L ets get one thing straight right up-front: I hate cell phones.
Believe me, I empathize with you folks who think they’re a major distraction from life; that they lead to impolite behavior and social exclusion.
They could in fact be the root of many modern cultural evils. But today’s uber-powerful cell phones are also navigational and safety devices that can come in quite handy for we boaters. They can help us get where we’re going faster, stay out on the water longer, and as a result, possibly even help us catch more fish.
Most important, they can serve as life-saving devices in an emergency—if, that is, you have the right apps. Whether you love smart phones or hate ’em, you’ll want to have some or all of these 10 apps on your device.
BoatUS – The BoatUS app lets you “call” for a tow with a swipe of your finger. If you establish contact in this way, the BoatUS towing service receives your details automatically—the size and type of boat you have, your exact location, what type of safety gear you have onboard, and more. That’s assuming, of course, that you’re a BoatUS member. And if you’re a Sea Tow fan instead, don’t worry; Sea Tow has a similar app of their own. In both cases, the app is a freebie.
LIghtningFinder — This app costs $5.99 per year, but if you push it to the limits when you’re out on the water, it could become quite valuable. It not only shows you the location of lightning strikes in real-time, it allows you to set up a distance-based alarm. You want to keep casting until the lightning produced by that storm front is exactly 10 miles away? You’ll get a text, the first time lightning strikes inside your pre-established “fence.”
Morse SOS – This one’s like the flashlight app that so many people have, but instead of shining non-stop it blinks out an SOS. As a signaling device, the utility is obvious, and this app has already been credited with more than one rescue on the water. Plus, this one’s another freebie for both iOS and Android users.
Coast Guard – Yes, even the USCG now has its own boating safety app. They remind us never to rely on a cell phone as your primary means of emergency communications on a boat, (of course!) but if you have a cell phone with this app installed onboard you can use it to get their attention in a hurry. You can also use it to file a float plan, request a USCG Auxiliary safety inspection, check state-by-state boating regs, and more. Yes, this one’s cost-free, too
Navionics – This is the stand-by king of all nav apps. It essentially turns your cell phone or tablet into a fully functional chartplotter. Not only does it use Navionics chartography, it also has a community layer with real-world updates from users. The latest advance is SonarChart Live, which can pull depth soundings and GPS position from a fishfinder via WiFi and create real-time chartography updates. Pricing starts at $14.99 but charts for certain areas (outside of the US) cost more. These are also some advanced functions, like auto-routing, which result in additional charges.
Plan2Nav – C-Map (a Jeppesen company) has their own way to turn your device into a chartplotter. With Plan2Nav ($12.99) you get the basic chartplotting functions, but also aerial photos and diagrams, contour data, and tides and current data.
Ship Finder – For most of us, buying a full-blown AIS (automatic identification system) for our boat doesn’t make sense. But there may still be times when you’d like to know the course and bearing of a ship coming through the bay, or the location of a commercial boat. With Ship Finder you get it, right on your phone, in real time. Ship Finder also shows you data such as the vessel’s speed, name, MMSI number, and more. Cost is $3.99.
Boat Ramps – Created by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, the Boat Ramps app will show you the closest ramp to your current location, or to a destination you want to visit. It lists over 35,000 ramps across the nation, and also has information such as services and phone numbers for marinas. This one’s another freebie.
Radar Now/Weather Underground/Weatherbug –
There are a ton of weather apps out there, some of which are free and others that carry a fee. Everyone seems to have their favorite—the important thing is just that you have one. Real-time weather radar, wind forecasts, and sunrise/sunset/tidal information are some of the big benefits.
Pro-Knot – With this app on your phone, the next time some wise-guy bets you can’t tie a Bimini Twist you can prove him wrong—with a little help from your phone, of course. For the $1.99 cost of this app you can see step-by-step illustrations on how to tie 122 different knots.
If none of these 10 apps does exactly what you want, don’t worry—there’s almost one or three or 50 out there that you’ll find useful. In fact, there are literally dozens of apps that fall into each of these categories. Just go to the App Store or Google Play, and well, start playing. That said, I can vouch for the usefulness of all the apps included here. They’ve all been around long enough to be tested and vetted, and all are extremely helpful—even if you absolutely, positively hate cell phones.
Email Lenny Rudow at
Email Lenny Rudow at [email protected]