In today’s modern and digital world most of us never leave our homes without our phones or tablets.
Therefore, if you are looking to make the best use of your mobile phone while you are on a sea adventure, it’s best to load it up with some of the best navigation apps for boats available on the market.
As technology has now become a significant part of our lives, navigating on your phone or tablet has never been easier.
However, with so many different options available, making a decision can become overwhelming.
For this particular reason, we have conducted the relevant research and carried out necessary comparisons in order to help you make an informed decision.
Here is a detailed guide to some of the best navigation apps for boats that can make your time at sea memorable, convenient and hassle-free:
Best Navigation Apps For Boats – Reviews & Buying guide for 2020
Winner: Navionics Boating App
Navionics Boating app is one of the most popular and most downloaded navigation apps – and for good reason.
This app offers access to all Navionics charts along with NOAA roaster charts that are almost similar to their paper counterparts. This app essentially turns your tablet or phone into a chart-plotter.
It includes a wide array of navigation and planning functions, wind forecasts, vector cartography, current and tide data, live depth data when connected to a fishfinder, auto-routing for navigating through confined chancels based on navigation aids and chart data and other relevant data that is constantly updated to provide the users with useful information at all times.
Moreover, Navionics Boating app makes use of vector charts and enables users to connect to chart-plotters using WiFi and transfer waypoints and routes.
Once you download the charts, they remain stored on your digital device and they can be accessed even when you are offline.
Crosshairs allow access to tide and local weather information and easy waypoint placement. Furthermore, Navionics offers their customers a two-week trial that is completely free.
Once the trial period ends, the user is required to purchase charts in order to continue benefitting from the app.
If you purchase Navionivs Platinum or Gold, you get access to SonarCharts which automatically updates your charts and enables you to upload your sonar data when you want.
The Navionics Boating app also offers advanced features such as dock-to-dock autorouting, advanced map options, daily and hourly weather and tides forecasts, and more.
With a one-year subscription of the Navionics Boating app, you get to enjoy downloading chart layers that you can continue to use even after the expiration date has passed, downloading daily chart updates and utilizing most of the valuable advanced features mentioned above.
The best part about this app is that it offers its users to use the same app subscription on all their Android and Apple devices. All you need to do is log in with the same account in all your Navionics Boating apps.
Runner Up: SeaNav
SeaNav allows you to plan, navigate and explore your boating adventures using the latest Digital Vector Marine charts in incredible high-resolution and in real time!
This approach offers a lot more advantages and benefits over conventional raster charts. The SeaNav marine navigation app comes in two different paid versions.
The first version is the SeaNav UK that uses charts derived from materials collected from the UK Hydrographic Office with their authorization and this version offers complete coverage for Ireland and UL.
The SeaNav US navigation app, on the other hand, offers complete coverage of Great Lakes and USA, and uses NOAA charts. Both these versions are easily available on the App Store on your iPad or iPhone.
There is one new SeaNav free version available as well. It doesn’t offer any bundled charts. You can use this version to see how the SeaNav tools work.
The in-app demo allows you to see the visual aspects of the app to make the buying decision easier for you. Charts are available through SeaNav in Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, UK, Canada and the U.S.
With the SeaNav app you get to enjoy:
- Real time tracking and route planning including waypoints, COG, SOG, CTE, ETA, and more
- Route sharing, export and import
- Unique augmented reality view with AIS ships, lights and buoys
- Charts that work without cellular data as they can be download and stored on user’s device
- Seamless zooming and fast panning across charts
- Live positions of AIS ships overlaid from a different navigation app (Boat Beacon)
- Configurable layers; lights, anchorage areas, wrecks, rocks, depths, buoys, etc.
- Apple Watch support
- Automatic chart updates
The Seapilot app is one of the easiest and most convenient navigation apps to use!
It is powerful and the interface is based on professional standards that are set for electronic navigation. This navigation app is not only easily accessible and affordable but it also acts as a socializing tool for the boater.
While the app can be downloaded for free and you can enjoy a few basic benefits on the basic version, it is highly recommended to purchase the Seapilot Premium version as it is not only reasonably priced but also offers the users with numerous features.
Through the Seapilot navigation app for boats, you get to benefit from professional navigation technologies, up-to-date nautical charts and AIS boat tracking – all on your mobile device and that too in an extremely user-friendly way.
