Navionics card reader, a Windows ‘gotcha’

NavPlanner card reader

Does it strike you as peculiar that Navionics is packaging their new NavPlanner software with a special multi card reader? Heck, didn’t Navionics spearhead the move to standard memory cards? Aren’t all its current products on either CF or SD formats? Wasn’t there once a rumour spread by the likes of me that Navionics was thinking of putting a free planning program on every card? That’s true, but dates to the days when Microsoft had assured Navionics that its chart files could be simultaneously protected and read using normal MS file features. That turned out to be untrue, and that’s why you need a special reader to view Navionics charts on a PC. I think the same is true of C-Map, whose charts now come on SD cards too. So it goes. Using standard memory cards in plotters still makes it easier to do firmware updates and save waypoints, and also reduces overall chart card costs. NavPlanner, by the way, is still not shipping, but “very close”.  

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Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now excited to have Ben Stein as very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Panbo is going to the next level in 2019 and beyond.

29 Responses

  1. Dave says:

    The files could technically be protected with the right DRM technology, but this is not a general feature of Windows. Navionics went with a hardware reader solution, which ironically may be less secure than a software DRM solution. (Think secure Apple AAC or MS WMA music files.) The idea is that each individual’s maps are encrypted with their own key and are therefore not usable by someone else. I’ll be suprised if we don’t see an evolution to this model eventually.

  2. Gregg says:

    It’s actually quite trivial to circumvent software DRM methods. A google search on converting DRM WMA files to MP3 returns quite a few turn-key solutions on how to circumvent that method. Hardware methods on a general level may not be more secure, but it’s a additional level of annoyance would-be chart thieves would have to go through to steal the product.

  3. Dave says:

    These so-called “turn key” solutions for converting DRM WMA actually capture the audio and re-record or burn and re-encode the files (which only works for files that allow burning). If you look closely you will find that none of these solutions crack or remove the orginal DRM. Audio and video files have an analog path to our eyes and ears and are linear so there is a easy capture path. Charts are a different story entirely and the market is small enough that software DRM done right would be effective and most likely cheaper and easier for the end user.

  4. Bill Kearney says:

    Hardware methods simply slow the process of defeating the DRM. Meanwhile DRM in general ends up doing harm to their paying customer base. The DRM doesn’t deter those that would never pay for it, they’ll find a way to steal it regardless. It only ends up putting barriers to use up in front of those that ARE willing to pay for the product. Smart move? Not hardly, by using this you end up turning the otherwise loyal customers into disgruntled victims. Instead of being favorable spokesman for the product they speak against it. Again, dumb move. It also opens the door to customers being more portable. Instead of being loyal, repeat buyers, they’re now willing to switch brands at a much lower resistance level. After all, who wouldn’t trade to a product that doesn’t treat it’s customers like criminals?
    It’s sad and yet so revealing. It clearly shows to the customers just how much contempt management has for them.

  5. Bill Kearney says:

    And one has to wonder what’s delaying NavPlanner. No doubt it’s the DRM. So instead of giving customers an opportunity to get a jumpstart on the season they’re holding out based on greed.

  6. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Oh, come on, Bill, are you suggesting that we should be free to, say, copy the files from a $500 Platinum card onto another card for a buddy? If you were running Navionics, or C-Map or Garmin or Nobeltec etc., would you make that possible? I wouldn’t, even though I very much agree with the general concept of a business trusting its customers.

  7. Gregg says:

    Dave: You rightly so point out that audio and video files are easier to get away with defeating anti-piracy methods, and it’s much more difficult to circumvent more complex files. I was simply stating what I said to demonstrate that systems like that still arn’t perfect, and can be compromised by people with enough free time and determination.
    No system is flawless; you can make it so obnoxious to break it that people will either give up trying, or the method used to pirate the files would be so complex the average computer user wouldn’t be able to reproduce them. The drawback to methods such as these is they also affect legitimate users like Bill mentioned, but while providing a less pleasant user experience, my personal opinion is that the less stealing of charts that goes on, the more benefit there is to the end users. It keeps chart prices from going up to make up for lost revenues, the company doesn’t have to invest in more anti-piracy methods, and the company will have the money available to keep those charts up to date.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Oft times I read on cruising forums that chart sharing is quite common. I think NOAA has taken the correct step and offered both RNC’s and ENC’s at no cost.

