Friday, August 30, 2013


Application: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch iOS 5.0 or greater
Function: NOAA GPS Charting and Tracking
Rating: ***
Cost: 0.99 basic, $11.99/year for full version

Skipper is the latest addition to the many NOAA Marine charting apps already in the App Store.  The Gaia GPS app developers, known for their hiking and topo map apps have put together an equally useful charting and GPS tracking app for the marine environment.

There are numerous apps that will display the NOAA raster charts, but Skipper goes way beyond that with waypoints, routes, tracking, instruments, tides, weather forecasts, NEXRAD radar and Active Captain POI.  The app attempts to do many things, some better than others.


  • Seamless mosaic NOAA charts stored on your device
  • NOAA raster charts for all of the US charts is less than 2 GB
  • Overlay charts on base maps, including MapBox cloudless aerial, OpenStreetMap road maps, or USGS topos
  • Waypoints
  • Routes
  • Tracking
  • Route and Track Export
  • Skipper syncs your waypoints, routes, tracks, and photos between your devices, and backs up to the cloud
  • Multiple devices can be synced with your cloud data.
  • ActiveCaptain Points of Interest information about marinas, anchorages, hazards, and local knowledge
  • Weather & Tides
  • Offline tide graphs and charts, past, present, and future
  • Online weather data from Weather Underground
  • NEXRAD overlays, with animation, time stamps, and controls
  • Wind, temperature, other vital stats
  • Current conditions, hourly, and daily forecasts


Skipper provide a very nice quilted display of the NOAA raster charts. The transition from one chart to another is seamless. The raster charts are the scans of the familiar paper looking charts NOAA provides free for the US Coastal waters, the Great Lakes, Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

I am a big fan of vector chart but the raster charts provide very useful detailed information which can be used for navigation in coastal waters.

The US raster charts for the US can all be downloaded for offline use while only using 2GB of storage.

Select the Layers icon in the top left of the main chart display. This menu includes a variety of settings for chart downloads, layers and brightness settings. Right at the top of the Layers menu is a brightness slider which increases or decreases the overlay of the NOAA charts. The base map can be selected from Global Imager satellite, OpenStreeMaps, and US topographic maps.

Charts can be downloaded for offline use with the Download Charts selection.  This bring up a map showing the available charts for download. Select or deselect the tiled region you want to download with a tap of your finger and select Done.

At the bottom of the layers menu are more settings for the Radar overlay brightness, show waypoints and latitude and longitude grid overlays.


Adding a waypoint is done through the instruments display.  Tap the Mark Waypoint selection to Drop a Pin, Drop a Pin near Me or Take a picture.

If you select Drop a Pin, a waypoint pin marker is placed at the center of the screen. A nice little edit window pops up and shows the Name, degrees, minutes and seconds of the waypoint. All of these can be changed by tapping and typing in the desired values. Select the Save option to add the waypoint to your list of waypoints.

Selecting Save and Guide and the waypoints is saved and the distance and heading to that point from your present position is shown at the bottom of the screen guiding you to that point.

To edit, select the waypoint from the list and select the pencil icon in the upper right of the waypoint screen.  You can also tap a waypoint on the chart and select the wrench icon which also brings up the edit window. Options are provided for adding some notes, show on map, email or taking a picture which is linked to that waypoint.

In most apps the waypoints are used to build routes.  That is not the case with Skipper. You have to build you route waypoints separately.  It would be nice if there was a way of building a route that could include points from the waypoint list. 

I had an issue when I deleted a waypoint. The point was deleted from my list of waypoints but it continued to be displayed on the chart.  This appears to be a bug that will hopefully be addressed in the next release.


Bring up the Main menu by tapping the arrow on the left center of the screen. Select Route from the menu at the bottom of the screen. The list of your current routes will be displayed. These can be sorted by Date, Name or Distance with selections at the top.

Creating a Route is as easy as tapping your finger on the screen to create the path of your route.

Routes are made visible by selecting the ON button next to the route. Multiple routes can be displayed at the same time.  I personally find this confusing and only like to view the route that I am navigating.  It may be useful for planning purposes to show multiple routes.

