Apps for Sailors: Garmin BlueChart
Garmin has long been a leader in marine electronics, so when the company announced its new BlueChart mobile app for IOS, I couldn’t wait to install it. The free app is available from iTunes and includes high-quality world charts, route management, wind GRIB downloads and ActiveCaptain integration. Routes, tracks and waypoints can be wirelessly transferred between your iPhone, iPad and Wi-Fi-enabled chartplotter.
Having the Garmin BlueChart® maps on your iPhone or iPad is exciting. BlueCharts are high quality, detailed vector charts. From the settings menu, Garmin BlueChart® maps can be purchased at reasonable prices: $29.99 for US Coastal and $44.99 for North America. Chart areas only download when selected, thus saving space on your device. Included with BlueChart® maps are tide and current reports from nearby stations.
Waypoint and route management is intuitive. Tap on the screen to open Garmin’s Radial Menu, with information about the selected point and nearby markers, buttons to add a waypoint or a route segment, and a useful sun and moon rise and set. When editing a route, colored segments indicate fuel consumption, turning green to indicate sufficient fuel and red for “out of fuel.”
Equally exciting is the inclusion of ActiveCaptain, an interactive cruising guidebook and community database. With ActiveCaptain, subscribers can create markers for marinas, anchorages, hazards and local knowledge. When you select a marker, you can read the information, add or edit existing fields, and rate or comment on the location. On the downside, the ActiveCaptain database takes 15 minutes to download and eats up 50MB of storage.
In addition to purchasing BlueChart maps, users can purchase a premium weather add-on for $3.99, which eliminates the need for a separate weather/radar app.
The app is comparable to other popular navigation apps and is a good first release; however, there are a couple of shortcomings. First, the app is intended as a planning and routing tool, not as a substitute for a dedicated chartplotter. Creating waypoints and routes is easy, but there’s no way to activate the route, nor is there a display of GPS tracking information. Second, the app seems to be focused on powerboats, with an emphasis on fuel consumption. The route segments highlight fuel consumption and it is not possible to set fractional gallons/hour in the boat profile, as typically found on sailboats. Lastly, the NOAA marine forecast is not always displayed when selecting nearby weather stations.
Overall, the Garmin BlueChart Mobile is an exciting app that integrates smartphone/tablet and marine chartplotter technology. The app is easy to use and responsive. Because of its shortcomings related to navigation and sailboats, I’m disappointed to give it 3½ stars. Garmin has been responsive to my suggestions and I truly hope these are addressed in future releases.
Learn about other apps for sailors: