Need to know the name of a song on the radio? There’s an app for that. Need to find the best rates on car insurance? There’s an app for that. Want to find out where the fish are biting and the boats are launching? Yep, there’s even an app for that.
With so many of us relying on mobile applications for assistance, information and planning in our day-to-day lives, it makes sense to take advantage of this same technology in our boating lives. Whether you’re a diehard iOS user or an Android addict, you’re sure to find a boating app to suit your needs for safety, planning or fun.
Important Features of Boating Apps
Ability to Enter/Store/Download Waypoints and Enter a Float Plan
One of the first rules in boating is to always have a float plan, which means someone on land should have details of where you plan to be and when you plan to be there. With a handy mobile app, you can enter your waypoints for your own use while providing easy access for that reliable land-based friend (or others in your cruising group).
Having sample navigation routes is beneficial if you’re planning a long cruise trip like the Great Loop. It’s always nice to see what routes or marinas other boaters have liked, or not liked, in their travels. Tips like “steer clear of the Dismal Swamp” are not only helpful but can make your whole trip a whole lot more pleasant.
Community Integration (Sharing Information with Other Boaters)
You can use other boaters’ experiences to plan trips and anchorages. Likewise, you can share your own tips and favorite spots for fishing, diving, dining or just hanging out.
Much like a GPS we all use in our cars, a mobile app can help you plot your route out on the water. Decide where you want to fish or snorkel and enter the information. Then all you have to do is follow along on your tablet or phone. Many apps will even store information for your next trip out.
Boating Safety and Planning Apps
Obviously, everybody needs a good weather app when out on the water. You never know when a storm might pop up, and it’s good to have as much advance notice as possible. But who knew there were so many other useful boating apps out there? Here are just a few:
1. Boat Ramps
Before you head out for the day, you might want to find the closest or highest rated boat ramp. The Boat Ramps app even gives directions.
More than 50,000 U.S. boat ramps can be found in this app. This is especially useful if you’re out of town and don’t necessarily know the area.
2. Free Nautical Charts
Developed by Arpeggio, this app is a great way to plan your trip. As the name implies, it has free nautical charts as well as route planning tools, buoy reports, hazards such as submerged rocks and vessels and marine map overlays.
The marine map overlay is a really cool feature as it allows you to toggle data (such as wind speeds, wave heights and water surface temperature) right onto the map for an up-to-date look at boating conditions.
It’s free and available on Google Play.
3. U.S. Coast Guard Mobile App
Anything with U.S. Coast Guard in the title is golden for boaters.
In addition to emergency assistance, the U.S. Coast Guard mobile app has several features like state boating safety information, the ability to enter a float plan, navigation rules and weather updates from NOAA. You can even report hazards or pollution in the waterways. It was designed for the recreational boater.
4. Navionics Boating
The Navionics Boating app offers navigations charts, NOAA radar, daily chart updates, dock-to-dock routes, real-time weather data and customizable chart overlays. You can even download some features for offline use.
Several regional versions are available, including boating in the Caribbean, South America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Free and paid versions are available.
I’m often conflicted about paying for an app, but I’ve found invaluable information and features with paid apps. It’s all in what you want to get out of it. Navionics Boating apps are available on an annual subscription basis at Google Play and the App Store. They do offer a free trial period.
5. Garmin ActiveCaptain
If you already own a Garmin chartplotter, or plan to purchase one, ActiveCaptain is a great one to try as it’s designed to connect with the Garmin chartplotter. You can purchase new maps, save routes and waypoints and connect with fellow boaters.
6. Snag A Slip
Whether you’re planning a trip or you’re already out on the water, Snag A Slip lets you find marinas and reserve slips right from your phone. Marinas across the U.S. and Canada to the Caribbean can be found with the swipe of a finger. You can store your boat’s information to make booking even easier.
Serious fishermen rely on accurate weather forecasts to plan their day on the water. FishWeather provides real-time weather and wind reports from more than 50,000 stations worldwide.
One really cool feature is the ability to create a favorites list to keep track of your favorite stations no matter where you happen to be. You can access satellite and cloud maps, nautical charts and on-site reports from other anglers.
8. Celestial by Navimatics
When you don’t have your sextant and really want to practice celestial navigation, this is the app.
It has an almanac of the sun, moon, stars and planets. The star finder includes rising and setting information so you can be sure to be on deck and looking toward the skies. At roughly $25, this is not a cheap app by any means. I would suggest Celestial Navimatics for somebody truly interested in celestial navigation. It’s also a great way to teach the kids about the sky.
You can also check tides, weather conditions and forecasts. If you’re going to have any app at all, I highly recommend this one.
Boating Entertainment, Fishing and Diving Apps
Once you’ve downloaded your safety and planning apps, it’s time to start partying with music, watersports and fishing fun.
10. West Marine Waterlife on Pandora
Most everybody is familiar with the popular music app Pandora. The Waterlife station is fairly new and plays everything from Zac Brown and Van Morrison to The Beach Boys, Jimmy Buffett and the Bobs (Dylan and Marley).
Connect with Bluetooth speakers for a fun-filled day. Be sure to find a water-friendly one (I like this Cambridge SoundWorks OontZ Angle 3 Portable Bluetooth Speaker (Available on Amazon).
When you’re anchored out and ready to start handing out the boat drinks, Mixology is just the app. It has over 77 cocktail recipes and photos. You can even search for recipes by entering the ingredients you have on hand.
12. DiveMate (SCUBA Dive Log)
DiveMate works as a complete logbook, allowing you to log your dives as well as share your dives and dive sites.
It has a Nitrox MOD calculator, medical instructions and a display for depth, temperature and pressure. Best of all, it works on liveaboards or without an internet connection!
13. Pro Angler
Pro Angler provides information on saltwater fishing such as captain and pro reports, species guides, real-time weather and location data, bait and gear information and pinpoints for thousands of fishing spots.
Boat Rental Apps
You’re ready to get out there on the water, but you’re just missing one essential item—the boat itself. Well, this can be remedied with a boat rental app.
Boatsetter has been called the Airbnb of boats. You rent the boat from a private owner…rather than a marina’s fleet. Everything from bass boats and canoes to center consoles, speed boats and large yachts can be rented. This is also a great way to get a feel for the boat style you may eventually purchase.
Their app is currently in development, but I recommend checking it out when it’s released.
Looking for a boat rental or want to rent out your boat? GetMyBoat is the way to go. You can book fishing charters, surfing lessons, diving trips and other water-based activities all from the convenience of a mobile device.
Now that you’ve plotted, charted and navigated your way through the mobile app world, it’s time to rest those fingers and put the knowledge to use. Get out there and start boating!
Sandy Allen is a freelance writer in Richmond, Virginia. Her specialties range from hotels, islands and yacht charters to theme parks and family fun. She enjoys boating, snorkeling and jet-skiing along the waterways of Virginia, Florida and North Carolina’s Outer Banks.