Check out our pick of the best chartplotters on the market
If you’re looking for a budget solution to your plotting problems, you can turn an old laptop into a passage planner and chartplotter for less than £100. You get a lot more for your money with a PC set-up, including extra features and cheaper upgrades.
Garmin GPS users can now use their home PCs for passage planning, thanks to its new HomePort application. The updated software allows users of Garmin’s Bluechart, G2 and G2 Vision cartography on SD or Micro SD format to display charts on their home PC, and use them for passage planning, marking waypoints and managing routes. The software can be downloaded from Garmin’s website or bought in Garmin outlets on a 2GB SD card. For plotters like the 400 and 500 series where the cartography is built in, you can use a blank SD card to transfer charts back and forth.
Admiralty RYA plotter
The Admiralty RYA plotter is the one of the easiest programs to use but that’s mainly down to its minimal functionality. Installation and configuration is a very simple process and as the copy protection is embedded in the CD, no unlocking codes are required. Five folios of raster charts covering the British Isles are loaded individually from the CD, which is a straightforward but fairly boring process and there are no foreign charts available yet. The tidal data expires at the end of each year but the charts do not, but you can add your own chart corrections as on-screen notes.
£49.95, Admiralty Leisure
Imray Digital Charts
Imray’s Digital Chart is our favourite budget buy for passage planning. It offers the basic functionality at a competitive price, and plenty of chart coverage that will meet the needs of most UK-based boaters. One drawback is that the plotter expires two years after publication, with a new edition coming out every December, and the tidal software needs renewing annually. The only advantage is that chart updates are available from the Imray website at the same time as the paper editions.
A great multi-purpose tool for sea use and planning, Sea Pro Lite+ works with Euronav’s Livechart, Navionics charts and many other formats. Installation is easy as it comes on a dongle, which is plugged into the computer’s USB socket and you don’t need any unlock codes. Zooming and panning vector and raster charts are seamless in Lite+ and there’s also a tool that lets you draw corrections and notes onto the chart.
Neptune C-Map Planner PLUS
The Neptune C-Map Planner PLUS uses UKHO raster charts covering the UK in 10 folios (one is included with the software, the remaining nine are available to buy for £29 each). Installation and configuration is easy and uses a software unlock code system. Neptune’s route calculations are very powerful and it can also work as a basic chartplotter. The overview window is a nice touch too, showing a thumbnail of the whole chart and a box indicating the area you are zoomed in to. It falls down in the user interface, though: it’s quite basic, and results are displayed in large reams of text.
£34.95, Neptune Navigation
SOB, as it is known, is an advanced system with all kinds of features. Although it’s the most expensive system listed here it represents good value for money due to some additional features like wind data and a GRIB weather overlay. The software uses C-Map NT+ and Max charts, either on CD or cartridge. You can also transfer routes and waypoints between the PC and plotter. In route planning, you can specify either the speed of the boat, or the required ETA, either leg-by-leg or for the whole route. On the downside tidal streams cannot be used in the route calculations. And because SOB doesn’t use Microsoft Windows there are no menus – only a toolbar, which can take some getting used to.
Navionics app for Apple iPhone
Probably the cheapest chartplotting solution around, this app does everything from the usual tracking, route planning and tide, current and waypoint marking, to more sophisticated things like geo-tagging pictures, marking routes on Facebook and recommending nearby repair yards and restaurants. But with its limited battery and aversion to water you’ll need to keep your handset near a power source and well away from the wet stuff.
From £14.99, Apple
Jeppersen is one of the major players in vector cartography, so we were expecting good things from its Plan2Nav app, which uses the company’s well-established C-Map 4D charts. It was disappointing, therefore, to find the interface old-fashioned, clunky and a bit slow. One positive is that the basic app is free, giving you a worldwide background chart on which you can do basic route planning and see what the weather is doing up to five days ahead. You can also get speed over ground, course over ground and time to go info. Paying £26.99 gives you full detail, such as nav aids, harbour charts, dynamic tides and currents and handy photos of ports. All charts stay on your device for use when outside Wi-Fi or 3G range. Overall though, we found it short on functions and difficult to use.
iNavX Marine Navigation app
The ability of this app to read both raster scanned and vector charts makes it a versatile option. This plotter also scores well in the USA where the NOAA charts are raster scans and a popular form of digital navigation. Unlike many apps, this one will read a number of different chart formats as well as provide the ability to overlay GRIB weather files. If you’re looking for an app that you can integrate and expand in time, this is a good choice, especially as the format allows you to tailor the information displayed. But in Europe (and for our test), the system uses Navionics charts, which need to be downloaded from x-traverse.com at a cost. This was not as straightforward a process as with other apps, where you can simply tap a button and download a chart. On test, we struggled to warm to the iNavX system. As well as the one-off price of the app, European boaters will have to then spend more on Navionics charts for local waters. If you’re going to use Navionics charts, the Navionics app is cheaper, easier and clearer. For a standalone iPad chartplotter, there are cheaper, simpler and more intuitive systems available.
From £39.99, Apple
Transas iSailor app
iSailor has clear, easily viewed charts with optional boxes to display lat and long, course, distance, XTE and ETA, without having to change the whole display. It has other neat tricks, such as being able to export/import route data, making passage planning ashore easy, and for £6.99 you can unlock extra features such as an AIS transponder input via TCP. The charts are expensive if you need a large area: £11.99 per folio in the UK, with 18 folios covering the whole country. But if your boating is concentrated in one area the pricing of these charts might be better value than having to pay for access to charts for the whole country or region. They are, incidentally, simple and quick to download on a mobile signal and seamlessly paid for through the app itself.
From £11.99, Apple