iPad and iPhone Apps for Marine Navigation


iPads with apps for navigation

A quick search for “Marine Navigation” in the App Store turns up dozens of products that all seem to have the potential to replace the chartplotter or navigation PC. The reality is that very few apps really measure up to the standard of today’s PC navigation software and dedicated chartplotters, but they still serve as a convenient alternative for the casual skipper.

There are some important points to consider before investing in apps for marine navigation. This guide explains what to look for, and provides recommendations for several high quality apps for marine navigation along with an analysis of their strengths and weaknesses.

 

The Big Weakness of Using Apps for Marine Navigation

GPS & Battery life. Most tablets or smartphones can run quite happily all day after recharging overnight, until you turn on the GPS. The GPS feature in most mobile devices will devour your power at an alarming rate, so the first consideration for using apps for marine navigation is how long the app will need to run continuously between charges. If you are planning on running your marine navigation app for hours at a stretch, the best approach is to invest in a dedicated GPS or WiFi system that can share data from the boat’s navigation systems with the app. Be careful to check that the app supports external GPS first!

 

Choice of Electronic Charts

Charts represent a major portion of the cost of marine navigation apps, so it is important to ensure that the app you choose offers charts for your region and are sufficiently accurate for navigation. Navigators in the USA can enjoy free local charts from NOAA which may be good enough for most casual skippers, however you must be particularly careful when using free charts as they may lack up-to-date details of important features like changes to navigation aids, or new wrecks or obstructions.

As a general rule, look for ENC (Electronic Navigation Chart) or vector chart formats which are detailed digital charts meaning they will display properly at various zoom levels. The alternative format is raster chart, which is simply a scanned image of the paper chart and may not display correctly at certain zoom levels.

Major chart vendors include Jeppesen (C-MAP, MAX/NT, MAX-N), Garmin BlueChart, Navionics, as well as most national hydrographic authorities worldwide.

 

Integration With Onboard Instruments and Navigation Systems

If you are serious about  navigation, you will definitely want to integrate your app with the sensors and systems  already fitted to your vessel. This gives you the ability to monitor factors such as wind strength and direction, speed of the hull through the water, water temperature, nearby AIS targets, water depth, and numerous other parameters of interest to the navigator. Some apps may also support autopilot integration, enabling the autopilot to maintain a course towards a selected waypoint or follow a pre-plotted route. Without this integration, the app is only really useful for showing you where you are, your course and speed over the ground, and estimating how long it will take to reach your destination – important pieces of information, but by no means the full picture.

Be careful when selecting an app for integration with other navigation systems. Whilst some apps can provide relatively full, open integration with NMEA-compliant products from any vendor,  others may simply provide a remote display of what’s on the screen of a specific brand of chartplotter.

Interoperate with Existing Chartplotter or Multi-Function Display

Many recent chartplotters allow you to use an app on an iPad or iPhone to remotely view the chartplotter display. This can be very convenient if you want to keep an eye on navigation while you are away from the helm or nav station, such as in a stateroom, on deck, or while socialising with your  guests. Check your chartplotter manufacturer’s website to see if there is an app that will work with your model.

 

Key Features To Consider in a Marine Navigation App

We recommend looking for the following features depending on how you intend to use the app.

All UsersRunabouts, inshore / coastalYachts, Cruisers, Offshore
  • High quality charts available for your region(s)
  • Display ownship position on chart using GPS (internal or external GPS)
  • High quality user guide documentation
  • Report basic course data from GPS (Bearing to Waypoint, Distance to Waypoint, Course Made Good, Velocity Made Good)

Additional requirements:

  • High quality charts available for your region(s)
  • Display ownship position on chart using GPS (internal or external GPS)
  • High quality user guide documentation
  • Report basic course data from GPS (Bearing to Waypoint, Distance to Waypoint, Course Made Good, Velocity Made Good)
  • Support external GPS via WiFi or BlueTooth
  • Create, edit and store waypoints & routes
  • Anchor alarm
  • Import and view weather (GRIB files)
  • Electronic Range & Bearing Line (ERBL – used to measure distance and take bearings)

Additional requirements:

  • High quality charts available for your region(s)
  • Display ownship position on chart using GPS (internal or external GPS)
  • High quality user guide documentation
  • Report basic course data from GPS (Bearing to Waypoint, Distance to Waypoint, Course Made Good, Velocity Made Good)
  • Support external GPS via WiFi or BlueTooth
  • Create, edit and store waypoints & routes
  • Anchor alarm
  • Import and view weather (GRIB files)
  • Electronic Range & Bearing Line (ERBL – used to measure distance and take bearings)
  • Support NMEA over WiFi
  • Display key instrument data (depth, temperature, speed, wind, etc) from NMEA messages over WiFi
  • Display AIS data from AIS receiver using NMEA over WiFi

 

Suggested Apps for Marine Navigation

We have analysed some of the leading navigation apps on the market to come up with the following recommendations. Please note that although we love our iPhones, we believe the screen is simply too small to be practical for marine navigation so our reviews focus on apps that are designed for the iPad. Read our descriptions of these apps for an assessment of what we like and our concerns about each one.

Our Favourite
iNavX
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iNavX Marine Navigation

Possibly the best marine navigation app for iPad due to its rich navigation functionality and ability to integrate with other instrumentation via NMEA over WiFi.

Download from iTunes

SKU: inavx Category: Tags: , , ,

Product Description

Our Assessment
This is one of the most powerful navigation apps on the market. It is designed to integrate with onboard AIS systems and NMEA-compliant navigation instrumentation via WiFi, which makes it one of the few marine navigation apps that could potentially be used in lieu of a traditional chartplotter.

 

For more detailed information about iNavX, refer to the user guide here.

What we like about it:  Great features, good documentation, great integration with existing navigation systems. Allows use of free NOAA charts (US waters), and a variety of major brand electronic charts for international waters (e.g. Navionics for Australia & NZ).

 

Our concerns:  Using the internal GPS on mobile devices drains the battery very quickly, so we recommend using an external GPS connected via WiFi or Bluetooth.

 

 

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Additional Information

Navigation Features

Alarms, Create and store routes, Create and store waypoints, Display AIS Targets, Display Electronic Chart, Display navigation data (Position, Course, Speed, etc), Display Weather Info From GRIB, ERBL (electronic range and bearing line), Follow routes, NMEA Integration with other instruments, Plot ownship position from GPS input, Report progress towards waypoint (bearing / distance to waypoint, etc)

Compatible Devices

iPad, iPhone

Interfaces

Internal GPS, WiFi

Pricing Models

Free Chart Download, Premium Charts – Annual Licence, Premium Download

Compatible Charts

Navionics, Blue Latitude (Mexican), CHS (Canadian Hydrographic Service), Maptech (USA Inland Waterways), NOAA (US territorial waters), NV (Deutscher Nautischer Verein), Soteknik HB (Sweden, Finland), Sweden Hydrographica, Wavey Line Yachting

Other Quality Marine Navigation Apps