Questions & Answers
Are their any good sailing apps? UPDATED
I'm glad you asked! I just finished up a detailed app review for the iPhone. Here is what I found...
These days in an "app" for everything world, there are more and more sailing and boating apps to be had. How many of these are actually worth having and which are actually worth using? Beyond that, which will you actually use? With these questions in mind I put more than a few "sailing" oriented iPhone and iPad apps to the test. Some I use on the boat every time I'm on out. Some are multi-purpose and work on or off the boat, while others just take up space on my iPhone because I?m too cheap to delete them. The apps I've listed here are the ones that made the cut for one reason or another. I mean really? Why bother taking up space reporting on an app that sucks.
Why iPhone and iPad Apps?
In short, its what I use. And because this is the platform with the most sailing and boating oriented apps. There is another reason though. All the apps below are interchangeable between iPhone and iPad (or iTouch). If you buy an app for one, and sync your devices with the same computer, you get the same apps on both (or your choice of the apps you have on either). I've put each of these apps to the test for 2, 3, and some 4 years. At least on the iPhone. And have been testing the iPad apps ever since the G3 iPad was released. Most of these apps have been tested on every version of the iPhone and all work well across the board with one exception. The original iPhone has no GPS. At this point I think I may be busted. I'm a sailor who likes high tech. Just so long as they are innovative and very portable! None of these apps are expensive, most were in the one to five dollar range (Navtronics Marine Maps being the main exception).
Animated Knots - NEW
This is a great app for inexperienced sailors. On one's first charter it can be easy to feel a bit like Dorothy in the haunted forest. "Lines, Sails, and Knots. Oh, my!" Animated Knots provides crisp, clear instructions on how to tie a plethora of knots. Their catalog includes plenty of knots even we didn't know! The number currently stands at approximately 200, nearly 50 of which have come by way of software updates. There might still be more on the way.
Each knot comes with its own explanation, as well as step-by-step slide show. The slides play a bit too quickly on their own, but fortunately can also be clicked through slide by slide, backwards and forwards. There is even a nifty feature that allows you to flip from right handed to left handed knots. While it is not necessary to know how to tie any and every knot before setting out on your charter, it can be extremely helpful to have this iPhone/Android app on hand when your captain yells for you to whip up a Bowline on a Bight. Animated Knots also includes a comprehensive glossary, for those who really want to hit the water well informed.
The app it self is easy to navigate. It offers both an alphabetic list with search feature and a breakdown of knots by activity. The boating section of this list currently contains 28 fully animated knots. For those sailors with wee crew aboard the app is a useful tool for keeping the little one's entertained by having them practice working up various knots with the app as their guide. You can even make a game out of it by seeing which crewmember can complete the most knots.
Our only complaint is that we wish there was an iPad version too.
Updated by staff writer Chad Barton
I use this one on the iPad each morning when I'm on the water. It fills the screen with the basic time and weather data for today and the next two days. Time, temps (max and min), wind direction and speed, precip, cloud cover, humidity, and pressure are all laid out on an easy to read screen. At a glance I get what I need to plan the day. If I need more detailed info, I go to a more specialized app. The Dock Clock's name describes is function well. It gives you the time and temp summary a sailor needs at the docks.
This is one of the original "Satellite Weather" apps. It has a no frills interface, with selections for various NOAA satellites and satellite loops. If you want to forecast the weather yourself, this is the perfect weather satellite app for you. Everything from Water vapor loops to rainbow loops. All Caribbean regions are represented as well as the coast of Africa, the Gulf of Mexico and U.S. Atlantic. I channel my inner meteorologist, trying to read and forecast the weather myself. Then I check my work on an actual weather forecasting app! I'm getting better! One thing I can say for sure. I don't go sailing without this one.
