Smitty came with a decent Raymarine chart plotter/radar. There are two problems with using it though; its only in grey scale and you need to buy expensive chips to cover each area you sail. So we had decided to not use the chart plotter function and continue to use our Garmin 76 Cx as our primary chart plotter/GPS. (We still use the Raymarine unit to supply GPS coordinates to our VHF radio and for the radar. Plus it’s always there as a backup if needed.)
I would plot courses on our laptop and then download them to the Garmin. This system worked good but did have some limitations. For instance, on our relocation cruise we had loaded more charts onto the data card then it could handle. Instead of giving me an error message alerting me of this problem it just overrode other charts. We found this out while navigating into Plymouth Harbor in thick fog. As we passed Green Can #5, we lost all our charts. The Garmin just showed the boat position in a field a blue. Luckily my Bride is a trusty navigator and we were able to continue in to the harbor with less than 100 foot visibility using dead reckoning.
After that we started paying more attention to what files we were transferring and the space available. However, after having to reformat our laptop, I couldn’t reinstall the charts and routing software because it was no longer supported by Garmin. They have updated charts and software but those cost about $160 and $30, respectively. So this ment that I could only put in routes through the time-consuming act of adding waypoints at each location of a course change then setting up a custom route going waypoint to waypoint. This takes about 10 times the amount of time and it doesn’t let me see the route until complete. So if I make a mistake and plot a course through a rock or miss a waypoint, I have to start over. And all of it has to be done on the small three-inch screen of the handheld instead of the computer screen.
My friend Chris, a.k.a. Big C, suggested I check out the Navionics app on my iPhone. Great suggestion. I love this app. For $9.99 my iPhone was now a handheld chart plotter. Not only that, but when connected to wifi or via cellular I can get realtime information on weather, tides and currents. This is a very good product.
For 2012 I used a combination of the Garmin and my iPhone. It worked ok. One of the biggest issues with the iPhone is that to save power it goes black when not actively in use. Each time you bring it back up, it takes about a minute to find the location. And, as with the Garmin, I am doing my route planning on a small screen. This definitely has some down sides. I started researching options on what we should do to upgrade our system before we leave.
The options I consider were replacing the whole system with a new one (radar, chart plotter, the display), adding a second chart plotter like a Garmin 546, just upgrading my Raymarine screen to color with used equipment, getting a second Garmin handheld, a new laptop with GPS puck running OpenCPN and using an iPad or iPad Mini. Most of these options included spending $1,000 or more on dedicated equipment that was only single purpose use. Pacific Sailors, a cruising blog I follow, put up a post a couple of months ago on iPad on board. It was a very good post and was timed perfect for me. That post pointed out a number of other good uses for an iPad on board. Also, there was real world information about using the iPad to navigate. While continuing to do my research and check out all the options, a new product became commonly known: the Lifeproof Case. From all reviews and from friends that already have these cases on their iPhones, it is the best waterproof case on the market. It also gives tons of protection to the iPad. I was sold. This gave the perfect amount of flexibility, durability and dependability we were looking for. I could use this to plan our routes, navigate and a bunch of other things like update this blog, check the forums, get weather updates, you name it.
So we broke down and order the iPad 4 with Retna display and Verizon LTE. We went with the 32 GB model in black. We also got the Lifeproof Case, a blue tooth keyboard, stylus (I want to try to draw on the iPad) and two extra lightening wire cords. In all, this set us back just under $1,000.
When I got the iPad, I downloaded a lot of various apps. Some I had on my iPhone; others were new to me. Most of the apps were either focused on weather, blogs and forums, or navigation. But I did download some apps for entertainment including games, streaming TV shows and downloading movies. I’ll give updates on these apps as I decide if I like them or not. The only app we have paid for thus far is the Navionics for the iPad. That cost $49.99 to cover all of North America.
When I downloaded the Navionics app, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that my Navionics account would carry over between my iPhone and the iPad. The routes I had already planned on my iPhone were archived to the iPad and vice versa. The iPad definitely offers a better view for planning trips. Here is the same route as I had above on my iPhone on the iPad at approximately the same scale.
I really like this option based on my first week with the iPad. We will see if I continue to feel this way.