To create a new Route, tap the Add button at the top right of the Route Menu. Begin adding your waypoints for your route by tapping your finger on the chart. Notice the new waypoint is added to the list in the top right of the screen. When you are finished adding points select Save, this will add your new Route to the Route list.

Selecting a Route brings up Distance and heading to the first point in the Route. You have options to Add notes, Show on map, Guide me, Export, Driving directions and download maps for track. Delete the whole route with the button at the bottom.

I am not sure why the Driving Directions option is listed on a marine app.  It may be useful if you are trying to navigate by car to the closest marine store.

To edit the route tap the pencil icon in the top right of the active route.  I would prefer the word EDIT rather than a pencil icon. It took me a while to figure out what the pencil icon meant and that it was selectable.

Selecting the Edit button also allows you to delete waypoints in your route.


The Tracking option is located in the instruments menu. Selecting the Record Track option brings up the tracking display.  Simply selecting the Start button initiates the recording. The track will continue to be recorded until the End button is selected.

The Show more Stats bar brings up additional trip information about the track.  A speed profile graph is also recorded along with average and maximum speed values, distance and time.

Saved tracks can be played back on the chart. In this example I took a quick walk and recorded my track on my iPhone. When I returned home the tracks synched to the Skipper website and then to my iPad.  The Skipper Cloud is another cool option that set this app apart from the rest.

Cloud Support:

Many of us are familiar with the various cloud services that have become available in recent years. DropBox, Apple iCloud, Amazon and many others offer free storage of your pictures, movies and files.  Skipper, I believe is the first app to incorporate an automatic cloud back up of your maps, routes, waypoints and tracks.  With your data in the cloud it can automatically be synched between all your mobile devices.  So, you no longer have the problem of trying to keep your devices synched with the same data. Skipper does it for you automatically when you connect to the Internet.  Make sure to have the Synch/Backup Data button turned on in the Skipper Account Settings menu.

Your same Skipper log in and password also provides access to your data on the Skipper Cloud website.


The full line of instruments runs across the bottom of the screen on the iPad version.  The iPhone version has some data under the Trip selection.

Tap and hold you finger on any of the readings and the options for the instrument settings appear as spinner wheels. You can select between coordinates, course, distance, sunset/sunrise, total time, stopped time, moving time, current speed, moving speed, average speed, pace, altitude and ascent.

You have the option to decide which values are displayed where among the eight different displays.

I really like the flexibility to organize the data where I want it, very nicely done! There appears to be no way to get my boats NMEA instrument data to the app over WIFI. This would allow display of additional on board data including depth, wind, speed and heading. Developers take note!

Weather and Tides:

The app has incorporated some robust weather features.  A cell or Internet connection is required to access the real time weather data.  The data is sourced from Weather Underground. The NEXRAD radar is very useful to see approaching storms in near real time.

The control box in the lower right side of the scree allows you to animate the radar image.

Additional weather data can be accessed by tapping the menu arrow on the left center of the screen. Menu options for Instruments, Weather, Routes and Settings appear.

Select the Weather option at the bottom of the screen to show wind direction, wind speed, temperature, humidity, visibility, 5 day forecasts and tides are from the nearest weather station. When you pan around on the chart the weather and tide data changes to the area that you have centered on the chart.  Skipper has incorporated some powerful weather tools that all coastal cruisers will find useful.

Active Captain Points of Interest:

The Active Captain points of interest have found their way onto many apps in the marine charting business.  Active Captain provides this service for free to app developers to promote the use and provide value to it's users. The unique thing about this is that many of these points are crowd sourced by people like you and me.  The information provided goes through a validation process to make sure some mean spirited people are not submitting garbage data.

Skipper provides the Active Captain database within the app. You will need an Active Captain log in and password to activate the database in the Settings menu.  Once the data is downloaded it can be use offline.

Subscription Price:

You can buy the app for just 99 cents and give it a try. The basic charts and satellite imagery are available for use.  Pay $11.99/year to unlock the full functionality of the app. This includes offline charts, Active Captain, cloud backup, real time weather and tides.

