Updating Your Electronic Charts

With the chill winds of winter making you think twice about just sitting in your boat’s cockpit and day dreaming until spring, the next best thing might be some armchair boating in the form of updating your charts.

With paper charts, updating can be tedious, especially if you haven’t kept up with the weekly Notice to Mariners and have a lot of corrections to make. The good part is that you have to physically enter the corrections, and that means you can spend some time looking over the chart and dreaming about future voyages. Since the technology is of a fairly low order — pencils and erasers — there isn’t much advice that needs to be given, aside from keeping your pencils sharp.

Electronic charts are an entirely different matter, and the good news here is that keeping them up to date is fairly simple; certainly much quicker than penciling in the new characteristics of the light on Hidden Rock Shoal. There is at least one very significant difference, however, and that’s the regularity of updates.

With paper charts (or PC-based navigation suites using NOAA Electronic Navigation Charts — more on these later) you can update as often as information is available, usually weekly. It’s the rare recreational sailor who goes through the weekly ritual so familiar to the bridge crew of commercial vessels, but it’s nice to know it’s possible.

On the other hand, the proprietary electronic charts used by companies such as Garmin, Raymarine, Furuno and Navman, as well as those used by navigation software packages such as those by Maptech and Nobeltec are updated once or twice a year. Rus Graham, spokesman for Navionics, says they have found boaters are, on the average, updating their chart packages every three years.

The trend in chartplotters, according to Garmin’s spokesman Ted Gartner, is for “preloaded” charts; the plotter you buy will have the charts already loaded into the device. Once a year, you can contact Garmin Customer Service, either on their 800-number or at the Garmin Website, and tell them the charts you need. They will bill you for the card that you plug into the chartplotter (the actual price varies according to the number of regions and the type of card). Once the update is done, you can return the card for a refund of half the original price.

Navionics’ Rus Graham says anyone with Navionics charts (which includes Eagle, Furuno, FW Murphy, Humminbird, Lowrance, Northstar and Raymarine) can stop by any dealer and get their chart package updated in a matter of minutes. Bring your card or CD-ROM for exchange. Again, the price varies depending on region. You’ll need to decipher the code on the front of the card for information on that particular card; the top line is the area of coverage and the second line lists the code number of the chip with the card format. An example would be “CF/906G,” which would tell you it is a Compact Flash card, region 906 and “G” is the chart type, in this case, Gold+. The third line is the version code. It might be something like “V 01.19” and there is no way to know the age of the card simply from the version code. You’ll need to call Navionics or a dealer who will have the records for that particular chart. The fourth line is the card’s serial number.

C-Map is a very common chart format, used by many chartplotters. The company was recently bought by Jeppesen and is in the process of becoming known as Jeppesen Marine, but the card in your plotter will say “C-Map.” The update procedure is very similar to that used for Navionics cards in several respects.

Most West Marine stores will be able to update your charts in a few minutes or you can contact C-Map to arrange a swap for a new card. C-Map/Jeppesen Marine updates the files on their charts all the time, including sources such as the weekly Notice to Mariners, validated corrections from local resources, the US Army Corps of Engineers and so on. For their recreational market the changes are compiled and issued twice a year, in the spring and the fall.

To make it easy for everyone, Jeppesen Marine offers what they call “Club C-Map,” basically a pre-paid updating service that promises to deliver the latest updated charts as soon as they are available. As with the Navionics cards, it is done on an exchange basis: return the old card for a reduced price on the update.

It’s pretty easy to find out just how old your C-Map card is. Remove the card and check its code number for the chart class and the version number. Every year the version increases by two (since it’s updated twice a year) and Jeppesen Marine recommends updating whenever your card is two versions old. The date of issue is the top line of type on the card and is in plain language. The version is the second line of type and will say “.01” or “.02” after the geographic area.

Users of Jeppesen Marine’s MAX Pro electronic charts can take advantage of the same updating service offered Jeppesen Marine’s commercial customers. Max Pro is a PC-based system, and users can update their charts with an automatic weekly download of the latest Notice to Mariners.

PC-based navigation systems are growing in popularity, especially in larger boats where a laptop can be kept secure from the elements. One of the advantages of a PC-based system is that the charts are on a CD and there is no requirement to have a card reader. Updates can be done online, either through the Website of the supplier of the software or directly to the NOAA Website. The price, it should be mentioned, is right: Free. Your tax dollars at work.

Fugawi is a PC navigation suite that supports NOAA charts (as well as those used by Maptech, Navionics and others), on their PC-based system. it should be noted that NOAA charts cannot be downloaded into most chartplotters.

The NOAA charts come in vector and raster versions, and when you download the latest version of the charts for use in your navigational software, all routing, waypoints and tracks will be on the “new” chart as well. NOAA calls its vector charts Electronic Navigational Charts (ENC), for use in Electronic Charting Systems (ECS) and Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems (ECDIS). The raster charts are known as RNC for use in RCDIS. Among the PC-basesd systems that use NOAA raster charts are The Cap’n, MaxSea, Rose Point, Fugawi, GPSNavX and others.

NOAA vector charts are used by Fugawi, MaxSea, Rose Point, Kelvin Hughes and many others. To download or update your ENC charts, begin by going to www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov and follow the prompts. Your software package will have its own set of instructions for this as well. From this homepage you can go to an on-line chart viewer or download either raster or vector charts. You can view raster charts directly from the NOAA Website but will need a viewer to look at ENC charts online. You can get free ENC viewers from Fugawi, among others. Go to www.fugawi.com/charts, but only if you have a PC. Mac users will have to wait.

Both Mac and PC users can view raster charts online, and these will be the latest updated charts. Have a look at your local waters and make sure the paper charts you use as a backup to your ECS are still accurate.

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