Subscribe to our newsletter

Electronics

Smart Phone Apps for Your Boat

Nav Tricks for the iPhone

Taking the boat out this weekend? Bring along the smartest of smartphones!

I wasn’t a giant fan of the iPhone at first. The gizmo seemed cumbersome in comparison with the Blackberry I’d carried around for years. Its keyboard was slow, and its phone-related capabilitieswell, let’s just say the little multitasker seemed to drop calls a lot and turn ornery at the least propitious of moments. Moreover, from the seafaring perspective, the iPhone’s seemingly fragile glass screen, with its intriguing but complicated array of icons, looked like a salty little disaster just waiting to happen. People can change though, and now I’m a total Apple-cheeked iPhone convert, thanks first to the weather-resistant, drop-resistant OtterBox case (PMY Tries, April 2011) I now use to protect my device, second to my growing familiarity with the device’s features and quirks, and third to all the apps I’ve been able to download and use to make my life easier, both on the water and off. Here are eight of my favorites. They’re all comparatively cheap, convenient, useful, and seemingly as magical as pulling a porpoise out of a hat.

GOOGLE SHOPPER

So let’s say you need a new bilge pump. After downloading this app to your iPhone (or your Android phone as well) for free, you can simply say the words: “bilge pump” into your phone and its voice-activation feature will produce a screen with a selection of bilge pumps, the stores that sell them in your local area, prices, and other pertinent information. Don’t feel like talking? Simply take a picture of your old bilge pump with your phone’s camera, let the device cogitate a bit, and you’ll soon get the same information. Google Shopper will also scan a bar code on a product while you browse a chandlery and provide Internet pricing and other data to facilitate comparison shopping.

GOOGLE GOGGLES

This app is a close relation to Google Shopper but adds a few more capabilities. Take a picture of a landmark, book, piece of artwork, or logo and the phone will give you the rundown (history, technical details, etc.) on it. Take a picture of a swath of text in a foreign language and the darn thing will even translate it for you. The app only works for culturally prominent items, however. Less significant stuff need not apply. I took a picture of the not-quite-famous buildings at my marina, for example, and got nowhere. But if you happen to pull into a new port and want to do a little sightseeing, it can make exploration a bit more enjoyable.

NAVIONICS U.S. AND CANADA

While I’ve already sung the praises of this relatively pricey ($9.99) app in PMY Tries (June 2011) a couple of features are worth a closer look. First, this app not only offers a graphical representation of the tides at any given station, it also adds current information for selected locations. Second, there’s a layer of wind-forecast arrows that can be superimposed, along with notice-to-mariners-type comments from fellow boaters and notations for all sorts of other stuff, from addresses of restaurants to directions to marine stores. Would I actually use my iPhone as my primary nav tool? No, but it makes a decent backup.

VOICE CONTROL

Pressing the iPhone’s home button and holding it down until “Voice Control” appears on the screen allows you to make a phone call by simply saying, “Call George” or “Dial 555-1212.” Not a big deal, I suppose, until you’re coming into a marina and get a tad flustered, with a whole bunch of things to do at once. Confirming which slip you’re supposed to back into and its location was never easier, though. Rather than messing around with VHF channels, knobs, and dials (while simultaneously operating throttles and wheel, and scanning for the appropriate slip numbers), you can simply use Voice Control to call the marina’s harbormaster and get directions hands-free. I tried it in one of my local marinas. It worked like gangbusters, and you can use it to give you the exact time too.

THE WEATHER CHANNEL

I remember being burrowed in a little hurricane hole in the Turks and Caicos several years ago and making the trek every morning from the boat to a restaurant offering the Weather Channel on TV. No matter how wet and miserable the trip, it had to be made. Like clockwork. Thanks to this free app, however, such struggles are a thing of the past. Get yourself weathered-in someplace, and you can simply tap the Weather Channel icon on your iPhone and get just about the same forecast everyone else watches on TV.

NAV RULES

How many times have you sat on your flying bridge with a good friend and argued the finer points of a hypothetical traffic situation or speculated on what sound signal might be appropriate in some oddball circumstance. Although this somewhat pricey ($3.99) app is just a digital version of Navigation Rules International-Inland, it’s way more convenient. Never again should you have to delay the resolution of a nav-rules argument because “the book” is at home or down below.

NAV CLOCK

Does the nautical clock at your lower helm show a different time than your wristwatch? And does the clock in your car show yet another time? Here is a way to synchronize the whole mess. Purchase this app for $0.99 and you’ll have a handle on the scientifically precise time at your GPS-located position and then match everything else to it. You get barometric pressure and other weather-station info as well.

FIND MY iPHONE

This is another free app from Apple, although to use it you’ll need to do a little ancillary work ashore. After downloading it, you have to synch your phone to your computer at home. Then, should said phone ever go missing, you’ll be able to pull up its location on a map, remotely choose to have it display a message or sound an alarm, and even lock or clear its memory. Just the thing for a forgetful cruiser who gets a lot of good use out of his iPhone but occasionally disremembers where he put the darn thing.

This article originally appeared in the June 2011 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

Related Features