The world runs on apps. Some are useful, some fun, some expensive, and some ridiculous. Whatever you can think of, there’s probably an app for that. Boating is no exception and dozens of apps are vying for memory space on your smartphone. Here are five boating apps that are worth the money, especially since some are free.
US Coast Guard Mobile App
The USCG has jumped into the app game with a proprietary version that provides a lot of information as well as useful tools. Via the app, you can create a safety equipment checklist, request a free safety check for your vessel, file a float plan that you can share with friends and family and reference navigation rules on the spot – when you need them. You can also report hazards to navigation, pollution or suspicious activity.
Before you untie the dock lines, check National Oceanic and Atmospheric (NOAA) weather reports brought via the buoys located nearby and brush up on the boating safety information and laws in your state. You can even call USCG for emergency assistance right through the app in case your radio is inoperable or get connected to 911. Location services must be turned on for these last benefits to work and the app is free on iTunes and Google Play.
MyRadar NOAA Weather Radar
Arguably, few things are more important in boating safety than weather. That’s why sailors, anglers and powerboaters are obsessed with getting the latest updates and they often check multiple sources, some of which disagree. MyRadar weather can show when a squall or storm is coming, how long it will last and how heavy it will be. Everyone from kite surfers to anglers will appreciate knowing if they need to head back to the dock or just sit out a 20-minute squall.
Developed by Aviation Data Systems, this 5-star-rated is free. Weather severity is color-coded and you can choose a background including plain, roads and aerial imagery. You can even get pushed alerts with real-time winds and temperatures. MyRadar is available for Android and iOS devices.
For hardcore sailors and blue water cruisers, it’s not dangerous weather to watch for but helpful wind to sail by. In fact, the app touts they are “ocean and America’s Cup-proven” with two sources of forecasts to increase accuracy. This app basically models winds around the globe and provides them in a visual format including speed and direction. You can get a seven day detailed wind forecast, wave direction, sea temperature and barometric pressure reads, as well as detailed tables and graph views.
The basic service is free if you register. The paid version includes weather routing, departure planning and currents information so it’s especially helpful for big boat racing and offshore cruising. Both ocean and coastal wind maps are available and you can toggle between different sources. The upgraded versions (beyond basic) are a bit expensive - Standard ($48.99) and Professional ($99.99 a month).
Animated Knots by Grog
Do you need to learn basic knots to do the heavy lifting aboard or are you a marlinspike guru looking to learn the more advanced stuff? Either way, Animated Knots by Grog will help with step-by-step instructions and animations you can use as educational or reference materials. If the knot ties itself too fast in the video, there is a step forward and backward button to slow things down. The app even groups types of knots by application such as boating, household, climbing, neckties, fishing, rescue, etc. Behind each knot is a detailed description of how to use it and you can make a list of your favorites.
For $4.99, you can have encyclopedic knowledge of all kinds of knots, hitches, bends, stoppers and even decorative rope mats. Once downloaded, the app doesn’t need internet access to be used and it runs on Android and iOS.
Navigation doesn’t just take place on your chartplotter anymore. Today, boaters want to have a navigation information repeater in their pocket or on their tablet and nav apps like Navionics Boating make that easy.
The app is free for iOS and $9.99 for Android and then you purchase charts blocks that come in in fairly large sectors. For example, you can get most of the Caribbean and South American for one purchase and that may save your bacon if the plotter on your charter boat goes out – experience speaking here. There are also charts for inland lakes and rivers.
Purchase Navionics Gold or Platinum charts, which range in price from $14.99 to $199.99. Chart subscriptions are usually for a year and you’ll need to regularly update this app like most others. Currently, you can use Navionics + for a free two-week trial.
Looking for additional apps to download? Be sure to check out the top Navigation Apps for Boats and the Best Weather App for Your Smartphone.