This one gets a lot of use. Especially with all of the review trips to the Caribbean! Hurricane is a tropical storm and hurricane tracking application that does a bit more. It includes weather satellite views with loops like Tropical Sats, but with a more updated feel. All maps are zoom-able for a better look at smaller regions like the BVI's!. The features are primarily focused on hurricane tracking, forecasting, and real time weather information (even the text bulletins). In the past couple of years, my crew and I weathered Hurricanes Omar and Tomas in the British Virgin Islands. Both times this app kept us accurately informed on the current situation, forecast models, tracks, sea temps, and quickly updated satellite feeds. I had the full picture and had the info to keep my crew and other's around us safer and in the know. I highly recommend you take a look at Hurricane.
Weather Bug / Elite
The Weather Bug we all grew up with has an app. Go figure? And in two flavors. Free and elite. I bought elite just to feel better about myself, and because it offers a type of "future casting." Both versions of this app provide up to the moment temp, wind, humidity, etc. for multiple localities along with hourly, daily, and weekly weather outlooks. Both versions include zoom-able still and animated radars, but this is where the Elite shows its stuff. Most weather radars with animation, loop the conditions over the past hour or so. Weather Bug Elite has that covered, but its radar also shows what and where the weather is going to be in the next hour, two hours, or more. When the weather comes in, knowing where it came from and what it looked like is useful info. But at some point, I do like to know where the "experts" think the weather is going to go next! Especially if my family and I are in the path (or in the middle of!). This is where the Elite version of this popular free app comes in real handy and where it outshines its closest competition Weather Channel Max (which I stopped using after downloading Weather Bug Elite).
WIND AND WAVES
Boombora utilizes NOAA buoy data and displays the information in their own format using lists for buoy selection rather than maps (though the buoy being viewed can be viewed on a map). It groups regions and reporting stations. It adds a couple of other useful other items though. Tidal stations and forecasts. I like the directness of information on BuoyData, but I really like the forecast and tidal features the depth of info Boombora provides. If Boombora and BuoyData ever got together, they'd have all sea-state conditions pretty well covered!
Maybe I should have added a group of apps called "they do what they say they do." Buoy data gathers information from NOAA buoys all over the globe and puts them at your fingertips. Buoys are plotted on a map and listed. Data is accessed by a touch. Types of data can vary from buoy to buoy depending on what it's been set up to collect. Most commonly measured are wind speed / direction, gusts, pressure, air and water temps. This app has been updated nicely over the last few years and works well on the iPad. This app has been with me ever since I started downloading apps and it's still going strong!
This one is simple, direct, and gives wind speed and direction with a touch. windAlert uses Google Maps as its main display. Search or scroll through the map to a location, tap on it (or near it) and the wind speed and direction is displayed on the map at the nearest reporting station. Favorites can be added and wind alerts can be set. These alerts can be handy when waiting on a particular weather window!
This app includes the same data as windAlert but adds wind forecasting. It doesn't have the satellite map like on windAlert, but the data is clear nonetheless. And you don't have to know how to read A GRIB file to understand it.
I was very skeptical when I downloaded this app. How could an app tell wind speed from the sound it made blowing on the mic? I still don't know how, but it does! I've regularly put this one to the test, thinking I'll catch it on an off day and get a miscalculated reading. So far no luck. Every time I hold this one into the wind I get a reading within 2 knots of my readings in the helm. Not too shabby. It's not much good in lighter wind, but you don't really need a wind gauge when there's no wind. On the other end of the spectrum I've measured wind speeds of 45 plus knots pretty accurately with this thing. I usually have all the actual gauges I need aboard a charter yacht, so this app doesn't see a ton of use. But, we HAVE found ourselves aboard charter boats with no wind speed gauges. (See The Livin Wright Yacht or Charter Reviews for more on that) In these cases, the Wind Meter app was indispensible. I tend to use this app most on the docks or when I off the boat. Or when I'm on my buddy's Flying Scott. No gauges aboard one of those babies!
