Although Apple products have been gaining in popularity in the past few years, there are still some software niches that are dominated by Windows software. Navigation software is one of those, with all the big players (Nobeltec, Maptech, Raymarine, etc.) opting to produce their products solely for the masses stuck using Windows operating systems.
Those of us who use Apple computers have fewer options when it comes to navigation software; NavimaQ, MacENC, GPSNavX, GPSy X, and MacGPS Pro are some examples of what’s currently available. Garmin has just come out with Bobcat, a program designed specifically for Mac OS X that allows users to connect a Mac to a Garmin GPS in order to transfer waypoints and manage charts. Bobcat doesn’t allow users to navigate in real time, but it’s still a breakthrough for Mac users, as, until now, Garmin had seemed to make it particularly hard for Mac users to get their Garmin GPS units to even talk to a Mac without buying extra hardware. I regard this as a good sign.
I’ve been using MacENC for almost two years now, but am enjoying a bit of a renaissance with it after Santa lugged a brand-new iMac down my chimney at Christmas. The latest version of MacENC works on older Macs and previous versions of OS X, but really comes into its own when used on the latest Intel-chip Mac with the latest version of Mac’s operating system, called Leopard, or 10.5.
One of the beauty bits of MacENC is that the charts are free. It’s been designed from the ground up to use NOAA’s ENC charts, which can be downloaded from nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/mcd/enc/download.htm and will cost you nothing but the price of your Internet access. These charts are vector charts, which means that rather than being scanned versions of paper charts, they’re made up of layers of information, which makes it easier to update them, remove layers of data you don’t want to see, or add notes, routes, and waypoints. The charts are clear, easy to download and install, and make paying your federal taxes seem slightly less burdensome. If you already own BSB charts (like those made by Maptech), MacENC will read those, too, as well as display photo overlays.
Since my boat’s on the hard, and I’m a geek, I’ve got a SeaCAS GPS/AIS (Automatic Identification System (a VHF-based position-reporting system for ships; think of it as air traffic control)) antenna mounted on my house again this winter, and I’ve been watching the shipping go in and out of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay. If I had a Radar antenna, I’d watch that with MacENC, too, but so far, my neighborhood association is leery enough about my antenna array. When I get tired of watching the AIS plots (not very often), I’ll plot trips I plan on making someday. Whatever I’m doing, MacENC makes it seem ridiculously easy. Its uncluttered toolbar and simple layout belie what is an extremely capable program. Best of all is the price: $139.95.