Since October of 2012, I’ve been using this space to review smartphone apps for SAIL readers. I’ve looked at the best apps for AIS, anchoring and navigation. I’ve tested new apps for boat logs, knot-tying and chartplotting. And when I wanted to send a postcard of my boat from a far-off sea, I found that, yes, there’s an app for that, too.
In selecting my favorite apps from 2013, I noticed some patterns: 1) there are many excellent apps out there, more now than ever before. 2) Many apps function similarly, so you really must spend time with them to determine personal preference. 3) Several apps serve multiple purposes with multiple features, so stand-alone apps, such as a tides app, are redundant. As for anchor watch apps, my GPS does a good enough job. In practice, then, here are my Top Five Apps for 2013:
Garmin Blue Chart Mobile, Garmin (garmin.com/apps)
Garmin has long been a leader in chartplotter and GPS products. The Garmin Blue Chart Mobile was first released a little over a year ago, and it is a joy to use. The Garmin vector charts are of good quality and chart regions (which you have to purchase individually) are reasonably priced. The app provides excellent waypoint and route management, tides, current, weather, wind speed, direction, wave height/period, and GRIB wind forecasts. The ActiveCaptain community cruising guide is a bonus. I use this app religiously. It continues to improve with each new release, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.
Boat Beacon, Pocket Mariner (pocketmariner.com/boatbeacon)
Boat Beacon is an AIS-based collision detection system that uses the Internet to show you AIS information on nearby ships. At the same time, the app updates your boat’s MMSI, location, speed and direction via cellular data network to alert those ships of your presence. Note that you must be within cell data range to take advantage of this feature. The app also supports man overboard, anchor, collision and theft alarms, along with group tracking.
iRegatta Pro, Let’s Create! (letscreate.dk)
iRegatta presents an impressive collection of real-time and historical data that’s useful for racers and non-racers alike. This app is simply the best way to display NMEA data over the boat’s Wi-Fi network to help with race starts, waypoint navigation and performance sailing. Separate views provide customizable readouts for COG, SOG, VMG, etc.; race start and layline information; current and historical wind conditions; navigation waypoint and route display; boat polars and VMG speed and direction; and the NMEA 0183 Wi-Fi data.
Any.do claims to “help manage lives in a simple, clever and fun way,” and it more than lives up to that claim. Granted, it’s just a task manager, but it’s the most elegant and powerful one I’ve found and has just the right set of features to help organize and share tasks across multiple devices and a desktop Chrome browser extension. It backs up to the Cloud and automatically synchronizes tasks across all your devices. I use this app on my desktop, phone and tablet and it works flawlessly. As a sailor with an endless list of boat to-dos, this is an app I can’t live without.
Intellicast Boating (intellicast.com)
In the never-ending search for the perfect weather app, I discovered Intellicast Boating, the Swiss Army knife of weather apps, and my exclusive source of weather. The app draws from its website, Intellicast.com, which is the authority on weather and combines information from several sources, including the NWS. Intellicast has several options and display overlays for radar, satellite, wind speed, marine observations and NWS marine forecast. What differentiates this app from all other weather apps is that weather is displayed directly on a nautical chart.
Application architect, software developer and sailor Donald McLennan reviews apps for SAIL while cruising the waters of Southern California aboard his Tartan 3500 with his wife, Laura, and daughters, Alexandra and Elizabeth. Each month, Don tests a handful of new apps and brings you his favorite. If there’s an app you’d like to see reviewed in 2014, let us know, with an email to email@example.com