Updated: Dec 7, 2021
Question: What smartphone/tablet apps do you guys use? We bought a small monohull to do some coastal sailing and would like to hear your thoughts and opinions on what apps work for you. Navigation, weather, etc. Your go to app.
We love getting questions from our patrons, and what a great one this is! It would be nice if there were ONE app that was trustworthy and had all the features we need, right? Well, there is not one simple answer, but we will go through our top few with you. I am also going to put the links to their websites at the bottom so you can easily click and learn more if you want!
Our main source for navigation is Explorer Charts on our Furuno Chart plotters. You can download different charts right to your device! When we sailed the Bahamas we ended up downloading all of North America and we were able to use that all the way down to Grenada!
Navionics is our main backup-- it is easy to use and up-to-date. They use Nautical Chart which is an extremely accurate map of marine areas and incorporate your phone’s GPS to give you a real-time map. When you are using the app, your boat can send signals to Navionics with your route and the depth, so the next boat that comes through is getting the most accurate information. Another cool thing about the app is that you can overlay the ActiveCaptain Community on top of Navionics. ActiveCaptain is essentially a community of boaters. Sailors can add places and leave reviews for others in the community to see. So, it allows you to see the marinas, grocery stores, etc, along your route. We really like that you can read reviews from other sailors to tell you things you might not know. For instance, a review might say, “don’t plan to stop at this food store, they have closed down”, or “the charts say the depth is 2ft, but it’s really 12ft right here”. People can also write reviews about the quality of the marina, so you know more information before you pay for a slip.
ActiveCaptain used to be much better, but since they have updated it, there seems to be some glitches. It’s still usable and helpful--just more frustrating now.
This is our backup for safety as well. We all know that GPS can be off sometimes, and if your GPS is slightly off and you are in a foggy area, you might not know that there are rocks ahead. Running this as our backup helps our anxiety, knowing that we have 2 GPS units just in case one is slightly off.
PredictWind is our main go-to. This can be used with your phone or tablet. It is definitely worth the money if you are a cruiser. You can put your location, your boat information (typical speed when motoring depending on wind, etc) and when you plan to leave. Then you can have PredictWind give you different routes depending on the time of day you are leaving. We usually put in 3 different times that are 12 hours apart so we can see when the best time to leave will be. Similar to a car GPS that uses current traffic to determine your ETA, PredictWind uses the weather and your boat information to tell you approximately how long your voyage will be depending on the time you wish to leave.
It will also tell you what to expect along the way; it can tell you wind speed, direction and even wave height. Another cool feature is while you are cruising, you can use your satellite phone to go on the app and see how things have changed. Every hour PredictWind will update because we all know the weather has a mind of its own! This is the best way to stay prepared for what is to come.
Windy is our backup to PredictWind. We don’t like it as much and don’t find it as accurate but we do like having a backup. Windy also doesn’t have a satellite phone option. It does allow you to pan and zoom to the area you’ll be traveling, and see the forecasts in one-hour increments.
Windy displays three different weather models for our area: NAM 5km (doesn’t include all of BC), ECMWF 9km, and GFS 22km. We’ve found the ECMWF 9km most accurate. If there is a big disparity in what the models are forecasting, we err on the side of caution and make decisions based on the model that predicts the worst conditions.
Below are screenshots (taken at the same time) of the NAM and ECMWF models for the Puget Sound area.
For actual weather forecasts and tracking storms we love MyRadar. It is extremely accurate and worth looking into. It is very user friendly and updates constantly.
We have researched and tried many different apps over the past few years, but the ones we talked about are definitely our favorites. We hope this helps your planning! It’s so exciting and nerve-wracking to get started but with these apps, you can decrease some stress and focus on actual sailing. Thanks so much for the question, we love being able to help other boaters out!