The subscription will automatically renew unless auto-renew is turned off at least 24-hours before the end of the current subscription. Your iTunes account will be charged for renewal within 24-hours prior to the end of the current period, and identify the cost of the renewal. Your payment will be charged to your iTunes Account at confirmation of purchase.

Auto renewal can be turned off via the main Settings at:

Final Thoughts:

Skipper has incorporated a lot of the required features to make it a first class marine app.  The charts, waypoint, routes and tracks are very functional, but work a little differently from some other marine apps.

I had a few issues with the app crashing when I selected Add Base Maps and when I deleted a track on the iPad version.

The menu systems on the iPhone and iPad versions are different.  I found it hard to locate some of the features on both devices.  I would be nicer if both apps had the same menus to keep things easy. 

The weather and tides section was impressive along with the NEXRAD radar overlay.  It is nice to have it incorporated within the app rather than being forced to go to a separate app for weather.

Apart from a few problems which I am sure will be resolved with future updates, I could see myself using this app a lot while coastal cruising.  The price is reasonable but some might gripe about paying $11.99 each year.  I look forward to future updates and enhancements as this app matures.

~~~ Sail On ~~ /)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Predict Wind Tracker

Application: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android Devices too!
Function: Real time sailboat tracking and playback
Rating: ****
Cost: Free for one week trial, $3.00 for 3 months tracking.

Jon Bilger and his Predict Wind team have been busy and have recently introduced an update to the Tracker App for the sailboat racing crowd. 

The Tracker App is designed to record the GPS tracks of all entries in a sailboat race. The participants and spectators can then see their progress and tracks on a Google map in real time.  Each participant must have the app running on their Android or iPhone.  The app records the track position data and sends it via the cell connection back to the Predict Wind Tracker site.

The data can then be viewed in real time or after the fact using the app or website.

This app can be used for other activities in addition to sailing. If your a biker, hiker, runner or kayaker and want to record your track it will do that too. So it is not just limited to sailing.

The app provides the contestants and spectators a fun and easy way to track and participate in the action.

  • Record the track of your sailboat in personal tracking mode
  • Record tracks of all sailors in a sailboat race
  • Races can be set up in Division, Heats and Classes
  • Spectators can view tracks of all boat in a race
  • Search for specific boats by name
  • Replay a race to improve your strategy and tactics
  • Race committee boats can track boat in real time.
  • You can also setup your own personal tracking, and share a web link with friends to watch your progress in real time.
  • Google Maps tracking
  • Event organizers can monitor the progress of race participants
To view a sample race please go to this test link It appears to be a race in New Zealand.  To get your yacht club registered simply email the company at They do require that you have a Yacht Club website so you can promote the use of the Tracker and Predict Wind apps.

The Tracker app has a free one week trial to record your GPS tracking data. After the trial period you can make an in-app purchase which will cost you $3.  This provides you unlimited tracking in any race for a 3 months period. 

Racers Instructions:

The app is very easy to use. All you have to do is make a few selections within the app and your on the way to recording your track. Open up the app and first select your Yacht Club, Race, and Division. Then enter the name of your Boat. The race and division data should be provided by your race officials.

The Race and Divisions are set up by the yacht club race administrator on the Predict Wind Tracker website.  Multiple divisions, heats and races can be set up for a regatta. Various other timing settings and track record update rates are set here too.

On the day of the race all you have to do is take your phone with you on the boat.  Prior to the start of the race make sure you have the correct race and division selected and then turn "Tracking On".

Track recording takes a lot of battery power so make sure your battery is fully charged.  To conserve battery life make sure to turn off both WiFi and Bluetooth. Turn off any other apps that may be running in the background by tapping the home button twice and holding your finger on an app icon until it starts wiggling. Select the - sign on the app to turn them off.

The data usage for the App is approximately 1 MB for a race day.  Continued use of GPS running in the background can dramatically decrease battery life. Once the race it done make sure to turn Tracking OFF.

For more detailed instructions please visit

Spectator Instructions:

The unique thing about this app is that it gets spectators involved in the racing action.  Although sailboat racing can be about as boring as watching golf, this is one way to make it a little more fun. Viewing of all race data is free to the spectators. Open the App and select your Yacht Club and Race.

Click on the button "View Tracking" to see the race data.  On the map view select the proper Division to see all the tracks in real-time.  The slider at the bottom of the screen can be used to replay the race or move to any point in the race.
A handy search box is supplied to find the position and track of a friends boat or locate their most recent track update.

This app can only help improve the interest in sailing.  Spectators can now feel like they are part of the racing
action. They now have the ability to watch and track the positions and progress of all boats in real time.

Personal Tracking:

If your not in a race but just want to record your GPS tracking data you can do this with personal tracking. In the Yacht Club selection select the Personal Tracking option. This will allow your to record your tracks if your out for just an afternoon sail.

In the View Tracking map screen you can then select the Share option on the top menu bar to view a link of your recorded track. One feature that would be nice is the ability to automatically email or post this link to Facebook or Twitter. Perhaps this could be added in future updates

The Tracker app seems to work great.  I have used it a few time while out sailing and it is easy to use. Just make a few selections, turn it on and forget it until you return.  You can then view your tracks within the app or on a PC through your Predict Wind account.

I am the Commodore of  our local yacht club and will be testing this with some of our sailors in future races.  I am excited about getting spectators involved in watching the race action in real time or after the fact.

The Predict Wind Tracker app is truly unique. It is well worth the $3 buck to have the ability to track your self and others without some costly and sophisticated GPS tracking hardware.

