When we bought the Scallywag just over two years ago, it was pretty bare bones as far as electronics go. An old Autohelm autopilot and fading tridata instrument was about all it had on board. And with that, there was no wind transducer and the knot meter only worked occasionally, so basically the only digital information that we had was a dubious course head and questionable depth.
We wanted to upgrade, but of course, we needed to do it on a budget. So I did what anyone else on the cusp of still being labeled a millennial would do: turned to the App Store on my iPhone.
While we have since upgraded a few pieces of equipment (installed the Raymarine Wind, Depth, Speed pack this year), we still have a set of go-to, cant-live-without apps. This is ever-changing, of course, but here is our current list that has made it from trial to keeper:
Garmin’s Blue Chart Mobile: While we hope to get an actual chartplotter installed at the helm soon, this app kills it in terms of making your phone or iPad serve the same purpose. The app is easy to use, dead-on accurate, and fully replaces a chart plotter as long as you can easily plug your phone in as the battery slowly drains. We wouldn’t get anywhere without it.
Vesper Marine’s Watchmate: This app connects specifically to our Vesper Marine XB-800 via a local onboard WiFi network to show AIS data for nearby transmitting ships. AIS is an incredibly important redundant system for monitoring for potential collisions, but also just a super fun way to view information on the boats around you. In fact, we turned off the AIS alarm while navigating the East River through Hell Gate recently and almost got overtaken by a container ship while not paying attention! Keep the alarms on, people!
Watchmate is also extremely useful for getting your SoG (speed over ground) when your speed transducer is fouled up and not recording data. We ended up relying on this app for nearly two weeks recently, while sailing around the Long Island Sound.
SailFlow: This app is a bit hit or miss to me, but one of the essential apps for getting at least a basic sense for what the weather will be. A couple of pro tips: 1) You don't need the Pro / Gold membership to access a weather station’s forecast -- only for observed data. 2) When you are viewing a weather station’s Forecast, be sure to click the settings cog and try switching the forecast “Model” so that you can make an educated guess on the weather based on multiple different data sets. They can be surprisingly different.
PredictWind: This is a newcomer to our weather arsenal, but I do like that the weather forecast table automatically compares data from the Global Forecasting System and the Canadian Met Centre to give you a quick reference. You can quickly see if the two are comparable or if there are large discrepancies between the forecasts. The really promising thing about this app, however, is that it offers automatic Weather Routing and Departure Planning tools. The first will give you the best route for a sail based on a specific time and weather outlook, while the second tool will let you compare how your sail will differ if you leave in increments of 3, 6, 12, or 24 hours later. Both tools provide detailed summaries of your trip including percentage of time heading downwind, upwind or reaching, which could be incredibly useful.
The downside right now for me with this tool is entirely user interface-based. It is designed more for the pro sailor than the amateur, and needs to be a bit more user-friendly. While I think this app is working toward being the exact tool I wish I had, I currently have two issues with it: First,it is hard for me to translate the results into a simple course of sail, and second, it doesn’t appear to connect to any of our realtime onboard systems for automatic data input and corrections. I’m definitely keeping it installed though, and excited to follow updates.
What I still want is Google Maps for sailing – input the time of departure / location and, boom, a course heading that you can follow and automatically updates with real-time updating, leveraging data from your onboard systems. <cough> Google, meet Predict Wind. Predict Wind, meet Google.</cough>
TidesNearMe: This app is also new for my toolkit, but absolutely indispensable to have alongside my Eldridges now that we have started learning about the impact of currents and tides on the correlated ease of our sail. Being day sailors on the west coast, we virtually never needed to think about anything beyond “Is the sun out?” Now that we’ve started navigating our way around the Long Island Sound, keeping a close eye on the tides and currents is absolutely essential. This app allows you to easily find nearby data points and keeps a running list of recently viewed stations.
OutCast: Weather for boaters. This app is pretty awesome. It gives you a pretty good 12-hour and weeklong at-a-glance forecast on the opening screen that is tied each time you open it to your current location. You can then take a deeper dive into the day-by-day and location as required. Within the menu, you can also get directly to the NOAA marine forecasts and save frequently viewed NOAA regions, as well as buoy, tide and observations stations into a customizable Favorites menu.
Coast Guard: The official app of the US Coast Guard that lets you call for emergency assistance with the push of a button, as well as file float plans, review your boating basics, and request safety checks. Haven’t used it much, but seems like something important to have when needed. Much like epirbs, life lines, etc.
Again, while this list is what we use today, we are always on the lookout for new apps and happy to try out anything that is recommended to us. Know a good app not on this list? Let us know!
Author's Disclosure: Vesper Marine provided us with a demo XB-800 unit, but their app is free to download. Predict Wind provided us with a complimentary pro membership for testing purposes. Both did so with the expectation that we provide honest reviews.