Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Perfect Marine Navigation App

Application: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch
Function: Marine Navigation and the works
Cost:  Free would be nice
Rating: *****

The Perfect Marine Navigation app, does it exist or is it still something of your imagination? I have reviewed quite a few Marine navigation and charting apps the past few months. Some are good, some are bad and some leave a lot to be desired. Check out my Top 10 Charting App recommendations

If  you could design the perfect app your self what features would it have? What maps would it have? Well, let take a look at a laundry list of features that I would like to see in the perfect app and you all can hopefully weigh in with your comments too.

Most people who use these apps are looking for high end charts that show enough detail to use for meaningful navigation. Many apps utilize the NOAA charts because they are free and easily downloaded. The higher end apps utilize chart sets that contain additional detail and points of interest. If you use the NOAA charts as a base set of charts it would be nice to be able to download additional charts sets from a supplier for a reasonable price. Chart set should be purchased by regions so only the needed charts are downloaded and kept on the device

The charts have to be down loadable to and reside on the device. While boating, a cell or network signal may not always be available, so the charts have to reside on the device to make it usable. Some apps attempt to download charts as you use them. If your offshore this would not work.

The application must integrate with a GPS signal or external device to obtain GPS coordinates.  Most devices have a GPS signal through WiFi or cell phone triangulation or an onboard GPS chip.  GPS is the engine that makes these locational based app so powerful and allow real time tracking of your position. The iPhone, iPad and iPod touch have what Apple calls locational based services. This is how they provide a location to the apps that reside on the device.

It would be nice to have access to a GPS signal from outside the device. In my blog I have a whole page devoted to GPS devices to power your iThing.  If you have an iPhone or iPad with 3G an assisted GPS chip should be onboard. I have been experimenting with an iPod touch and it does not have a GPS chip in the device so it has been my search for a way to give GPS functionality to the device while I am away from a WiFi signal.  I have found some apps that allow access to a GPS signal and other NMEA data through TCP/IP, Bluetooth or the serial port. These are all great communication protocols that allow for exchange of data. 

On board your boat there are probably a host of instrument running either NMEA 0183 or 2000 protocols. This data includes, speed, bearing, wind speed, wind angle, coarse over ground, depth, distance to waypoint, heading magnetic or true, speed over ground, water temp and cross track error to name a few.

How do we get this additional NMEA data to your mobile device?  TCP/IP allows communication between devices that reside on the same network.   My dream app would have the ability to take data from the ships onboard navigation systems and display it on my devices.  This would allow me to walk around my yacht being able to quickly browse any instrument from my mobile device.

Waypoints are the basic building blocks of marine navigation. These points mark where we want to go or places that we want to navigate back to at some later time.  The app would have to have the ability to save or create a waypoint with latitude and longitude coordinates. The ability to name the waypoint whatever the user wants to name it should be a basic feature.  Waypoints should be able to be stored on the device and have the ability to download or upload the waypoint to a computer or the Internet. It would be nice to have different markers icons to choose from for display on the maps.

Routing is also a basic function that should be provided.  Routes are simply a set of waypoints that have been selected and strung together to make a path for the app to follow.  Naming and saving Routes should also be done within the app.  Uploading and downloading of routes to or from a computer or the Internet would also be a nice feature.

Tracking is a great feature that records the coarse you have taken while navigating.  It is like creating electronic bread crums to find your way back to a place. The app should allow the user to either turn on or off the tracking feature.  Tracks should be recorded on the device and allow the renaming of the track. Import and export features to a computer of the Internet would also be usable.

Our friends at Google and Microsoft have both created marvelous satellite overlays, Bing and Google maps which have brought a new perspective to navigating.  The ability to overlay different map types on the charts is not a necessity but it does provide additional functionality to marine charts and navigation.  The problems have been that these overlays are only available while connected to a network or cellular service. It would be nice to be able to cache these overlays for use while underway. I realize this would take up additional memory to store these but I think it would be work it.

Automated Information System data is a hot topic right now. It is a communication standard that enables commercial ships and now yachting enthusiast to identify and be identified while underway.  Some AIS programs have the ability to alarm you if your yacht is on a collision course with a commercial ship. An app with AIS capabilities would allow the user to monitor shipping traffic around them and provide a additional level of safety while boating.

It does require that you have an AIS receiver on board and make that information available to your on board network.  The AIS target information would have to be transmitted to your iPhone or iPad through TCP/IP or some other standard protocol.

Links to social networking sites
In this crazing world of social networking, my dream app would have the ability to send my position to my favorite social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter or email to whoever I might want to know my position.  This would require a cell phone connection and would only be usable in coastal waters. 

