Monday, February 23, 2009

Google/Nav Chart Mashup is Handy Aid in Unfamiliar Waters

Like a lot of people, I can't really swing a nice GPS navigation and charting system for my boat; good ones aren't cheap, and I don't really want to cram one onto the helm of my modest 26' Formula. But there is an alternative route if you are navigating in unfamiliar waters and don't want to carry around a lot of paper charts.

This Google/Nav Chart Mashup is very handy. What they've done is overlay NOAA navigation charts over the interactive, zoomable Google map. You can search it by just entering a location (like "Put in Bay, OH") just as you would on any other Google map, and click--you're right there. Sliders allow you to adjust the transparency of the overlay, and you can also switch between satellite view and map views. The site covers all U.S. coastal waters and the Great Lakes.

Some caveats: The site seems to work fine on a laptop--of course you'd need G3 wireless service to use it; otherwise, I suppose you could save and pre-load screen shots as images to save as chart files for offline viewing. I was really hoping to see how this works on the iPhone--which would be wonderfully compact and really handy--but it seemed slow, and the zoom is hard to use on the touch-screen. Maybe another type of web-enabled phone [blackberry] would work better.

Nevertheless, used laptops are easy to come by, and offer added functionality over a dedicated nav-only system. Many folks keep them on their boat anyway, to use on trips; for them, this could be a handy tool.

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