If you have a boat (or you're thinking about buying a boat) and you have a cell phone, you’re probably interested in learning all about the best boating apps. And among the many types of boating apps out there, marine navigation apps are some of the most useful. With the best marine navigation apps you can quite literally turn your phone or your tablet into a full-blown chartplotter. That means you have a valuable back-up to the electronics at your helm, and you can carry your tech with you even when aboard small boats with no electrical systems.
We’ve put a number of marine navigation apps to the test through the years, and these are our favorites (in alphabetical order):
- C-Map Embark
- Maptech iPlot
C-Map has been creating digital charts for years and has had other nav apps in the past, but Embark recently replaced previous offerings. The concept behind developing this next-gen nav app was to make it as simple and easy to use as possible. It’s a goal C-Map reached, and although this does by design make it one of the more simplistic apps in our round up, that’s one of the reasons why we love it – it’ll take you all of 30 seconds to figure out how to accomplish essential navigational tasks like going from point A to point B. Nifty bonus feature: the app can “see” the lighting situation you’re in and automatically adjust color and contrast for the best viewing.
Price: Free basic version with in-app purchases of varying costs for some map access and weather data.
iNavX provides you with amazing latitude in the charts you choose to navigate with, and has eight different providers in their in-app chart store (NOAA charts come free). This app also allows you to do much more than simple navigational tasks, with quite advanced functionality like overlaying GRIB files (a form of current weather data) on your chartplotter screen, or connecting with NMEA (National Marine Electronics Association) compatible instruments on your boat via WiFi to display things like engine data and AIS (Automatic Information System, which uses transponders on commercial ships and boats to broadcast information regarding things like identification, speed, course, and destination) data. Figuring out the navigational basics isn’t made overly-complex by the additional features, but using the advanced functions will take some studying up.
Price: $4.99 for Apple plus in-app purchases; free for Android’s basic version, $19.99/year for the enhanced Pro version.
If you have an apple device (there’s no Android version) Maptech’s iPlot is a navigation app you’ll love for its intuitive nature. The app’s amazingly easy to figure out and thanks to the use of raster charts (digitized NOAA paper charts) when you zoom in you can make the hard-to-read depth sounding and marker numbers as large as you’d like. Plus “quilting,” (digitally stitching charts together) happens quickly so you don’t lose the view while zooming, a problem you may encounter with some other apps. What really sets this one apart from the pack, however, is its facility locator feature. Marinas, yacht clubs, and other waterfront facilities are not only detailed on-screen, but when you tap on them, it takes you to their website—an ability those going on an overnight or weekend getaway to unfamiliar ports will definitely enjoy.
Price: $39.99 with basic charts; $9.99 for additional charts.
Navionics lays claim to being the most popular boating app available, and its navigational features and functions are comprehensive, to say the least. In fact, it offers many features that some modern chartplotters can’t match. Dock-to-dock auto-routing, for example, creates a route from point A to point B taking things like nav aids and your boat’s draft constraints into account, when you merely tap the beginning and end points. The Sonarchart Live function lets you create bathymetric maps of the area you’re boating in, in real time. User-generated community edits can be displayed with daily updates. And these are just some of the highlights in a long list of unique features.
Price: A two-week trial comes free, then the subscription varies depending on the chart region(s) you want ($14.99 to $54.99).
Seapilot is a fairly comprehensive navigation app (though some of the more advanced features, like routing and weather forecasting, require upgrading to the premium version), which introduces a different twist into the mix: Facebook integration. Connected friends are displayed like AIS targets on the app, so finding each other and linking up on the water is easier. Seapilot is also unusual in that it can offer polar diagrams (which show the theoretical attainable speed depending on wind direction and speed) for over 300 boats, to determine the ideal path to steer a sailboat taking wind and current forecasts into account.
Price: Free basic three-day-trial version, $7.99 to $64.99 depending on chart area subscriptions.
Looking for more boating apps to try?
Hey, you anglers, wait a sec—don’t put that phone back into your pocket just yet, because when you’re out fishing it’s good for more than just navigation. Also be sure to check out the Best Apps for Fishing so the next time you hit the water you catch more fish.
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