Updating A Chartplotter

By Lenny Rudow

Make sure your cartography and software is the latest.

There are so many bits of data streaming through the marine electronosphere that it seems impossible to keep current these days. In fact, when you take a brand-new chartplotter out of the box, its cartography and software may already be out of date, merely due to the time it sat on a store's shelf. And if the unit sitting at your helm hasn't been digitally refreshed in the past few months, it's almost certainly behind the times, which means you may not know about buoy and depth changes that could seriously effect your safety and decision making. What are you going to do about that, captain? Naturally, the specific steps for updating chartplotters differ among manufacturers. But all use one of two basic ways to transfer new data to your helm: SD cards or Wi-Fi.

Updating With An SD Card

An SD-card transfer may be the "old" way of doing things, but given that most of us don't have Wi-Fi-equipped helm stations just yet (although this is rapidly changing), it's still the most commonly used method. It consists of putting a blank SD card into your computer or card reader, downloading from an update page on the chartplotter manufacturer's website, then transferring the card to your chartplotter and uploading the files into your unit. In many cases, the upload is automatic, as long as you insert the card with the unit powered down, then turn it on. (See your owner's manual for specific instructions.)

The same method can be used for some forms of electronic cartography, though some other suppliers simply send you new, updated cards on a regular basis if you sign up for their update service. And in other cases, the provider may require you to buy newer versions of the cartography in order to get the latest information.

Updating With Wi-Fi

The newest and most advanced systems have integrated Wi-Fi. This simplifies getting updates of all types, although the specifics differ a bit among manufacturers and sometimes even among model lines from the same manufacturer. They can also differ depending on connectivity, although in many cases you can create your own connection by routing the data to your plotter via an app on your phone. In both cases, you may be able to set up the system to perform automatic downloads, or at least update notifications when new software is released. And in the case of cartography, information can also flow in the opposite direction — you can send your own self-generated updates to the cloud, so the rest of the world can enjoy the benefit of depth and position data you've generated with your own boat. The bottom line? Determining the best way for you, personally, to get your updates is going to take a bit of research, but it'll be via either SD card or Wi-Fi, and everything you need to know is almost certainly on the website of the manufacturer of your chartplotter or multifunctional display. One other thing for sure: if you don't make regular updates, your cartography and software will go obsolete fast. 

BoatUS electronics editor Lenny Rudow is also a senior editor for Boats.com.

— Published: Fall 2015


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