The majority of us never leave home without our smartphone, so if you want to make the best use of your phone while afloat, we suggest you load it up with some of the best navigation apps available today. Here are 10 smartphone apps we recommend to help you become a better boater.
The most popular navigation app is Navionics—and for good reason. Navionics essentially turns your phone or tablet into a chartplotter and includes an array of planning and navigation functions, vector cartography, wind forecasts, tide and current data, a “community layer” of data with constantly-updated information provided by users, live depth data if connected to a fishfinder, and autorouting for navigating through narrow channels based on chart data and navigation aids. That’s quite a list of features and functions. Plus, if you have a Raymarine chartplotter aboard you can sync routes and markers and update charts from your phone right onto your plotter. Pricing starts at $9.99 but can be more expensive. The iPad HD versions, for example is $49.99. Get the $4.99 a year Navionics+ subscription to get access to the full array of features.
If you want to add an augmented dimension to navigation, SeaNav does the job (for $19.99). Not only does this app give you navigational abilities, it also enables you to combine your camera view with a chart overlay in an augmented reality display. To learn more about how augmented reality can work while navigating by phone, read Augmented Reality: New Features in Navigation Apps.
Furuno Viewer and Raymarine RayView
With your smartphone, you can extend your boat’s onboard electronics including radar, chartplotter and fishfinder. You can use these apps to unleash yourself from the helm and view your nav suite from anywhere onboard. Both Furuno (Viewer) and Raymarine (RayView) have apps that enable you to simulate your chartplotter, radar, and other screens on your smartphone or tablet via a wireless LAN network. Furuno’s app can communicate with TZTouch units, and the RayRemote works with e-series or c-series multifunction displays.
If you want to do more than just view your electronics, upgrade to the Furuno Navnet Remote app and you can also operate your system remotely with your iOS or Android device. With Raymarine, the RayControl app serves the same purpose (although Raymarine recommends using RayControl on a tablet as opposed to a phone, due to the reliability of operation on a small screen). All of these apps are free. To learn more about how MFD units and phones or tablets can communicate, read Cell Phones and Chartplotters, Working Together.
You can get real time location information on ships around you via AIS with the Boat Beacon app. Boat Beacon (IOS $12.99, Android $9.99) essentially turns your phone into a mini-AIS receiver. As long as you have cell service, you can view ship type, speed and destination. And it’s drastically cheaper than the cost of a collision.
If you want to get navigation and AIS in a single App, then check out SeaPilot.The standard SeaPilot app includes full navigational functions, with the ability to download world-wide nautical charts to your device. This app allows you to connect your device with your boat’s onboard NMEA-compatible sensors via WiFi, and recently, SeaPilot added a premium subscription so users can see friends that have attached their Facebook account. The service also includes real-time weather forecasts and routing, and automatic updates of chart data. The base app is free, and in-app purchases expanding chartography and functionality range from $8.99 to $39.99.
Weather plays a big role in navigation, and with smartphones, great weather forecasting is now available right in the palm of your hands. Weather geeks may debate about which weather app is best as there are numerous apps to choose from. To make the wisest choice as to which weather app you’ll use aboard, be sure to read The Best Weather App For Your Smartphone.
Tides and Currents
If you boat in coastal water, having the latest marine tide and current information at your fingertips is critical. Tide information can be found in many popular navigation apps, but the USA Tidesapp for iOS and Android can provide more details, supports saved locations, and helps you find tides for a future date. Plus, it’s free.
When you’re asleep and your boat’s on the hook you may not be actively navigating, but your boat still needs some attention. The Anchor Watch app will come in handy for overnighting. You can set an alarm sector with a drift alert, which will wake you up if the anchor starts dragging while you're snoozing. Remember to keep your phone charged, as the constant use of GPS will dramatically decrease your device’s battery life. The cost is $0.99. Note: the AIS app Boat Beacon we mentioned earlier also includes an anchor alarm.
C-Map’s Plan2Nav is another app that turns your iPhone or iPad into a full-blown 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. It also can link up via your device with compatible Furuno and Standard Horizon MFDs. And, leveraging what C-Map charts are best known for, it has detailed marina and port information. With the ActiveCaptain “interactive cruising guidebook” support, it also allows for user-generated content, so you can get the straight scoop on marinas, waterfront restaurants, and more. The app with base maps is free; upgrading to detailed maps is an in-app purchase with varied pricing (most USA mapping costs between $19.99 and $29.99).
So there you have it: 10 apps for smart phones that will make your boating experience better. It's time to charge up your 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 and remember to bring a charger, because these apps can be battery hogs.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in September 2012 and updated in July 2017.