Features August 1, 1999 Issue

ChartView Edges MaxSea in Nav Software Matchup

We used ChartView and MaxSea on and off the water. Although we found MaxSea simpler, we prefer ChartView because it does more.

Charting/navigation software for laptop computers are extremely powerful, although not every program does exactly the same things in the same way. Navigation software can “quilt” charts together to provide a “seamless” view of an area that normally would require several charts; read and display charts on your computer screen; print charts; permit you to plot a course directly on a chart; download waypoints to a GPS or plotter; interface with GPS for continuous updates of position; integrate tide and tidal current data for calculation of ETAs. The list is almost endless.

ChartView and MaxSea
Our last report (February 15, 1999), in which we favored Jeppesen’s Marine Map and The Cap’n, focused on one aspect of these programs’ performance: displaying and printing of charts. This time, we decided to review only two programs at a time and see how well they performed a much wider range of functions.

For this test, we selected two programs that have been upgraded since our last report: ChartView Pro 2.5 and MaxSea 7.3 (7.4 was released just as we were going to press). Both can make use of MapTech’s BSB raster charts. (This new version of MaxSea, we’re told, can also handle vector charts, but no vector charts were available.) Both run under Windows 95. ChartView will also run under Windows 3.1 and Windows 98, while MaxSea will run on Windows 98, Windows NT4, and on a Macintosh with OS8 or later.

We were pleased to find that the printing glitch we had previously noted in ChartView has been fixed in this current release. Waypoints on our printed charts were located exactly where they showed up on the computer screen display.

Test Factors
Using each program, we prepared a modest route of eight waypoints. We evaluated ease of use, documentation, and quality of displayed and printed charts. Then we loaded our laptop onto the boat and set off, continuing to note how well each program—and the entire system—behaved on a realistic cruise.

In addition, we made judgments of each program’s user-friendliness.

Both programs allowed us to obtain charts from a CD-ROM. We used MapTech’s Region 3 disk to plan routes, set waypoints, interface with a GPS to locate our actual position on the chart when we were underway, and to observe tide and tidal current information. This isn’t to say that they didn’t differ considerably in how they accomplished this.

Laptops Tough in Sun
First, let’s consider the advantages and drawbacks of using a laptop with a navigation software system rather than a dedicated GPS plotter, whose functions overlap.

The most noticeable advantage is screen size. The laptop we used has a screen that measures 6-1/2" x 8-1/4", or more than twice the area of a typical chart plotter. Another benefit is that navigation software generally has greater capabilities than even a sophisticated chartplotter, and upgrades and improvements are much simpler to deal with on a computer than on a dedicated instrument. A software approach permits you to plan your trip at home, on a larger desktop computer if you wish, while trip planning on a dedicated chartplotter must be done aboard.

On the downside, most laptop computers don’t have sufficiently bright screens to be legible in sunlight. And where a chartplotter can sometimes be mounted in the cockpit, a laptop isn’t well suited to such an installation. The space situation becomes worse if your laptop has an external CD-ROM drive, and most laptops, with a battery life of about two hours, will also require enough room to use a 12-volt adapter.

Lastly, most laptops aren’t very weatherproof unless it’s an expensive marinized model.

Navigation programs use lots of memory and require lots of computing power. We did our tests with a Toshiba laptop using a Pentium II processor running at 130 mHz, and still found ourselves fretting at how long it took to refresh the screen.

Feature Comparison
NetSea Inc., the publisher of MaxSea, clearly kept user-friendliness foremost in its design. Most functions you’re apt to use are accessible from a tool palette, a collection of on-screen buttons that allow you to zoom in or out; set, delete or modify waypoints; calculate headings and distances, and scroll the on-screen chart. It’s a program that we found easy to get started, which is a good thing, because documentation is skimpy.

We found Nautical Software’s ChartView a bit more intimidating, at least initially. This is, in large part, because ChartView has more options and more features than MaxSea, and depends to a greater extent upon context-sensitive and pull-down menus to keep screen clutter to a bearable level. Documentation of ChartView is good, both on-screen and in print.

Both programs obtain their charts from CD-ROMs. MaxSea automatically opens all the charts in the selected folder, while ChartView gives you the option of selecting the ones you want. Both programs do a good job of quilting charts. MaxSea presents a completely seamless view while scrolling from chart to chart, while ChartView shows where the charts join, and displays the level of detail available for each chart.

We think ChartView has better chart quality. MaxSea’s resolution in displayed charts adjusts only by zooming in and out. ChartView offers three levels of resolution, low, which scrolls and zooms rapidly; middle, comparable in quality to MaxSea’s display; and enhanced, which looks very good but is painfully slow to scroll or zoom.

Scrolling—a necessity when you’re displaying a piece of a large chart on a small screen—is one of MaxSea’s strong points. There’s a “hand” icon that you place on the chart, and pull or push it anyway you wish. Or, you can use the standard Windows scrolling bars, or the arrow keys on the keyboard. In any case, you get relatively smooth scrolling. With ChartView, you can click and drag the mouse pointer in the direction you wish to scroll, or you can double-click on a chart location to center that location on the screen.

