Coastal Explorer from Rosepoint Navigation is a robust software navigation program that is intuitive to use. Although not free, at $400 it is a reasonable alternative to expensive proprietary navigation displays. It is for PCs only (or Macs running in PC mode) and there is a 30 day free demo download if you want to try it for yourself on your next daysail or cruise. It also handles Weather and Tides, but I’ll speak about that separately.
If you want to use your laptop for Navigation, it will need to have access to a GPS receiver. The GPS that you plug into your laptop does not need a display because the laptop will provide the display. Read about GPS for your Laptop to learn more.
Likewise you could choose to add an relatively inexpensive AIS Receiver with no display to your laptop system and the laptop navigation program would also display those ships on your navigation display. Read more about AIS and your navigation computer.
Coastal Explorer immediately recognized my GPS and AIS receiver – no problems at all. No having to figure out what serial port anything is on either – just plug and play! It was flawless.
The hardware recognition is so fast and accurate that I used it to easily figure out which port numbers my devices were on for other applications. AirMail, for example, which is an email interface for using with radios, doesn’t look for the ports, but depends on you to tell it which port to use for the GPS. Since ports can change each time you power up this is handy.
CE also works with your Radar, but I have not used this feature.
Ease of Use
This is the biggest advantage for PC users – Coastal Explorer has a very intuitive and polished interface. You can easily draw routes, add legs, figure out distances, mark events or locations – all just what you’d expect with drag and drop, right mouse clicks etc. The help is good as well and can be updated automatically when you’re connected to the internet or used locally when you’re offshore.
There are two basic “modes” – Planning Mode and a dashboard-type Cruise Mode for using underway. And you can choose either North Up (good for planning) or Heading Up (good for steering into tricky entrances.) I find Cruise Mode more useful for short local trips because it has an excellent Route Monitor that keeps track of time-to-go and other feedback that is designed for one-day trips rather than month-long trips. However both modes are available so you can suit yourself.
- NOAA and US Army Corps of Engineers charts
- World-wide vector charts in S-63 format including:
- Canadian Hydrographic Services and other world-wide Hydrographics services
- Navionics S-57 / S-63 charts from Chartworld.com
The entire US, including Hawaii and Alaska, are provided on disk. Updates to US Charts are much easier through CE than from the NOAA site.
Both vector and / or raster charts work together with quilting supplied by CE – or you can choose which type to show or hide.
Guidebooks, logs, photos
The newest 2011 version has three different logs – notes, private, and one intended to be used for Blogging, but none of these really work for the Official Ship’s Log that you should be keeping on paper if you go off shore, but are useful for the stated purposes.
Guide Book and Gazeteer entries are also include for the US, Canada, and Mexico. Other guide book add-ons, including the Atlantic Cruising Club’s Guides to Marinas and ActiveCaptain, are also available. If you’re connected to the internet, Photos are included via Panoramio.