Features April 1, 2005 Issue

A Reader's Review: RayTech RNS 5.0

An upgrade to Raymarine's latest nav software prompts some useful feedback.

Raymarine's RayTech RNS 5.0 in action at the nav station.

 

After reader Joe Kosheff purchased version 5.0 of Raymarine's RayTech RNS nav software (he was upgrading from 4.0) and installed it on board his Sabre 362, he tried it out for a few months, and then sat down to write the following assessment. He offered it to us unsolicited. (Kosheff is a retired financial executive; he's not affiliated with Raymarine nor any of its competitors.) We shared Mr. Kosheff's comments with Raymarine and have interspersed the company's official responses throughout the text.

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Joe Kosheff: The major new or improved features include a redesigned graphic user interface (GUI) and enhanced waypoint and route transfer and archiving. (Tides and Current, Sail Racer and Fishing Pro are now included at no additional charge, but I didn't evaluate those aspects.)

RayTech RNS now offers two alternative interfaces, RNS mode and PC mode. RNS mode is designed to work with the new USB keyboard. The menu bar, toolbar, and even your MS Windows taskbar disappear. Access to the software is via the USB keyboard. The on-screen interface is a softkey function bar. This will appeal to users who prefer a Raymarine instrument interface.

In PC mode, access to the software is via a PC keyboard and touchpad, or mouse. RayTech RNS now provides on-screen keypads whenever data entry is required. This means that with the addition of an LCD display, you can stow a laptop in your chart table and perform all operations except startup with a mouse.

PC mode, at the top level, has not changed much in appearance. The default screen includes a menu bar and two toolbars at the top, one set of data boxes along the left, a Pathfinder panel along the right, and a function bar and the Windows task bar at the bottom. This leaves only about half the screen for the application window, such as charts or radar.

 

Raymarine: In general, RayTech RNS 5.0 includes the ability to access its features by two or more methods, leaving it up to the user to configure the user interface to achieve a balance between interface and data presentation that is best suited for their individual needs. As an example, many users choose to hide the Pathfinder panel because many of its features can be accessed as easily through key strokes, toolbars, etc.

As an added measure of user configurability, RayTech RNS 5.0 features the ability to map keyboard sequences to features specified by the user. Finally, RayTech RNS 5.0 features RNS Mode, a display mode tailored for use with the RayTech USB Navigation Keyboard. When operating in this mode, all user interfaces are removed except for the function bar, permitting 77% of the screen area to be available for the application window when operating in 1024 x 768 screen resolution and almost 90% at 1280 x 1024 screen resolution.

The interface is sufficiently configurable that the customer can turn all menus and toolbars off and rely on keystrokes alone, giving them almost 100% of the screen for data. Some may prefer a layout with a small customized menu or toolbar only.

 

JK: The Pathfinder panel and function bar are designed for ease of use with a touch screen display at the helm. For those who prefer to maximize the amount of screen area available for displaying charts or radar, the Pathfinder panel may be turned off, since all of its functions are duplicated elsewhere. But the function bar, which takes up space equivalent to three toolbars, provides access to commands which aren't available elsewhere.

The function bar is indicative of a broader interface problem. Raymarine does not provide access to all commands via the menu bar. Charting commands, which turn on various types of charts and quilting, may be accessed via the standard or charting toolbars, but not via the menu bar. One chart setting, orientation (North up, Head up) does not appear on any menu or toolbar, only on the function bar. Most radar commands require the function bar. This causes confusion about where to look for things, and consumes space with multiple bars.

 

Raymarine: In addition to the charting toolbar, chart layers are controlled via the function bar. When a chart page/pane is active, control of the charting layers can additionally be accessed via the function bar (i.e. Presentation->Layers->Charting Layers->Raster Charts->ON/OFF, etc.)

By customizing the interface, any command which exists on a toolbar can be dragged and dropped into the menu bar. So, if the "charting" button is desired on the menu, simply choose Tools->Customize, and drag the "charting" button to the place you desire in the menu.