Anchor Alarm
An anchor alarm feature would be very usable.  I can see myself sound asleep in may bunk, my anchor breaks free and sets me adrift. My iPhone next to my bunk alarms me that I am no longer securely anchored and I am able to save my yacht before is crashes on the rocks. The alarm should have the ability to set the distance at which it alarms and provide for a reset after it alarms.

Weather Forecasts
Wind and weather forecast data would be nice to have in a my dream app.  Weather files could be downloaded over a cellular, Internet or satellite connection and overlayed on the charts.  Nexrad radar for weather could also be overlayed to show storms and fronts moving in.

Tides and Phases of the Moon, Sunrise and Sunsets
Tidal data is available in some navigation and charting apps already.  There are several apps that provide just tidal data. It would be nice to bring all this information including the phases of the moon and the sunrise and sunset into one app. 

Points of Interest
Chart data and connectivity are great but points of interest make the app truly powerful.  When your heading towards a port or harbour my dream app would be able to bring up the marinas, restaurants, bars and other points of interest in that area complete with phone numbers addresses and VHF channel for communication.  I could make a slip or dinner reservation on the way and be ready when I arrived.

Some of these features already exist but some do not.  I can only hope the developers are reading my blog and will take my suggestions when developing their apps. What features would you want in your dream app?


  1. Hello,

    Here is a helpful application for sailors : "WCC World Cruising Calendar.

    Planning long passages has never been easier. WCC is the alternative multimedia to the Pilot Charts.
    Find the routes most frequently used by sailing boats for specific months of the year. WCC schematizes information usually found in books.
    Stay in contact with sailing friends and know their position. With WCC you can choose to show the position of your automatically. When a friend enters the name of your boat, it's position will then be indicated on the chart.
    You can make public announcements on your wall. This function will be known as Skip'in Touch and will be a front runner of what will become THE navigators social network.

    This unique application will be useful to sailors planning a voyage as well as those already on their way.
    It will be available on the iTunes Apps-store for $9.99 USD

    Follow this link:

    Thank you for transmitting this message to your readers.

    Marc Chapus

  2. Hi Mark!

    We are reading and we hear you..all the way from Finland. We are on the same page with you and your wishes, hopefully we will be able to let you test "something new" soon..

    Best regards,


    1. Evita,

      Welcome Finland! Don't tease me like that! Great to hear from you and I hope you enjoy my blog. Sounds like you are working on a new wiz bang app that will be the answer to our prayers. The golden app that will include all the features on my wish list. I will be patiently awaiting the release. Any chance I could get a peek at what it is?

      Help support the site by checking out the Google adds or making a donation through Paypal. Any support would be greatly appreciated.

      Hope to hear from you soon!

      Sail On

  3. This Bridge Navigation Watch Alarm System (BNWAS) in simple terms is a timer alarm system that forces watch officers to reset this system in periodic time intervals to insure that they are fully alerted (not sleeping, playing solitaire with bridge computer,etc).

  4. Wonderful article! That is the kind of information that are meant to be shared around
    the internet. Disgrace on the seek engines for now not positioning this post upper!
    Come on over and seek advice from my website .
    Thank you =)

    my web blog :: nike Air jordan

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. Hi,

    I think you forgot reversing a route.

    One very important thing I did not find in any app is tidal currents. Some have the possibility to display currents, but none (AFAIK) offer a simple way to calculate a route while taking tidal currents in account. I am in a region with very high tidal currents (up to 12 knots), so it is really something that we can't ignore. I use to trace the current vectors hour by hour from the route starting point to calculate the real bearing, and then draw the real route on a paper chart, but it is really an approximation. A navigation application should be able to do much better. In particular, it should be able to recalculate the route in real time, since the initial calculation is dependent upon the boat speed.

    Now, on my wish list for this blog is a cross table with all features and all existing apps showing which app has which feature.

    (Sorry for my poor English)

    1. Pierre,
      Thanks for the comment and welcome to the blog. I hope you find it useful. Many of the apps that have routing have the reverse route feature because it is fairly easy to implement.

      Currents are not a popular feature but to you it sound like they are very important. Garmin does provide Tides and Currents in the BlueChart mobile app. The Navionics app also provides Tides and currents in their weather section.

      As for your table of features for all the apps, now that would take some work to produce. I have thought about it and it would take some work to put together but maybe more work to keep it up to date. I will see if I have time this summer.

      Thanks for stopping by the site. Share the link with your friends and become a follower by clicking on the link in the right column.


  7. Great post… Thanks for sharing it. This is amazing about marine negivation I have something to share with you. Check here. Indoor navigation positioning app