Electronic charts are great, they offer volumes of information in a tiny concise package! Paper charts need to be purchased, printed, stored, and retrieved individually; whereas electronic charts can be downloaded for free and searched quickly and easily.
Most electronic charts will change to lower scale charts as you zoom in automatically, saving you the trouble of finding the chart inset and relocating your position on the new page. Since electronic charts are so easy to manage and carry, it is easy to keep your chart collection up to date with the most current charts, all in an easy to carry and read electronic device.
One favorite seems to be the iPad. These little computers have incredible battery lives and a wealth of programs that load seamlessly into the unit. I can sync the iPad to my Delorme InReach and see our exact position on the most current chart of the area. When we are leaving for new waters, we just need to download the latest charts for our intended destination and any other points of interest along the way (in case we get side tracked). There is no trip to the chandler or payment for tubes containing our paper charts, and best of all, no cost!
Each paper chart usually costs around $20. Most programs that will display navigational charts are free! Those that are not free are still only a few dollars, and then you have the ability to display any and every chart. Technology really is amazing!
While technology is great, it is also fragile. I keep the iPad in a protective case to prevent accidental damage to the unit, but that only goes so far. One morning, I was carrying a block of wood that I had been working on out the companionway. A wake hit the boat and the block of wood slipped out of my hand and fell straight onto the iPad. Luckily, the screen didn't crack from the impact (thanks to the protective case it lives in) but the screen did die.
When I turned it on, half the screen was gray bands while the other half was static. I know that the unit was still functioning because the clock appeared at the top of the monitor. Sadly, the time will not tell me all I need to know about the waters I am cruising in. Because we also carry paper charts, the loss of the iPad was not as detrimental of a loss. We were still able to navigate the waters and sail without questioning where we are.
The take home message is that electronic gizmos are great, but you still need to carry a paper backup in the event that the electronic device were to fail.