ON THE BOAT
Made by Electric Pocket and billed as Marine Navigation and bearings app. I can attest, it does exactly what it says it does. This is navigation simplicity. One of the most basic things I do every time I'm navigating is shoot an azimuth. It's just a fancy word for the line of travel on a compass. The trouble is, you need to hold the compass up and look though it (assuming you have one with a sight of some sort). By doing this I can accurately see my compass heading and the associated landmark (distant island, a rock outcropping, or even a cell tower). Compass eye lets me do this in high definition. Instead of digging though the spare parts drawer for the orienteering compass, I just lifted my iPad like I was going to take a picture and the compass pops up with everything I'm aiming the camera at on the screen overlaid. It let me see clearly the exact points of the compass and what landmark would guide me along the way. Lay the iPad down with the app still running and the camera shuts off and a map of the area appears in place of a video image. In this mode I can mark off the compass heading, verify were on the right track, see deviation, and easily plot a back azimuth. Simplicity is a good thing, but sometimes even simple can be made more simple and better though technology. Compass Eye is one of those things.
Also by Electric Pocket, this app is another navigation aid. Ever wanted AIS aboard your boat or a charter boat? You know, that slick technology that plots boats around you with AIS transmitters (most these days) on a digital map, showing direction, it's status, and her basic info (underway, anchored, etc.). Boat Beacon brings AIS to all of us, plotting boats around me on a digital map presented on my iPad. A quick tap on one of the boats on the screen brings up it's name and a second tap brings up a full info screen showing all if its particulars. Including, type, length, draft, name, current position, and speed, all the way to what flag it's running. You'll need to download it yourself to see all the info it provides, but I'll tell you the most important piece of info it told me on my last trip in the British Virgin Islands. That weird looking Russian sailing cruise ship that looked like it was heading away from us, was actually heading right for us. Distance, boat size, and odd Russian design made it difficult to estimate its course and heading. I couldn't tell the front from the back of the thing. But boat beacon was very clear. We had a big boat full of partying Russians bearing down on us. This is the kind of info you really DO want to have! Besides, it's just plain cool!
Navionics marine maps - Caribbean
I love this app! The Navionics line of map apps is awesome. I used it soo much on my iPhone that I practically bought an iPad just for this program! Now I have a large porable "Map Screen" that I keep up at the helm with me with! This wonderful app displays the map details I need, while following my position. The Navionics Maps have the detail of a paper map with the GPS of a Chartplotter! It doesn't matter if theres a chart plotter at the helm or not. I have this app running anytime I'm navigating. With the multi-touch screen on the iPad, I can zoom to levels of detail in split seconds that would take me some time on a chart plotter. The detail on the Navionics Maps goes beyond what most chartplotters display. The map details are easy to read and understand. To give an idea for how detailed, you can zoom in to your favorite harbor and find the channel markers clearly identified along with soundings and dock positions!
With GPS the Navionics Maps app allows for plotting waypoints, route planning, GPS Follow mode, and consumption metrics. Enter in your boats fuel burn rate for example, and it will calculate approximately how much fuel you've used based on your movement. There are some very nice and very pricey map apps out there. This one is nice, but not pricey. It's one of the least expensive and in my opinion one of the best. Easy to use, accurate, detailed, not cluttered, and very useful. I always keep and use paper charts, but with this app, I don't have to break them out nearly as often.
The most simple yet useful app of the group. It's a flashlight for the iPhone. On generation one through three (G3S) iPhones, this app lights up the screen with a bright white background. It doesn't sound like much, but it's plenty when I'm searching around a dark boat looking for where I put my bedtime glass of water. I was recently blown away when I upgraded to the iPhone 4 and updated the My Light app. Instead of a glowing screen, it activated the ultra bright white LED bulb (serves as the flash for the camera) on the back of the phone. This is one bright light! It's earned the nickname "the God-light." As in "Let there be light!" With the LED on the iPhone 4 this app went from good enough to get by to good enough to replace an actual flashlight (though the phone warms up after about 10 min). It's worth the download. Warning: There are thoroughly annoying settings, like strobe light, fire truck, police car, etc. If you have kids, only show them these settings if you want a headache.
