Getting Active Captain to overlay on Garmin charts is a bit of a pain if your Garmin chartplotter is NOT wifi-enabled. Our chartplotter is older and is not wifi-enabled. But it works well and is paid for and I have zero plans to buy a new one.
However, we found that when we were in the Bahamas in 2016, Active Captain had the most accurate and up-to-date information on towns and anchorages. And I loved having it overlaid on our charts in Garmin Home Port so that I could read comments right as I was planning routes.
For those not familiar with Active Captain, it’s crowd-sourced information about anchorages, towns, channels and pretty much everything else that you find on charts. In the US, Bahamas
Garmin bought out Active Captain in May of 2017. Later that year, Garmin removed Active Captain from Home Port, their program that lets you create routes on your laptop and then transfer them to your Garmin chartplotter. You can read more about Home Port here.
Now, there are two options for getting Active Captain overlaid on a chart:
- Using Active Captain in a web browser OR
- Using the Active Captain app on a compatible device
Both have limitations as far as I’m concerned but using the Active Captain app on a tablet is the least bad solution.
UPDATE: After writing this, I learned about a great alternative. Aqua Map has both Active Captain and Waterway Guide info (plus tides and satellite images if desired). NOAA charts for the US and Explorer Charts for the Bahamas. Read my full article on Aqua Map.
Active Captain in a Web Browser
You can access Active Captain overlaid on a Navionics chart through a web browser, but this has three limitations
- It requires a fairly good internet connection.
- It means flipping between the web browser and the Home Port app on your computer to use the Active Captain data while preparing a route.
- And looking at the data on a Navionics chart while creating a route on Garmin charts is just a little weird (Garmin just bought Navionics, too).
I know that in the Bahamas there will be plenty of anchorages where I don’t have an internet connection or only a sketchy one. So I need a way to get the information offline. Using it in a web browser is simply a non-starter for me.
The Active Captain App
Garmin developed an Active Captain app that works on mobile devices. There is no equivalent app or program for Windows or Mac. If you have a Garmin chartplotter or otherwise buy charts for the app, you can download Garmin charts to the app so that you see the Active Captain information overlaid on the chart. It’s my understanding that if you have a wifi-enabled chartplotter, the charts will easily transfer to the app and the Active Captain data to the chartplotter. I don’t know because I (like many others) have an older chartplotter without wifi.
Using the AC app without a wifi chartplotter has its drawbacks, too:
- A phone screen is ridiculously small to actually see charts. You really need a tablet.
- It’s convoluted to set up (but see below for instructions).
- Creating a route in the Active Captain app and then transferring it to your chartplotter is convoluted.
- To me, it’s much easier to create routes on my laptop (keyboard and mouse) than on a touch-screen tablet.
- You must have Garmin charts that are newer than 2012 or you can’t access them with the app.
So for me, the “solution” is to put Active Captain with Garmin charts on my iPad and create my routes using Garmin Home Port on my laptop. The iPad in my lap and the laptop on the table in front of me. Check things in Active Captain and then create the route in Home Port.
How I create a route in Home Port has not changed since I wrote this article on how to do it.
Installing Active Captain and Using Your Garmin Charts
These instructions are specifically for chartplotters that are not wifi-enabled. If yours is wifi enabled, the AC app walks you through creating a connection between your mobile device and the chartplotter and downloading the maps. Their instructions are less than clear if it’s not wifi-enabled; hence my step-by-step directions here. Without a wifi-enabled chartplotter, AC information will NOT appear on your chartplotter.
- IMPORTANT: It was never directly stated, but from the error messages I got and what finally fixed them, it seems to be important to register BOTH Active Captain and your Garmin account with the SAME EMAIL. I had an AC account with my email and our Garmin account had Dave’s email. When I tried to link the two (step 5.4 below) I got a message saying that this device was already registered to a different account. I had to de-register it by logging into that Garmin account (you get a de-register option) and then create a new Garmin account with my email and re-register it.
- Install the Active Captain app on your device. It’s available in both the App Store and Google Play.
- If you do not already have an AC account, create one. If you have an account, sign in.
- If you have not already registered your Garmin chartplotter and/or charts, you’ll have to register them through Garmin Express. You have to do this on a laptop as the app isn’t available for mobile devices.
- On your laptop, install the Garmin Express app.
- Create a Garmin account. Use the same email as you used for the Active Captain account.
- Follow the onscreen instructions to put each of your chart cards into your SD card reader to register them.
Alsoregister your chartplotter. This is important as it seems to be how the app will know what charts came with your chartplotter or that you have purchased and registered — it’s as though the Unit ID is an ID for your account.
- Go back to the Active Captain app.
- Tap on Boat Apps at the bottom of the screen.
- Tap on My Marine Devices.
- At the very bottom of the window that pops up, click on “I Don’t Own a WiFi Capable Device”
- Enter your chartplotter ID. If you don’t know it, click on “Where is my Unit ID?”
- After your device is registered, click on Chart at the bottom of the app.
- Tap on the button on the upper right with three lines (menu).
- Tap Download Charts.
- Your charts should be listed on the next screen. Tap the one that contains the area you want charts for.
- Tap tiles for the squares that you want detailed charts for. You’ll see an estimate of the space needed on your device and the space available.
- The downloads will start immediately. You’ll see the progress. Leave the window open as it is downloading.
- After all charts are downloaded, go back two screens to get to the main “charts” page.
- You can now use finger gestures to move to the chart area you want and zoom in. Tap an AC symbol to get more information about a particular place.
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