Sunday, June 24, 2012

iPad Onboard - Navigation

In my iPad Onboard Series of posts I have tried to cover a few ways for you to get the most out of your iPad while using it onboard. I talked about ways to protect your iPad, ways to use it to capture your photos and video and most recently the entertainment value of the iPad. In this post I want to cover the navigation aspects of the iPad.

The iPad WiFi, iPad2 3G and iPad3 4G(new iPad) can all be used for navigation purposes. Some models have limitations so make sure you understand which model you have.

Apple has put so much technology into these devices so they are well suited for use on your yacht. GPS, Locational services, WiFi, compass, accelerometer, Bluetooth, rotating screen, mult-touch gestures, multitasking and retina display. All of these features make it one of the most popular and versatile pieces of electronics ever built.

GPS Options
To get started navigating you need a GPS and a charting program.  The WiFi only models of the iPad do not have a GPS chip, so you will have to purchase an external GPS unit to link to your iPad. I have a whole section of my blog dedicated to reviewing the different external GPS devices.  Refer to this and purchase one of these to give your WiFi only iPad GPS capability.  The Dual XGPS150 is very popular and will cost you about $99 on It uses Bluetooth to connect to your iPad and provides reliable GPS coordinates. It now comes with a 12V adapter which means you won't have to worry about the battery running down.

If you have a 3G or new 4G model of the iPad your are in luck. The device has an onboard GPS that will work with locational services to provide any GPS app the data it needs to find your latitude and longitude anywhere in the world.  Apple refers to their GPS as assisted GPS. WiFi and a cell connection are not required to get the GPS to work but if they are available the GPS will pick up a signal quicker and the accuracy will be improved using cellular triangulation.  I recently had a question from a lady wanting to know if the GPS would work without WiFi and a cell data plan.  Yes it will, you do not need either of them to use the GPS on your iPad 3G or 4G versions.

Charting Apps

At this point we are now ready to look at navigation apps.  There are many apps in the AppStore available for marine navigation.  The reason I started this blog was that I had trouble deciding myself which apps would be best to use.  After looking and all the possibilities I figured others might be having the same problem.  I have looked at hundreds of apps and have narrowed down the Best Marine Charting Apps for you. This is a list of my top 10 charting apps.

You will find that charting apps will have a wide variety of features. The more features generally, the more you will have to pay.  High end apps will cost you $49.00 and low end can cost you as little at $5.00.

Features that you should consider when looking at apps are chart type, waypoints, routes, tracking, instrument data integration, charts overlays, satellite views, AIS, anchor alarm, compass, weather, GRIB files, tides, points of interest and social networking.

Charts are a big consideration. Many apps use the raster charts from NOAA.  The raster charts are scanned versions of the old paper charts many of us are familiar with.  These charts will cover most of the coastal US, the Great Lakes region, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.  These are free to download from NOAA, so most app developers don't have that expense of charts.  Vector charts, which I prefer, have many advantages over their raster predecessor.  Vector charts can imbed more information and colors which can be revealed as you zoom in to a specific area.  I wrote at length about the Perfect Marine App is this post. There are many apps, with many price ranges and many levels of users out there. I can make recommendations to you but you will have to decide what charting features are important to you.

On the high end, iNavX and Navionics HD will cost you about $49.00. I give the edge to iNavX here for their incorporation of TCP/IP connectivity for your onboard instruments. Both apps use high resolution vector charts. iNavX can use either the free NOAA raster charts or a variety of vector charts sets.

Medium priced apps like Navimatics and EarthNC use NOAA charts. Navimatics Charts and Tides gets the nod here. It has the Active Captain database and all charts reside on the device. Earth NC requires a cell connection for some of their overlays and features to work.

Low priced apps Transas iSailor and SEAiq are in the range of $5.00-10.00. SEAiq uses vector charts and does a better job with waypoints, routes and tracks. iSailor also has vector charts but does not handle waypoints very well. Mark Hayden is passionate about his app SEAiq and is a big believer that vector charts are better.

Garmin is working on their marine version of an app that is suppose to be out this summer. I am sure it will give some of the high end apps a run for their money.  The price of the apps are all fairly cheap. I find that I use several of them depending on what I am doing on the water.
iPad Mounts

Now that we have the iPad set up with your charting app we need to find some way to mount it.  We want the iPad secure so it will not be thrown around the boat when your rolling down that 30 foot wave in the southern ocean.  I have been in search of the perfect mounting system. Here are a few that I have found. 

MudulR case and mounting system has several mounting options that may work for the iPad on your yacht. The one drawback it that none appear to protect your iPad at the same time. Most of their mounts are for flat surfaces and would be good for mounting on a bulk head.