A mobile anchor alarm! Finally! Let's face it, charter yachts rarely have anchor alarms. You know, a gizmo that you can set that will alert you in the dead of night if the anchor starts to drag. Because I like to sleep when I'm anchored, I bring my own in the form of an iPad and iPhone with the Anchor watch app installed. My crew thinks I'm slightly crazy, but then again, they get to sleep while I'm on anchor watch! Once the app is opened, the GPS gets a fix, I set the active area for the alarm. If the boat moves outside the active area the alarm is set off. For example, after anchoring, I'll open Anchor Watch, get the fix, and then choose 20, 50, 100 feet, etc., then activate the alarm. That's it. If we move farther then the setting, the alarm sounds. With this puppy running, I can finally close that other eye when I'm "sleeping" at anchor. I've also been known to set the anchor alarm on the iPad and the iPhone in new anchorages or in slightly less then perfect conditions. Why not? Having both also allows me to use one for an Anchor watch Alarm while I use the other for whatever else I feel like. You can also do this with an iTouch-iPod and an iPhone or two iPhones. I can almost hear ya'll already, "Honey, can I borrow your iPhone for a while?"
Ever want to know how far your car heels? I did. And now I do. Three to four degrees (think I need new shocks). This might sound silly, but that's some serious accuracy. Onboard a yacht this app does a whole lot more. A navigation screen that includes compass, bearing, heading, deviation, distance, and (really cool) a man overboard (MOB) "button" that automatically plots and records the lat and long of the MOB on a satellite map "plotter" screen. This could be a very useful safety item on smaller boats everywhere! The dynamics screen combines the navigation readings with speed, course, track, VMG, and degree of heel. This section covers what it says it does and works well enough to run the "Car / Heel" test (tested on a closed course, of course).
The GPS Screen is not a GPS map. It's old school cool. The position isn't plotted, it's told to you! All the shippy maritime data is present and accounted for and delivered in raw numbers inside well laid out grid cells. The "data" surrounds a "dynamics" graphic showing heel much like an artificial horizon does on an airplane. Date, fix time, ground speed, height (ever wondered how much that swell is moving things vertically?), slope (Pitch), GPS accuracy (in one foot increments), GPS rate (in Hz), signal strength, and lateral and lineal readings. Like I said, old school cool. It makes you want to find out what a reading is if you don't already. Weird. Waypoints can even be added old school style on this screen with direct lat and long input boxes. The map screen puts all those numbers to good use. It plots the current location, sets waypoints graphically with a touch, and shows movement like a car GPS on a "Google style" satellite map image. If you're boat does not have a chart plotter, this could be the answer (minus the depth sounder and water temp). All this info is summed up and kept in trip summaries that can be easily referenced. I don't use this app often, but when I need detailed info, this is my go to.
Check out the newly released HD version. The maps are crystal clear!
My phone bills would be out of control if it weren't for this handy little app. Most of us know the goodness of Skype. It's even nicer when you can talk right on your phone and keep the laptop in the bag. Those of us sailing outside the U.S. should all have this app on our "smart phones." Charge the account with ten bucks and it can last you six months to a year. When you need to make a call, it will get you connected with reasonably good sound. The only catch is the WIFI part. But even out in the mooring field I've caught free WiFi signals bouncing across the bay. Sometimes in unexpected places. It won't be long now and the earth will be one big giant WiFi hot spot! In the states, the G3 network works nearly as well as WiFi, but given the option, I go high speed anytime it's available.
A must have for the boat. I highly recommend trying this one the iPad. It shows every planet, star and constellation in the viewable sky and beyond. It can be set in various ways, but I like to set it in planetarium mode and let the iPad track my movements. This way, the screen follows me wherever I look. Hold it up to the sky and it's a perfect map of the stars you see right there in front of you! I've spent many a night with my crew and alone on foredecks and trampolines staring into the bright, star filled Caribbean sky. I use to wonder what "that" star was and debate which constellation was which. I don't wonder or have to debate anymore. The nights I spend on deck are even more fun now (and I have to admit, much later!). The crew takes turns passing this one around. Over and over and over!
