Got both a cell phone and a chartplotter? Well, if both are WiFi and Bluetooth capable, you're at the forefront of electronic navigation. Between these two modern devices navigation is a breeze, and these days, they can even work together to get you from point A to point B.
By now you’ve probably heard about the nav apps you can arm your phone with, which can turn it into a navigational wonder. (If you haven’t, you troglodyte, read about them here.) And there’s no doubt you already know how to use your chartplotter to make waypoints, set a course, and steer in a straight line. What’s new is the ability of these units to combine via a WiFi link or Bluetooth, and help each other do their jobs.
One way to make the cell/plotter connection is with Raymarine’s new e-series. If you have Navionics Mobile on your phone, it gets regular cartographic updates via cell link. When you walk onto your boat and fire up the Raymarine, it’ll automatically link up with your cell phone, sync with it, and download the new cartography right into its own navigational brain.
Another player in the cell-cum-chartplotter arena is Furuno. Their new NavNet TZ Touch unit can also talk to your cell phone (or tablet), as long as you have Furuno’s free Viewer App. Once they’re gabbing with each other, you can see the chartplotter’s functions on the cell screen. Or take it one step farther and with the Remote app you can use the phone or tablet’s touch screen to operate your helm station from afar.
Even AIS gets into the act, with Vesper Marine’s Watchmate Vision. Again, a built-in WiFi link lets your phone interact with the helm. But in this case, it allows you to pull out your cell phone and look at AIS contacts on the screen, from anywhere on your boat.
In 2011, we saw the first chartplotter ever to integrate WiFi into the head unit; by the time 2012 rolled around, WiFi was popping up in several chartplotters and AIS, in VHF radios, and even in marine stereos. And in all of these cases, it allowed for some rather interesting interactions with cell phones. More advances are sure to follow, so stay tuned and keep that pocket communicator close by. These days, it’s a bona fida navigational device—and it’ll do you a lot more good than that dusty old sextant -- at least as long as the signals are flowing and the electricity lasts.