Nearly 3 years ago I typed a blog post about Nicholson guides or Pearson guides. We've got them both now and have been using them both for 18 months. Having had a question by email about cruise guides vs. online maps I thought I'd raise this topic again. Opinions and suggestions welcome... these are just ours!
Mick has always much preferred the Pearsons. The map itself is more basic and easy to read (even without glasses!). I had a preference for the Nicholsons. There is more detail of surrounding roads, North is always at the top of the page, and it just provides more information.
Our first few weeks cruising we'd have both guides out on the rear hatch with us when we cruised. We used a plastic zip lock bag to protect the books from the weather. Our Pearsons guides were the ones left on the boat by the previous owner and they were getting old. The Nicholsons were new.
After a while we decided we'd progressively buy a new Pearsons for each area we were cruising. The old version of the book comes out to cruise with us and we write in pencil on it anything that has changed. The new version of the book stays on the dinette table for perusal and we mark our mooring spot each night. The new books will come home with us as a memento.
Over time I've come to like the Pearsons too. The main reasons? The moorings are marked (a real deficiency in the Nicholsons), each page shows estimated cruising time, the state of the towpath is indicated, and access from bridges is marked on the maps. We do still read the Nicholsons regularly but while we're having breakfast at the dinette rather than on the hatch while we cruise.
As for online maps and planners ...... I've tried a few (eg CanalPlan Water Explorer). Some of them are good but you need a computer or ipad and that's not terribly practical standing on the back of a narrowboat. To be honest, I've never really used the online canal maps much. When we moor up and want groceries I look at the "maps" app on my iPad to see exactly where we are and work out where the supermarket is. I've also used Open Street map to see what is available in a town in the way of shops.
For route planning we have a Lockmaster "Principal Inland Navigations" map framed on the wall. We bought it rolled in a cardboard tube so it wouldn't have creases. We bought a second copy of the map as a folded version that we use to mark where we've been. This one will come home with us.