C-Map PC-Planner NT

Finally, a planning tool that lets you use a real keyboard.

Few chores in this world annoy me as much as planning a passage on a GPS chart plotter. I simply don't have the patience for the machinations required to enter the names of waypoints, routes, special marks, etc.

When I saw the C-Map PC-Planner NT at the Miami International Boat Show in February, I knew the gods of the electronics world had smiled on me.

The PC-Planner lets anyone who uses C-Map cartography plan any trip on a PC instead of on the GPS chart plotter. At last, I could use a real keyboard to enter the names of my waypoints. What's more, I could display my C-Map charts on a high-quality LCD and do the planning anywhere I could take my laptop.

C-Map sent me a PC-Planner CD, a dual-slot C-Card reader and an instruction manual. To run the program, I needed a PC running Windows 95/98, NT, 2000 or ME, and it had to have at least 8 MB RAM and 4 MB of free space on the hard drive. I used the Gateway Solo 3450 laptop (Field Test, July) running Windows XP.

The PC-Planner initially was not happy with XP, but customer service was wonderfully helpful sorting out the glitch. The latest iteration of the PC-Planner NT (3.02) solved my problem.

Although the PC-Planner NT has a built-in chart of the world, anyone who uses the program still needs a C-Card for each cruising area. My C-Card covered the area from Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island to Ocean City, New Jersey. After I plugged the card reader into the USB port and installed the C-Card, I started the program. The software immediately recognized the card during start-up, displaying the boundary of each chart as a box delineated by a fine line.

I'd signed on to deliver a 51-foot sailboat from Rowayton, Connecticut, to Newport, Rhode Island, so I zoomed in on Long Island Sound. I left-clicked on the magnifying glass in the tool bar, then clicked on the display. Each time I zoomed out of the area I wanted, I had to go back to the tool bar, click on "pan (a hand icon), pan to my objective and zoom again. Each time I wanted to use a new function, I had to click on the appropriate tool in the tool bar.

This nearly drove me crazy. Then I read the manual. In all modes except "zoom, I could center the display over the cursor when I right-clicked the mouse button. I forgave the software writers, because I could pan more quickly this way. The "escape key set me free of any function on the tool bar.

At this stage, I was getting more acquainted with the PC-Planner, and I liked it more. I clicked on the "new route icon, moved my cursor to the start of the route, and clicked again. A UP001 ("user point 001) appeared at the cursor. I could change the name later in "route management mode. Meanwhile, I swooned over being able to enter a waypoint without scrolling through a handful of characters using two keys.

When I moved the cursor to the next waypoint, the cursor drew a line, my route. Left click, and UP002 appeared. And so on.

One last bit of annoyance: I wasn't able to pan the chart in "new route mode, but I learned to ignore this. I was able to call up my route list and edit the route; easily move waypoints or delete them via the modes on the tool bar; and, by clicking on "information, call up the salient data about a shoreside facility or a navigational aid.

With C-Card in hand the morning of our departure, I boarded the boat-only to discover it didn't have a chart plotter aboard. Back to paper. Although the PC-Planner isn't perfect, anyone married to C-Map cartography simply has to have this software.

Price: $149 or $179 with a C-Card.

Contact: C-Map USA, Inc., (800) 424-2627, (508) 477-8010; www.c-map.com.