Best solution for navigating at sea?
December 19, 2016 11:45 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for the best way to electronically navigate at sea in a recreational ~30 ft sailboat with GPS. I've considered a few options but I have no expertise at all: 1. App for iPhone (con: too small screen, difficult to find good app) 2. USB-GPS and laptop (con: have to bring laptop on boat, battery life is short, no 3G/Wifi on boat) 3. Dedicated unit, like a Garmin eTrex (con: expensive, seems outdated) 4. iPad (con: need to get the expensive cellular model for GPS) 5. ??? Any suggestions? The best iOS app would also be appreciated! Thank you!
posted by nagoya to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I use a Garmin Oregon with onboard charts. Works fine for my needs.
posted by humboldt32 at 11:49 AM on December 19, 2016

I am not a sailor, but I hang out with a lot of sailor types, both on the net and off. (Maybe when BLF Jr is old enough to swab the deck...) One thing I've noticed is that people on larger vessels, who have correspondingly more money, seem to feel safer using iDevices as navigational aids, or at least as interfaces to use OpenCPN. People on smaller boats, whose nav aids are more likely to be exposed to spray and inclement weather, tend to buy the best nav gear they can afford, usually either Raymarine or Garmin. The eTrex is for hiking, and genuine marine gear is both ludicrously expensive, and more suited to your naval use-case. You know, with stuff like chartplotter or radar integration - pretty much just like what humboldt32 just posted.

But OpenCPN is badass, and if you want to geek out on nav stuff, it's the way to go. But if you run it, use an interface that is IP67 rated, so that when you take spray to the face, you don't lose your navigation tools.
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 11:53 AM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Everyone I know uses Navionics. The iPad mini is a pretty perfect size if you find your existing phone's screen too small.
posted by Static Vagabond at 12:05 PM on December 19, 2016

I don't have specific recommendations for a GPS other than a dedicated, onboard, built-in unit.

But if you're navigating in conditions that would necessitate a GPS at all, then you also need to have and be able to read physical charts.
posted by cmoj at 12:07 PM on December 19, 2016 [13 favorites]

I've been happy using iSailor on an iPhone (in a Lifeproof case, with a Love Handle on it) in unfamiliar waters in the BVIs and Leewards for a few years now, along with the "charts" in Chris Doyle's Cruising Guides.
posted by nicwolff at 1:06 PM on December 19, 2016

I have a 28' sloop. I use a Garmin GPS unit using very out-of-date map technology. My sailing area is Long Island Sound, not offshore, so I'm more interested in how far I am from the next mark rather than, say, finding Bermuda.

So far as I know, Garmin no longer makes a battery-powered unit that has a screen that's really big enough. When people get in trouble using GPS, it's often because the screen is so small, or zoomed in so tight, that they lose track of the big picture.

Guys with bigger boats and more money tend to have a PC down below with perhaps a second screen of some kind visible from cockpit. I've seen interminable threads on various sites about communications protocols (e.g. SeaTalk), multiplexers and God knows what-all. It can get very complicated. So, you do want to stick with a single unit for GPS & Charts, though depending on your sailing area, you may want to look into AIS as well.

Guys who have smaller boats with autopilots tend to use Raymarine gear.

Just by the way, if you are in an area covered by it, you should look into DSC. It requires a VHF radio built for it, and in many cases a separate GPS unit. I moved up to a Standard Horizon with internal GPS. It enables you to send a MayDay to the Coast Guard with a single push of a button. OTOH, it may be becoming obsolete due to AIS. Not sure on that.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:15 PM on December 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

There's another couple of options you missed

1. Android or Windows tablet with app on it (plenty GPS options available)
2. Get 3G or wifi on your boat. You don't need it THAT often to install some software and update your charts every now and then, and there must be somewhere you go with your boat that has wifi or is in 3G range surely. I'm assuming if you're considering navigating with only an iphone you're not planning transatlantic expeditions... For that matter you could just take your gadget home with you and update it.

You said con: expensive but sinking your boat and/or dying is also expensive.

My ex employer makes Nuno Navigator, that's Windows chart plotter software that has charts way more up to date than Navionics and it's intended to be usable on a tablet.

And while you're getting a VHF DSC gizmo, have a look at an EPIRB and/or personal locator beacons for crew!
posted by emilyw at 1:40 PM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Charts first.
posted by bendy at 10:03 PM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

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