FEATURE - Top 20 boating apps

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Woe betide! The revolutionary Apple iPhone and its cache of free and affordable apps are changing the way we go boating. <i>Trade-a-Boat<i> IDs its top 20 boating apps. By KEVIN GREEN…

FEATURE - Top 20 boating apps
FEATURE - Top 20 boating apps

The ubiquitous iPhone is a very smart device but what differentiates it from the myriad of other similar brands are the thousands of applications or apps that have been written for it. They are now targeting the marine world and changing the way we go boating.

Ranging from industry-leading Navionics charts, AIS apps, Imray light identification apps, electronic compasses and even wind gauges that work in real time, the iPhone really is worth taking aboard.

The ‘itest’ could be a cruise, as I’ve just done through the reef-strewn New Caledonian archipelago, where voyage prep was done with the Navionics New Caledonian chart costing the miserly sum of $14.99. Or if your tastes are competitive, there are plenty of race apps. These include Australian-written Harbour Winds giving detailed meteorological data for our major race areas and other apps for accompanying tidal data.

If your area of fun is coastal cruising along our East Coast and you’re worried about those lumbering Newcastle coal ships or trawlers in your path, then check out the AIS app that lists clearly on the high-resolution screen ships and buoys emitting a VHF/AIS signal.

Then, when safely at anchor, your entertainment apps kick in. Electronic books are a big hit. A world leader in this area, Kindle now has its app so you can easily read your favourite Conrad or Captain Cook’s Voyage to the Southern Ocean on your pad. These books, like many of the apps reviewed here, are free. Quite amazing when you consider the technology but the other good news is that it’s dead easy to use. Simply click the Applications button on your iPhone, register for the iTunes store and download at your leisure.

When buying your first iPhone consider both the brand-new iPhone 4 and earlier iPhone 3, the latter is going cheap and doesn’t have the documented reception problems of the new 4. The boxier shaped iPhone 4 is regarded as less elegant than the 3 but is a more powerful device with a 1gHz processor, 3.5in screen and has an industry leading 640 x 960-pixel resolution display. This display is razor sharp and ideal for detailed chart work. The big downside with the iPhone is its fragility so don’t leave it sitting too long in fierce direct sunlight, don’t get it wet (fit a third party cover) and take out the special iPhone insurance.

Finally, remember it’s an aide memoir not a substitute for marinised gear so I wouldn’t advise solely using one to navigate the entire way from the UK to Turkey, as one skipper recently did.

Top 10 iPhone tips
* Beware of hidden Adware in free apps — they are a nuisance and can also hide viruses.
* iPhones aren’t waterproof so fit a third party cover.
* iPhone’s can lose their signal if tilted vertically (the "death grip") so generally use the device flat.
* Ensure you have a competitive data plan (as well as voice plan) for your downloads.
* When downloading bigger apps ensure you switch to local wireless mode (using your house’s router) to reduce bills.
* The iPhone 4 records HD video so handy for inserting live action into e-charting.
* App sizes vary greatly — check before downloading.
* Be aware that Apple has disappointingly disabled the very useful Bluetooth comms protocol on the iPhone 4.
* For a larger keypad tilt the iPhone horizontally.
* Improve battery life by customising sleep settings.

Navionics charts

Probably the best $14.99 I’ve spent in ages, as these are complete hydrographic charts and thanks to the easy interface of the iPhone are very easy to use. The newest iPhone 4 with its high-resolution screen means buoyage — such as cardinal marks, depth contours and other chart data is easily viewed on the small screen. Good features include easy waypoint setting, handy distance-off info and quick zooming on details. One tip to ensure battery life at sea is to set the iPhone Auto-Lock to 1 so screen will turn black but app (and GPS) will continue running. Other handy features include taking pictures and video of your route, geotagged to your current position or you can use previous images to guide you like a pilot book.

YOU PAY: $14.99

TAB’s RATING: 5 stars

Tide Planner from Tucabo

Tide Planner gives you quick, easy access to datum in 2010/2011 for nearly 5000 world areas including Sydney and dozens of other Australian locations. The app uses its own database so no connection is needed. The display clearly shows the tide graph for the day with high and low waters. Other useful information includes sunrise and sunset times. Graphs can be quickly accessed for any location and you can move the pointer with simple finger movements to check when there will be enough depth. Information can also be copied and pasted into the notepad to assist your planning. You can also drag the scale or minimum depth level to establish actual depth readings. This is rated as a very popular download on the iStore website and I can see why.

YOU PAY: Zilcho!
TAB’s RATING: 5 stars.

