Gear Test: Maptech CD-ROM

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Maptech ChartKits have been around for more than 25 years and have been used by thousands of boaters as an alternative to cumbersome full-size NOAA charts. The ChartKits, as well as the smaller Chartbooks, contain reproductions of specific sections of NOAA charts, with the addition of GPS waypoints and numerous preplotted course lines between major waypoints. Along with the courses are reciprocal bearings in magnetic degrees and distance between the selected waypoints in nautical miles.

The approximately 12-by-17-inch Waterproof Chartbooks are a convenient size that can easily be used on smaller boats without sheltered nav stations. Each Chartbook has an alphabetical index that lists specific locations and the pages on which they can be found. For example, the Chartbook of Florida’s Lower Keys, which covers Marathon to Key West and the Dry Tortugas, contains sections of 11 different NOAA charts within its 31 pages, with Key West appearing on eight pages. There also is an overview of the entire region covered in the Chartbook, with outline boxes and page numbers indicating specific areas. It issimple to locate an area of interest and view it in different scales.

Maptech has added a companion CD to its Chartbooks, which brings basic electronic navigation to anyone with a computer. The Maptech approach is to provide the same charts and information on the CD as appears in its Chartbooks. Working with the paper and electronic versions of charts simultaneously, the transition to electronic navigation and real-time GPS positioning is simplified. The companion CD takes less than 5 minutes to load and register with Maptech. It includes an excellent video tutorial as well as a start-up manual to get novice electronic navigators up to speed.

With “Offshore Navigator Lite” software, you can select the appropriate chart from a list or by clicking on the chart outline. Once the chart is selected, the program window will display three areas. The tool bar area at the top provides buttons for common tasks, the middle area displays the chart, and the bottom area displays information about the chart. Chart viewing tools provide the ability to move and reposition the viewing area by either panning or scrolling. An overview window displays a thumbnail of the entire chart.

You can view charts at up to seven different zoom levels, selecting different scales either from the tool bar buttons, view menu, or by right-clicking on the chart. The program allows users to control how the charts present data by specifying lat/lon format, choosing between true or magnetic headings, and selecting the preferred unit of measurement. User marks can be added, along with short annotations in the form of text notes.

Tools for electronic navigation are provided to supplement the conventional ruler and dividers used on paper charts. The A-B tool allows you to quickly find the range and bearing between two points on the chart. You can create routes and, using a

GPS, follow them to your destination. Routes can be saved, printed and transferred to your compatible GPS. The section of chart, including marked and labeled routes, can be printed from your PC, enabling you to create your own step-by-step navigation guide to keep on board.

On the tool bar, some of the options will not be available in the “Lite” version. Additional tools that are included in the full-featured “Offshore Navigator” software provide the ability to convert previously traveled tracks into routes for the return trip, instantly create “go to” waypoints, naming and saving specific waypoints that can be used in multiple routes, interfacing with the vessel autopilot, user-defined alarm zones, and the ability to create and maintain a log.

Offshore Navigator Lite allows you to connect a hand-held GPS to your computer using a data transfer cable (provided by the GPS manufacturer). As GPS receivers vary in the connection and communication procedure, Maptech provides a GPS technical support section on its Web site, with information on compatibility and using real-time tracking, along with the GPS/PC transfer of routes, marks and waypoints. Live GPS navigation is possible with an on-board computer. When connected to a GPS, Offshore Navigator Lite’s moving-map display will enable you to see your vessel’s position as it moves across the chart.

Over the years I have worked with numerous electronic charting programs similar to the Maptech’s Offshore Navigator Lite. Many had capabilities far in excess of my requirements, and came at a price that would deter many boaters looking to explore electronic charting. In my opinion, Maptech has succeeded in placing the advantages of electronic navigation with-in the grasp of the average boater. The program is easy to load and use without reviewing volumes of documentation or wondering why none was provided.

Waterproof Chartbooks, including the companion CD-ROM, retail for around $49.95 each, with 20 editions available. ChartKit Books with companion CD retail for $129.95, with seven editions available. I consider the price structure to be very reasonable for quality products such as these.

A complete listing showing coverage areas, as well as system requirements, can be found at www.maptech.com, or contact Maptech at (888) 839-5551.