There’s no debating that cell phones have become intertwined with all aspects of modern life, including boating. But just how much you can do with new apps like ShipFinder and WindAlert is still bound to surprise. Who would have thought you could essentially turn your phone into an AIS receiver? Or go from watching the wind reports to getting real-time observations from hundreds of private weather stations across the nation? Don’t leave that pocket communicator at home the next time you shove off the dock—it’s becoming a very real navigational device for everyone from sailboaters to anglers to cruisers.
We’ve become used to utilizing apps like EarthNC, Navionics, and Instamapper, which can turn your phone into a chartplotter. But what about AIS? Never fear—while standing on the convention center floor at the Miami boat show, Boats.com contributor Zuzana Prochazka showed me a new version of a nifty way to turn your iPhone or iPad into an AIS display: ShipFinder. This latest version, introduced a few months ago, includes two new features: ship coordinates, and the ability to eliminate history paths. That means you can quickly plot ship locations on your chart using the ShipFinder data, and at the same time, eliminate one of the biggest AIS problems—too much on-screen clutter. It costs five bucks, which seems awful darn cheap when you remember that an AIS receiver costs about a grand.
Another cool app worth looking into is WindAlert. This one was entered in the Innovation Awards and although it didn’t win, when we judges spoke with the developer, we learned that this company maintains hundreds of private observation stations from coast to coast. That means that you won’t be looking only at the same-old, same-old NOAA data everyone sees on other weather apps. Instead, it’ll give you the NOAA stuff plus a lot of data that’s proprietary. It’s nifty but you’ll have to pay for the best versions (several levels are available for both iPhone and Android).
With nifty abilities like these, if you’re not eager to take advantage of your phone as a navigation aid, you might need a serious "app-itude" adjustment.