OK, I’ll be the guinea pig! Want ECDIS or at least a decent nav program on your laptop but don’t want to spend the bucks? Try Sea Clear II. For a free program it works pretty darn well. You can tie in your AIS, Radar, Autopilot, Gyro, and GPS into it without too much headache. You can download the NOAA ENC’s for free as well.
TO download the program go to www.sping.com/seaclear/ , scroll down the page to the downloads section and click on the 1st one, the full install with manual. When complete you will have 3 items, the program itself, a users manual, and a chart calibration program called MapCal. The User manual is extremely helpful and will walk you through anything you need but if you are like me you may need to read thru it a dozen times or so. Once you have everything downloaded be sure to create desktop shortcuts to each of the programs.
To download the charts go to www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/mcd/enc/download_agreement.htm and scroll about half way down the page to the “proceed to downloads” button. Follow the instructions to download the charts you want or need (I suggest just getting the ones you need first then once you figure it out you can get all you want). The charts will show up on your computer in a zip file. Open the the zipped file and you will see each chart in its own folder. Open the individual chart folder and extract all the files with the “.KAP” extension and copy them into the SeaClear “Charts” folder. It should be in your computer (PC) in the following folder path: Computer/Local Disc ©/Program Files/Sea Clear/Charts. Once you have transferred all the .KAP files to this folder you close everything out. Now open the MapCal utility from the desktop icon you created. Click on the “tools” button in the upper left menu, go to autoload list then click “scan for new charts”.When the scanning function is complete close everything out and start Sea Clear and check to make sure the charts loaded ok.
Now to hook up your devices just follow the instructions in the manuals that came with your device. I just have my AIS plugged in. That is the easiest way to get the most information with the least amount of effort. I am hooked into a Faruno FA-150 AIS. Most AIS’s will have something called a pilot plug on the processor box. It is nothing more than a 9 pin serial plug (female). Unless your computer has this type of connection you will need to go to radio shack and spend $35 on a 9 pin serial to USB adapter, install the driver and then it is as easy as plugging it in to the AIS and your computer. You will need to go into the properties window on Sea Clear and set the comm port and BPS rate. To do so open Sea Clear, from the menu in the upper right hand corner click on tools, then click on properties. From there click on the comm tab. Under NMEA connection click on Tx/Rx1 and set the comm port to which ever one you have your cable plugged into. For most AIS units you will need to set the BPS to 38400. And if you are using NOAA ENCs set your datum to WGS84. This should get you going and you will have gyro, gps, and AIS data available from this one connection. If you don’t have AIS you can wire your gps in by following the instructions that came with your particular GPS (that goes for your radar, autopilot, gyro, etc… as well). I’m not sure but I think that there are GPS antennas that plug directly into your computer for use with street map programs. These will work too but the settings may be a little different.
It really is not as much trouble as it may sound and is pretty easy to get up and running. Heck, if I can do it, anybody can!
Hope this helps and if anyone has any questions feel free to PM me I will will be glad to provide whatever help I can.
If you try it let me know what you think. AND I RECEIVE NO RENUMERATION! I just think its a pretty good thing.