Making a Chartplotter out of your Laptop for under $225
Presented byLt/C Bob Eure, AP, February 10, 2009
This article assumes you already have a computer that you can use on your boat, therefore, this cost is not included. To make a chartplotter out of your laptop, you need four things, (1) a laptop computer, (2) chartplotter software, (3) a GPS receiver, and (4) electronic raster nautical charts. Very specific items are required to bring this together for under $225.
For the chartplotter software, you need Maptech’s Offshore Navigator. Offshore Navigator GPS planning and chartplotting software is a real-time navigation program fully compatible with Maptech/BSB charts. You can use it to plan routes, print route plans and show your real-time GPS position right on the PC screen. Maptech’s web site claims this is available for sale separately without charts though no price is provided at
It is also available for the low price of $99.95 from
Make sure your laptop meets the minimum requirements to run this software. I know Windows XP works.
For the GPS receiver, Maptech offers two compatible units. One is the iGPS USB GPS Receiver for $99.95 and features a 32 channel design, is WAAS & EGNOS enabled, NMEA compatible, & a magnetic housing for secure positioning. The other is the Zenstar III GPS with USB Connector for $119.95 and features a 3 meter cable that connects to standard USB ports, an antenna that draws power from the USB port, a compact size of 1 3/4" x 2 1/2" x 3/4", a waterproof integrated antenna/receiver, 20 channel design, with 1 to 5 meter typical accuracy and quick satellite acquisition time. You can order either of these from http://www.maptechnavigation.com/accessories/usbgps/index.cfm.
You are up to about $220, but what about the charts? Through an agreement between the government and Maptech, the NOAA offers free compatible electronic nautical charts. Charts are available at http://www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/mcd/Raster/index.htm. NOAA’s Raster Navigation Charts (RNC) are geo-referenced, digital images of NOAA navigational charts. Because the images are geo-referenced, you can display your vessel’s position on the chart image with a computer-based navigation system that is connected to a Global Positioning System (GPS) as explained above. As long as you have a dry location to use the laptop, this can serve as a primary or backup navigation capability!
P/C Bob Eure, AP