Imray Marine Rules and Signs

Very useful aide memoir for the navigator or training aid along with their Marine Chart Symbols. The app contains more than 800 symbols and abbreviations all indexed, along with a quick search facility. A handy feature is the sample chart with visual pop-ups for commonly used symbols. It also has a favourites tab to archive commonly used symbols. Reproduction is in colour as per a chart, so ideal for trainee Yachtmasters and old salts needing a memory jog.

YOU PAY: $5.99
TAB’s RATING: 4 stars

Anchor Watch from Lukassen

Anchor Watch uses the GPS on the iPhone to monitor your boat’s position so is a handy backup to installed gear. If the boat moves outside of set limits, the program will alert you immediately. Alerts include phone calls, sound, vibration alerts, pop-ups or email. Anchor Watch uses filtering to minimise GPS errors. The app is designed to run in the background, too (but you can tell it to conserve battery and update only in foreground), which allows you to use the iPhone 4’s powerful multitasking capabilities while Anchor Watch is on guard. Anchor Watch versions are available for the iPhone and iPad. Both versions are device-specific implementations intended get the best out of these systems.

YOU PAY: $1.19
TAB’s RATING: 4 stars

Digital Compass

Digital Compass from InappsSettingsKit is one of the best and simplest of the freebies available. The clean display shows clearly the four points of the compass and 15-degree intervals with lat/long shown above. For detailed navigation options settings include True or Magnetic North.

The iPhone Compass is already installed as part of the utilities on the iPhone 4 and gives your heading in degrees. A powerful feature is the bottom left arrow button that gives you maps and route planning options on land. It is very easy to use with calculations for different modes of transport (but not water!).

YOU PAY: Nothing!
TAB’s RATING: Five stars (both compasses)

Float Plan

This clever little applet helps your voyage planning, a sensible precaution for diligent skippers who should always consider ports of refuge and alternative plans should emergencies occur. Float Plan now allows you to enter multiple trip destinations, multiple crew and even multiple vessels. You can also add a photo of the vessel that will be attached to the emailed float plan. Check off the combination of vessel, crew and destinations you want included in your float plan. Add dates and times to the destinations and click a button to email that information from your iPhone. This can be used by Marine Rescue should problems arise.

YOU PAY: It’s free!
TAB’s RATING: Four stars

Knot Guide (Free Knots)

This is a handy app and despite the Adware (that helps pay for it) it is a very neat little guide to many common knots. Also, if you don’t know the difference between a bight, a bite and a byte check out the Lingo tab. Alphabetical listings with illustrations of popular knots including bowlines, hitches and turns are crisply shown and a larger database is available for a small fee, which also eradicates the Adware.

YOU PAY: Gratis!
TAB’s RATING: Three stars.

ShipShape iPhone Application

Rusty on light identification? Well, check out the ShipShape app. It covers all lights as per the International Maritime Organization (IMO) International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea listed lights. It also has categories of vessels for quick reference. With this application you can learn and identify all of the standard lighting configurations that vessels must display from sunset to sunrise.

YOU PAY: $2.49
TAB’s RATING: Four stars

Wind Meter

My sailing friends didn’t believe an iPhone could actually record the wind so I proved it to them on a recent trip and it really works — and I checked it against the onboard anemometer. Wind Meter works by measuring the volume of the wind on your iPhone microphone and converts it into a wind-speed reading. To use, simply point the microphone into the wind and push Get Wind. Wait a few seconds and push Got Wind. The final reading is the average of the period. (The application is upside-down so you can read the meter while pointing the microphone into the wind.) Wind Meter has been in the top 20 paid apps in the weather category on iTunes for 18 months and I can see why.

YOU PAY: $1.19
TAB’s RATING: Five stars


Windfinder helps you track the wind, waves, weather reports and forecasts. It can monitor more than 15,000 locations worldwide, so if you are worried about the conditions on your nearest river bar or want an alert when the big surf hits the beach; just click the location in your favourites with specific wave heights. Detailed weather information is relayed to the iPhone screen in real time. Highly ranked on the iTunes website and only downside is Adware, but a paid version is available.

YOU PAY: Zero!
TAB’s RATING: Four stars.

Wind Alert

Observe the latest data from more than 40,000 weather stations and be notified if one of them meets your favourite conditions. Categories include sailing, windsurfing, fishing and others. Type in Brisbane for instance and check out the conditions with detailed charts of hourly wind direction and speed. Other useful settings include search radius so you can specify your travel limits. Screen displays include satellite as well as standard mapping.

YOU PAY: Jack!
TAB’s RATING: Four stars.