This is a really cool and pretty darn useful app, if you use it. It's an all in one logbook / "ships stuff" tracking program. When I first opened this app I entered my boat's particulars. Such as water and fuel tank capacities, fuel burn rates, etc. When I was ready to go I created a trip in the logbook then logged each leg of the trip, day by day as normal. JourSail has entries for time, position, weather / sea state, watch, and navigation (distance). This info, combined with the boat info I entered at set up, allowed JourSail calculate all the log entry info for me. It records and displays how much fuel I should have burned (if I drove optimally), water estimation, battery levels (assuming batteries are in decent condition), etc. It does this with everything you record in the log that that the app has a measurement for (the info from your boat). I like this for a few reasons. First it guides folks on what to enter so it's easy to know what should be paid attention to (even if you don't know why at the time). It shows me at a glance my boat and trips past and present allowing me to better plan for the future and deal with anything that might arise all that much easier (see Sosumi, Jeanneau DS charter company review for a couple of good examples, like fuel and water!). I also like being able to look back through the details of past trips. Beyond the sea-stories, reading back though my JourSail log brings back memories that pictures just don't. A particular fuel or water reading from day to day on one page or an odd distance covered in another entry (long or short). Or that day we noticed the oil was a little low on the port engine, leading the crew to find a nearly gone impeller in the process. There's richness in these details. Details that go unused or unlogged are bound to be forgotten.
FUN AND USEFUL
Tried and true, good ol' Google Earth. While it may not be exact up to the minute local information, it comes in handy. I check out new cruising grounds (or ones I dream of!) with it. It's detailed enough in some places to actually see reefs and sandbars. In other spots it goes further than that and goes below the surface of the sea, down to popular dive spots and reefs. Googe Earth is a staple in my app collections. I can't even begin to count the creative ways we've used this app! Sometimes it's fun to just sit down and explore with this well tested "old friend" of an app.
Simplicity at its finest! Some things are just good to know. One of them is sail trim. I've spent my life on the water and learned most of my sailing lesions early and the hard way. It would have been soo much easier with an app like this. The screen presents a basic outline of a Monohull with a curve line on the bow for a jib and a bit straighter line amidships representing the main. This basic design does what it is supposed to do. Show you where these to "curved lines" (the sails) should be set for a given wind angle or speed. Either the sails or wind can be adjusted by the user. Control where the wind comes from and the sails shift to an optimal position. Increase the wind and they shift again. Or, move the sails and see how it effects speed and heel in a given wind speed. It's a simple, graphical, and hands on way to KNOW what optimal looks like and have a chance give different things a try. You might be surprised at how often you pull this out. I still like to play with with this one.
Sailing has come to the arcade. Carib Racing gives you the "god's eye" view from above, looking down on a racing Monohull as it sails around various courses. You control the direction with a tilt and the sheets with a line running down the side of the screen. To sheet-in, drag a finger down the "line." To ease the sheets, push away on the "line." The wind is represented by little arrows flying in the direction of the wind. Kind of like leaves blowing. A knot meter in the corner shows how well things are trimmed out. I like this one just because it's fun. Driving and trimming is easy to learn and makes sense. The wind shifts on this one will be the death of me. Every time I'm on the final leg, I get a wind shift! So, I correct, and crash into the committee boat! Talk about realistic! (Sorry committee folks in the North Sound, it was a little bump).
Why aren't there more sailing video games? There should be. I've included three on this list and frankly, they are really the only three actual "sailing" games worth playing out there. Sailboat is similar to Carib Racing, including the overhead view, but starts you off running the boat step by step. Rather than tilting to turn, there is a small on screen wheel you spin with a finger or thumb. One level you'll be running the lines, the next its helm only. Before you know it you're on to running the whole boat. The step-by-step approach is fun, but works better for the beginner. If Carib Racing frustrates you, this one is right up your alley.
What I like most about both of these games is that they get the most basic concepts and elements of sailing correct. From wind angles to sailing trim, to rounding a mark even. True, it's basic, but how do you describe these concepts to some one new to sailing? In long books! How do you make learning about sailing interesting? Experience it! Or play a simple and fun game like one of these and see how sailing "works" without getting behind the helm. In my humble opinion, the more sailing games the better! Hey game designers... call me.
