Thursday, April 2, 2015

OpenCPN - will proprietary chart plotters become extinct?

OpenCPN Chart
OpenCPN Chart
[Major Digression]
I started in the computer business in college at Stevens Institute of Technology. At the time there was no disciple called computer science. Rather, the electrical engineering department was the repository of computer knowledge. Stevens was an early adopter - it had relationships with both Unisys and IBM. In the first semester of my freshman year I was required to take a course in Fortran programming. I loved it so much that I spent the next 3 1/2 years working in the college data center. I learned on an IBM 1620 and a Univac 1105 programming in machine code, SPS (symbolic programming system) and later in COBOL. Stevens was one of the very first places to get an IBM System/360. For the super techies among you - we started with "Primary Control Program," a single thread single execution model, went to TOS (tape operating system), DOS (Disk Operating System) and finally OS/360 MFT (Multitasking with a fixed number of tasks.) I graduated prior to the introduction of OS/360 MVT. It was only natural that I would become a computer programmer. Even after I was promoted into information technology management I continued to code for fun, and in fact write computer programs to this day. What does any of this have to do with OpenCPN?
[/Major Digression]

With the introduction of chart plotters (and now multi-function displays) I think many of us with programming skills thought it would be a cool idea to write a chart plotting program. We soon learned that this was a non-trivial project. A group of people did get together and create OpenCPN. They were committed to produce an open source (hence the "Open" in OpenCPN) Chart Plotting and Navigation software package that would be available for free on multiple platforms (Windows, Mac, Android, etc.) They have succeeded brilliantly. Since its first release in 2007 it has been through several upgrades, the current version is 4.0  OpenCPN will read several different chart formats breaking the "if you buy my chart plotter you have to buy my charts" monopoly of the commercial chart plotter manufacturers. In fact, if you only sail in the United States and its possessions you can download every chart published by the US Government updated once a week with the latest corrections for free! How is that for a deal! In addition it will control your autopilot and display your AIS targets.
Go here: to download the free charts.

What makes OpenCPN truly extraordinary is the provisions for "plug in's." These are links that permit other developers to add functionality to OpenCPN. And they have, for example:

  • Crowd sourced dock, anchorage and marina data
  • Weather routing
  • Grib files (weather data)
  • Weatherfax
A complete list is at

The result is that OpenCPN has, for free, in my humble opinion, more functionality than any commercial chart plotter available today.


So spend some time looking at OpenCPN and enjoy!

Fair winds and following seas :)

1 comment:

  1. You could visit here for more on free world charts for Open CPN!