  9. Bill Kearney says:

    I already own a Navionics Platinum for my E-80, so don’t think I don’t appreciate it enough to recognize it’s value. But they’re holding out on delivering a PC program all because of a custom reader. Gee, thanks for screwing me the customer.
    If you and your buddies are willing to be thieves and steal copies then it’s not like you’d ever represent actual sales anyway. Thus making it hard for me, the legitimate paying customer, to use the product. All to stop someone who’s not willing to pay for it? How is this a good idea?
    As for chart prices, we’ve already paid for much of what’s on these charts anyway. I’m willing to pay something for updates and additional info. But the basic chart data is NOAA sourced, bought and paid for with our tax dollars.

  10. Bill Kearney says:

    As for difficulty circumventing, chart data’s no more complex than video, mp3 or anything else. It all has to traverse a buss at some point. It won’t stay secure for long. Then it just becomes a spit-in-the-face gesture at the publishers.
    Were they to sell the charts at a reasonable price and not treat their customers like untrustworthy criminals they’d end up selling MORE chips. Especially if they went into selling frequent updates of said sets to keep up with the latest nav data. But nope, better to just screw the few willing to put up with their tactics, eh?

  11. Douglas says:

    Interesting article on why Windows is so bogged down with it’s own legacy..
    Why is Windows so slow?

  12. goofy17 says:

    At the moment I paid 50% of the full price for a update which in Holland does not give me the newist buoys in te changing Waddenzee.
    For my Iphone I bought the full west european charts for 19.95 Euro. That makes a difference of almost 100 euro.
    Is there a possibility to use thes data for CF use?
    I can write on CF with the navionics CF reader even on Navionics CF cards. So a hardware protection should be bybassed?

  13. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Don’t steal chart data, goofy17. Navionics products are priced differently but fairly for smart phones and MFDs, and the revenues are what let the company create cartography packages and applications, and they help the hydrographic offices that get the license fees to collect data.
    Boaters who steal chart data make life harder for other boaters, pushing up prices and making copy protection schemes more painful. I’ve heard lots of justifications for such thievery — usually from blue water sailors, sadly enough — but they are all baloney. If you use charts whose copy protection was broken, you’re a thief, plain and simple, and I think your karma will reflect that.

  14. peter coupland says:

    Never could understand why some people think it’s ok to steal software.
    Navionics has spent a lot of R&D money to bring their product to market.
    I’m afraid there’s lots of people out there who would copy a Platinum chip if they could.(I got asked that all the time when I was selling chartplotters,people would see the SD card and that would be the first thing out of their mouths.)

  15. Reinier Zwolsman says:

    Dear Goofy17,
    due to the paper chart release of the Netherlands mid April instead of the beginning of March, is the Navionics release moved towards the second week of July. Navionics knows that and that is why they exchange without any charge charts which are being bought on CF or SD. Charts which are updated will not be exchanged without any charge. The charts bought by AppStore of the Netherlands are also with the date of 2009, without a free exchange.

  16. Richard C says:

    First, let me say that I never copy or steal software or charts. Reason number one is I just don’t feel good about it. Reason two, are all the reasons mentioned above. I am aware of many under financed, (cheap) cruisers who still use and share the ten year old C-Map CD with charts for the world. They say the land is still in the same place regardless of other changes and that’s all they need. I don’t agree with them, however, I can sympathize with what drives some cruisers to “share” this unprotected CD. Not a single company I’m aware of has filled the void and met their needs by offering a new single CD or DVD with world charts. If Navionics or other chart company sold and updated this product for a fair price and used todays encryption technology it might sell to many who now reluctantly copy the old stuff.
    Also, I guess price point is important. Two years ago I paid $400 for a large Garmin g2 Vision region. I would never do that again. In fact, updating this region is 50% of the list, ($428). way out of the range of “worthwhile” for me. If updates where priced at $75 a year I would jump and I’m sure many others would as well. When you get into the range of $200 for an update too many mariners pass and Garmin never gets a penny. Please, Garmin, sell me a three year, g2 Vision update program for $75 a year. I’ll buy it right now! Easy inexpensive updates make it less likely cruisers will go through the trouble to steal. And, lets just forget about proprietary hardware readers – use software protection and standard SD or CF cards – I just don’t have room for this hardware clutter.

