Navigation Systems on a Budget

Open CPNNavigation systems are expensive and are quickly outdated.  When purchased, what came with the boat was original early ’80s equipment.  So off with the old and on with the new.  We quickly met up with someone who was willing to give us the charts of the world.  Great offer, as charts for the Canadian water ways do not come cheaply. He then introduced us to free navigation software – Open CPN. I already had purchased a small Acer notebook as our on board computer system, so the software, and charts served us the first year well on the notebook.  But since the notebook really was low end, we couldn’t turn off the option of it going into sleep mode, and each time it did, was always when we needed the charts the most!  ”How deep is it really there?” while scrambling around waiting to reboot the computer as sleep mode had frozen the navigation software.  Also, it was strapped down below on a table or seat, not a suitable spot for someone to look at while on the helm.  It all presented a logistic issue. The next year, we purchased an iPad, downloaded Navionics for a reasonable price, and haven’t had an issue since.

We can have music playing on the iPad in the cockpit, while sailing and keep can easily keep it secured to the open companionway hatch in the cockpit under the dodger.  Keeping the notebook free for work rather than navigation purposes proved invaluable the second season.  How to choose an ipad?  The lower end ones DO NOT have a true GPS.  They have a WIFI GPS, which isn’t useful, when out of internet range.  Only an iPad that takes a SIM card works and provides a true GPS.  You don’t have to activate or even install a SIM card, you just need a version of an iPad that uses one which are the only iPads with true GPS capabilities. You can also download navionics to certain smart phones.   At night you may have trouble viewing the screen on an iPad as it is quite bright and blinding you from what could be on the water.  We purchased a red gel sheet to slip over the screen for those occasions.

As a gift we received a Lifeproof Case.  This DSC00842gives us the comfort that dampness will not bother the iPad nor the occasional drops it might incur.  We were also given a nice orange life jacket for the case.  When transporting it to shore, we now have the extra security in case it does fall into the water. It can be easily seen and retrieved rather than sinking! Moving the iPad from its original case to the Lifeproof case served to be a challenge.  We eventually discovered a supplier for stands with a large suction cup to hold an iPad  inside a Lifeproof case. The suction cup gives reasonable strength in securing the iPad in its navigation spot as seen below.

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