In little more than a decade the ways in which we do many things afloat have been absolutely transformed by boating apps, both on smartphones and tablets.
It’s now physically possible and affordable to carry detailed charts of almost the whole globe in your pocket thanks to the dizzying array of boating apps out there. There’s no reason to set an alarm for 0555am solely to listen to the Shipping Forecast.
And you can get a warning if the anchor drags while you’re ashore in a restaurant. Here’s our roundup of some of the best boating apps and sailing apps.
Best boating apps available right now
I never go anywhere without this charting app. If you have internet access, either via data or WiFi, the free version gives access to the same (almost) worldwide charts as the premium edition. However, there are a few jurisdictions that can only be unlocked with a paid subscription.
Having a set of detailed up to date charts for the globe in my pocket has proved useful on numerous occasions, whether on the water or discussing options for sailing holidays with friends in the pub.
It also includes basic route creation and distance measuring, although the latter doesn’t include compass bearings, which seems an odd omission.
Features of the premium version of this boating app include downloadable charts that can be used when offline and improved weather data. There’s a generous limit to the number of charts that can be downloaded.
A 150-mile stretch of the Bay of Biscay between Lorient and La Rochelle, extending over 60 miles offshore, used just 30 of the allocation of 1,000 tiles.
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This was among the first of the cartography companies to produce a boating app in the early days of the iPhone and has since continually expanded its offering. Yet the user interface has remained impressively streamlined.
Today Navionics charts offer wide coverage, including embedded tidal height and tidal stream data. Charts can even be displayed with contours that show actual depths allowing for the height of tide.
Chart areas are large, so a year’s subscription to this boating app covers a wide area, and features an enormous amount of data, including useful user generated content with detailed information on everything from anchorages to facilities on shore.
It’s an enormously powerful boating app, especially for those with a a fully waterproof and impact-proof phone case.
However, as with other boating apps, vector charts are used. That means you must zoom in tightly to ensure all dangers are shown, which can be difficult on a small screen.
Many boating apps will calculate routeing between ports, but most of these use simple algorithms that assume a fast motorboat. Those who sail are therefore at a disadvantage thanks to the vagaries of wind and tidal streams. The latter have much more bearing on progress on a boat that averages 5 knots than one that can cruise at 18 knots.
SailGrib provides a suite of products that offer top-notch routeing for keen sailors, including a range of forecast models. Indeed SailGribWR offers most of the features that are usually found only in powerful PC-based software with four-figure price tags.
It’s particularly impressive that this boating app is able to offer this functionality via an interface that’s enormously simplified compared to the PC-based options.
Granted, it still takes time and patience to get the best from this system, but it has long been my favourite boating app for serious routeing work.
It uses a variety of weather models, including the fine-grained Arome data and has optional plug-ins that enable tidal stream data to be included in the routeing calculations. The biggest drawback is that this boating app is only compatible with Android devices.
This powerful combined routeing app takes the needs of sailboats into account and is being quickly developed into an extremely powerful system that includes chart plotter functionality. It starts with a different premise to other routeing software – that the process should be quick, easy for everyone to understand and intuitive.
Savvy Navvy therefore doesn’t have the sophisticated features of SailGrib, but the idea is anyone with basic navigation knowledge can immediately get useful results. Although the streamlined easy-to-understand concept remains unchanged over time more functionality has been added to this boating app, including tidal heights, streams and weather.
All of this is presented in tabs on an easy-to-follow dashboard. The most recent update allows charts to be downloaded for offline use, allowing this boating app to be used as a chartplotter.
Imray Tides Planner
Tidal height calculations used to be convoluted and time consuming, but are one of the areas in which a decent boating app can make a huge difference. Imray’s Tides Planner is one of a number that provide both tidal stream and tidal height data in easily digested formats.
The latter is available in a graphical form, with the ability to scroll forwards in time to instantly show the height of tide at any time and location. This makes secondary port tidal height calculations extremely simple.
In an unfamiliar port, for example, you can quickly figure out how much the depth under the boat will drop by the next low water – and therefore whether or not you need to move to a different berth in order to stay afloat.
The free version of this boating app provides this data on a daily basis for a huge database of ports around the world. A small annual subscription unlocks this restriction, though a handful of countries, including the UK and France, require a further small one-off payment to provide predictions for any day of the year.
The best weather data you can find is essential before going afloat. Windy’s Pro version provides data from a raft of models, including ECMWF and, for those in the southern half of the UK and France, the fine-grained Arome data.
Data is presented in an easily digested format across a wide variety of parameters. The basics of mean wind speed, gusts, wind direction, precipitation, cloud cover and surface pressure are covered well, with hourly time steps.
This is my go to boating app for weather and use it almost every day for planning, even if I’m not actually on the water.
Another top-notch, though more expensive, weather app that includes routeing options, PredictWind runs its own models for popular sailing areas around the globe using algorithms that were first developed for the America’s Cup.
This is a hugely popular boating app among the racing community, but also deserves consideration by any cruisers who sail serious distances.
Anchor! drag alarm
The latest generation of anchors is better than earlier products. However, even a hook that’s well dug in can break out on a windshift, change of tide, or if fouled by another vessel’s ground tackle.
Anchor alarm apps therefore make a lot of sense. Although they are included on many chartplotters and MFDs it can also be very useful to have one on your phone.
The power consumption overnight is likely to be an order of magnitude lower and many anchor watch apps can send an alert to a different phone.
It’s ideal if there’s a problem when you’re ashore, or even just on a friend’s boat in the same anchorage. This boating app is one of the highest rated and is available for a modest one-off payment.
AIS data has transformed the picture we have of both leisure and commercial traffic at sea. A boating app is no substitute for having proper AIS equipment on board, but it’s great for tracking friends and family on the water, understanding shipping routes and more.
Marine Traffic was one of the forerunners in promulgating this data to the public in an easily digested format and is still among the best. This boating app now includes live winds and 48-hour forecasts, as well as an augmented reality layer that shows the ship’s data if the phone’s camera is pointed at the vessel.