Lost? There's An App For That!

By Mark Corke

Electronic navigation displays can be expensive so consider your tablet or smartphone as an alternative.

I was a late convert to the idea of using a tablet or smartphone as a navigation tool on the boat, but now I can't do without it. At first I wondered how any mobile device could possibly replace a proper chartplotter. But the turning point came with the purchase of my last boat. Even though the boat was 25 years old, it had surprisingly never been fitted with any sort of GPS or chartplotter.

I delivered the yacht 600 miles up the East Coast from Maryland to Maine using only a mounted iPad loaded with the iNavX app, although I did use paper charts for passage planning and backup. The app worked flawlessly and proved to me that, far from being a gimmick, a mobile device could serve as a very real navigation tool — and for me at least for that trip, the only electronic navigation tool on board. Although I have since upgraded the boat and installed a new suite of permanent navigation electronics I still use the iPad as a backup.

The iNavX app has been around for few years but was previously only available to run on Apple devices. The latest release earlier this year now makes the app available for Android devices, too. "The launch of iNavX Android is a significant release for us and for the industry," said Shaun Steingold, CEO, NavX Studios. "For the first time, Android users will have access to a complete handheld chartplotter and a marine navigation application built to meet their needs. No matter what platform you use, iNavX is the only mobile navigation app to offer users charts from all their favorite providers and features only found in the highest quality MFDs."

The basic app is free and gives access to NOAA charts. Soon, though, you'll probably want to upgrade to the pro version, a premium service with enhanced navigational features such as waypoints, saved routes, and overlaid weather information. In fact, with so much information available at your fingertips it's a good idea to get comfortable using the app before you set out.

Another significant feature of iNavX, as Steingold mentions, is the ability to download charts via the app from any number of other developers to suit the user's personal preference. This way you can have your chartplotter and iNavX app appear identical. The cost of chart purchases varies by provider and region and are available for download on the App Store or get it from Google Play. $19.99 per year | iNavX.com 

Choose Your Weapons

Essentially, there are two types of charts: vector and raster. It's important to understand the difference because which one you choose can make a big difference in actual use. Almost all MFDs, chartplotters, and navigation apps give the owner the option of downloading these two different types of charts.

Raster charts are basically scanned copies of paper charts. When you zoom in or out on the chart, it just makes the image bigger, just like looking at a picture on your smartphone. As you zoom in, you do not get any extra detail. NOAA charts (which are raster) are freely available for download, and this is why these types of charts are often included at no charge with some navigation apps.

Vector charts, on the other hand, are generally the preferred choice for electronic charting because you can zoom in for more information. The chart is made up of electronic "layers," so it is perfectly feasible to display only the information that you need. Whereas a fisherman may want very detailed depth contours, a cruiser may prefer to use his or her chart in a very different way. For instance, if closing in on a strange harbor entrance, the operator can zoom in to give a much more detailed view of navigational hazards not commonly available on raster charts.

— M.C.

— Published: April 2018

BoatUS Magazine Is A Benefit Of BoatUS Membership

Membership Also Provides:

  • Subscription to the print version of BoatUS Magazine
  • 4% back on purchases from West Marine stores or online at WestMarine.com
  • Discounts on fuel, transient slips, repairs and more at over 1,000 businesses
  • Deals on cruises, charters, car rentals, hotel stays and more ...
  • All For Only $24 A Year!

Join Today!