Top Boating Apps

Mobile phone technologies are some of the fastest developing systems and are ubiquitous in daily activities, including boating. These pocket-sized computers are capable of incredible feats: they provide accurate GPS information; feature cameras better than many DSLRs; and can facilitate layers of connectivity that can control and inform. 

With large touch screens and fast processors, they are an ideal platforms for a myriad of apps from the two leading operating systems – Apple's iOS and Android. Simply touch the App Store icon on an iPhone or the Play Store icon on Android to reveal a world of functionality. To enjoy fully, it can be useful to own a late model phone, such as the powerful new iPhone XR or the Android-equipped Samsung Galaxy S10. But many popular apps will still run on older models. On the Android side, there are hundreds of handsets to choose from so competition drives prices down and creates a wealth of apps. One essential task is to update both the phone's operating system and apps regularly, to avoid failures at crucial moments.

Connectivity drives the functionality of phones, both in local connections such as WiFi and Bluetooth or through global networks. On the global front, Australia is slowly installing the latest cellular broadband network, 5G, which will give greater data capabilities. Telstra is leading the charge with its Samsung Galaxy S12 package which claims some 5G capabilities. 

Other key technologies that are driving the sector include Internet of Things (IoT) which will turn everyday items from washing machines to outboard motors into intelligent objects, responding to remote control via internet protocols. Native marine technology is mainly centred around the NMEA2000 protocol, which continues to grow capabilities of integrating phones and tablet devices, allowing them to have ever greater use in our marine world. 

Elsewhere, challenging monopolies (like Apple) and cartels (like the big four in marine electronics: Garmin, Navico, Raymarine and Furuno) are leading initiatives like Open Systems and languages such as Signal K, which are collaborative technologies benefiting all stakeholders. However, the big four marine electronics companies also have apps of various kinds that mirror capabilities to your phone, so check which suits your on-board gear. 

Essential apps

Essential apps for the regular boater include navigation, weather and marine information. 

Given the accuracy of GPS on late model phones, apps like anchor watch and AIS are other useful smarts. However, if the phone is your only navigation tool (not advisable) it's a good idea to use a plug-in GPS such as the X, to enhance the accuracy and signal strength. For navigation, I trust Navionics which I've used around the world and around Australia (from the Arafura Sea to the edges of the Southern Ocean at Port Davey). 

I get crucial weather information from the excellent BOM app and and for local marine waters around Australia, Willy Weather is accurate. 

For those with large touchscreen phones, free GRIB information from the BOM Meteye (www.bom.gov.au/australia/meteye) is another regular source. Sites like these have helped me greatly over the years during recreational boating and when working as a charter skipper on Sydney Harbour to ensure guests enjoyed their trips, rather than endure them.