You will get a result like that shown above. This particularly powerful feature also enables customers to completely customize the toolbars and menus to their tastes. Any menu item can be dragged to a toolbar and any toolbar item can be dragged to a menu. To drag and leave the item where it was use Ctrl-drag as you would with Windows Explorer.

In addition to the function bar, chart orientation can be controlled via the Advanced Raymarine layers dialog (i.e. Layers->Advanced Raymarine->Chart Orientation->North Up).

The radar interface attempts to model that of Raymarine's radar displays, where features are accessed via the function keys or the labeled keys. This approach was chosen in consideration of those who are familiar with the operation of Raymarine's radar units. It's likely that the features will be added to a menu or dialog box in future versions.

 

JK: Once you make a selection from a menu or toolbar, RayTech RNS's new look is revealed. A gray, instrument-like window opens, which Raymarine calls a dialog box. About 40% of the left side displays a boating lifestyle photo and a smaller box, which sometimes provides explanatory information about the window or a selection. The right section typically displays large icons that ultimately initiate an action or provide access to information or settings.

For the most part, the icon-driven approach works well. When you open the Setup window, it is obvious that you need to select an icon to choose what you want to setup. Other windows, such as Route and Waypoint Transfer, are less intuitive.

One area where icons don't work well is the Waypoints window. RayTech RNS 5.0 uses a folder system, which allows you to organize your waypoints much more easily than in earlier versions. But, when you open a folder, you see a large number of identical icons, organized alphabetically in rows, four to a row, 16 to a window. It takes a lot of scanning and scrolling to find what you need.

Raymarine: RayTech RNS 5.0 includes a feature to sort waypoints by name, symbol, or range. RayTech RNS 5.0 additionally features a waypoint folder feature permitting users to organize their waypoints, thus minimizing the effort required to locate waypoints.

 

JK: This is not a good scheme for what will probably be your largest database. The large icons take up space while providing little information. A better approach would be the standard Windows detailed list view, a vertical list, one item per row, with a small icon, or give the user a choice.

Raymarine did not extend the folder metaphor to routes. This is a shame because most Raymarine plotters have a capacity of only 20 routes. This means you will not be able to use the easiest method of transfer if you have more than 20 routes. More significant, when you open the window containing all of your routes, you find them organized by—only Raymarine knows. It has something to do with time. The routes database has the same interface disadvantages as the waypoints database, and seemingly random organization. In RayTech RNS 4.0, you could organize the alphabetical database by attaching regional prefixes to route names. In RayTech RNS 5.0, this aspect of the routes interface receives a failing grade.

Raymarine carried the instrument look too far when they chose black text on an instrument gray background for the databoxes. In my view, it's too hard to read, particularly on an LCD. You can change the font color, but it is a tedious, channel-by-channel process; 28 settings for 14 channels in my case.

Raymarine: Most 5.0 customers have responded favorably to the default colors used. As mentioned by the author, RayTech permits the databox color scheme (as well as fonts and font pitch) to be modified to suit the needs of the user. As some of our users prefer to have some of their data items stand out from the other data items in the databox, Raymarine has opted to not default all databox items to the same visual characteristics. It is also worth noting that databox configuration is typically performed once, and therefore constitutes a negligible time investment in overall operation of the product.

JK: Raymarine has enhanced RayTech RNS's route and waypoint transfer and archiving capability significantly. In addition to transfers via hsb2, e-mail, and PC file, RayTech RNS now supports NMEA, C-map user card, flash memory card, and transfers to C-series plotters. Transfers may be made in full or selectively, in either direction (except for e-mail). I made an NMEA transfer of waypoints and routes to a Garmin GPS 76. Waypoints were transferred successfully, although the GPS 76 accepted only the first 10 digits of a waypoint name and substituted spaces for quote marks. Waypoints contained in routes were transferred, but routes were not. Raymarine tells me they have this issue under investigation.

