Friday, December 04, 2009
Great Apps for the Sailor/Mariner
A few months ago, I wrote an article about iPhone apps for the sailor. Here is an update with lots more from Paul Oliva of the SF Chronicle newspaper.
When award-winning tech entrepreneur and Santa Cruz sailor Philippe Kahn sails a grueling ocean race, his navigation bag holds something unexpected: an iPhone. A growing number of mobile applications, or "apps," are helping to keep boaters informed, on course and entertained. Plus, they're often free or low cost, making a $25 gift card go a long way.
For the uninitiated, a mobile app is software that downloads just like a ring tone to a Web-enabled phone or other device.
Kahn's iPhone 3GS, packed in a watertight OtterBox case, runs an app his company developed called MotionX-GPS. A thousand miles from California, racing his boat, Pegasus, in this year's Transpac to Honolulu, Kahn used MotionX to navigate, record his course and upload his positions to a Google map, Facebook and Twitter with comments, photos and video. Incidentally, Pegasus set a world double-handed record in that race.
Palm and mobile Windows devices have some apps, but Apple's iTunes store has the most.
There's an impressive array of navigation apps there, in addition to full GPS navigation such as MotionX-GPS ($2.99). For instance, Navionics offers $9.99 interactive marine charts with navigation and a database of tide, current and marine services. Wondering how long it takes to tack toward Alcatraz? SailTimer ($13.99) calculates the answer. Anchor Alarm ($9.99) says your boat is drifting, Ship Finder ($4.99) gives details of that ship about to run you over (California not yet available), and StarPilot is a celestial almanac ($29.99) that could be used with a 99-cent Sextant app.
Mark Wilson of Concord religiously packs his iPhone in an Aquapac dry pack on a lanyard to check conditions before and during a day of fly-fishing.
Surf Report is a free app for coastal conditions. Tide Graph ($1.99) and apps like it deliver tide, current, sun and moon information. RiverGuide for Kayakers ($4.99) gives real-time river flow information. The NOAA Buoy Data Reader ($2.99) and Boating Weather ($1.99) deliver easy access to government weather feeds.
Wilson says such apps are great for potentially dangerous river and ocean conditions: "They tell you real-time information, what the seas are, what the winds are, what the temperatures are."
Mobile apps pack a ton of technical reference in a tiny space for a tiny cost. Boater's Pocket Reference ($4.99) is a mini encyclopedia. Official navigation rules go for $2.99, while $1.99 buys cool apps for identifying the navigation lights of vessels (Ship Shape) and the code flags they fly (Naviflags). A mere 99 cents buys Boat Ramps, which shows exactly where to put your boat in the water.
Some learning tools use animation to teach tricky things such as knot-tying and sail adjustments.
Non-Apple devices won't run these apps. Practical Sailor's December issue reviews three pocket navigation apps for Palm and Windows.
Yet even different versions of the iPhone and iPod touch have different position-tracking, motion-sensing and communications capabilities.
Bottom line: Always check whether the app matches the device, and never let technology distract from safety or enjoying the outdoors.