Network: Down to the sea in chips

It seems you can't be a serious sailor any more without a boatload of hi-tech gear. David Fox navigates his way around the London Boat Show in search of the latest

must-have gadgets.

Computers and salt water don't mix. But PCs are just the thing for old salts, who are taking laptops to sea in ever greater numbers, according to experts at last week's London Boat Show. "A lot of people are now using PCs for navigation, chart-reading and looking up satellite weather maps," says Brian Ash, managing director of Manstbrite Marine Electronics, British distributor for the new sub-pounds 1,400 Interphase PC/ View scanning sonar system.

Despite their specialisation, Ash says dedicated sonar displays sell best to leisure sailors. Now it will be yet another function that can be accessed better from a PC display, especially in colour. "When you're looking at a sonar target in colour, the colour echoes you are getting back represent the strength of the signal coming back [and its solidity], making it easier to identify what you are looking at [such as a shoal of fish, a wreck or a rock]," he explains.

But the PC's biggest attraction for Britain's 2.5 million boat owners is how simple it makes navigation. Thanks to Global Positioning System satellites and electronic charts, even the most inept sailors now have no excuse for getting lost.

PC navigation systems can cost as little as pounds 500 for a DOS-based system from PC Plotter, using basic charts (pounds 100 for the whole south coast) and a second-hand laptop. Its new Windows 95 software costs pounds 250 and uses more expensive, detailed Navionics charts (pounds 199 for the central Channel area).

Glen Challis, PC Plotter's managing director, recommends users buy second- hand laptops. "If you spend pounds 2,000 on a new computer, the last thing you want to do is take it aboard, unless you've lots of money."

He sources adequate Pentium 166MHz models from a dealer for pounds 1,000 or less, but can supply a new, waterproof, "seaworthy" version for pounds 2,500. "The ordinary laptops we've always used on board have never broken. They are not built to do it, but if they are kept carefully, perhaps in foam, they can do it," he says.

There are lots of dedicated navigation systems available, but Anne Edmonds, marketing manager for PC Maritime, says people are moving to PC-based systems because they are so flexible, they are easily upgraded and they cost less to run, as you can usually shop around for different makes of chart. Its new pounds 399 Navmaster 3.0 is being used by Shell for its tankers. As GPS and chart data don't always match, it intelligently corrects for differences, and can continue on "dead reckoning" if GPS fails.

One of the most helpful of the new navigation systems is Tsunamis (pounds 795 including 40 charts), from Transas Dataco, which calculates the state of the tides, so you can see when not to enter restricted waters such as estuaries. They are more expensive than the rest of the Transas range, but Transas's Linda Broomfield says: "Most people seem to want to spend the money."

With so much information, the screen can be confusing, especially on a small laptop display. But Tsunamis, along with most of its rivals, uses vector charts built from layers of information, so it can show simplified views containing only the data you need. There are two chart types: raster, used by the Admiralty Raster Charts Service, which are exact scanned copies of paper charts; and vector charts, which hold each item of data separately, giving it a wider range of scales.

Vector charts also take up less disk space. "More than 9,000 charts, covering the whole of the world, will fit in 900Mb of hard disk, whereas raster charts are about 3Mb each," says Gillian Lovegrove, director of Chartwork, which uses C-Map charts for its new pounds 395 Win Chart Pro Plus system. Most users will need charts only for whichever part of the UK coastal waters they sail, at anything from pounds 10 to pounds 30 each (down to about pounds 4 each if bought in bulk).

Fortunately this does not mean boat-owners have to run to the chandlers each time they sail new waters. A CD-Rom stores all the charts, and authorisation codes to use them can be purchased by phone. Further information, such as locations of wrecks or good waterside pubs, is easily added using standard drawing tools and a database in Win Chart Pro Plus. For small boats, Lovegrove's ideal solution is a GPS receiver, software and a tiny Toshiba Libretto laptop for pounds 1,995.

But Alan Cherry, a member of the Royal Institute of Navigation, is dismissive of PC use, saying that the people using them either already had laptop PCs or cannot resist toys - "and they're not really making very much use of them".

He believes the chart displays aren't yet good enough. "You've got to get used to operating on an A4-sized chart or smaller," he says. Although the Navy is "going for them in a big way", their emphasis is on big as they can project them on to large plotting tables. Maps are also more romantic. Although Cherry uses a PC at home, he says there is something magical about paper charts.

There is also something magical about winning, and racing is where traditional sailing skills are really put to the test - PC against PC. While a keen eye and quick reactions are useful, so are systems such as Tactician 2000, from Brookes and Gatehouse. It can help racers push their boats to the limit, tracking boat and wind speed/direction, and providing navigation calculations. It also allows users to display "virtual instruments" anywhere on the boat using LCD panels, so everyone knows what's happening.

After the race, it shows if you maximised your performance against the elements and competition, so you can spot weaknesses and correct them in the next race. It can even control the auto-pilot, handy for long races.

The Windows 95 software costs pounds 650, but you also have to have B&G's Hercules 5000 instrument system, which costs at least pounds 5,000.

You can hone your sailing skills out of the water with PC Maritime's good-looking Match Racing 2000, the more challenging Laser Match Racing, or its wide range of training programs, including new radar and weather courses. You can also buy simulation and training software from the Royal Yachting Association Web site, which is full of information on sailing.

For more excitement, Interplay's noisy new VR Sports Powerboat Racing for PC and Sony PlayStation was launched at the show. Some sequences seem like Bond movies, with jumping across roads and roaring between converging tankers ready to tear the boat apart. Otherwise it's fairly realistic and the courses, including an English backwater, New York and the Grand Canyon, look good.

You don't, of course, need your own boat to sail. But if you want to book a sailing holiday, you can now explore the options on your Mac or PC using a CD-Rom interactive brochure launched at the show by Sunworld Sailing. Most of the other holiday companies are also on the Web.

Interphase

http://www.interphase-tech.com

Navionics

http://www.navionics.com

PC Maritime

http://www.pcmaritime.co.uk

Transas Dataco

http://www.transas.com

Admiralty Raster Charts Service

http://www.hydro.gov.uk

Brookes and Gatehouse

http://www.bandg.co.uk

Royal Yachting Association

http://www.rya.org.uk

Interplay

http://www.interplay.com

Sunworld Sailing

http:www.sunworld-sailing.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
News
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?