Considering a sailing adventure to Mexico? Just look at how engrossed that guy is in the book! Grab a copy of the Unauthorized Guide to Sailing in Mexico, and you too can find yourself sitting on a Mexican dock with an oversized (but very attractive) hat.

Unauthorized Guide to Sailing in Mexico

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navigating from your laptop

I'm an ardent believer in "real" navigation. Yes, the heavy ships that plow the world's oceans do not use pen and paper. Yes, it costs an arm and a leg to buy paper charts of every inch of the globe, and no, I can't remember the last time I used a sextant.

But there are countless stories of sailors (and big ship captains) staring into computer screens (frequently a chartplotter or a laptop) as their vessel careens into a reef, bridge, or another ship.

It's simply a lot easier to load some software on your laptop and hook up a GPS than it is to teach someone Constant Bearing Decreasing Range rules or dead reckoning. It's why West Marine sells autopilots instead of wind vanes, and electric heaters instead of gravity fed diesel versions: people don't like to use things that are a pain in the ass, even if it's a lot better in the long haul.

Alas, there are some times when electronic navigation can't be beat. It's certainly easier, arguably more entertaining, possibly cheaper, better for rhumb line planning, and much more compact as your sailing area increases. Cheap and effective, you'll need these components:

1) A netbook or laptop. I'm a big fan of the ASUS 1000 line (always being upgraded, the current edition is the 1015). Whatever model you get, make sure you get a 12 volt "car charger" to go with it. This lets you run the netbook directly from the ship's 12 volt systems. A standard charger takes 120v AC power, which means you're going to run an inverter from the 12v batteries to 120v AC charger, which in turn converts it back to DC. Two decent places to lose power: an inverter and then the AC->DC transformer (the little box on a typical charger). A DC->DC voltage regulator (car charger) is much more efficient.

2) A GPS on a USB cable. The hands down winner in this category is GlobalSat's BU-353. I've used this device extensively myself, and it's a solid performer. Quick satellite acquisition and supposedly waterproof (I've never tested that), I get a solid signal with it sitting in the salon. 

3) Download OpenCPN software. The folks at OpenCPN have built a free, open source, quality piece of software that really stands heads and shoulders above other options. Plus since it's open source (and a quite active project) you can be assured that a steady stream of upgrades and new features are always on the horizon (like AIS and GRIB integration).

4) Downloading NOAA's raster charts. These are free as well, available from NOAA's website. You'll notice a conspicuous lack of international raster charts, even referencing OpenCPN's documentation. Basically, US waters are available, some other countries as well, and most of the world isn't. This will change over time.

That's it, happy sailing!

Reader Comments (2)

finally got into OpenCPN, thanks to your post. great resource. could you shed some light on loading the free NOAA charts to a handheld gps? unfortunately, it seems that proprietary chart formats are a business model for all the gps manufacturers i found so far. thanks.

April 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterboom.dock

No problem!

For starters, you'd go to that link that I have up there for the NOAA raster charts. RNC's by state, then download the zip file after accepting the agreement. Wherever you unzipped the charts to, remember that location.

Then you go to opencpn, go to the little wrench icon, then maps, then you add the folder that you placed all the charts into. Walla!

April 9, 2011 | Registered CommenterRebel Heart

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