Here are some of the features that you can utilize on your boating trip with Seapilot:
With the Seapilot basic version that is free of cost, you get to enjoy:
- A fully functional and responsive functional app
- Find your location
- Use the app in an MOB
- Search chart location
- Find marks
- Enjoy social boating
- Get chart updates
The Seapilot Premium allows you to enjoy many more advantages as compared to the basic version. Some of the features of the premium version include:
- All the features that the basic version has to offer
- Routes and waypoints
- GRIB data and presentation
- Weather routing
- NMEA data from sensors |(Heading, GPS, AIS)
- Weather forecast
- GPX import / export
- Internet AIS
- Multi-device usage and more
Alternative: Boat Beacon
Boat Beacon navigation app is specifically designed to be used on waters and it uniquely offers all standard AIS information, range, Closest Point of Approach, bearing and more.
When you purchase the standard version of Boat Beacon, you get to benefit from the following features:
- Real time map view of the boats within 30NM of you as well as your own boat through AIS over satellite or normal map view
- Live AIS feed from Boat Beacon’s global network of AIS receivers that provide industry-leading coverage
- Ship vectors that show future predicted positions
- Ship details including bearing, distance, type, name, size, ETA, images, destination, etc.
- Alarm and avoidance of over the horizon collisions using Closest Point of Approach
- AIS position updates and CPA calculations available in background while you use the navigational features
- Users can enter the unique details of their boats including width, length, MMSI, image, etc.
- Allows other users to see you on the Boat Beacon navigation app and internet AIS systems such as MarineTraffic
- If users enable transmit on their app, their boat will appear on other devices that have the Boat Beacon app installed. If they have an MMSI number and they enable AIS sharing, their boat will also be visible on live AIS traffic sites
- The compass mode allows the users to view other ships on the map with course/heading or north up settings
- GPS location, course and current speed
- Track recording and sharing
- Theft alarms and anchor watch
- Man overboard tracking
- True north or magnetic setting
- SART support –reports and alarms
- MMSI numbers that allow users to use VHF in order to contact nearby boats
- Local AIS data feeds’ support via WiFi
- Free Apple Watch support with AIS, HDG, COG, SOG, compass, torch and countdown timer
- Echo dot and Alexa support
Best for iOS:iNavX
iNavX is a handheld chartplotter that enables users have charts delivered from their favorite chart providers.
The app, offering hundreds of incredible features, is internationally trusted by professional and beginner sailors, cruisers and fishermen.
The essential toolkit of iNavX includes but isn’t limited to the following features:
- Tracking log history
- Port / navaid search
- AIS alarm
- Anchor alarm
- Tides / current
- GRIB weather forecast
The iNavX navigation app offers the following advanced features to its users:
- Connects instruments: batteries, engine, wind, speed, depth and more
- Integrates with AIS receivers, transponders and GPS
- Supports NMEA data over IP / TCP (via WiFi)
- Can be used in conjunction with marine navigation software MacENC as a repeater
- Plan routes and create waypoints to navigate between them
- Record your actual route with track log
- Import and export data in GPX or KML format
- Quickly measure distance / bearing between points
Advanced Chart Plotter
- Display real-time instruments such as speed, bearing, waypoints and bearing
- Print detailed charts that you can use in combination with the Boat iNavX app
- Easily zoom, rotate and pan charts
- Real time plot positioning with the built-in GPS of the device
Things to Consider When Subscribing to the Best Navigation Apps for Boats
Now that you’ve learned all about the best navigation apps for boats available on the market, here is a list of some things you need to consider before you finally settle for one:
Offline Access to Charts
Before you buy a subscription, search if the navigation app allows you to access the charts offline. Almost all efficient apps allow their users to download and store charts.
When you are at sea, you can’t rely on internet connectivity. Therefore, it’s best to have an option to download charts of every possible area you might visit in advance.
Types of Charts
Check your navigation app to see if the types of charts you need are available in it. Vector charts have a simplified display that only consists of basic information.
Raster charts on the other hand conventionally display the same or oftentimes, more information than that is available in their paper counterparts.
If you are planning to take a long trip, it’s best to know about the navigation routes that others have liked and disliked. This will allow you to plan a more productive adventure.