Raymarine: Waypoint names are truncated by the Garmin GPS 76, not by RayTech RNS 5.0, as the GPS 76 has a limit of 10 characters per name. RNS permits waypoint names that are larger than 10 characters to permit the user to enter more meaningful and descriptive waypoint names.

JK: I noted a few minor shortcomings. Route menu, Route Details opens a blank page that does nothing. Layers, Raymarine Rhumb Lines turns route leg lines and labels on or off, but Rhumb Line Labels does nothing. When RayTech RNS saves waypoints and routes to a user card, it appends rather than overwriting. Raymarine has changed this to be consistent with how Raymarine instruments save to user cards. The company has since released a new version, Build 6152.

Raymarine: Selecting Route on the function bar displays routing functions (i.e. Create Route, Choose Route, Edit Route, Follow Route, etc.). After the user has created a route and it's active (i.e. overlaid on the chart), the Route Details dialog will list details for the route (i.e. Total Route Length and duration) and waypoint details (i.e. location, ETA, leg length, total distance traveled, COG, etc).

The page displays the active route’s data. No route active means no route data is displayed. An inactive route's information can be displayed by clicking on the planning button in the page and selecting that route.

JK: C-map cartography does not display navaid characteristics on a chart, presumably to improve chart clarity on a small plotter screen. This is not a problem on Raymarine plotters, where hovering the cursor over a chart object displays most navaid information.

Pressing Enter displays the rest. C-Map PC Planner manages this with just one hover. In RayTech RNS, to get buoy type, markings, color, sound and light, you must position the cursor and click through four levels. And, text in the cartography window doesn't wrap. You must scroll right and can't see both ends of a line at the same time.

On a chart screen, the name of the active waypoint is not displayed except on the chart, the name of the active route is not displayed, and chart orientation is not displayed. And, there is no indication in route details when a route has been reversed.

When you change a waypoint location to improve a route, there is no easy way to tell which other routes use the waypoint and may be adversely affected.Raymarine: Logically waypoints should not be shared between routes unless they truly do refer to the same thing. By design, an edit to the shared waypoint will affect all routes which use it. If that behavior is not desired, non-shared waypoints should be used.

JK: There's no way to center the chart on a distant waypoint, except by panning. A Find Waypoint command would be helpful. And, there is no Undo. Often you don't get a warning. Sometimes Cancel will save the day.

The Getting Started manual provides clear instructions on installing RayTech RNS. Win XP SP1 is required, but it's included on the CD. Installation went smoothly except for one problem. RayTech RNS could receive charts over hsb2 from a Raymarine chartplotter, but couldn't send charts. Raymarine Support identified the need to turn on Serving Charts in Setup, Settings.

That brings me to the topic of documentation. The hard copy User manual is clear and concise. It is designed to get a new user up and running quickly. It does this well, but it leaves out a lot. Unfortunately, the on-board Help file doesn't fill the gap, particularly with respect to the program's hundreds of settings. While the Help file does contain a section on settings, too often the entry merely rephrases the title. The new information areas in dialog boxes do not help much. There is always Raymarine online Support, which is excellent, but it is a shame you need so much of it.

Conclusions
RayTech RNS performs its core planning functions well. Creating waypoints and routes is straightforward, but if that is all you need, there are alternatives that are less complex and expensive. On-board navigation is where RayTech RNS stands out, thanks to its seamless integration with Raymarine radars, chartplotters, GPS and other instruments. If you already own or have decided to purchase Raymarine hsb2 hardware and you want to use a PC on board as a second radar/plotter, RayTech RNS is the only game in town, in my view.

The new interface has taken over the screen, at the sacrifice of application space. It seems that RayTech RNS has an interface for everyome except the experienced computer user. I would like to be able to access all RayTech RNS functions from a standard menu bar, supplemented by one standard toolbar. I would like the option of using standard Windows views in directory windows. And when I don't understand what a command is used for, I would like to be able to search the on-board Help file and get an explanation that does more than rephrase the command.

I find RayTech RNS to be quirky to use. A few simple changes and complete documentation would put RayTech RNS in the same class as the company's excellent hardware products.

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