It seems that not too long ago we were all toting around beepers, with the select few outfitted with cumbersome cellular telephones the size of bricks. Times have certainly changed and mobile phones have definitely evolved. It’s no secret that cell phones play an integral part in our daily lives, and technologically advanced manufacturers now offer compact smartphones that are highly capable of performing much more than a standard phone call. These intelligent mobile devices feature large screens, powerful operating systems and ample memory—there’s really no limit to what your phone can do. The truth of the matter is that the smartphone in your pocket or purse has the advanced computing capabilities of a laptop or desktop computer.
While most individuals utilize cell phones for social, business and emergency contacts, few use them to their maximum potential. However, when paired with intelligent applications, your cell phone can double as an essential part of your marine electronics suite. Cost-effective and convenient, smartphones eliminate the need for pricey handheld GPS devices and expensive weather forecasting services.
Best of all, these essential features are accessible even when you’re beyond the reach of cell service.
When it comes to safe boating it should come as no surprise that redundancy is key. Whether it’s a secondary bilge pump, backup VHF or spare fuse, having the necessary tools at your disposal will help you when you need them most. While your smartphone won’t help you out if your bilge pump burns up, there are a plethora of apps that will make your time on the water safer and more enjoyable.
Navionics, a leading provider of electronic charting and digital navigation data, recently released an updated application that offers iPhone, iPad and Android users the ability to turn their smartphones into highly capable marine navigation units. Improving on their first app, their newest release is available on iTunes for only $9.99. With a simple download, users can plan their routes, check tides, and search points of interest such as wrecks, obstructions, buoys, beacons, ports, marinas and moorings. In addition, users have access to wind forecasts as well as hi-res imagery of harbors and marinas. Plotter Sync is yet another function found in the newest release, which transfers markers, routes and waypoints to and from your Raymarine E-Wide or G Series plotters to your smartphone. Best of all, these essential features are accessible even when you’re beyond the reach of cell service.
Because Florida’s wacky weather patterns are unpredictable to say the least, it’s a good idea to stay connected while on the water. While your vessel may be outfitted with a radar or equipment that features up-to-the-minute weather forecasts, you should know that there are other options available. RadarScope is a popular app that utilizes NOAA hi-definition data and renders it in real-time with accurate GPS positioning. It enables users to view NEXRAD Level 3 radar data along with Tornado, Severe Thunderstorm, and Flash Flood Warnings issued by the NWS. For only $9.99, it’s a no brainer.
Float Plan is an excellent free app available on iTunes. With Float Plan, users can store critical details about their vessel, crew, and trip itinerary. What makes this app so beneficial is that with the push of a button you can e-mail essential information to the recipient of your choice. When you want to create a new itinerary simply update the information that has changed since your last outing. No matter the duration of your trip, filing a float plan is always a good idea. This is an app that could end up saving your life.
If you’re not a member of a professional towing assistance program than you are missing the boat. A leader in on the water assistance, BoatU.S. recently introduced a free app that keeps members connected no matter where they are located. Available for the Android and iPhone, if you find yourself in trouble, simply press the “Call for a Tow” option on the home screen. You will then be directed to a BoatU.S. operator who will automatically identify your vessel, what size and type boat you’re on, and where you are located. This is a huge benefit for both parties since a majority of boaters who call for service don’t know their precise location. This free app not only displays your precise latitude and longitude coordinates, but its GPS function still works when you find yourself out of cell range.
SPOT is a leader in personal safety and the recently introduced SPOT Connect turns your smartphone into a satellite communicator. Pair your iPhone or Android with SPOT Connect via a Bluetooth connection and in nearly any location around the world you’ll be linked to a global satellite network. With the ability to send messages and GPS coordinates beyond cell service, users can send updates through a text message or short email, request non-emergency help from contacts or professional service providers, and in the event of a serious emergency, send an SOS requesting assistance.
Even though smartphone apps don’t replace quality seamanship, basic navigation skills or common sense, they are nice additions to your existing electronics package and knowledge base. Do yourself a favor—ditch your flip phone and get connected.