Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Review: Imray Chart Plotter (ID30)

In the current economic climate, the demand for my services has decreased; so, less cash. Luckily, this also means more time for sailing. I'm planning a little cruise westward, which (winds permitting - hah!) will take me off the edge of my chart folio. To help my planning, I bought my first digital charts and charting software, Imray ID30, covering the west coast of England, Scotland and Wales, and the whole of Ireland. Usefully cheaper than their Admiralty equivalent (and discounted further for this Euro purchaser by the weakness of Sterling), the CD arrived promptly from those nice people at Marine Chart Services.

On first running the software, users need to register; the first step involves giving an address that must include a postcode. The tiny country I live in doesn't have those anywhere outside the capital, and even then, they aren't in the UK format which this officious little dialog demanded. After some trial and error, I discovered that "--- --" was an acceptable location(!).

Lovely coordinates, but what's the distance?

My first impressions of using the actual chart plotting software itself are that opportunities have been missed - for example, a simple tool like dividers doesn't work quite as well as it could. In the above example, I'm trying to measure the width of the anchorage at Port Magee (on Ireland's lovely south west coast). Ideally, the measurement text box would come out from its hiding place - an easy fix could be "borrowed" from CAD tools and their dimensioning widgets.

A bigger problem is (how ironic!) navigation - moving across a chart takes ages, not because the software is slow (it isn't), but because charts are often many screens wide. A zoomed-out overview in a small overlay window to show the wider context of the currently visible portion of chart would be a nice addition.

My biggest beef, however, is with chart selection. Although the "default" chart covers the full range of the folio, selecting detailed charts for harbours and so on requires browsing a list which identifies them by codes and place names. I understand the reason for this; it is the easiest way to move paper charts to a digital platform. However, it does little for usability, and isn't likely to find favour with users who are familiar with modern digital mapping, as implemented by the likes of Google Maps, Map 24, etc. Why can't I go from a whole-Ireland view to a close-up of the Cork Harbour chart in one click?

Enough with the negatives; the charts themselves look good, and I got a lot of mileage for my money - the sheer amount of data that must be collected to make these charts is astonishing. I'm already looking forward to plotting my next cruise (and with departure mere weeks away, it's not before time!).

Favourite feature so far? Definitely the print option - beautiful, instant reproductions of charts or sections of charts are only a click away (after you accept the "not for navigation" license agreement message).

The verdict so far: excellent value for money. The software is spare, but very functional, and the coverage is great, and I'm very glad I bought it.