Editors note: echarting is a fairly fast-evolving field, so do your own research…
We own four echart systems. The particular software we use is selected based first upon available support for the most accurate charts available for our operating region. E.g., in New Caledonia the French Hydro charts are the best, so we use MaxSea there as it supports MapMedia, the only echart source we know of for the French Hydrographic Office data. In Australia we use Endeavour because it supports the Australian Hydrographic Office, Royal Australian Navy Seafarer charts (the raster echarts are HCRF format, the same format as UK ARCS; there are also now Seafarer S-57 vector charts for Australia, targeting completion of the entire library sometime in 2010).
Endeavour, by Hydrographic Sciences Australia, is one of our favorite programs, but is mainly useful today for yachts
in waters covered by ARCS/HCRF data or by S-57 ENC chart data. Endeavour is used by the Australian Royal Navy vessels. The Australian Royal Navy is very fussy about navigation 🙂 I.e., this is not a consumer-driven product — it is a navigator-driven product.
For North America and US territories we use MacENC, which has to be one of the very best values in echart software at around $150. MacENC is Mac OS X only, which is our preference. It is very fast, intuitive and handles S-57 charts much better than MaxSea V11. MacENC also displays integrated digital weather models [GRIB files]. There is a lengthy list of important features, so definitely check it out if you have a Mac aboard, or are considering making the switch.
We also own Nobeltec, but stopped paying for upgrades several years ago — I cannot comment on the current product.
The last time I discussed echarts with Jim Corenman, Jim suggested we have a look at a relatively new entry in the field: a Windows-only product, Coastal Explorer, developed by Rosepoint Navigation, whose founders were formally with Nobeltec. It is more than twice the cost of MacENC, but if Jim likes it — any PC-based boat has gotta check it out. I am embarrassed to admit that I have not gotten around to evaluating Coastal Explorer — first because MaxSea was working OK in the Pacific Northwest, second because at that time Coastal Explorer did not support the international chart formats we need — such as Australia and NZ hydrographic offices, nor French hydro. And then I found MacENC 🙂
You may find the best software for you will be influenced by the echart libraries you already own. In our case, we own the entire Australian and New Zealand hydrographic office libraries. That is a bigger investment than most non-ship software.
Personal opinion — we encounter yachts that are depending on libraries of non-hydrographic office digitized charts, frequently of unknown provenance and update level. If you want to take that risk, that is your decision. For us we consider government-certified, up to date charts to be very inexpensive insurance.