Marine News from the Great Lakes

How To Use Your Navigation Apps For Vacation Planning

Published: Monday, May 14, 2018
By: Jordan Balbresky

Before any trip, whether for a weekend cruise or a six-month trip around the Great Loop, you should always have a plan. Not to detract from the fact that you are going out to have fun – but by planning ahead, you can cruise in comfort without a care in the world. How long are you going to be underway? How capable is your vessel in terms of maintenance, as well as boat speed and range? Do you have primary destinations that you want to get to, but also secondary anchorages plotted for emergencies? You should take into account food and fuel, with stops for both, and always plan on having a healthy cushion in reserve in case the weather turns or mechanical issues slow you down. You should make a list of items you need such as medications, paperwork, money, etc. and where they are kept. Make sure you and your crew are familiar with your boat and the route you are taking so that anyone can step in to do any job if seasickness, illness, or injury disables anyone. You should also leave your float plan with someone on shore so that, even if constant communication isn’t planned, someone knows to look for you if you are running late.

So, the real question is: how do you make this plan? With the prevalence of chartplotters and mobile app-based navigation, gone are the days of hunkering down at a nav station with paper charts to plot courses. Of course, you should always have paper charts onboard, but with the quality of mobile device navigation on par with most multi-function displays (MFDs), you can now plan your next cruise from the comfort of your living room.

There are a number of well-known programs on the market that give you the ability to plan your route, find points of interest, get marina and anchorage information, and get updates on weather. Some mariners use their apps just for route planning, some as a backup chartplotter for emergencies, and some even use them as a primary mobile navigation system. Popular apps include Navionics Boating and iNavX, as well as apps that come from hardware manufacturers like AIS manufacturer Seapilot or Mazu, which was designed by satellite communications pioneer SkyMate.

Each app has its own feature set and their own way of approaching common situations. While Navionics Boating puts most of its focus on a simple, streamlined app that is a mobile platform for the brand’s world-famous charts, iNavX includes some of the broadest and most powerful MFD-like features available, such as NMEA instrument display, Import/Export functionality, integration with external GPS and AIS receivers and transponders, and is the only one offering an in-app store allowing for the purchase of a number of third-party charts. Seapilot includes basic NOAA charts, but can help sailors with race planning through the use of POLAR diagrams, which describes how fast a boat may go at different wind speeds and in different angles to the wind, computed from hull shape, weight, rigging and sail setup. The Mazu iPad app can deliver email, texts, weather forecasts, location tracking, SOS notification, and basic navigation data when combined with SkyMate satellite hardware solutions.

All of the previously listed apps, as well as a host of other navigation programs on the market show your vessel’s location, regardless of what chart you are using. The nuances of each app differ in how you manipulate the charts, which charts you can use, what charts you are comfortable with and what additional features are available. Almost all of them allow you to set waypoints, plot routes, and display the tracks of where you’ve been. Some apps let you save multiple waypoints and routes for a more complicated plan and some let you export your routes to your navigation display. This is a fantastic time saving tool, allowing you to plot your course ahead of time and eliminating the need to repeat the process.

As for additional features, some apps support ActiveCaptain — a community-generated, interactive cruising guidebook with local information — as well as markers for marinas, hazards, and anchorages. Similarly, Navionics provides marine points of interest and guides. A Waterway Guide overlay is an option for iNavX users, giving up-to-date information that is ideally suited for cruisers and coastal boaters. Waterway Guide data layers can be overlaid on any chart you have installed and include anchorages, navigation alerts, and bridge, lock, and marina information.

Many apps let you access weather forecasting tools such as Theyr Weather, PredictWind, and NOAA weather data. Whether you use GRIB downloads on your navigation app or a standalone forecasting tool, checking radar, wind speed, precipitation, and wave height forecast information for the days you are traveling is vital for a safe and enjoyable trip.

Whatever app you choose, get familiar with it. Learn how to manipulate the charts. Find out what charts each is compatible with and what options are most important to you. Plan a couple of test voyages. Then, when it is time to plan your next cruise, get comfortable and start marking waypoints. You’ll soon realize that planning your trip is a snap. Don’t forget, when you get back, to leave a review of the app as that is a great way to let the developers know what features you liked and what they can improve on!

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About Jordan Balbresky

A former public relations practitioner serving the high-tech and consumer electronics industries, Jordan Balbresky recently returned to the agency world following a decade of hands-on marine experience. Living in the Caribbean and working in all aspects of the marine industry — from boat building, restoration and maintenance, to charter captain and delivery crew of sailing and motor yachts — Balbresky has a first-hand understanding of the outdoor and maritime markets. Fully immersing himself in the industry, he is a licensed scuba instructor, as well as master mariner and has lived on-board a custom-built schooner while skippering charters on boats of all sizes in the US Virgin Islands.

This article first appeared in the Launch Issue (May/Jun) 2018 of Great Lakes Scuttlebutt magazine.

tags: Navigation, Software & Apps, Travel

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