As technology improves (and so does mobile phone reception) a variety of useful ‘apps’ have become popular amongst sailors. Of course, it’s worth mentioning that in many cases these apps are either reliant upon satisfactory GPS and or 3G signal or their use is very strictly caveated so as to prohibit their use for purposes of navigation!
That said, and assuming that you don’t drop your phone overboard or lose the ability to recharge it(!), there are some really handy apps out there, many of which can help to speed up the passage planning process. In this writer’s view, there is still no replacement for paper charts and proper pilotage and preparation, but for line of sight day sailing in the Med, there are several apps worth having.
Rules of the Road
Ok, so you’ve done your exams and you knew all the lights and rights, once. But if you day sail in familiar waters just a few times a year, it’s scary how fast you can lose that basic knowledge. Some great apps for reference (and revision) are the IMRAY Marine Navigation range of Apps, ‘Rules and Signals’ and ‘Marine Chart Symbols’ are particularly good for refreshing your knowledge easily and quickly.
Ok, so it’s unlikely you’ll need to know a great deal about tide when chartering in most parts of the Med, but a great little app for checking tidal predictions in your almanac (or that secondary port calculation) is the annually updated ‘World Tides’ app. It shows you tidal movement both graphically and in tabular form at various locations around the World. The app uses the Simple Harmonic Formula and data licensed from the UKHO to predict up to 7 days in advance. As with all tidal predictions, they can vary dependent on base statistics and other variables, but we’ve always found the app to be a useful and reliable ‘ready aid’. For an interactive app that illustrates tidal flow by the hour, try Boatie. This also delivers weather forecasts and waypoint tracking.
We all know that there are two ways to tie a bowline, the correct way and the way you tie one when everyone is watching ! Being able to confidently know which knot to tie in a specific scenario and how gives the sailor confidence. It’s also quite cool (in a nerdy way) to be able to tie a trucker’s hitch and a monkey’s Fist when you need one. ‘Knot Guide’ includes a regularly updated catalogue of useful knots, together with a stage by stage ‘photo guide’ on how to tie them and a glossary of knot terms. The app also includes a description of each knot and what it is best used for and why.
There are a myriad of weather apps out there and whilst most are based on one of just two data sets modeled by third parties, it’s quite surprising how much variance there can be in the weather predictions delivered, especially for an island like Great Britain!
Whilst obtaining a local weather forecast should be the first priority of every sailor, it is useful to have a ready source of weather info in your pocket and modern day apps can help here. We think one of the better apps is Predict Wind. The basic app is free and offers a tabulated format as well as time phased GRIB files which show you the strength and direction of wind patterns over a set period of time. The subscription version also offers swell maps indication sea state, including predicted wave size and direction, a ‘rain map’, ‘cloud map’ and ‘isobar map’. GRIB files and Isometric Charts can be used very effectively by the skilled sailor when trying to better understand the forecast weather.
GRIBs can be deceptive when read alone. Just because the mean wind speed might be 20kts, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a great big front due through which might just make you decide to stay in the marina and enjoy the rum punches for the afternoon instead!
You can even use the app to help passage plan, but we still prefer an almanac, charts and a rule of thumb! Other weather apps out there include WindGuru and iGrib as well as the all singing all dancing Boatie app, which delivers Met Office Forecasts and has a useful dynamic tidal flow chart which illustrates tidal strength and direction for your sailing area.
For those of you sailing in the Solent, Solentmet is an app linked to the popular weather stations at Brambles Bank, Chichester, Southampton Water and environs. This simple app delivers weather and tidal information in real time allowing you to check actual weather against forecast, including maximum gusts and historic wind direction and speed. At the time of writing Bramblemet is not operational.
There are a variety of other apps out there worth considering including Sextant (an app to help you reduce sights) and Ship Shape, an app detailing day shapes and light configurations. And for teaching wind awareness and the principles of sailing try SailSim. It’s a simple app but very useful for the instructor wishing to illustrate points of sail.
As more vessels carry AIS transponders as standard, the system is becoming a great aid to navigation. The system works via radio transmission of a vessel’s GPS data and vessels within the area can then transpose the AIS data onto a properly specified chart plotter. This enables you to easily, and normally accurately, establish the position, course and speed of vessels with AIS in your area.
This app allows you to watch the comings and goings of shipping around the World and the premium version gives you almost real time access to shipping movements in your chosen area. Using the app within 3G or 4G data range will give you a cheap and useful AIS plotter for a fraction of the cost and is well worth the few pounds if you sail regularly out of busy ports at night within 3G and 4G data range.
Like all these apps, it should only be used to help add information to your pilotage and enable you to build a better picture of the world around you. The Mk1 eyeball is still the best!
ELECTRONIC CHARTS & ALMANACS
We have specifically excluded electronic charts from this blog, partly because there are so many options to choose from, partly because we feel that relying on your iphone for real time navigation and pilotage is a bad habit to get into and partly because the costs associated with subscribing to apps like Navionics can be truly eye watering. Perhaps we’ll address this as another topic!