Ram Mounts are very popular and provide a strong base and many mounting options. They have suction cup mounts and bases that can be secured to your console or helm. They all use the ball mount system which gives you flexibility to swivel it in any direction. They do have a model called Tab Tite with a spring loaded cradle that will allow you to mount the iPad in a protective case.

I talked about the Makayama movie mount in a recent post.  You can buy it off their website for $69.00. Not sure why Amazon has it listed for $99.00. It not only works great on a tripod but you can use it at the helm too. You will need a 1/4 inch handle bar camera mount to secure it to your helm station bar. Pick one up at Amazon for about $8.00

Here is a picture of it attached to my hatch handle. There are a ton of options when it comes to mounting. Use your imagination and find something that works for you. Send me some pictures of how you have your iPad mounted. I would love to see some other creative ideas.

Ok, you have your iPad connected to GPS you have selected a great charting app and found a way to mount it to your yacht. There is nothing left to do now but go sailing!

~~~Sail On~~~


  1. Great summary of why iPads are a fantastic tools on boats.

    Since your review of SEAiq USA several months ago, we've added a lot.

    SEAiq Free: a free version of our SEAiq USA app. You can do much of what is in SEAiq USA and then upgrade (same price either way).

    SEAiq Open: For international mariners, SEAiq Open is the only charting app that lets you use your own S57 or CM93 charts. Also free to evaluate and then an in-app upgrade to enable all features.

    Mariners shouldn't be deceived by our low prices. SEAiq apps provide some of the best chart display and advanced features not found on many other apps, including:
    * NOAA updates their charts daily (often 10-20 charts a day!). Our USA and Free apps download directly from NOAA, they let you stay up to date on their newest charts.
    * SEAiq provide fully symbolized display like what you get on the desktop apps, giving it a raster chart feel.
    * Specialized chart display: tell it your vessels depth and it colors display to highlight shoal areas and shallow soundings.
    * Full access to all the underlying feature data (most apps strip this information out), all made easy to understand. You'll be surprised how much information there is.
    * Color modes for night

    Our next release (1-2 weeks) adds tracks, rotation, heads up display.

    Our following release (3-4 weeks) will have external NMEA and AIS support.

    We've been busy!

  2. Thank you Mark at SEAiq! Appreciate you bringing us up to date on the awesome new additions to the SEAiq family of apps.

    I like the ability to try the app before I buy. That is always a nice feature and lets people know what they are getting.

    Keep up the great work. SEAiq has made many improvements since my original review. The performance issues I had mentioned seemed to have be addressed. Thanks for listening to your users.


  3. Hi
    I am completley new to navigation, having only used lake-bound day-sailers and jet skis. I have now purchased a jet boat and will be running it off long island (north or south shore), and my big worry is running aground at speed.
    Will any of the iPad or Iphone apps plot a safe course if you tell it your boat's characteristics (ie i need 3 feet below the keel for the impeller to not suck up debris)? Or are all the plotting processes done by setting waypoints and then seeing where the connecting lines fall?
    I saw a Garmin unit at West Marine that has an add-on module that does this, but (1) the expenswe is gigagntic and (2) i am not ready to start mounting and wiring devices on the boat yet.
    Thanks in advance for your help!
    Robert (serious newbie)

    1. I would suggest that you 'slow your jets' until you have a good grasp of the geography you are motoring over. You can review charts at home, then plot a course on your ipad that takes you safely around any natural hazards. In short, there is no program that will keep you safe, that is your responsibility.

    2. Robert,

      All GPS charting apps and plotting devices should only be used as a guide to help you navigiate. They should not be relied upon soley as your only means to chart your way in shallow areas. That is why you see disclaimers when you start many of these apps.

      There is no replacement for local knowledge and becoming familiar with your boating area. The first thing you might put on your boat is a depth finder. I agree with Curmudgeon, slow down until you become with the area depths and tides.

      Sail On

  4. Will the built in iPad GPS pick up a signal inside a sailboat cabin?

  5. Devin,

    Sorry for getting back to you so late. It has been a busy week!

    The GPS on the iPad is like any other GPS. It will work best with an unobstructed view of the sky. Chances are that within a closed cabin it would not pick up a GPS signal. If your cabin has windows it may pick up a signal.

    If you have the 3G model and you are within cell range, it will use the assisted GPS to get a GPS position. This may not be as accurate at an actual GPS postion but it will be close.


  6. Best blog on the planet Mark for marine Ipad applications. Thanks.

