We know you wouldn’t leave home without your cell phone, but would you leave the dock without first loading it up with cool boating nav apps? We hope not, especially since we first told you about some nifty navigation apps way back in 2010. Two years later, a mere update wasn’t enough—this technology changes so quickly that 2010 was the dark ages. So here are 10 cool new and/or updated ones we found exceptionally helpful.
1. Interface with onboard electronics
The latest and greatest in nav apps is the ability to interface with your boat’s onboard electronics and navigate from the palm of your hand. Everything from the radar to the chartplotter to the fishfinder is fair game, and you can use these apps to unleash yourself from the helm and run your nav suite from anywhere onboard. (You can learn more about how the units communicate in our cell-to-chartplotter
article). Two systems will now accomplish this feat: Furuno and Raymarine—so let’s start off with a double-header.
Furuno’s TZTouch Remote App (free to TZTouch owners) was the first on the market to allow you to take complete control via your phone and a wireless LAN network. Get the full picture at the Navnet website.
The RayRemote ($30, for phones) and RayControl ($50, for tablets) apps are Raymarine’s version of the same basic idea, and they’ll work with any e-series or c-series multifunction displays. Read up on them at Raymarine’s website.
2. Navionics (for both Android and Apple phone and tablets)
Navionics has been around for years, and it's the most popular app on the water—for good reason. The Navionics app (available in several versions depending on how much and what type of coverage you need), includes basic navigation functions, vector chartography, wind forecasts, terrain overlays, panoramic pictures, tide and current data, and even a “community layer” of data with constantly-updated information provided by users. Plus, if you have a compatible chartplotter aboard it’ll synch with your phone or tablet to put the latest chartographic updates right onto your plotter.
If you’ve been using the Navionics apps and don’t recognize many of these functions, that’s because Navionics has done a great job of constantly improving their navigation applications with updates. The newest version adds yet another unique ability: you can download geo-referenced boating and fishing articles or cruising guides, at any time. Price starts at $10 but quickly goes up from there and some versions are significantly more expensive; iPad HD versions, for example, start at around $55. Check it out at Navionics.
3. GPS Speed is an application that’s straightforward and so cheap—as in, free—that you’ve got to love it. It turns your iPhone into a speedometer. With a one dollar upgrade you get additional speed data like average and max speed. You’ll find it on the iTunes store.
4. There are several apps that let you take advantage of one of the newer forms of marine electronics, which you might not have on board your boat: AIS (automated identification system). Apps like Boat Beacon ($9.99, for iPhones only) or ShipFinder (free version or upgraded version for $4.99), available at the iTunes store, essentially turn your phone into a mini-AIS receiver and—as long as you have cell service—feed you data on ships that could present a collision danger.
5. EarthNC offers seamless nautical charting, weather, and marine data for the iPad and iPhone platforms. The charts come courtesy of NOAA raster scans. Nav functions run the gamut, including real-time navigation, route and waypoint creation, data displays, and trip logs. With the new 3.1 version you can delete waypoints more easily during route creation, delete waypoints from the map screen, and delete waypoints, routes, and maps in the options menus.
EarthNC has a lot of extra data, too, thanks to an agreement with Marinalife, Cruisersnet, and Waterway Guide, which share their databases. That means you can look up local listings for marinas, bridge openings, towing services, and other on-the-water needs, at the swipe of a finger. Cost is $25, and it’ll work on both the i-thingies and robo-brain platforms. Cost is $25; you’ll find more info at EarthNC.
6. Unlike sailors, boy scouts, and tailors, we powerboaters sometimes have problems remembering our knots. Good thing we can always fire up Pro-Knot, which has step-by-step instructions and large illustrations to help you tie 70 different knots. There are also animated versions available. Price ranges from $0.99 to $1.99, depending on which version you choose when you visit Pro-Knot.
7. Jeppesen’s Plan2Nav is another app that turns your iPhone or iPad into a navigational device. It has all the basic nav features—real-time plotting, planning, 2D and perspective chart viewing, a rotating on-screen compass rose, plus some nifty extras like wind/weather/wave screen overlay capability. Here’s the best part: it comes for free. Free! Free! Free! How can Jeppesen give their app away? It comes with very basic chartography data, and if you want more detailed charts, you’ll have to pay to download them. Most charts cost around $20, and you can get the rest of the scoop from Jeppesen.
8. My Anchor Watch will come in handy for overnighting on the hook, especially if you use your cell phone as an alarm clock and sit it next to the berth. You can set an alarm sector with a drift alert, which will wake you up if the anchor starts dragging while you're snoozing. Battery consumption is low and the trial version is free; upgrading to the "pro" version with all the bells and whistles will cost you $6. My Anchor Watch comes in iPhone, Android, and Blackberry versions.
9. 2 Stroke Gas Oil Mix Calc Pro does exactly what its name implies. Just plug in the manufacturer’s recommended ratio and you’ll know in a blink how much oil to add, however much gas you just pumped. Here’s the link, it costs $1.
10. Enough of the useful stuff—how about an app that’s purely for fun? Check out Wave Blazer, a cross-platform multiplayer. The app is free, and we love their promo statement: “It takes a certain kind of person to strap themselves down in what basically amounts to an arrowhead with 4,000 horsepower helicopter turbine engines lodged in the back end. Right about now you need to ask yourself, am I that kind of person?”
So there you have it - 10 apps for smart phones that will make your boating experience better. It's time to charge up that Android or iPhone, hit the water, and point the bow for distant horizons... just as long as you don't cruise too far from those cell towers.