I’ve made some changes to our navigation electronics since my last post on the subject.
I still haven't found a way to make the tablet useful. I know others have, but for now I think it represents too much of a compromise. It does appear that you can now buy the Panasonic Toughpad. It is waterproof and sunlight-viewable, which are requirements number one and two for me. But the only source I found is selling it for $1800. You can make a favorable comparison to marine chart plotters based on screen size, but the chart plotter is a purpose-built hardware and software solution. Tablets need much, much better software to compete. Right now, even with a waterproof Toughpad, I think the best thing I’d find to do with it is play Angry Birds… in the rain.
So I bought a chart plotter to install at the helm. I did not want to go overboard and spend a bunch of money, but also wanted something relatively modern. For the units I looked at, I thought the Lowrance HDS-7m Gen2 was the best bang for the buck. The B&G Zeus looked like the best all around, but at 3x the cost of the Lowrance. I have some very specific ideas about what I want in a chart plotter and I’d rather be disappointed with a $900 unit than a $2,800 unit.
To get all the NMEA data flowing the way I wanted, I installed an Actisense NDC-4 NMEA Multiplexer. This unit combines inputs from multiple talkers into outputs for the computer and the chart plotter. I have it set up so the inside computer can send waypoints to the outside chart plotter, and the chart plotter can steer the auto pilot toward them.
I installed a satellite weather antenna for the chart plotter as an afterthought. With it we have high resolution weather radar, wind and wave forecasts, buoy observations, and more beamed to the boat FROM SPACE. This will drastically reduce our dependence on Internet access for weather forecasts. Plus, the Voyager package, which was my only option to get all the weather features I wanted, includes satellite radio. The SiriusXM website does not make this clear and I didn’t learn it until I was on the phone activating. So for an additional $100 investment and $60 per month, I’ve got two really nice features I wasn’t planning on. Oh, and the B&G can’t do either one.
DSC integration is the last piece of the puzzle. I ignored DSC (digital selective calling) initially because the way I was networking the NMEA data couldn’t support another talker, but the multiplexer changed that. Now I can send a position request from Take Two’s VHF to our Standard Horizon HX850S handheld (which also has GPS and DSC) and the handheld’s position will appear as a waypoint on the computer and chart plotter. The MaxSea TimeZero software does a better job of this and allows me to name and track the target. So if we send the kids off in the dinghy, I can set up automatic position polling and Maxie will show me everywhere they go, while Lawrence only shows me where they currently are. I also see a throwable DSC radio as an excellent piece of safety equipment.
That should be it for electronics for a while. While pretty Spartan compared to what’s possible, I’m tickled pink with what we’ve got now. We haven’t yet put it all through the paces and I think Lawrence and Otto have may some differences, but I’m pretty confident we can work that out.