- Product Review
- PC-PLANNER NT+
- David Sparks
- May, 2003
Our house and boat (En
Passant, C320 #933) are in Pensacola, Florida. But I am trying to
"ease into retirement' and still working (75% appointment, flexible
schedule) in Houston, Texas. Thus, I became interested in software that
would allow me to use (in Houston) the C-Map card in my RayMarine Chart
plotter to develop routes and waypoints for sailing trips originating in
Pensacola. A brief description of the program that I purchased,
PC-PLANNER NT+, follows.
Price, where to order. I
ordered PC-PLANNER NT+ from
- Waypoint/Complete Cruising Solutions
- 1813 Clement Avenue #24
- Alameda, CA 94501
- Phone: 510-769-1547
- Fax: 510-769-1573.
- The price, including a 128kb User C-CARD was
- Price, without the 128kb User C-CARD is $149.95.
What you receive. I
received: 1) a C-MAP dual slot cartridge holder with a USB connector; 2)
a CD with the User Manual and installation program; and 3) a 128kb User
C-CARD that can be used to transfer waypoints or routes to some
(see below) Chart plotters.
requirements. According to information found on the C-Map web page
and in the instruction manual, the Minimum Requirements for using the
- Windows 95/98, ME, 2000, XP
- 8MB RAM (32 MB for Windows 2000)
- 4MB free Hard Disk
- Video Resolution: 800x600 or higher
- Video Colors: 65536 (high-color, 16bits)
- C-CARD READER PPCCR-1/PPCCR-2 or USBCC Reader
Available Parallel Port or USB port.
||What you can do
with the program. After the program is installed, you can:
- view the charts included on your C-MAP cards
using the mouse to zoom and pan,
- create or modify waypoint lists (called user
points by the program),
- generate or modify routes,
- measure the distance and bearing between two
selected points on a chart,
- download routes or waypoints to a compatible
- read routes or waypoints from a compatible
- download and edit tracks (I havenít used
- view the Port, Tide, names of navigational
aids, warning notes, and additional information (not displayed
- on the screen) included on
the C-Map card,
- find nearest ports, port services, tide
stations, wrecks, obstructions,
- save route and user point (waypoints) data on
the PC hard disk in two different formats,
- write route, track and user point data to a
spare C-Map User C-card, and
- print the page that is currently displayed by
The program is easy to use. The basic modes of the
program are accessed by clicking on a small number of icons. File
Manager mode allows User Points (waypoints), Routes, and Tracks to be
copied from or to the PC Hard Disk, a floppy disk, a User C-Card, or
PC-PLANNER NT+ memory. Print mode is used to print a copy of the chart
that is currently being displayed.
||Data Receiving mode
is used to read waypoint data from the PC serial port. Pan mode is used
to move around in the charts. Move the cursor with the mouse and click
to redraw the chart centered on the cursor position. Zoom mode is used
to change the scale of the chart. Left click zooms in (more detailed
chart); and right click zooms out. The chart is centered on the location
of the cursor when the chart is redrawn at the new resolution. To use
Info mode, select the Info icon and left click on the area of the chart
where you want information about ports, tides, obstructions or other
information stored on the C-Map card. A-B mode is used to find the
distance and bearing between two points on the chart display.
Two examples of the screen display are shown below.
These are not high resolution images because I obtained them using the
Prnt Scrn key to capture what was displayed on my monitor. High
resolution pictures can be obtained by printing from within the
PC-Planner NT+ program, but the Lat/Long and Distance/Bearing numbers at
the bottom of the screen do not appear in the image. The first example
is a picture of the screen in Pan mode. In this mode, wherever you move
the cursor, the latitude and longitude of the corresponding location on
the chart is displayed at the bottom of the screen. Also, in this mode
if you move the cursor over a navigational aid, a small window appears
in which the marker number, and light and sound characteristics are
To make the second picture, I zoomed out (note 99 NM
scale) and used the A-B function to estimate the distance between the
Destin pass and the pass at Panama City. The distance is 41.89 NM and
the bearing is 111 deg True, as noted on the bottom left.
- Click to enlarge
- Click to enlarge
routes can be easily added or modified. To create a waypoint, select the
Add User point icon, place the
cursor at the desired location on the chart and
left-click. The waypoint is stored in program memory and displayed on
the chart. You can select a number of different symbols to be associated
with the waypoint (anchorage, fishing spot, etc.) To delete a waypoint,
click on the Del User point icon, move the cursor to the point to be
deleted and left-click. To move the waypoint, click on the Move User
Point icon, left click while dragging the waypoint to the new position,
then release the left button.
Routes are created by clicking on the Create new route
icon and then left clicking on the series of chart positions you want to
use to define the route. The waypoints making up the route are displayed
on the chart and a line connecting the waypoints delineates the route.
An example is shown in the next picture.
- Route 5 - St. Andrews Bay Pass and route to
anchorage behind Shell Island
- (Click to enlarge)
The next picture illustrates Route
information as stored and displayed by PC PLANNER NT+. The description
can be edited. The cumulative distance (column 8) is a nice feature.
