Using Nimble with GPS

Almost any GPS can be used with Nimble Navigator, as long as the GPS can talk with a computer using the NMEA 0183 standard. The makers of GPS systems have mostly used the NMEA 0183 standard to allow the GPS to send information to the computer. But still, very few of these GPS systems will listen to a computer using the NMEA 0183 standard. The GPS might listen to its own brand language, but not the standard. The GPS can send location information to the computer, but will ignore waypoint information from the computer. Garmin and Magellan are two makers of GPS systems that will both talk and listen to a computer using the NMEA 0183 standard. Many other GPS systems will not.

  • GPS System options:
    • Permanent Mount GPS: Most boats will already have one installed. It could be a simple GPS. It could be the GPS used in a complex network/instrumentation system. A cable from the system, normally known as NMEA in/out, may have to be extended to reach the computer. Almost always, a connector (a DB9 female) will have to be soldered to the NMEA in/out cable. A USB to Serial Adapter will have to be used.
    • Handheld GPS: A handheld GPS sometimes makes the most sense. With a power/data accessory cable from the maker of your GPS, it becomes a fully functional, stand-alone navigation system when used with Nimble Navigator and your computer. A USB to Serial Adapter will have to be used.
    • GPS Mouse/Puck: Great for their lower price, but, because they have no display themselves, the computer must remain on for you to use this type of GPS. Almost always, A USB to Serial Adapter is built right into the unit, and it can be used by plugging directly into a USB port. There are a few notable exceptions; the Garmin GPS18 is one of them and units like it will need extra software to make them work with any system, if they will work at all.

  • Best Bet:
  • I use a Garmin 152 permanent mount GPS because it both talks and listens and so supports the way I use Nimble Navigator. I can leave the GPS running all the time. With just 2 clicks on the chart in Nimble Navigator, I can send a waypoint to the GPS, it exists and is active in the GPS. I call this the 'Running Waypoint'. Now I can turn the computer off and save power. I use the GPS to track my navigation to the running waypoint. When I arrive near it, I start the computer, then, with 2 more clicks on the chart in Nimble Navigator, I move the running waypoint out in front of me again and it is updated in the GPS. Now I can turn the computer off and save power. I use the GPS to track my navigation to the running waypoint... Again and again. I can build entire routes in Nimble Navigator and the send them to my GPS. As a backup, I have a Garmin 72 handheld, and switching to it is nothing more than just plugging it in.

  • Installation:
  • For a permanent mount or handheld, if the data cable (or NMEA in/out cable) from your GPS is already fitted with a 9 pin connection (DB9 female), installation is simple. Install the driver for the USB to Serial Adapter, plug the USB side of the adapter into the computer, and plug the GPS cable into the 9 pin side of the adapter. If a 9 pin connection (DB9 female) must be soldered to the GPS cable, this can be tricky. Because the data cables from a GPS have different color coding depending on the manufacturer, installation can get a little strange. Maybe qualified help will be important here.

  • USB to Serial Adapters:
  • Geek Speak... Over 20 years ago, the NMEA standard was born before USB connections were common, so SERIAL/COM (9 pin) connections were used. This means that, for a GPS to talk with a computer using the NMEA standard, the GPS must be connected through a 9 pin connection. This has become a problem. Now, very few computers are built with a 9 pin connection, everything now is USB. A USB to Serial Adapter is a cable/device that connects to the 9 pin (also known as NMEA in/out) connection of the GPS and then plugs into a USB port on the computer. Software, called a 'driver', is required for all of these adapters. The driver should come with the adapter and be compatible with your version of Windows. The best adapters have the PL2303[Prolific] chipset.