A Notebook Computer Navigation System

While boaters should always carry a set of paper NOAA and Canadian Hydrographic charts for the intended cruising area, most of the navigation, as well as steering, can be done with an electronic chart display. There are three parts to this system:

  1. A notebook computer with a navigation program and raster charts on CD-ROM, or installed to the computer hard drive.
  2. A GPS reciever
  3. An autopilot connected to the GPS and the notebook computer

The navigation software is Fugawi 3, from Northport Systems Inc. It displays the charts on a color 15 inch notebook computer. The GPS is a Garmin 128 with external antenna. The computer is connected to the GPS NMEA output so that the display shows the position of the Q E Too on the chart. The intended course is entered into the computer and you just steer to follow the course line on the display.

The display also has a window showing course heading, so you can manually set the autopilot to follow the course. If there is any cross track error due to wind or current, you see this on the display and can correct for it by manually jogging the autopilot either left or right, as necessary. The autopilot is also connected to the GPS NMEA output and can receive guidance from the GPS. The GPS "GOTO" function will automatically direct the autopilot. In this mode, called the tracking mode, the autopilot automatically steers to the waypoint, which is useful on the longer course legs. Courses can also be stored in the Garmin GPS receiver and can direct the autopilot to the stored course.

In addition, the autopilot NMEA input can also be switched to the Fugawi 3 output and follow a course from the notebook computer (example shown on the right).

Here is the setup:

1024x768 laptop display showing Fugawi3 navigation application

Here is a typical display:

1024x768 laptop display showing Fugawi3 navigation application


Here is the NMEA wiring between the GPS, the computer and the autopilot.

hookup diagram for gps, computer and autopilot
View my presentation
for using a navigation application →
Navigation Demo

Mount Rainier from Balch Passage, Anderson Island

Mount Rainier from Balch Passage, with Anderson Island Ferry


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