As long as we didn’t try to take advantage of the program’s enhanced view, either approach was reasonably quick. MaxSea’s was the smoothest.

We found plotting a course similar with each program. Simply move the cursor to the position on the chart where you wish to set a waypoint, then click the mouse. To continue, move the cursor to the next position and click again. Waypoints can be deleted or moved simply by selecting the proper tool and clicking or dragging/clicking the cursor. When done, you can name the route and save it.

We had no difficulty planning a route with either program, though ChartView has a feature that MaxSea lacks. The screen displays a line between the last waypoint and the one you’re setting. In a narrow, twisty channel you’re much less apt to carelessly place a waypoint in a position where your boat’s course passes over an obstacle.

Both programs make it easy to take a fix from a waypoint, or any position on the chart, for that matter, providing range and bearing to a buoy or landmark. ChartView allows you to attach this information to your route table—a handy feature.

Both programs display tide and current information directly on the chart and have the option of providing an animated current display, as well as a tide chart covering a six-hour span (you can set the time and date). ChartView, however, not only offers the option of a complete tidal graph for each tide station but also can produce a predicted current chart. In addition, ChartView allows you to link each waypoint with a tide station and a current station. It uses this information to help compute an ETA, as well as a best and worst starting time for the cruise. Very neat.

Possibly the greatest deficiency we found in the MaxSea program was its inability to download waypoint information to a GPS. If you wish to do this, you’re forced to manually enter the waypoints—a tedious process at best, and one that invites errors. ChartView allows you to download this information directly and simply.

With GPS, most navigation is probably done using true data, but this doesn’t eliminate the need for a compass. MaxSea has a provision for displaying directions in terms of compass readings, if you manually enter the local variation and your boat’s deviation table. ChartView goes a step further. It will display directions as true, magnetic (with an automatic correction for variation) or compass (you still must enter a deviation table).

In addition to downloaded (or manually entered) waypoints to your GPS, a printed course list is a useful item to take to your boat, particularly if you don’t want to take your laptop along.

MaxSea’s brief list consists of latitude and longitude of each waypoint, the waypoint designation (number and, if you’ve named it, name), distance from starting point, ETA, time remaining, estimated fuel consumption, and bearing and course to the next waypoint. ChartView’s course list contains the same information (less the estimated fuel consumption) but adds a column for any notes you wish to include, links to tide and current stations for each waypoint, set and drift data, chart reference number, and room for a pair of fixes for each waypoint, as well as displaying the bearings as true, magnetic and (if you’ve entered a deviation table) compass.

MaxSea’s most recent edition has a new feature that allows you to download weather predictions from its web site, and the program will integrate the weather chart with the navigation charts.

On the Water
When connected to a GPS onboard, both programs will present a moving chart display of your location and will update and correct calculations automatically. Although unable to download waypoints to a GPS, MaxSea does a fine job of accepting position and speed data from a GPS while underway. ChartView does both. Displays with both programs are clear and straightforward.

To a great extent, both programs duplicate many of the functions of a GPS. They’ll sound an alarm when you approach a waypoint and provide a “highway” display. With both, if you’ve marked safe boundaries on the chart, an alarm will sound if you go past one of them. Both programs will compute set and drift for you, and both have MOB features, though ChartView hides the panic button and MaxSea always has it prominently displayed.

The most valuable aspect of using an onboard computer instead of a simple GPS, we think, is you’re much less apt to inadvertently take a revised course through a reef or breakwater if you stray off course. A chartplotter will do the same thing, though with less detail. So will a paper chart, which you should have anyway.

ChartView Our Choice
MaxSea and ChartView represent two different approaches to software. We think MaxSea is easier to start with and is the most intuitive charting/navigation program we’ve evaluated. It achieves that degree of user-friendliness, in part, by limiting what it does to those features that the publisher considers most important. ChartView does many more things and offers many more options at the expense of an interface that’s less obvious and often more confusing than MaxSea’s.

The major factor that distinguishes the two is ChartView’s ability to download waypoints from a computer to a GPS. In our view, that makes ChartView the clear choice.

ChartView’s biggest limitation is its slow scrolling speed. It can be improved considerably by choosing a lower resolution chart but still tends to be less than smooth.

MaxSea version 7.3 has a list price of $395 (down from the $495 earlier this year); ChartView Professional version 2.5 lists for $495. ChartView is also available as ChartView Tracker (without the Tides and Current Feature and without autopilot support) for $299, and as ChartView Planner (charting, plotting, and GPS up/downloading only) for $129.

Contacts- ChartView, Nobeltec-Nautical Software, PMB 132, 14657 SW Teal Blvd., Beaverton, OR 97007; 503/579-1414; www.tides.com. MaxSea Navigator, NetSea Inc., P.O. Box 1440 Pocasset, MA 02559; 508/563-1177; www.navcenter.com.

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