Sunday, January 17, 2016

Smart Chart AIS

Application: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android phones an tablets
Function: Marine Charting, AIS and Points of Interests
Rating: *****
Cost: Free

The Smart Chart app has been around for a while but has been recently upgraded to the Smart Chart AIS app in the App Store. The addition of some exciting new features make it worth taking another look.

  • Free NOAA Raster charts of the United States
  • Puerto Rico and the USVI charts included
  • Satellite map views
  • Internet based AIS A and B targets
  • Nexrad Radar
  • Active Captain Points of Interest marinas, services, reviews, ratings and anchorages.
  • Augmented Reality Display
  • Chat Feature
  • Center on location
  • Picture and Video Mode selection

Once you download and open the app you will notice that you will need a user name and password. This is easy and free to register.

Once logged you will need to select a vessel. You can select a trial vessel until you get yours set up. The Smart Chart AIS website also has resources and tutorials about the app.

The app's main screen has a world map and if you view the United States you will see colored boxes on the display. As you zoom in the chart data will fill in automatically.

It does not appear that the charts are downloaded for offline use. If you zoom into the same area later on it appears the charts have to be downloaded again.

I turned WiFi and may cell service off and sure enough, no chart data displayed.

The Active Captain points even disappeared which is confusing because that database should reside on the device itself and be available for offline use. 


The app uses the NOAA digital ENC charts for navigation purposes.  These charts covers just the continental US coastal waters, the Great Lakes, Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.  These charts provide detailed soundings, channel markers and lights. The charts automatically download as you zoom into a particular area. 

I found that there was a slight delay as the charts were downloaded and displayed.  Perhaps that was my slow cell or WiFi connection.  The charts do not appear to be saved on the device which is a bummer because that means the charts will not display if I am out of cell range.

Most apps download the charts to the device so they can be used offline away from WiFi and cell coverage. 


There are six soft key icons across the bottom of the main display for app navigation. The latitude and longitude are also displayed just above the navigation icons. If your position in displayed in red that means the accuracy is reduced. If it is displayed in green, you are good to go.  

The far left icon that looks like a bullseye, is for centering the display and chart on your present location. The next icon to the right is for adding and deleting points of interest. The Delete all POIs selection will remove any POIs that you add manually.  To add a POI, select POI icon and then the Points of Interest tab.  Tapping on the chart adds a pin to mark your own POI.  

The next icon is the Chat icon. Selecting this bring you to the chat page. Mine was empty and the only selection at the bottom right was New Chat. I selected that and it gave me a No Users to Select error. Evidently there are no Smart Chart AIS user in my area or within range of the display. Once a user is selected you can then start a chat conversation.

The next selection to the right is the Camera icon.  This is a quick way to start your devices camera or video without having to leave the app.

The next icon labeled AR is the augmented reality display which will superimpose important information onto a real time image. The AR selection is only visible if your device has an accurate GPS location.

The app accesses the devices rear facing camera and overlays buoys, markers, points of interest and other users on the real time camera display.

Active Captain POIs are also displayed on the AR screen. Click on these points for more detailed information. The devices compass direction is shown at the top for added navigation. I works much like a hand bearing compass.

Active Captain POI:

The last icon on the far bottom right accesses the settings of the app. Settings include logging into your Active Captain account and selecting map layers.

Map layers include the NOAA ENC charts, NEXRAD visible radar, Smart Chart and AIS displays.

To display the Active Captain POI's you will need to log in to your Active Captain account. If you don't have one, go to the Active Captain website and sign up for free.

Active Captain provides crowd sourced information on markers, marinas, anchorages, local knowledge, and hazards. These are all color coded for easily identifying them on the map.

All pertinent marinas in the area are marked by red icons, anchorages are shown with green icons, local knowledge are shown with blue icons and hazards are shown with yellow icons.

Click on any of these to access a wealth of knowledge from the Active Captain database.  This data resides on your device so you should be able to use it offline away from cell or WiFi service.


AIS stands for Automatic Identification System.  The actual commercial Class A and non commercial Class B systems are broadcast and received over marine VHF frequencies.

The Smart Chart app utilizes land based AIS receivers that rebroadcast this data over Internet connections to your device. So this feature will only work if you have an Internet connection.

The purple triangular icons are ships that have AIS transmitters. Tapping on the ships icon will bring up the name and location of the vessel.

Tapping on the info box then brings up additional information about the ship. This data can be use for collision avoidance and closest point of approach calculations.

Well, final thoughts about the Smart Chart AIS app are that it does the functions it provides fairly well. To be honest, It would not be my go to app and I would probably not use it myself.

If your looking for a basic app with charts, some navigation, POI and AIS features it may work for you. It is free and available for both Android and iOS devices.

~~~ Sail On ~~~ /)

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