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Reviewed: ActiveCaptain for iPhone/iPad

In SAIL’s June issue, we reviewed 10 of the best apps for navigation (“Navigating the App World”). One thing I emphasized was the importance of an app being able to use data from ActiveCaptain. But what is ActiveCaptain and how does it work?

In SAIL’s June issue, we reviewed 10 of the best apps for navigation (“Navigating the App World”). One thing I emphasized was the importance of an app being able to use data from ActiveCaptain. But what is ActiveCaptain and how does it work?

ActiveCaptain is a popular community-based sailing website that contains user-generated information about marinas, anchorages, marine hazards and local points of interest for sailing grounds around the world. Founded in 2007 by Jeff and Karen Siegel, the ActiveCaptain community now has more than 200,000 users. It began as a website but now there is a companion app, as well as a database for several smartphone and tablet navigation apps.

After you register (free) at activecaptain.com you can access the Interactive Cruising Guide and select an area either by searching or by panning and zooming. Then, you can view the area as a nautical chart, a Google-type map, a satellite image, or as a hybrid image. Colored markers appear indicating marinas (red), anchorages (blue), hazards (yellow) and local knowledge (green); at any point you can hide one or all of these categories. When you click on a marker, the marker type and name pops up, along with a summary of details.

Marina markers include contact information, navigation details, information on docks, fuel and services, and community reviews. Anchorage data includes a description, information on the approach, dinghy access and services, ratings and reviews. Local knowledge markers show position and notes. Hazard markers show position, description and comments. Markers for land-based locations are, by design, not included, since these are available through other online sources. Curiously, info on big-box grocery or warehouse stores are included, as they are popular with cruisers.

Registered users can create new markers by pressing and holding the mouse button. Within each marker, users can edit the information or add reviews based on their own personal knowledge and experience. New markers and updates to existing markers are reviewed by the staff at ActiveCaptain before they are included in the database.

Several popular navigation apps integrate ActiveCaptain’s database into their own interfaces, including Garmin Blue Chart Mobile, Navimatics Charts & Tides, SEAiq, PolarViewMX, SailTimer, and Skipper by TrailBehind for Apple; and C-Map/Jeppesen Plan2Nav and SmartChart AIS for Android.

ActiveCaptain also has a companion app, which is better suited for smaller displays on mobile phones. Last year, NOAA licensed ActiveCaptain data for its internal “cartographic toolkit in the chart evaluation system” for identifying hazard data for additional surveys or chart updates. 

I really like ActiveCaptain. When planning a cruise, I use it to check out local knowledge, hazards and anchorages. The website works flawlessly and is easy to use. I also appreciate that the marker data is integrated into various navigation apps. I give ActiveCaptain 5 stars for quality and content.

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