Try and See It My Way
Electronic cartography is breaking the paper-chart mold, but it may take a “beginner’s mind” to appreciate the results of 3D charting.
The NSE works for me, clearly imparting critical information both near and far, while the Raymarine 3D needs work. But Raymarine knows this and is promising many refinements in a software update coming soon.
There are infinite ways to render and augment 3D charting. For instance, Furuno and Garmin seem to be using the fast-heading and even roll-motion data available on many modern systems to animate the 3D icon representing your own boat. Some navigators find this irritating, but it speaks to the deep visceral change that designers are trying to enable. If an electronic-chart display can connect solidly to your gut boat sense and the dangers in your path, maybe you can save some brain cycles from the intellectual task of chart interpretation, brain cycles you can use to look for uncharted dangers or just to enjoy yourself. The 3D screens that so many dismiss as confusing or gimmicky may, in fact, be the screens that demand less attention because they deliver the information better.
But old habits die hard. I’m quite aware that I’m tapping out this article using a “qwerty” keyboard layout designed over a century ago so that the mechanical type levers, which went away in my distant youth, won’t jam!
That’s why a cursory look at 3D charting usually doesn’t work. Instead, give it some time, lay out a route in the traditional fashion, preferably in a familiar area, and once you’re under way, put at least half your navigation display in 3D mode. Stick with it, and see if your internal navigator doesn’t start intuiting information off that screen in new ways.
For instance, at first I had no use for a 3D display that didn’t include the spot soundings I’ve always had within sight when cruising the opaque and unforgiving waters of Maine. But now I’m experimenting with a clean, colored-bathy-contour 3D view and wondering if all those depth numbers weren’t a wicked waste of my synapses. In other words, I’m finding the tried-and-true way isn’t necessarily the most natural and relaxed way.
Ben Ellison is CW’s electronics editor.