Mailport April 2012 Issue

Mailport: April 2012

Free Charting

Photos courtesy of Joan Hildal
Photos courtesy of Joan Hildal

Joan and Ken Hildal use a free charting program, OpenCPN, which can interface with their AIS receiver and GRIB files. Ken also hooked the boat’s laptop up to an LCD TV mounted at the helm, allowing the couple to use the chartplotter and other devices straight from the helm.

Last year, my husband Ken and I ran into a sailor who told us about a new charting program that was legal (not pirated), free, and interfaced with free electronic charts, our AIS system, and GRIB weather files. The www.opencpn.org website gives handy links to a huge number of government sites where you can download the charts, again for free. Our cruising budget always has taken a big hit every year with the purchase of charts for our chartplotter, so our ears really perked up with the hot tip.

We easily downloaded the program “OpenCPN” from the Internet on to our laptop, which is at the nav station. The computer is already tied into our electronics and a GPS antenna enabling AIS coverage.

We used this new charting system for three months while sailing from Florida to Boston and back. The USA NOAA charts even overlayed current and tidal information against time of day.

We also purchased a 20-inch Samsung LED TV (about $200) and installed that at the helm in a PVC foam board enclosure case Ken made ($50). We linked the TV to the laptop, which was inside running the OpenCPN program and charts, with a HDMI cable, and presto, we had a chartplotter at the helm also!

Now, with a click of our Bluetooth mouse at the helm, we can control the laptop, toggling between our chartplotter with AIS overlay and our GRIB files.

This system saved us about $600 that we would have spent on electronic charts for the East Coast trip. We have also downloaded charts for our upcoming Pacific trip; this saved us a further $5,000.

Capt. Joan Hildal

Dancing Walrus,

50-foot Privilege 2005

Interesting project. Thanks for sharing the tip. We’re curious to see how long the TV survives life in the cockpit. Keep us posted.

Next: Aspiring Cruiser

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