Although we always have to remember that cell phone coverage can be sketchy on the water and you should never depend completely on a phone for safety reasons (see our Boating Safety Guide to learn more about how to stay safe on the water), there are a slew of awesome boating apps out there that can make life better for boaters. And these days, just about everyone has a phone sitting at the helm and USB ports scattered throughout the boat.
So let’s take a look at a few popular selections from five categories of boating apps:
- Marine Navigation Apps
- Fishing Apps
- Apps for Sailing
- Weather Apps
- General Boating Apps
Marine Navigation Apps
Almost everyone has a go-to GPS and navigation app that they like to use in the car—whether that's Google Maps or a crowdsourcing tool like Waze—and for boaters, the same should be true. KnowWake delivers all that and more by creating a real-time community of boaters across North America, Canada, parts of the Caribbean, Australia and New Zealand, covering coastal waterways and more than 350 inland lakes and rivers.
KnowWake provides it users with an easy way explore all the dockside and waterfront locations available by boat. Users will find everything from local restaurants, marinas, fuel docks, boat ramps, dive shops, inlets, dive sites, snorkel areas, and so much more.
Price: Yep, you're in luck—this one's free.
If you’re looking for an in-depth app that morphs your phone into a serious navigational tool, this might be your pick. You can bring up charts on-screen, navigate more or less as you would on a chartplotter, display instruments like speed and bearing, and even pull in NMEA data via WiFi. iNavX also has some interesting add-ons like tides and current data, GRIB weather forecasting, and an anchor alarm.
Price: The app goes for $4.99, and in-app purchases (like buying new charts) apply.
If you want to turn your phone or tablet into a chartplotter, Navionics is tough to beat. In fact, it’s the most popular boating app around and has world-wide chartography coverage for oceans, bays, and lakes. You can use it to navigate with some advanced features including dock-to-dock auto-routing; you can see user community updates; you can synch it with your onboard chartplotter if it’s WiFi-equipped, and more.
Price: The basic version comes free for two weeks; subscribing for a year costs $30.
Fishbrain claims to have millions of users, making it one of the largest social networking apps for anglers. Not only does it get you connected with other fishermen, it gets you updates on hotspots and what’s biting, crunches real world data to recommend top lures and baits, and includes fishing forecasts.
Price: The base version is free, but to enjoy all the app’s features you’ll want to spring for $5.99 a month, which gets you the Premium version.
This app focuses on all the data you want to hunt down the deep-sea predators: sea surface temperatures, tides and currents info, bathymetry data, moon phase, and also weather.
Price: The base version is free, but advanced features require in-app purchases.
Terrafin is a sea surface temperature app with downloadable charts and the ability to set waypoints, get bearings and distances, and also look at altimetry and chlorophyll charts. Its beauty is its simplicity, and rather than trying to be all things to all anglers it just delivers that SST/chlorophyll data and makes it easy to use.
Price: The base app is free, but a yearly ($109) subscription is needed to get the most current and detailed info.
Apps for Sailing
ASA Sailing Challenge
The American Sailing Association created the Sailing Challenge app to both entertain and educate. It may be a game, but while playing it you race a sailboat with factors like points of sail, apparent wind, sail trim, and tacking and jibing all coming into play. You can zoom out to see the big picture, rotate the “camera” looking at your sailboat, and race against the clock to learn sailing fundamentals.
This app gets rave reviews from serious sailors who want to keep tabs on wind conditions in specific locations. It’s a free app with in-app purchases, and gives real-time “Nowcast” wind reports for top sailing areas as well as forecasts plus on-site reports from sailors.
Portbook is a marine services directory which covers the East Coast but specializes in the areas most popular with sailors, especially Annapolis and the DelMarVa Eastern Shore, Newport, RI, and Narragansett Bay. It also includes directories for restaurants, bars, local attractions, and visitor and local’s information ranging from water taxis to nearby golf courses.
The Weather Channel app is the number-one choice for all weather apps, and it’s no wonder – it lets you tap into all the same in-depth forecasts, weather maps, and live radar you’d find on the Weather Channel itself.
Price: It’s free, but there are in-app purchases, too.
Another incredibly popular weather app is WeatherBug. It also has a wide range of weather data including forecasts, maps, and the like, and it has a few special perks boaters in particular will enjoy. Lightening alerts, severe weather alerts, and doppler radar are all in the mix.
Price: This one’s free, with ads.
General Boating Apps
The free BoatUS app has general data like tides, weather forecasts, and weather alerts, but more importantly, it lets you call for towing assistance 24/7 with the swipe of a finger. And since your phone has GPS, the dispatchers immediately know your location and can get help on the way asap.
This is another app that delivers some basic tide and weather data, but the main purpose is being able to signal for a tow. Basically it’s like the BoatU.S. version, but for people who have towing insurance with Sea Tow instead.
Price: Yup, this one’s free, too.
Waterway Guide Marinas
This is a relatively simple, free app which lists out listings for over 3700 marinas and boatyards nation-wide. You can use it to find which marinas have transient slips, what channel they monitor on the VHF, approach depth, and similar information that will come in handy when boating in unfamiliar areas.
We have to stress once again that boaters should never rely 100-percent on a cell phone for tasks like navigation and communications at sea. That said, however, each and every one of these apps can make your day of boating a better experience.
You Might Also Like:
- 5 Best Marine Navigation Apps
- Marine Navigation: How to Navigate a Boat
- How to Use a VHF Radio
- Weather Safety for Boaters: Understanding Marine Forecasts
- Boat Owner's Guide
- Find the Right Boat for Your Lifestyle