Look for apps that offer suggestions about navigation routes by other customers to make your experience more exciting!
This might come as a surprise to you that sea adventurers often tend to overlook the reporting-unit factor while setting up their navigation apps.
Setting up reporting on your app in standard units i.e. decimals, minutes and degrees will help make communication more effective and the navigation process smoother.
Before you purchase a subscription, make sure you check the reporting units offered by it.
Before settling for an app, consider the navigation functions that might come in handy when you are afloat. Most marine navigation apps come with a wide range of features.
While all of these apps allow users to see their boats moving on the chart, some of them offer more advanced functions.
For instance, some apps allow users to create a specific route they can follow. Ask yourself some of the following questions before making a final decision:
- How responsive do you need the app to be?
- Do you want to share your course on social media?
- Is the app easy to understand and use?
- Does the app have satellite image layers that can help you easily identify landmarks?
When it comes to boating, one of the most important rules is to have an effective float plan. Someone on land should have details of when and where you plant to be.
A handy marine navigation app will allow you to easily provide access of your location to your land-based friend.
If you already have a marine navigation app, it’s highly recommended to check whether it needs an update. Most apps require their users to subscribe again after a long period of inactivity so that the charts are updated accordingly.
Look for marine navigation apps that allow you to plot your routes. Like GPS that we use in our day-to-day lives, a navigation app can allow you to plot your route in advance.
Decide where you would like snorkel, fish or indulge in other boating adventures and enter the relevant information in the app. Then all you need to do is follow along your phone or tablet.
Many apps might even keep the information stored for a long time period, in case you decide to visit the same locations again!
Marine Navigation Apps FAQ
Why is marine navigation important?
The Global Positioning System has helped the world evolve and operate in a more progressive way. This is especially true when it comes to marine operations like rescue and search.
GPS offers the most accurate and fasted methods for mariners to measure speed, determine location and most importantly, navigate.
Effective marine navigation enables increased efficiency and safety levels for mariners all over the world.
It is essential for the ship officer to know the exact position of the vessel when they are in open sea as well as in waterways and harbors.
While at sea, it is necessary to have accurate speed, heading, and position to ensure that the vessel reaches its destination in the most economical, timely and safest ways that conditions permit.
As the vessel arrives in port or departs from it, the requirement for accurate positioning becomes even more crucial.
Due to vessel traffic and other types of waterway hazards, risks of accidents increase and maneuvering becomes more difficult.
Oceanographers and mariners increasingly use navigation apps for boats for buoy placement, locating navigational hazards, mapping and surveying.
Commercial fishing fleets make use of GPS to track fish migrations, ensure compliance with rules and regulations and find optimal fishing locations.
Can you use Google Maps on a boat?
While Google Maps is a popular tool used for navigation in trains, cars or by foot, it doesn’t provide any sort of built-in directions by itself for boat routes.
Google Maps, however, can be used to plot a boat journey roughly or the tools built around this app can be used to estimate distances and plot routes.
Oftentimes, boaters opt for navigation apps built specifically for boats that contain detailed information related to the waters they are about to travel on.
Furthermore, other than providing occasional navigation services on commercial ferries, Google Maps doesn’t offer directions in a boat as it does to transit riders, pedestrians and drivers.
As mentioned earlier, Google Maps can in fact be used in planning a boating or sailing route. You can also use Google Maps and its satellite view to view the entire area you plan to be boating on.
You might also be able to see where various lakes and rivers are located and find resources available near your location.
Can I use my iPad / tablet for marine navigation?
Yes, once you subscribe to a navigation app for boats, you can use either your tablet or iPad (whichever the app is compatible with) for marine navigation.
What if you don’t have a mobile signal on the sea?
While you don’t need to have a WiFi or internet connection, or cellular service in your phone for it to know your location, you do need to download and store maps and charts using your WiFi or cellular data plan before you head out on the waters.
It is important that you cover all the areas you plan to visit in advance. Once you do so, you will be good to go and not having mobile signals on the sea won’t be much of a problem for you!
We hope that with all the aforementioned information about the best navigation apps for boats available on the market, you found something worth your while!
We strongly urge you to select an item from the best ones mentioned in this post.
If you are still finding it difficult to make a final decision, consult the detailed buying guide above to understand your needs regarding navigation apps and make a final decision accordingly!