People like to suggest that the app bubble has burst – and that a saturated market is full of second-rate programmes from designers more interested in piggybacking a profitable bandwagon than satisfying a genuine need.
Take a look around and it’s certainly not difficult to see the evidence for that. For instance, did you know there’s an app to make your phone look steamed up? Another to engage in social networking while visiting the toilet? And another to measure how long you can keep your index finger pushed against the screen?
For marine users who do their research and use them in the right way, there are plenty of apps worth embracing. For instance, while plenty of good marine apps are designed to act as supplements to more expensive off-the-shelf gadgets, the six we’ve picked here can all be used as standalone products. They are also good value (either cheap or free) and they are not tied to any particular piece of branded technology.
Just be aware that, given the limitations of the devices on which they tend to run (namely, fragility, limited battery life and sketchy coverage in a crisis) no app-equipped phone or tablet should be used as a replacement for your dedicated, marine-specific on-board equipment...
Marine Rules & Signals
Here from Imray (of chart and pilot book fame) is a very useful reference guide to help you understand and apply the Rules of the Road.
It is rammed full of information but the use of diagrams and short, sharp sections of text mean it is also great for grabbing quick, relevant snippets of data without getting bogged down in exhaustive detail. It includes everything from flags to lights, buoyage, radio communication and collision avoidance and its use of learning cards for each section makes getting a firm grip of the most vital bits much easier than you might expect.
First Aid by the Red Cross
Isn’t it great when a product of genuine value is free? Well this life-saving app from the British Red Cross is exactly that.
It comes with videos, interactive quizzes and step-by-step advice and while it makes emergency responses easy to learn, the fact that the information is all hosted on your device means you don’t need to hunt for an internet connection during an incident. It also comes with advice to help you stay prepared – and it’s even ad and spam-free. In short, it’s a blinder. Get it immediately.
This impressive, multi-award-winning Weather Pro app is not your average MET source.
Its seven-day forecasts contain three-hourly intervals with all the data you would expect, plus lots of extras – from high-res maps and real-time radar and satellite images to 800,000 Points of Interest and lots of customisable flexibility. Yes, you have to pay for it (and there are additional in-app purchases for European coverage and functionality upgrades) but even this basic model is extremely comprehensive, simple to use, free from ads and impressively accurate. Best of all there is a version tailored for use on just about any smart gadget you could name.
Reeds Digital Almanac
This cruise boater’s bible of a book was always a pain in the backside to cart around on your boat. It weighed a tonne and its phonebook-fragile pages quickly succumbed to exposure at sea.
This app remedies all of that by enabling you to preview ports, read the tide tables and use navigational advice to plan your route via your tablet – and because it’s a digital version, regular updates keep the information more accurate than the book and even enable you to monitor the weather. See Reeds Nautical Almanac.
Navionics UK and Holland
It might look a little expensive, but Navionics charts have been the world’s best-selling marine apps for some time now and you can see why.
Designed to give you the same detail as your GPS chartplotter, the award-winning vector maps remain on your device so you can access them even when there is no Internet coverage. In addition to creating and editing routes, you can geo-tag images en-route, access weather and tide information and enjoy navigational updates from the phenomenally active Navionics social community on vital info like wrecks, buoyage, obstructions and marine services. With countless in-app upgrades to help customise the programme, this is as user-friendly as affordable route planning gets.
Ship Finder is a fun way to get data about surrounding vessels with real-time ‘virtual radar’ AIS maps of the world’s coastal regions.
You just tap on a ship icon to browse details such as the name, type, origin, speed, heading, dimensions and destination. It is more a recreational toy than a marine tool but I’m addicted to it. If you want a serious AIS device, experts in the field, Digital Yacht, does an AIS target plotter app for use with its WiFi receiver but as simple, standalone marine apps go, Ship Finder is well worth the money
Marine apps: Summary
While the above apps are all worth a go, there are of course some provisos. For instance, on an open boat, an app is best regarded as an aid to pre-trip planning than as a live resource while underway. In more general terms, you should also check compatibility before you buy and keep your device’s operating system as up-to-date as possible or you may struggle to download any updates. And finally, it is plain that free apps need to make money so if you ‘buy’ one, you should expect ads, in-app offers and regular opportunities to upgrade to a paid-for version with additional functionality. It sounds annoying but it is useful for a couple of very pertinent reasons – firstly, it enables free apps to exist; and secondly, it enables you to assess the value and relevance of an app before making a financial commitment.