How to get free navigation software

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 , 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 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.

Mike, thanks for the recommendation. I’ll certainly be checking it out…:smiley:

Great article Mike and thanks for jumping in!!

Awesome work! I’ve asked this before but has anyone found a good source of international enc’s? I’d like to get the charts that would follow along our schools training cruise route this year. We’re going to S. America (from SF to Valpo then back up)

Hi, I am having trouble with this program, after extracting the downloaded file there are no files inside the folders with the KAP extension. Extensions are .000, .001, .002 and so on.
Anyone had the same problem?

l from b,
What exactly did you download?
Be sure you have downloaded the ENC charts and not the RNC charts. When finished you should have a zip file on your desktop called NOAA BSB_***. After unzipping the file there should be an individual folder for each chart that you selected to download. When you open the folder for an individual chart you should see 1 BSB file and 1 or more KAP files.

[quote=captmike;7546]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 […] [/quote]

I haven’t used SeaClear, but it enjoys a great reputation, especially considering the price! I wrote a summary of a thorough nav software survey/review/ranking project last May. The winners are sorted by price category, which is handy when you’re paying out-of-pocket for one of these packages.

Wierd, I followed the links you provided, downloaded the ENC package and came up with a numbered zip file, after extraction I have a folder called ENC_ROOT.

I haven’t seen that before. I will go thru the process when I get back to the beach (I have limited download capability while offshore) and see what I can come up with. What is in the “root folder”?

Great article and seems to be what I am looking for. Not sure what an ENC is we used to use raster charts on the last offshore boat I was on. Are they simular?

ENC simply stands for electronic navigation chart.

Electronic navigation charts are usually in one of two formats, either raster or vector. Systems that use vector format can meet the IMO requirements for the replacement of paper charts.

basically. both are available from NOAA free of charge, just a different format

In the root folder there is a folder for each enc, inside each of those there are various text files and other files with numbered extensions such as .000, .001, .002 and so on, I believe these are the KAP files, my systet just doesn’t recognise them I guess…

That sounds correct. take those files with the numbered extensions and copy or drag them to the charts folder in Sea Clear and then go thru the MapCal utility and see if they work. Be advised that when you initially start up Sea Clear, if you don’t have your gps plugged in you will be at 00.0 deg N and 000.0 deg W. Just double click on the area where your charts are and zoom in. In Sea Clear you can also go to file>chart>list all. If the charts loaded correctly they will be listed there.

I did some research, these numbered extensions are due to file corruption either from the download or extraction process, I have tried to download about a half a dozen times, same result… Anyone had the same issue??

I know when I downloaded the raster charts some of them were #####001… DIdn’t have any issues with them though.

Another collection of nautical charts for use within Google Earth, this time from Navimatics (Google Earth link). The marine maps cover the coastline of the lower 48, and are derived from NOAA’s Electronic Navigational Charts. Via Ogle Earth and Free Geography Tools.

Other links: Nautical Charts in Google Earth.
Geogarage - NOAA Overlays on GE

Nice! I’m going to try it, even though I don’t have my own boat to try it on. I’ll try it here at the shack.

I do remember doing GPS on an 88 Pershing yacht. The GPS was a Raymarine Raystar 125. It didn’t have a nice warm and fuzzy serial plug (9-pin modem or serial connection) on it. So had to crack out the manual and see what wires had to go on what pins of a 9-pin RS-232 plug.

I remember also the crew wanting to use the existing wire that ran down from topside. It wouldn’t work. I wouldn’t work. I said “dang!” and grabbed a roll of CAT5 network cable. Mapped out how I was going to connect the wires to make NMEA / Serial work. Asked the crew guy to go topside - gave him a connection color wire map - and threw the CAT5 cable up to him. We had it working shortly after that. So I said … pull that CAT5 cable and replace the old cable.

So it’s good sometimes to know the pinout wiring for a 9-pin serial modem cable plug - because sometimes you’ll need it.