International Marine just announced the launch of two new apps for the iPhone and iPad. One gives access to the information found in the do-it-yourselfer’s reference and troubleshooting bible, “Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual” by Nigel Calder. The other provides an electronic peek at the contents of “The Practical Encyclopedia of Boating,” by John Vigor. Since the Encyclopedia is a bit simpler, let’s cover that one first.


The cover appears briefly before the index takes over, making it easy to find any definition you're looking for.

The Practical Encyclopedia of Boating App
After a quick flash of the cover, the app opens directly into a searchable index. Click on “Bahamian Moor” and a quick definition appears at the top of the page: “A safe way to secure a boat left unattended in an anchorage.” A detailed explanation and how-to follows. Other summaries are a little more playful, like this one for “Nighttime Boating:” “Experiencing the fright and delight of the night.” And some show off the author’s bias. “Brightwork” (which will always engender as many opinions as the number of people asked) begins with this sentence: “Painting wood: the sensible road that’s not often taken.”

The humor and opinion lighten the tone, and the information is detailed and informative. Whether to win bar bets or to understand the words of an old salt, this would be a good addition to any mariner’s app library.

The Practical Encyclopedia of Boating app is currently available for $18.99 on iTunes, almost the same as the paper version ($18.95) on the International Marine (McGraw-Hill Professional) website. More about pricing in a moment.

Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual (BMEM) App
Anyone who has delved into the paper version of Nigel Calder's excellent, authoritative  BMEM would rightly wonder how so much detailed information could possibly be conveyed via the small screen of an iPhone. Even iPad owners will be challenged by the navigation and formatting, which hopefully will be improved in later versions.

The app has two search options: Contents (a list of chapter headings) and Index. The text lines under Contents are very close together, making them hard to read. That said, if you knew what you were looking for (from previous persusals of the paper version, say) this would be the easiest way to find it.


A screenshot of the BMEM app shows the Contents view on the left. The right box is an example of the excellent information contained in this app.

Clicking on the link to Chapter 17 (Spars, Standing Rigging, and Roller Reefing) took me to a diagram of sailboat parts, which would probably be easier to view on the iPad. Scrolling down led me to a secondary table of contents; under Standing Rigging I found listings for different types of rigging, as well as info on tuning and rigging a boat. The links made sense, even if the navigation was a bit cumbersome.

The index view seemed less consistent. I was unable to find the page listed in the screenshot above via the index (which is shown as the source in the top left corner of the screen); a search for "Monitoring," "Control," "Balanced," and "Battery-Powered" brought up nothing. I finally reproduced this page (though with "Contents" showing top left) by clicking through several links from Chapter 1 in contents.

Typing “battery” into the index search box yielded better results. The menu automatically jumped to the B’s, and clicking “battery chargers” brought up a whole screenful of detailed suggestions: ABYC standards, operational principles, size, specifications, troubleshooting, etc. Each link went right to the specific listing for that subject.

Other links seemed less logical, perhaps due in part to the lack of “big picture” we all take for granted when paging through a paper version. Under “Roller Reefing and Furling," when I clicked on Rod Rigging's link 1, I found myself smack in the middle of how to fix a spinnaker pole end. The index listings have apparently been edited for the app version, but this section is still very hard to use in its current form.

Now, a word about pricing. Both of these apps cost the same as their paper counterparts, which means the BMEM app is a whopping $49.99. To me it would be crazy to buy a first generation app when for the same money I could buy the easier to use paper version. I’m also surprised the publisher chose to create an app instead of an ebook, which might provide a better electronic platform for the very complicated and information-packed BMEM.

I’m sure International Marine will work to improve both of these apps in the future, until they are as easy to use as they were to download. In the meantime, hats off to the company for diving into the brave new world of electronic access, which will surely increase awareness of their highly respected publications.