During a recent offshore delivery of a new Krogen 58′, I had the opportunity to check out Northport System Inc.’s Fugawi Marine ENC charting and navigation software. It loaded painlessly on a new Windows 7 laptop, ran flawlessly for 3 days nonstop, and had an easy learning curve. If you’re looking for something to run on a laptop to backup your dedicated chartplotter, or for the main navigation software to run on a dedicated PC, you should consider Marine ENC for the price, competent features and ease-of-use, especially for chart management using the company’s (subscription-based) X-Traverse system.
Overview of the Software
Northport Systems’ president, Robin Martel, loaned me a copy of the latest version of Marine ENC, Version 4.5.50.* The company has a transparent and easy-to-understand process for updates and upgrades. Whole numbers of versions are considered the “basic” product and updates all the way to the next whole number are free. Fugawi constantly releases minor updates, typically taking care of bug fixes and compatibility issues, but sometimes including feature enhancements. So, if I owned this copy of version 4.5, I would be entitled to free updates until version 5.0 came out.
The program has a price of $279.95 directly from the company’s website, which is fairly inexpensive for this type of program. That price seems to be the norm for the other sales outlets I checked. And while you can buy Navionics charts for the program, typically for $189 per Platinum+ area, you can also use free RNC and ENC charts from NOAA. You can pick either raster or vector format for the NOAA charts and you’ll get them with all the latest information, which is a big advantage. I downloaded a full set of East Coast (U.S.) NOAA ENCs for my test. They were easy to find and quick to download.
Using the Program
For my evaluation, I brought Fugawi Marine ENC with me on an offshore delivery, which might not be the most difficult task for navigation software (think about running in and out of all the passes, island channels and obstructions of the San Juan Islands in the Pacific NorthWest). Nonetheless, we had some Intracoastal Waterway to navigate leaving Florida and a couple of waypoints along the offshore route to try to keep us in the core of the Gulf Stream while headed north. As we approached our destination in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, there was quite a bit of navigating to do getting in at Cape Fear and then moving over to the ICW to get to the marina.
When you first start the program, you tell it what folder your charts are stored in and the program will go and import them. In my case, it was quick and trouble-free. I downloaded several collections of ENC charts from NOAA. Electronic charts for U.S. waters are available from NOAA in both raster and vector format and have the advantage of always being up-to-date when you download them. Marine ENC also supports Navionics charts, at several levels and if you use Fugawi’s X-Traverse chart subscription service you can be sure you will always have the latest available. We’ll take a more detailed look at X-Traverse in another article here on OceanLines.
Marine ENC is mostly intuitive to learn and use. There are the familiar text-based pulldown menus at the top of the screen, as well as a customizable series of task-based icons running along the left edge of the screen. Most common tasks can be quickly initiated by clicking on the appropriate icon. You can easily start a route track, set some new waypoints and navigate around the charts. Since I wasn’t using the software to actually navigate our Krogen 58′, I set up the program to track our route. I used a new USB-connected GPS to feed position data to the program, which recognized the device instantly. No messing with ports or USB-to-serial port translations. Had I wanted to, I could have easily fed the autopilot with steering inputs. In fact, the Marine ENC software/GPS combination I was using was more accurate than the other laptop-based system we were using for actual navigation. Nice to know.
Tracks, waypoints and other data are easily imported and exported and an experimental feature on my version was able to use a Google Maps overlay for yet another view of things. In fact, you could use this software for planning even if you use a dedicated chartplotter for navigation. Marine ENC will move waypoints via card or cable (as required) between Raymarine, Furuno, Simrad, Garmin and Magellan units. The first image in this story, above, is a screenshot taken of the wide-view track record of the delivery trip. It shows the dogleg we took to stay in the middle of the Gulf Stream. The program seamlessly switches charts when you cross a coverage border.
If you’re just getting into PC-based chartplotting, Fugawi’s Marine ENC would be a good bet, especially with a number of enhancements coming in the near future. Northport Systems’ Martel says the company is working on some major capabilities for the program, including more support for multiple manufacturers’ products aboard the boat — other radars, AIS, etc. And although I had no trouble with the software running on a recent load of Windows 7, Martel says the next major upgrade will take better advantage of Win 7 capabilities. You are likely to see more complementary mobile apps, for systems like Symbian and Windows Mobile, in addition to the iNavX app already available for the iPhone and iPad. I think you’ll also find some interesting integration ahead with destination and local knowledge services like ActiveCaptain, although the company isn’t discussing that yet. At this price point, about half what you would have to pay for Nobeltec software, you’re not going to be disappointed with Fugawi Marine ENC. Take the free 10-day preview for a test-ride.
* (full disclosure - Fugawi is an advertiser here on OceanLines. We have an editorial policy that prohibits the practice of “trading” editorial coverage for advertising support and we are in no way obligated to positively review any Northport Systems product)
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Tags: electronic charting software, electronic charts, electronic navigation, Fugawi Marine, Fugawi X-Traverse, Krogen 58' delivery, marine chart subscription services, marine navigation charts, NOAA Charts, Northport Systems Inc., Robin Martel, Technology