  17. Reinier Zwolsman says:

    Dear Richard,
    Navionics is starting to ship preformatted SD and CF charts. A customer can choose a chart to download from the Navionics download site. The choosen chart can be written on the Navionics preformatted chart with a normal chart reader. To read a Navionics chart in a software program you will need the dedicated Navionics chart reader.

  18. Terrytt says:

    There was a letter recently in the yachting press about a navionics customer whose card became corrupted after about 15 months if I remember correctly and they wanted full price for a new card – they wouldn’t give any discount. The magazine letter shamed them into offering some money off but it was still a major league rip-off – charging perhaps £100 for charts which they had only recently sold to the cusomter.
    It seems software theft is a one way street for Navionics – this time it’s the customer getting ripped off.

  19. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Terry, did the letter writer somehow lose the corrupted card before he could send it back to Navionics? I ask because I don’t think Navionics — or C-Map, or Garmin — EVER charge full original price to update a card. This story does not have the ring of truth.

  20. Reinier says:

    Dear Terrytt, I am working on a daily bases with the Navionics charts and loosing charts on a Navionics can be e mechanical chart problem, but most of all a mistake of the owner. When I get a faulty chart most of the time the owner is very carefull with his charts and because of the price of the charts the customer wants to make a backup of the content. Navionics warns the owner that making a copy by draging the content will damage the content which can not be solved. The owner should make a copy for a network chartplotter by copying the content on a blank CF or SD and because the original chart has the keycode, the copied chart may be opened on the network chartplotter. Sometimes 1 in a 1000, I do not know how, there is an extra file on the chart by which the content could not be opened. Never try to open or change the content of the chart. Regarding the price. The content of the charts are being made by buying charts all over the world. Try to make digital charts as nice as Navionics and convince the market that your charts are one of the best.

  21. Terrytt says:

    Hi the letter and corresponding reply from Navionics is in Sept 2010 Practical Boat Owner. I got some of the details wrong – the customer bought med charts from navionics for £195 (approx $300) and the card became corrupted after less than one season. He tried to get a replacement and managed after much argument go get the price down to £95 ($150). The navionics reply was that a corrupted card was not their problem and the normal way would be for a customer to pay full price for a replacement card (unless you cause some trouble and argue).
    This seems to me a complete rip off. The customer is also complaining about the price differential between the charge of approx £15 for the same charts on his iPad and the £195 for charts for his plotter.
    Ben could you explain exactly how I back up my charts – I have no desire to give to a third party a piece of software especially one which is traceable to me.
    Are you describing a process where two networked plotters could have a map card installed – with one being the original and the other a copy. If so that’s not really of interest since AIUI the Raymarine plotters which I use only need one installed card.
    When you say dragging the contents from one disk to another (presumably using the special card reader for the original disk) this will remove the original copy on the navionics card. If I understand correctly you suggest using a cut and paste type of copy – I’m not sure if the new card has to be formatted in a special way (or inserted into the special card reader). Are you saying that this is an effective backup solution so that I could make a copy and leave the originals at home and just use the copies in the boat?

  22. Reinier says:

    Dear Terryt, it is not possible to make a working copy card. In a Geonav or “old” Raymarine Network of multiple chartplotters you need 1 original Navionics card and you may copy – NOT DRAG – the charts on an empty card. The Network chartplotters are linked to the original Navionics card. The Navionics card has a hidden key to open the charts on the card. Regarding the card of the med which was corrupted. The offer of 50% is the normal update fee!

  23. Terrytt says:

    Reiner,
    thanks for the explanation. I had hoped that there was a way I could avoid being in the same position as the letter writer I mentioned earlier. I personally don’t like being treated like a potential theif when I buy software and I’ll take the opportunity to ditch Navionics as soon as an alternative becomes available.
    I think the manner in which this customer was treated was deplorable – he should have been offered an inexpensive way to at least put him back to the position he was in before his card became corrupted.
    Remember the official Navionics position was “buy a new card” and only by arguing did he get a price reduction.

  24. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    “The navionics reply was that a corrupted card was not their problem and the normal way would be for a customer to pay full price for a replacement card (unless you cause some trouble and argue).”
    Again, Terry, I simply don’t think that’s true. If you have a card to turn in — regardless of why — you get a new card of the same area for a steep discount. I believe that’s true of Navionics and all the other chart card manufacturers. I will double check this policy with Navionics myself, but here’s betting that whatever actually happened to that letter writer was either his confusion or the work of an unethical chart dealer.
    My question is why would go online to criticize Navionics based on hearsay evidence?