Also, if you enter a hypothetical speed, the time taken to traverse the
leg and cumulative time for all legs are given in columns 10 and 11.
(Click to enlarge)
||What the program
does NOT do and other things to note. First, PC-PLANNER NT+ runs
only if a C-CARD reader is connected to your PC. Even if you have
already installed the program and have the program CD in the CD drive,
the program will not run unless the C-MAP card reader is plugged into a
USB slot. The program will run if the card reader is plugged in even if
a C-MAP card is not present. In this case, a low resolution world-wide
chart stored in memory can be used to illustrate the program functions.
Second, PC-PLANNER NT+ is NOT designed to serve as a
navigation station when aboard your boat. There is no provision for
interfacing the program with radar, depth, speed, wind, or active GPS
Third, remember that the bearings are given as True,
Compatibility. I have only
been using the program a couple of months and do not pretend to be an
It is my understanding that for RayMarine Chart
Plotters, C-MAP writable cartridge support is limited to the new
Pathfinder PLUS series with the new HSB2 system. After creating waypoint
lists and routes in PC-PLANNER NT+, I can download them from my laptop
to my Garmin handheld GPS 12 and write them to a C-MAP writable
cartridge. But since my chart plotter is not one of the PLUS series, I
cannot read the waypoints or routes into the chart plotter directly from
the User C-Card. I knew this would be the case; I purchased the User
C-Card to download waypoints to the chart plotter on the boat we charter
in Maine each summer.
Assuming you have a suitable PC interface cable for
your GPS/Chart Plotter, the manual states that PC-PLANNER NT+ will
accept any compatible waypoint data from the PC serial port. I have not
used this function. According to the manual, the data must be in
NMEA0183 format using the RTE and WPL messages and only one route can be
received at a time.
I have used the transmit function to transfer the list
of waypoints I developed using PC-PLANNER NT+ to my hand-held Garmin GPS
12. The only problem I encountered was with the rules for waypoint
names. By default, waypoint #60 would be given the name UP 060
(user point 060) by PC-PLANNER NT+. This was not acceptable by my Garmin
GPS 12 until I renamed the waypoint, eliminating the UP prefix.
How I have used PC PLANNER NT+.
I used the program to plan our sailing trip from Pensacola to
Appalachicola last month. I took my C-map NT+ card (NA-C420, Gulf of
Mexico) and a cruising guide to the western coast of Florida to Houston.
Although Iíve done some sailing along the Gulf Coast, it was 14 years
ago and Iíve never explored the area between Destin and Carabelle. So,
I read the cruising guide while looking at the appropriate charts to
identify anchorages, marinas, noting sandbars to avoid, etc. Also, as an
aid to planning, I used the A-B function to measure distances from
pass-to-pass. Of course, all of this could have done with paper charts.
However, using PC-PLANNER NT+ was a big time-saver in developing
waypoint list and routes to areas that I knew we would want to explore.
I printed the page showing each of the routes that I created (see
example). These were laminated and holes were punched for storing in a
binder. When we were using the printout of one of the routes in the
cockpit, I removed it from a binder and put a spare companionway lock
through one of the holes to prevent it from blowing overboard. Iím
still unaccustomed to the open stern, so I need to come up with another
strategy for keeping things aboard. Also, I saved the waypoint data
concerning the routes on the disk of my PC, read the data into Excel,
and created a table (see example) that can be sent as an e-mail
attachment so others can enter waypoints into their personal GPS or to
study the (paper) chart to see details of planned routes or anchorages.
- Excel Table created by reading a PC PLANNER NT+
I also found the Tide information useful.
I had been warned that storms had rearranged many features of the passes
from the Gulf and, in particular, that the height of the bridge at the
Destin Pass was less than the 50 ft. shown on the chart. Referring to
the Tide information for April 12, 2003 (the C-card has tide predictions
for the years between 1996 and 2020), I noted that the tidal range for
that day was predicted to be only 0.54 ft - a little more than 6 inches!
So, we had reason for concern with a mast height of 47í7", not
counting antenna, and we would not gain much by going through at low
We did make it under the bridge. The marker at the
center span showed 48í9" when we arrived at slack tide. We waited
until no traffic was coming from either direction and inched our way to
the edge of the bridge and was relieved to see the antenna bend slightly
instead of the mast touching.
Summary. PC-PLANNER NT+ does not have all the
features that are found in more expensive navigation software packages.
These packages allow a PC to interface with navigation and other
instruments and to serve as another display in a navigation system.
However, I find it to be very useful for planning trips to new areas and
creating routes and waypoint lists for areas that I sail regularly.
Update (Jan. 2006). Since this report was
prepared in 2003, I have used PC-PLANNER NT+ to generate more than 400
waypoints for the areas we sail in Maine, waypoints for the areas I sail
along the Gulf of Mexico (thus far, from the Chandeleur Islands to
Apalachicola, Florida), and for a charter in French Polynesia. I have
never found a serious discrepancy between the waypoints generated and
actual coordinates when I arrived at the location plotted.
To see trip reports of the locations sailed, click here.