Shipfinder is a free AIS (Automated Identification System) applet that displays vessels transmitting on the VHF frequency. (Note: only commercial ships have to transmit so don’t treat it like a radar). AIS information includes ship name, position, destination, heading and other important anti-collision information. Very handy if sailing past Newcastle on a stormy night when the coal ships are jogging about. Ship movements are shown in real time, with the information sourced from Shipplotter internet data.

YOU PAY: Complimentary!
TAB’s RATING: Four stars.


This simple applet shows Australian rain radars for at-a-glance information. A simple prod of the iPhone’s touchscreen gives the latest rain-radar data in your area, kindly supplied by the Bureau of Meteorology. Nothing more — no weather forecasts, no finding out how flamin' hot it was in Seal Rocks in 1972. Just rain. Or no rain.

YOU PAY: No charge!
TAB’s RATING: Four stars.


This handy race tool includes SydWinds from the stable of the popular applications that number Bay Winds, Bay Winds Heavy and MelbWinds by Chris Payne. This locally written applet offers detailed settings that include colour coding of wind speeds with red for 25 knot plus winds, blue for 15-24 knots and green for less. It includes your location as well. It is designed to provide up to-the-minute information about the wind in and around Sydney for sailors, windsurfers and kitesurfers. Other good features include Google Mapped displays, predictions and graphic wind histories.

YOU PAY: $2.49
TAB’s RATING: Four stars.

iHandy Carpenter

Turn your iPhone into a handy tool that includes a spirit level, plumb line, ruler and protractor with this clever app that uses the motion sensors in the iPhone. This app works especially well on the box-shaped iPhone 4, which can sit upright on surfaces.

YOU PAY: $2.49
TAB’s RATING: Three stars.


iBooks uses Apple’s smooth iPhone interface to quickly download books in a readable backlit format. A substantial portion of classics are now copyright free and available through the Gutenberg website so this is a useful app. Classics I recently downloaded using iBooks include some Joseph Conrad, Captain Cook’s Voyage to the Southern Ocean and family favourite, Wind in the Willows. iBooks includes the iBookstore, where you can download the latest best-sellers or your favourite classics, often for under $20. Browse your library on a beautiful bookshelf, tap a book to open it, flip through pages with a swipe or a tap, and bookmark or add notes to your favourite passages. Change the font size and pick from six typefaces to make your books more comfortable to read.

YOU PAY: On the house!
TAB’s RATING: Four stars


Amazon’s Kindle device was one of the pioneers of electronic books, so has a huge ebook list of more than 725,000 titles including the latest best sellers. With the popularity of the iPhone and the specific ebook reader, the iPad, Kindle has come to the party with an app for these Apple devices. Amazon says 550,000 of these books are $9.99 or less, including 73 New York Times Best Sellers so this app is a worthwhile addition. Once installed, you have to register (including credit card details) with Amazon then simply download your chosen books. Good features of Kindle include dictionary lookup as you read and free sample chapters. Amazon has a large section of marine books originally for Kindle, such as Alan Phillips’ Around-The-World Guide.

YOU PAY: Not a zac!
TAB’s RATING: Four stars.


Memory-Map turns your iPhone into a powerful outdoor GPS and provides free access to 1:250,000 scale topographic maps for Australia, New Zealand and many other free maps around the world. The new high-resolution of the latest iPhone 4 allows detailed contours to be clearly viewed. Once the app and maps are loaded to the iPhone, cellular network coverage or internet connection is not required for real-time GPS navigation. The only restriction on this free app over the paid version is that you cannot upload maps from your PC. Ultimately, if you own or end up buying some detailed maps, you may find this feature worth the few extra dollars.

Although the Memory-Map app is designed to be used as a standalone GPS navigator, best results are achieved when used in conjunction with Memory-Map on your PC (free download) for planning, printing and exchanging maps, waypoint and track data.

TAB’s RATING: Four stars.

Flashlight Free – LED Edition
Flashlight Free utilises iPhone 4's inbuilt LED to give you a bright white light plus emergency SOS and strobe light. It works really well and has emergency modes — SOS, pulsating and constant LED settings. It also has battery charge information, timed auto-shutoff and proximity sensor.

YOU PAY: Nought!
TAB’s RATING: Five stars.

IGFA Mobile

This multifunction fishing utility applet is a big download at 64MB but gives a comprehensive suite of gamefishing information, including species identification and record information. The International Game Fishing Association (IGFA) is the main international gamefishing body and this app reflects its organisation and is full of useful information.

YOU PAY: $11.99
TAB’s RATING: Three stars


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