I was having a backyard patio fire last night with my neighbors and we started talking about the ways that boating is different today versus 20 years ago. It got me remembering how excited I was when I powered up my first on-board GPS unit in 1995 and how amazing I thought it was when it displayed my latitude and longitude. Before that day it was pencil, paper, stopwatch, dividers, parallel rules, compass, and a chart.
Today, boaters have dizzying array of information available to them right at their fingertips on smartphones and tablets via handy apps that can display not only their location on a moving chart, but also the weather, local boating ramps, nearby ships, and even sea surface temperatures. There are so many that compiling a reasonable list becomes a difficult task, but here are five great starter apps to kick start your spring boating season:
If you’re like me, you realize the joy in having a trailerable fishing boat is being able to transport it easily to wherever that action is. But finding a ramp isn’t always the easiest thing, especially when you’re out of your home waters. Thanks to the iOS and Android Boat Ramp apps, it’s as easy as letting your device home in on your current location. The app displays an interactive map with the locations of nearby ramps, their names, and distance from your current position. Best news is, it’s free!
If you’re an East Coast offshore angler, you know that bluewater success depends on knowing exactly where the thermoclines and Gulf Stream eddies are. SST Online, a Maryland-based company specializing in providing accurate sea surface temperature charts and reports makes finding these temperature hot spots easy with its SST Online app for both iOS and Android smartphones and tablets. While the app is only 99 cents, a subscription for the actual chart data will cost you $149 for the season. That might seem like a lot, but that gives you access to daily updated sea surface charts through the season. The app even overlays your vessel location right on top of the surface charts so you know when you’re exactly in the zone.
NOAA Buoy and Tide Data
I guess what I like best about this app is that you don’t have to have one app for finding current data buoy conditions and another for accurate tide predictions. Yes, there are other apps out there that claim to do both, but I’ve found this one the easiest to use, and most accurate as well. The app uses your current location to display a map or list of close by data buoys, from which you can further drill down for tide information and graphs. I love it for finding a spot with the best combination of tidal current flow and temperature range when fishing. It’s also handy for finding out if a certain location is better protected from the wind and perhaps easier for fishing than another. It’s only $1.99 in the Apple App Store or Google Play Android shop.
Marine Traffic Ships and Wind
The Automatic Information System (AIS) is perhaps one of the biggest safety innovations to come to boating in the last decade. It used to be that if you wanted to know about the ships or commercial vessels around you, you’d need an expensive radar system to “see” them. And even then, the radar blip didn’t tell you anything about the size, speed, or type vessel you were looking at. Marine Traffic Ships and Wind uses online AIS information to display any AIS-equipped vessels on a map relative to your location and those vessels’ speed, course, size, and more. To be honest, I don’t find the wind information this app displays useful at all, but check out the next app in our list for a powerhouse wind predictor. Marine Traffic Ships and Wind is available on the Apple App Store and Google Play for $3.99
I discovered this app for the first time while waiting out a couple of weather days during the last false albacore run around Cape Lookout, NC. In that part of the world, a windy day can be just fine if the wind is from the right direction and downright dangerous if it’s not. Along with excellent National Weather Service marine forecasts, there’s are pages of excellent wind forecast maps which show velocity and direction, hour by hour, so you can make plans for safe fishing and boating excursions. It’s only $3.99 on the Apple App Store and Google Play.
If you’re interested in other boating apps, including those for navigation and fishing, take a look at Lenny Rudow’s great 10 Navigation Apps and Smartphone Hits for Power Boaters or Five Fishing Apps For Your Smartphone features.