    Got the Ipad with gps and Inavx (at your recommendation)as my chart plotter. Just bought a Searay 34 with nav equipment stripped. Know I need a depth sounder and maybe radar. What have I forgotten based on nav suite with Ipad as plotter? Any specific recommendations that wont break the bank?

    I intend to stay in the ICW and rivers and bays around the Florida gulf with occasional runs to the Keys...rj

    1. Wow, best blog on the planet, thanks for the compliment. Glad you found my blog and find it useful. Consider becoming a follower to keep up on the latest posts. Make sure to share the link with all your friends.

      iNavX is still my favorite but I have also purchased the new Garmin BlueChart Mobile app. I reviewed this recently and find the ActiveCaptain and weather integration very useful. The charts on the Garmin app are some of the best I have seen. Besides weather, charts and realtime position tracking that should serve you pretty well on the ICW.

      AIS is another system that you might want to consider. This lets you keep track ship traffic around you. You will need to purchase an AIS transponder. iNavX can receive AIS data wirelessly and display the data. A cheaper route would the Boat Beacon app which uses an Internet bases MAIS system.

      Sail On

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  10. The only maps of my estuary are in PDF format. I can convert these to other formats such as TIFF or JPEG but I haven't found an app that will let me import these maps to the app. I really like the iNavX app in particular.

    Do you know of a ipad app with GPS moving map display that has a map import function for other than propriotary maps?

    Thanks for the blog, REALLY usefull

  11. Peter,

    Most apps are pretty specific about which charts they use. Most will display the NOAA Raster and Vector charts. If there are no published charts of your locations I suggest you use an app that will show satellite or Google map overviews.

    Navionics supports maps, Bing satellite overlays. This app is expensive but is packed with features.

    A new app called SEANav is $9.99. It has some nice charts and has a map, satellite or hybrid display.

    SEAiq is one of the most versatile apps as far at being able to import charts. You can download the Free version to give it a try.

    Sail On!

  12. Hi,
    I enjoyed your blog, thanks. But I am wondering why you even discuss the price of the apps (5 to 50 $), while the cost of the charts in the end would be hundreds of $ or more, if you plan to circumnavigate. In my opinion, that's the major issue: how do you get the "round of the world" set for free or at least for a reasonable price?

  13. Bruno,

    Hey nothing in life if free, these app developers have to make a buck too. I feel your pain though and understand trying to buy all these charts once you get the apps. Most boaters do not plan to sail around the world, so I commend you for your ambition.

    The Garmin app is free but you have to buy the charts which are $25-50 per set. Navionics sells their app by regions which run $49 to $65.

    One app called SEAiq Open International is only priced at $19.99 and is very full featured. The great news it that all the US Charts are free. It is one of the only charting apps that lets you import your own charts. It supports S-57, S-63, Inland ENC, CM93, and BSB/KAP formats. Other charts can be purchase from Check it out at

    Sorry, there is no free lunch when it come to charts. Try to team up with some friends to defray the cost and share the charts.

    Good luck

  14. Hi Mark,

    Now that the Garmin BlueChart Mobile app are you still fond of its capabilities?

    Would you recommend it on a AirPad for the coastal waters of Maine

    Great blog - have really enjoyed reading your responses to questions.


    1. Jerry,

      Thanks for the question and it is great to hear you are a regular reader. Become a follower by clicking on the Join this Site link in the right column of the blog.

      Help support the site and share it with your friends, spread the word.

      The Garmin app is awesome and one of my top 5. It has many nice features but lacks a few including instruments and the navigate to feature on the iPad. As a plus it does have nice charts and weather radar. Other favorites are iNavX, Navionics and SEAiq. Easiest, full featured and cheapest is SEAiq, it is a real contender.

      Good luck and stop back soon.

  15. Mark,

    Planning on starting from scratch and building a iPad addition to my helm for navigation and communication.

    This past year I've used several apps( ie Navionincs, etc.) on my iPhone as easy and quick cross reference with my Lowrance systems while increasing land-side communication links. Seeing many possibilities. Trying to take it a step further.

    Looking for recommendations for a mount that can take the punishment of a constant inshore chop as while as long term saltwater use for a Bahamas run.

    This is a excellent blog. Please expand.


  16. Chris,

    Great to here from you! I personally own the LifeProof iPad case and love it. I take it on board my boat all the time. LifeProof makes a mount also which will help you mount it to your helm.

    I saved the $49 buck and just used heavy duty Velcro to attach it to my helm. Good luck

  17. Hello,

    Just received the Makayama iPad 5th Generation holder. Unfortunately it will not hold the iPad when it has a waterproof protector on. Will have to find another holder that adapts to the larger frame.