August 15, 2022

App Smart: Boating Apps Help Sailors Get There and Back Again

GPS functions have long been available in Apple and Android devices, but boating apps now go far beyond simply helping users find their way.

Marine and Lakes: USA ($10 on Apple, with smaller regions available on Android for $14.50) is good for navigational needs, while Boating Suite ($5 on Apple) has a wide range of nonnavigational features and a nimble interface.

Specialty apps like AyeTides ($10 on Apple), MyWeather (free on Apple and Android) and even a good old free flashlight program like myLite Flashlight (free on Apple) will round out a boater’s list of useful apps.

Marine and Lakes is the most important of the list. It is from Navionics, a longtime producer of digital marine charts, which are its central feature. Boaters can use the charts to plan a trip, while also logging details like the boat’s safety depth and fuel consumption, and tracking the expected wind conditions for a given route.

The app also provides quick information on tides, marine repair shops and restaurants, among other things.

The charts are somewhat slow to load at times, but they’re generally easy to manipulate, especially on a bigger device like an iPad, and the resolution is crisp. You can track the water depth at individual boat slips in Montauk Harbor, for instance, then zoom out quickly to see water depths on Block Island.

You can also download charts so they’re accessible without a network connection.

Two minor caveats: the iPad version of the app quit unexpectedly on a couple of occasions, and the search feature is slow and incomplete. I searched for New York City’s Roosevelt Island, for example, and found nothing. The charts can also miss recent additions and changes to local harbors and lakefronts.

A Navionics spokeswoman, Christine Gelinas, said the Marine and Lakes data is from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other sources and that “often this data is not updated frequently enough.”

To account for these shortcomings, Ms. Gelinas said, Navionics earlier this year introduced a user-generated content feature, which lets users modify their charts to indicate landmarks the developer missed. Once verified, those points of interest are included in an updated version of the software.

Android users should look for the Marine or Lakes version of the app for their particular region.

Few experienced boaters would depart without backup plans, and for Android users, at least, a good one for navigation is My Tracks, from Google (free). Users can chart their course and mark points along the way. In online forums, boaters have lauded the app for its ability to help users navigate a return voyage at night.

Because it relies heavily on GPS, though, it can drain a phone’s battery in five hours, according to Google.

For tide forecasts, my personal favorite is AyeTides, which is produced by the developer of the popular Mac desktop app Mr. Tides. AyeTides holds its data within the app, so users needn’t download data for specific regions or pay attention to network connections. Its interface is quick and intuitive.

For Android users, Tide Prediction (free) has also earned high marks, but the app failed to locate me via GPS, and when I typed locations like Manhattan or Montauk, N.Y., it found nothing.

TideApp (free) was easier to use because of its state-by-state menu of locations, although boaters in a bigger state like New York could grow weary scrolling through the alphabetized list to find the tide forecasts for, say, Willets Point. (Like Tide Prediction, TideApp requires a network connection.)

While these apps will help you pick the right time to embark, Boating Suite helps users manage the more challenging aspects of the hobby: maintenance and finances. It is a digital logbook that simplifies recording data and trivia about a boat and its excursions. It also quickly generates customized reports.

Six sections — Log Book, Fuel Log, Maintenance Log, Expense Log, To Do List and Shopping List — are filled with lists of subcategories that users can scan with a flick of the thumb.

In Log Book, for instance, users can quickly choose wind direction and weather conditions from a scroll-down list, while in the Fuel Log users can tap on the octane rating.

Strangely, there are no scroll-down items like cost of fuel or the name of a maintenance shop, so users must type them in. That’s annoying.

Still, the app’s developer deserves credit for responsiveness. Earlier this spring, iTunes users complained about having to record the name of their boat anew with each log entry. Now, the app prepopulates the entries with the name of the boat used in the previous entry.

Boating Suit’s most impressive element is its Reports button, which produces snapshots of the total cost of ownership, for instance, over various time periods.

It’s potent stuff, but sadly for Android users, it’s an Apple-only product, and I’ve yet to find anything like it on the Android market.

Weather apps, of course, are critically important to boaters. My personal favorite is MyWeather, which shows radar images and builds a forecast for a boater’s precise map coordinates, rather than municipality, as is common on other weather apps.

MyWeather’s radar maps can be quickly tweaked to show the forecasted wind speeds, among other elements important to boaters.

Of course, even a simple flashlight app can be a lifesaver. You can waste hours sifting through the contenders in this category, or you can choose something free and adequate, like Color Flashlight HD (Android) or myLite (Apple) to turn your screen into a flashlight.

And if there’s foul weather?

Easy. Slip your phone or tablet into a zippered plastic bag. It’ll still respond to your touch, and if it goes overboard and there’s some air in the bag, it may even float long enough for you to rescue it.

Quick Calls

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