(Editor’s Note — Chris Kling is a sailor with with more than 30 years of experience on the oceans of the world. She’s also an English professor at Broward College, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and the published author of the Seychelle Sullivan series of mysteries, including SURFACE TENSION (2002), CROSS CURRENT (2004), BITTER END (2005, and WRECKERS’ KEY (2007). You can and should buy them at this Amazon page. They’re great page-turners and the protagonist is a female tug captain and salvor through whom I could easily live vicariously (you know, except for the requisite sex-change operation of course). Chris recently got an iPad and has wasted no time collecting and testing marine apps for the sleek new tablet. You can visit her at her main website here or at her new blog, co-hosted with fellow writer Mike Jastrzebski, Write on the Water.)
I have wanted to share this list of some of my favorite boating apps for the iPad. Some people have looked at the iPad and the high price for the device and they have said they just don’t get it. Why would someone pay so much for that. I can only report on my own experience — and this little computer has changed the way I interact with technology. I find myself using my laptop less and less. The iPad is so fast, so intuitive and does so many things that I could no more imagine living without one than I could imagine living without a computer. Today, I will cover boating apps and in a later post, I will discuss writing apps.
To begin with, there is the problem with the screen outdoors. I have found though, that if I change the setting from auto-brightness to manual and crank it all the way up, it is very easy to see and use for navigation outdoors. Most of us wear Polaroid lenses when we are out on the water, and the iPad screen goes black when viewed in portrait mode with Polaroids on, but just turn it to landscape and the image reappears.
First, I need to mention that it is necessary to have the iPad 3G to get the real GPS chip in the unit for navigation purposes. The non-3G units require wifi, which, of course, is not going to work at sea. Some have questioned whether the iPad GPS would work outside the range of the 3G connection, and I can attest that as long as you have already downloaded your charts, your GPS will work fine offshore. Mine worked continuously on the passage three weeks ago from the Abacos to Charleston, North Carolina when I had absolutely no 3G connection.
iNavX – $49.99 I started using the Mac version of this software about four years ago and I love it. There are other cheaper apps for marine navigation now, but I like using the same software on my laptop, iPhone and iPad. This one app is universal, meaning it works with both the iPhone and the iPad with full versions for each device. With many of the other apps listed here you would have to buy separate versions for the iPhone and the iPad. Yes, it is a lot of money, but it is absolutely worth it to to get this full featured complete navigation system that can interface via wifi with your boat’s instruments. The program comes with free access to all the NOAA charts, but you can purchase additional charts through X-Traverse. This service allows you to save, retrieve and move data on and off the iPad. I bought the US and Bahamas Navionics Gold charts for the iPad for $49.99 which do show some marinas and other land features.
Navimatics Charts & Tides/ East Coast – $19.99 You might ask yourself what do I need another navigation program for. Good question. This app is by Navimatics and the app does show another type of cartography, but the navigation features do not work as well and are not as extensive as iNavX. However, what this program does have is Active Captain, the Interactive Cruising Guidebook. It was well worth the twenty bucks to get this feature that drops dots onto the charts where marinas, boatyards and various points of interest are located. When you click on the dots you get a ton of info including cost of slip rental, phone numbers, reviews, laundry and grocery info, etc. This is a sort of Wiki type thing for boaters and once you have your membership to the Active Captain website (free) and you input your info on the iPad, you can click a synch button and you’ll get the most up to date info available. When we were in Deltaville, VA, I saw a review that had been written one week earlier. This is far better than a print cruising guide. Yes, the info is available on the laptop if I am on the Internet, but with my iPad and my 3G account, when cruising here in the US, it’s available almost everywhere.
Navionics – $19.99 I have not purchased this, but Navionics has their own nav program which like the one above, includes the nave. program with the charts and for this price you get the East Coast. You would pay again for the West Coast and again for the Great Lakes. You can only use their charts. With iNavX all the NOAA charts are included for free, and then you can add other charts if you want to buy them. However, I’d like to hear from others who might use this to know how they think it compares to iNavX.
MotionX-GPS $2.99 has recently added marine charts. I have not gone this route or explored it, but I would love to hear in the comments if anyone else has done so. As soon as I have the time I intend to explore this — I mean, for three bucks — why not??
AyeTides XL — $9.99 This tide program is fully integrated with iNavX so that you can click on a tides button in the nav program and get your info. The program has just released this iPad version (August 2), and it is beautiful. And it still has more tide stations and information than the tide program included with Charts & Tides.
Marine Day Tides — free Actually, there are two versions of this program and I use the free one which gives the most tides info I’ve seen, but it will only give you the info for today — not for the future. The planner version of the program is $9.99 and it is great, but I get enough info to suit me with the Ayetides and it interfaces with my navigation program.
I have tried a few marine weather apps for the iPad, but I haven’t found anything yet that I particularly like. I would be very interested to hear from others what they like best.
Wundermap —free This great app comes from the folks at WeatherUnderground. This includes various types of radar and infrared screens which require an Internet connection. It uses the GPS to determine your location and gives you a satellite map with an information overlay. Now I just wish they would make a version that includes Marine Weather forecasts.
Weatherbug Elite for iPad — free This little app has tons of great info on a very tight screen. I like their wind direction compass rose.
Boater‘s Pocket Reference — $4.99 1,800 pages of boating information including Rules of the Road, aides to navigation, illustrations, photos, buoys, signal flags, etc. A great on-hand resource.
ShipFinder HD — $7.99 This app shows the AIS feed of ships in your area. It is broadcast over the Internet so it will only be good as long as you have an Internet connection either via wifi or through a 3G account. When coastwise cruising, however, it’s wonderful to see the name, course and speed of that ship in the distance. Yesterday, sailing from Fishing Bay to Solomons, we passed a strange gray ship off Point Lookout, and I was able to look it up with Shipfinder and discover it was a Naval High Speed Craft called SEAFIGHTER and she was at anchor.
Nautical Terms for iPad — $0.99 This is a great replacement for the old dog-eared nautical dictionary I had and the numerous bookmarks that I could never find for online dictionaries.
Knot Guide HD — $2.99 This includes 91 knots in 17 categories. What more could you ask for?
Pocket First Aid and CPR — $3.99 From the American Heart Association, this guide appears to be one of the most complete for emergency situations as it includes illustrations and videos.
Air Display – $9.99 – This turns your iPad into a second display for your laptop. Currently this only works with Mac OS but they are working on a Windows version. You could run your laptop nav program on your iPad using it as a slave screen and avoid having to buy the costly iPad apps.
Another boating plus is that you can load all your PDF manuals into Goodreads or now into iBooks, and they will be there ready to load in a hurry.
As for waterproof cases for the iPad, I have found the simple for $19.99 that looks like a glorified Ziplock bag to this fancy one from Germany for 280 Euros. There are also various mounts here and others here that one can get to make your iPad function more like a helm chart plotter, but I am waiting for the swing away arm.
The iPad has become much more than just an eReader for me, and though many of these things I could do on a laptop, I couldn’t do any of them as fast or as easily as I can on the iPad.