Skip to main content

The Top iPhone Apps for Sailing

Apple's iPhone is an amazing piece of technology—it’s a full computer in a small package. As a recent convert to the iPhone, I've been exploring the world of apps to discover which ones provide something truly useful. When I searched for "sailing" in the App Store, over 150 programs popped up. Out of those, here are the three that I'd most want with me while cruising or racing.
  • Author:
  • Updated:
    Original:

Apple's iPhone is an amazing piece of technology—it’s a full computer in a small package. As a recent convert to the iPhone, I've been exploring the world of apps to discover which ones provide something truly useful. When I searched for "sailing" in the App Store, over 150 programs popped up. Out of those, here are the three that I'd most want with me while cruising or racing.

MotionX GPS, version 10.0 $2.99

My initial experience with this app had me saying out loud, “Wow!" Not only is it packed with useful features and functions for racing and cruising, but the ease of use, quick response and clear display of information put it at the top of my list.

Features include SOG, VMG, ETA, Waypoints (time to waypoint, waypoint tracking, waypoint import via email), Record Track of Trip and Import of Maps.

An unfortunate shortcoming is the app’s lack of marine charts. There are, however, indications from Full Power Technologies Inc., the creator of Motion X GPS, that marine charts will be available with coming releases. Full Power is also planning an optimized, “HD,” version of MotionX-GPS, to be released for the iPad 3G/GPS. If this includes charts, it should qualify as a true “killer app” for sailors.

My Grade: A-

Navionics 3.2, $9.99-$49.99 depending on region

Of the two navigation apps I explored, (this and iNavX), I preferred the vector charts of Navionics. Vector charts are data-defined charts, contrasted with the traditional bit-map (graphical) versions of paper charts. The advantage of vector graphics is that they include additional information, such as tide tables and marina information.

As I moved along the coast of southern New Jersey, my local sailing area, I was impressed with the ease of use in this app. I could zoom in for closer views of inlets, which was faster than flipping large paper charts. I could also select symbols on the map to display real-time data, such as tidal flow and direction, tidal information, sunrise and sunset times, and lunar phases. Way cool!

Downloaded Navionics maps are stored in the iPhone and take up relatively little memory. The ability to add marks or waypoints makes this handy app an accessible and ready assistant to plan and execute a track or route.

My Grade: B+

Buoy Data Version 3.02, $2.99

NOAA has made buoy data accessible via the web for a few years now, providing sailors with up-to-date information of what it's like out there right now. Buoy Data packages this information in a pleasing and easy to read format. The “Favorites” lets you pre-select sites in your usual sailing areas, which are then displayed on a Google Map in satellite, map and hybrid versions. There’s also a handy “Find Buoys” feature, which lets you see which buoys are nearby, based on your current location.

Unfortunately, Buoy Data is limited by the data from each buoy itself and not all NOAA Buoys have all the information I’d like. Still, I managed to find a few buoys in my local area that gave me an accurate picture of what the offshore conditions were, including air and water temp, wind direction, speed and gusts, wave height and period.

My Grade: B+

Conclusion

It's important to remember that the iPhone is not waterproof, or even splash resistant, and that it might not survive bouncing around the cockpit at your crew’s feet. Last fall, one of my students at the Fair Wind Sailing School had an iPhone out of commission for several days after it spent a few hours in his pocket during a rain storm, even though he was wearing full foul weather gear. A possible solution for wet and bumpy cockpit use is a rugged enclosure, such as the 2600 Series PDA case, from ($49.95, Otter Box ). The April edition of Practical Sailor found good results when they subjected this case to a float test and a shoulder-height drop.

As you read this, the Apple iPad is being released. While the device is still not environmentally suited for cockpit use, I’m excited to try these three apps on the iPad’s large screen at my nav station.




Captain Mark W. Smith has been as ASA instructor since 1991. He holds a USCG captain's license and sails and teaches for Fair Wind Sailing School (http://www.fairwindsailing.com). He sails a Bavaria 38, iLean Windward from Longport, NJ. When he’s not out on the high seas, he is a software architect and engineer.

Related

00-LEAD-210918_11HR_AZIMUT48HRS_AMO_00411

11th Hour Racing Team's Green Mission

“I’ll admit, it’s still hard to watch the boat leave the dock sometimes,” says former Volvo Ocean Race sailor Mark Towill. Since meeting during a Transpac campaign over 15 years ago, he and his teammate Charlie Enright have sailed thousands of miles together aboard two Volvo ...read more

D61_JKELAGOPIAN-3

Boat Review: Dufour 61

Dufour, long one of France’s most well-respected builders, has been producing sailboats in La Rochelle since the dawn of fiberglass boatbuilding. Having recently merged with another La Rochelle-based builder, Fountaine Pajot, Dufour has now joined other European mass-production ...read more

m138123_14_00_210609_TORE02_SE_2152_2504-2048x

The Ocean Race to be “Climate Positive”

The 2023 Ocean Race intends to be one of the world’s first climate positive sporting events, offsetting more greenhouse gasses than are produced. The two-fold effort means cutting emissions by 75 percent and investing in ocean projects that sequester carbon and restore ocean ...read more

01-LEAD-Ancients-3-2048x

Cruising Lake Superior

Almost anywhere a sailor drops the hook someone else has been there before. We are hardly ever the first. That remote Maine harbor without a soul in sight: there’s a lobster trap. The south coast of Newfoundland: the crumbling remains of a fisherman’s cabin lie hidden among the ...read more

01-LEAD-Tablet-Holder-4

Fabricating a Tablet Holder

During the pandemic, I was stuck aboard Guiding Light, a Lagoon 410, in St. Lucia for over a month. During that time, as I worked on the boat, I started by doing a spring cleaning in my spares locker and finding some parts and material that I forgot I had. As soon as I saw them, ...read more

00-LEAD-AdobeStock_486335954

A Catamaran for a New Era

Anacortes, Washington, is an unassuming sea-salty town near the San Juan Islands of Puget Sound, and the Betts Boats yard is easy for a passerby to miss. But within Betts’ facilities, the dawn of an era in Pacific Northwest production boatbuilding could be breaking with the ...read more

X5_plus_slide-01

Boat Review: Xquisite X5 Plus

The Xquisite X5 Plus is a major update of the boat that SAIL awarded Best Large Multihull and Best Systems titles in 2017. The changes were not just cosmetic, but genuine improvements to an already fine boat, making it lighter, faster and less dependent on fuel. The builder’s ...read more

01-LEAD-AdobeStock_40632434

Cruising: Offshore Prep Talk

When I began preparing Minx, my 1987 Pearson 39-2, for extended Caribbean cruising, I had to balance my champagne wish list against my beer budget. Every buck spent on the boat before leaving would be one less frosty can of Carib down in the islands. On the other hand, I had to ...read more