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3-D Chart Plotting Benefits

Three-dimensional chart plotting is controversial and complex but has the potential to be an intuitive solution while under way.
Boating Safety

In classic and successful Garmin ( keep-it-simple-but-easy fashion, the company’s various multifunction displays permit only limited zooming in 3-D; the view becomes familiar quicker, and without confusion, but there are situations in which I’d like more 3-D scale control. In classic and successful Furuno ( high-performance-but-manual-required fashion, NavNet 3D gives you unlimited zooming, scrolling and tilting and even lets you fly around in 3-D mode, but you may get giddy.

And the truth of those stereotypes goes only so far. There’s an elegance to the way Furuno simply morphs its 2-D into 3-D, with all details and functions intact and a single button-push that easily switches back and forth. Garmin treats 3-D as a separate function window, like fish-finding, and disables some regular charting tasks, like selecting mini automatic radar plotting aid (MARPA) targets. On the other hand, a Garmin user with a g2 Vision chart card now gets a choice of three distinctly different mariner 3-D modes, acknowledging, I think, that a perfect mode is not only elusive, but also subjective.

The Raymarine E-Series Widescreen ( and Simrad NSE (, on which I’m also testing 3-D, both need a Navionics platinum chart card to display it, and it’s interesting how very differently they currently derive 3-D from the same data. There’s tremendous nuance to all the shading, scaling and data choices possible, as well as screen options and controls. The NSE works for me, clearly imparting critical information both near and far, while the Raymarine needs work. But Raymarine knows that and is promising many refinements in a software update coming soon.

There are infinite ways to render and augment 3-D 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 3-D icon representing your own boat. Some navigators find this irritating, but it speaks to the deep visceral change manufacturers are trying to enable. If an electronic chart display can connect solidly to your gut boat sense and the dangers in its path, maybe you can save some brain cycles from the normally intellectual task of chart interpretation — brain cycles you can use to look for uncharted dangers, or just to enjoy yourself. The 3-D 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 more than a century ago to slow my typing so that the mechanical type levers that went away in my distant youth won’t jam! That’s why a cursory look at 3-D charting usually doesn’t work.

Instead, lay out a route in the traditional fashion, preferably in a familiar area, and once you’re under way, put at least half the navigation display in 3-D 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 3-D 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 3-D view and wondering if all those depth numbers weren’t a wicked waste of synapses. The tried-and-true way is not necessarily the most natural and relaxed way. Perhaps it’s time to open our minds to another dimension.

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The U.S. Coast Guard is asking all boat owners and operators to help reduce fatalities, injuries, property damage, and associated healthcare costs related to recreational boating accidents by taking personal responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their passengers. Essential steps include: wearing a life jacket at all times and requiring passengers to do the same; never boating under the influence (BUI); successfully completing a boating safety course; and getting a Vessel Safety Check (VSC) annually from local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, United States Power Squadrons(r), or your state boating agency's Vessel Examiners. The U.S. Coast Guard reminds all boaters to "Boat Responsibly!" For more tips on boating safety, visit

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