SailBlaster is an arcade version of a regatta-racing simulator. It's pretty easy to get the hang of tilting to turn this one. Once over that hurdle you're ready to go. No lines to pull or sails to trim. This one is all about wind and steering. There are three boat types to choose from. Dinghy, Multi-Hull (beach cat size), and MULTI-HULL (AC45 Size). It has multiple course configurations allowing you to set distance, number of legs, number of competitors, and the course itself. I'll be straight, the graphics could be better, but so far, it's been the best 1st person "simulator type" sailing game I've found. It's also the only one that lets you compete against other boats, head-to-head, in an actual race. I race against the computer, but those of you more savvy than I (not hard to do!), can race your buddies side by side over WIFI, iPhone to iPhone (or iPad to iPad). I spent most of the last flight to San Juan trying to edge out this yellow yacht on windward / leeward course in giant catamarans. I wish the "computer" players could see me shaking my fist at them! This one sucks you in!
Just for fun. When I'm back in the states, away from the ocean and my favorite islands and ports, I turn this app on. It has a massive and growing list of cams all over the world. The two main categories are shore based cameras and onboard cameras positioned on cruise ships. The Caribbean tends to dominate the onshore "Ports Of Call" cams. The Ship Cameras depend on the ship. Some have only one cam, others have lots. They can include deck, bridge cams, and dining room cams. Each ship does their own thing, but if they have one, and it's probably listed on this app. What cams do I check out? I mostly stick to the onshore cams looking out over the bays and harbors of the Caribbean. Tortola can't have enough cams while I'm away!
Well, now you know the "sailing" apps I use (for better or worse!) and maybe even a bit more about what's out there. I'm not recommending everyone run out and buy all these, but I do hope it helps the next time you're sifting though all the app options. Some of these apps have taught me things, others have increased safety, and others created easy ways to access information with real "depth." And the apps that were no help at all (games), were a whole lot of fun to play with! If you have a "smart-phone" other than an iPhone, there is a good chance many of these apps will be in your app store as well. If you have no need for an iPhone, consider a iTouch or iPad. You'll have all the same features, just minus the phone. Once you have one of these things, you might be shocked when you find out just how far $1.99 goes in an app store these days!
Nautic Ed iPhone application
Think of the Nautic Ed iPhone app as a sailing experience recording and reference tool all in one. Whenever you go sailing and have this app with you, you're adding to your "resume" while you gain "credit," moving your Nautic Ed Certification up a notch each time.
After signing up for a free account on the Nautic Ed website you can record the sum of your experience to date. Even specifying the boat and crew position. Rather then starting from scratch, Nautic Ed's website and iPhone app, allows those of us with some sailing under our belts the ability to enter our past sailing experience, building our own unique profile.
Logged experience is applied to your Nautic Ed "Certification Level / Rank" (Crew Level 1 for example) while a compiling a very comprehensive sailing resume.
I like how the Nautic Ed iPhone app lets people easily update experience and see how this effects their level of certification and experience. The Nautic Ed iPhone app really makes it easy to keep sailing experience up to date and organized. Its actually fun to watch your rank grow as experience is added. But what I like most is using the Nautic Ed app and website together. Experience logged on the app shows folks where their strengths and weaknesses my exist on the website and recommends content and courses based on a persons unique profile. Pretty cool in my book, err... iPad. The more we know, the more often we go! [sailing that is!]
If I had to pick a few to start with for Caribbean Charter Sailing they'd be: Nautic Ed, Navtronics Marine Maps - Caribbean, Skype, Weather Bug, and Hurricane.
Happy Sailing! Charter Often!
- Charter Review: VOYAGE Charters, VOYAGE 520 Silver Lining by Capt. Kev
- Charter Review: Dream Yacht Charters - Lagoon 400 S2 Big Dog II by Serena Jetelina