~~~~ Sail On ~~~ /)  

Sunday, August 4, 2013


Application: Android Tablets
Function: NOAA Marine Chart displays and GPS tracking
Rating: **
Cost: Free

Android tablet user listen up! For years now I have received many emails and comments on my blog requesting Android apps for marine charting and GPS tracking.  Well our Federal Government has finally put our tax dollars to good use and created an app to do just that.

The app, MyNOAACharts is available in the Google Play Store for FREE and you know how much I like free apps. 

This is listed as a Beta test just for this summer. The Beta test is scheduled to end on Labor Day which is September 2, 2013.  NOAA is looking for feedback on the product and they want to hear from users like you. So if you like the app, hate the app or have any comments or suggestions for features or additions let your voice be heard!

  • 1200 NOAA nautical charts
  • Update downloaded charts
  • 5000 pages of NOAA Coast Pilot Books
  • Geotagged Coast Pilot Data
  • GPS real time tracking
  • SOG
  • COG
  • Measuring tool
The app is only available on Android tablets at this time. If there is enough interest they will expand the app to other devices and include  all NOAA charts and the 5000 pages of pilot chart data.

Pilot Charts can be downloaded and viewed within the app also. If you have never see pilot charts they are a very detailed narrative of the areas marine features.

They provide a wealth of supplemental navigation information for the NOAA charts.  The app geo references the pilot chart data to the charts.

Topics which are covered in the Pilot Charts include environmental factors of weather, climate, ice conditions, tides, water levels, currents, prominent coastal features and landmarks.

Specific information on vertical clearances, wharf descriptions, small-craft facilities, hazards, dredged channels and depths are also provided. Navigation services and regulations are also identified including pilotage, towing, anchorages, routes and traffic separation schemes, environmental protection, and other Federal laws.

The NOAA charts appear to be the raster version of the charts. These are the familiar paper looking charts that can be downloaded from NOAA for free.

There are many other charting app on the market that charge you to view the NOAA raster charts.  The raster charts are nice but I am a bigger fan of vector charts. If we want vector charts that is one comment we need to pass on to NOAA folks so future developments an include vector charts.

I do not own an Android tablet so I was not able to run through all the features.  I know there a ton of Android users out there, so download this app and let NOAA hear your comments.  Provide all your comment to NOAA and show your support for the continued development of this app on Android and iOS tablets and phones.

~~~ Sail On ~~~ /)