  25. Terrytt says:

    Ben,
    I wrote, from memory, a substantially correct account of a letter, which appeared in the yachting press. You said that you didn’t think it was true. I replied with a reference and clarified some of the points made and added the substance of the reply afforded to Navionics by the magasine.
    You now say you don’t believe me and accuse me of of basing my criticisms on ‘hearsay’. I think that’s rather rude – please refer to the reference I gave you above – the correspondence is on p16 under the title “Readers Letters”. Please feel free to contact the author of the letter Steve Dunning of Rugeley Staffs, and the author of the navionics reply: Lance Godefroy.
    So in answer to your question: “why would go(sic) online to criticize Navionics based on hearsay evidence?”
    Since I didn’t base my criticisms on hearsay evidence – I am unable to answer your snide questioning of my motives.
    My motive for highlighting this particular instance of customer abuse is the disgust I feel towards Navionics in their treatment of this particular customer and customers in general.

  26. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Terry, that’s the very definition of hearsay. You have no idea what actually happened between that guy and his chart dealer. All you know is what you heard from him. Getting printed in a magazine doesn’t make it true.
    What I did when you first wrote about this issue — and mixed up even the hearsay ‘facts’, it’s worth noting — was to suggest that it did not ring true. If you have ever read the fine print that came with your Navionics charts, or most any other software or digital data you’ve ever bought, you’d see that what you purchased was not a physical thing but rather the right to use intellectual property. The copy-protected card neatly represents the single-user rights you bought, which is why trading a card for updated data almost never costs as much as the original purchase.
    At any rate, what you might have done with my fairly gentle prodding, and Reinier’s, was to contact your own Navionics dealer and ask what the policy is for updating cards that fail or are damaged by the user, or whatever. Did you do that? I don’t think so. Instead you’re throwing around words like “deplorable” and “disgusting” based completely on hearsay evidence. Frankly, that’s deplorable.

  27. Terrytt says:

    Ben,
    It’s not hearsay if what the customer says is corroborated by the Navionics spokesman, as I’ve explained – it’s obviously not getting through. Let me say it again “It’s Navionics policy to expect a customer to buy a new card if their card is damaged”.
    The customer was not requesting an upgraded chart – just a replacement. There may well not have been an upgrade available since he had had less than a seasons use from his map. There’s no excuse for Navionics to chage more than about £20 for a new card & cover costs.
    I want to know what the company policy is regarding replacment. I don’t want to have to rely on an ad-hoc decision by a dealer. I don’t have a Navionics dealer because I move cruising ground; I could be near a number of dealers if I need a replacement. Which is why the stated company policy is what counts and that stated policy is a ripoff – and that’s a perfectly logical position to take, whatever you say.

  28. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Actually, you haven’t explained very well, Terry. You only just mentioned that Navionics had a reply in the same magazine. And I still don’t know for sure if the policy stated is “as heard” by angry customer, or “as stated” by Navionics. I don’t get Practical Boat Owner (though I think it’s an excellent pub), but I was planning to call Navionics on other business. I will definitely ask about card replacement policies.

  29. Reinier says:

    Dear Terryt, regardless which software is bought – PC, laptop or on formatted cards – you can not speak about being treated as a thief. Like software and hardware the consumer decides which software and hardware he buys. Feel free to look at the policy of C-Map or Microsoft. Claiming warranty for a product which does not work does not give the end user the right to claim without checking the product. As I am working with Navionics products over 10 years, I never had a card on which the content disappears by itself. The last 3 years I am working at a company which distributes the Navionics cards and I am responsible for the cards. The faulty cards which are being send to me ought to be checked regarding a couple of tests. In the last 3 years I had 1 faulty card, which was covered by warranty by Navionics. All of the cards which have send to me by our dealers claiming warranty were being damaged by the end user. Navionics however did not act as many other manufacturers and offered a discount like the normal update. No one ever complained about the update even claiming warranty. Knowing how many cards are being sold and used in the market you should understand that the action taken by the Navionics dealer, is the action of the dealer and not of Navionics. Navionics is however the sole company to say if the faulty card is covered by warranty, like any manufacturer of hardware and software. Have a nice weekend and I am closing my entry.

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