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Southern Spars

Choosing a chartplotter program for ActiveCaptain users

by Tom Lochhaas/Sail-World Cruising on 7 May 2013
ActiveCaptain - telling more than just where you are located .. .
Tom Lochhaas has sailed all kinds of sailing boats - 14-foot Sunfish to a 50-foot ocean cruiser - in all kinds of waters for three decades. He is passionate about cruising (and racing, but we won't hold that against him) and has written widely about many different aspects of the sailing life.

Here Tom offers some valuable tips about choosing a combination of chartplotter and the brilliant resource for cruisers, Active Captain, which comes in many modes:


One rainy day recently I was poring over my electronic charts of areas I'd like to visit and realized I have so many devices now (for the tests I run of apps and software) that I need to be more selective of what resources I use when cruising.

Basic chartplotter and navigation functions are, for most coastal cruisers, not a big issue any more, as many different apps and programs now provide the needed functionality.

What I realized I really wanted, however, was to have ActiveCaptain always at my fingertips to check out anchorage choices, find the best marina to refuel or get water, etc. - and I don't want to have to depend on connectivity at the time.

(For those who don't know about the online ActiveCaptain Interactive Cruising Guidebook, check it out - it's a terrific resource for cruisers.)

ActiveCaptain is built into several different navigation apps, but I dislike having to read text on a small screen (on a rocking boat, in the rain, etc.).

It's easier to browse information like this on a laptop, but again I don't want to need connectivity or put up with slower 3G download times using the online version.

So I have switched my laptop chartplotter program to Polar Navy, which can download the entire ActiveCaptain database for offline use.


I have a Bluetooth GPS receiver for the laptop, which makes it even easier to see my boat's position on a chart overlaid with points of information from ActiveCaptain.

That feature alone for me justifies the purchase of Polar Navy at a much lower cost than most software navigation packages.

If you're in the same boat (no pun intended), check it out!

Tom Lochhaas’s articles and columns about sailing and the sailing life have appeared in many boating periodicals, including SAIL and Good Old Boat magazines. He is the editor of two books of sailing stories, Treacherous Waters and Intrepid Voyagers.

His newest book, Suddenly Overboard: True Stories of Sailors in Fatal Trouble, is based on years of studying sailing incidents leading to either rescue or fatality, but rather than describing the dry facts, this book tells the stories with dramatic realism so that readers feel they are there and realize how, in their own boating, they can take steps to stay safer.

You can read more of Tom's words of wisdom on http://sailing.about.com/!SailingAbout.

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