maps.

Notes August 31, 2013.

I'm drawn to comparing the tablet and marine chart plotter to an smart phone and standard phone. Which is easier to operate if someone ties one arm down and shakes you vigorously by both shoulders? The dumb phone can still be dialed. How many of those menus can you access? can you place your finger in just the right spot to type a text? Can you read it?

Someone suggested "well, you can change the settings." When? While I was still in the harbor? Certainly not out on the waters once it gets rough.
  • Thumbs down for touch screens in rough water. While blasting into 3- to 4-foot square chop on the Chesapeake I found the touch screen completely unusable. Every time I tried to perform any function I missed, slid, or touched several things. I've asked around and numerous sailors feel the same way. At the same time I had no trouble operating the existing GPS chart plotter that depends on buttons with few menus. Hard to miss a button.
  • Thumbs down on small type while underway. Same problem; if the screen is jerking up and down, anything smaller than 14 points is unreadable and high definition means nothing.
  • Thumbs up for navigating small creeks and rivers. With smooth water, all of the touch screen functions and the high resolution have value. Much easier than flipping chart pages.
  • Thumbs up for the Google Earth overlay. Just WOW. However, turn this off while you're navigating; it really slows things down and can cause fatal lock-up (not just reboot but reload).
  • Thumbs up for vertical orientation, at least for the Chesapeake, and perhaps for most coastal areas. Most of our sailing is north/south, not east/west. 
  • Thumbs up for the twin ball and socket mount. Works perfectly, no movement.
  • Thumbs up for the top slide-in mount. Though a boat can be rough, we don't have the same high frequency bumps. Very easy, one-handed. Put the power switch on the top. Make certain the charging outlet is accessible.
  • Accuracy: Better... and worse. While there is better resolution on the charts, some of this comes from user input--crowd sourcing--and some of it is just plain wrong. And this isn't just a matter of sand an mud that might have moved. I visited a small cove where Navionics indicated and 8-foot entrance bar and 23 feet inside. In fact, it has always been a 6-foot bar and about 8 feet inside. I noticed other discrepancies of this sort. Is it glitches or crowd-source data? When I turn "user comments" off the errors are still there. Keep your paper charts.
I think I like it enough to upgrade to a top end tablet when this one goes. But I may still choose to replace the marine chart plotter when it goes, probably for a small screen version with buttons. It is actually rather nice to leave the GPS on a nice big, readable NAV screen while I stroll through possible destination and zooms on the tablet, planning the day ahead of me without having to page through disjointed chart books.


  1. How to the charts compare to the new NOAA tablet app charts, currently in beta?
    Thanks - Rusty

  2. I have not downloaded the NOAA app to my tablet because I did not want to chew up the memory space. However, based upon the web site some differences are apparent:

    * The NOAA app is still based upon existing NOAA charts, which means you cannot zoom and pan smoothly between charts. The Navionics app is based on vector charting, which means it can easily zoom and pan.
    * The NOAA app is based upon traditional map making, which means it is visually superior to read. Objects do not appear and disappear as you zoom in and out.
    * The overall level of detail is very similar.
    * The Navionics app allows Google Maps as an over lay. That means sat imagery for the land areas when you want it, if you are in WiFi range.

    I like the Navionics product and I think it is more what sailors are looking for. But I would certainly have tried the NOAA app for free if I had seen it first. I love that NOAA is trying to come up with something for free, based upon their vast stores of data, but unless they convert to a different way of looking at maps, they will fall behind. Too bad, since they are generating most of the data.