If you’re looking to assemble a portable nav kit, an iPad or Android tablet is very tempting. These are turning into powerful navigation tools. Almost before the beta testing is completed, new software options are reaching users. New industry alliances are taking shape, and sailors will see more and more synergies between dedicated plotters and handheld devices.
This trend would be easy for a traditionalist to resist if the gadgets weren’t so handy, streamlined to use and genuinely useful as aids to navigation. These tablets aren’t waterproof, marinized or ready to absorb the blow of an errant winch handle, but when they’re looked after and kept dry, they pack a lot of digital charting power in a compact, cost-effective and power-efficient package.
The iPad and iPad 2 work well with Navionics Mobile Aps and iNavX software, and the symbiosis between hardware and app delivers a lot of navigation input for a modest investment in dollars. Many first-time users find iNavX an ideal introductory app. It delivers crisp NOAA RNC cartography, GPS positioning and finger-touch route planning for about $50. The iPad or Android tablet provide cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity that allows access to real-time weather analysis and forecast information. users can also share navigation details with others, both afloat and ashore.
Navionics, the dominant player in the nav-apps realm, offers a wide range of cartography that runs on both the iPad and Android platform. The more options added, the more dollars you spend. But in comparison to dedicated plotters with the same screen size, resolution and features, the prices are attractive. Navionics software also works with iNavX and offers a wide range of vector cartography, as well as pictures, detailed benthic contours and even 3D chart manipulation.
Fugawi/Northport Systems has an oar in the digital waters and offers X-Traverse, a web service that expedites downloading charts in a variety of formats. Users can also upload GRIB data, e-mail waypoints and interface with Google Earth. Those cruising Canadian waters will exceed the range of NOAA RNC free downloads and will find the cartographic slack picked up by Fugawi and its cousin companies.
There’s a wide array of apps options that will appeal to some and not others. I find Windbuoy ($4) a big help when it comes to instantly checking NOAA and other near real-time buoy data. Earth NC is another well tested software navigation program for iPads and Androids and retails for about $50. If you want to monitor world fish catch records, map your friend’s location or have a digital inclinometer to let you know the angle of heel, there’s an app for that, too. The good news is there’s no need to clutter up your hardware with features you don’t need.
New apps-afloat seem to be appearing on a weekly basis. More and more target Android users as well as dominant Apple products. Today, the market share belongs to Apple, but growth among competitors looks good. What is important to keep in mind is that despite the seeming graphic certainty of a cursor marching across a digital chart, these products are aids to navigation, that should be used in concert with other methods.