Top Picks for Navigation and Control Apps

This year at the boat show, a number of manufacturers released updated software and apps to compliment their line of navigation equipment. Here is a look at a few of the most popular.

The first app we are going to look at is Navionics, it remains one of the most popular iPad marine navigation apps that uses vector charts. It is inexpensive, easy to use and offers an all-in-one navigation solution for recreational boaters. Navionics recently released SonarCharts Live, which won the Miami Boat Show Innovation Award this year. This app allows boaters to create a new personal HD bathymetry map in real time. The new chart appears as an additional layer over either Nautical Charts or SonarCharts. SonarCharts Live runs on any Navionics Apple app connected to the Vexilar SonarPhone T-Box and allows mobile users to view split-screen charts and sonar. Android compatibility with many popular chartplotters is made possible via NMEA 0183 compatible wireless routers like those from Navico and Digital Yacht.

As you boat, the app saves the actual depth data of your GPS location and then shares it with the Navionics community. This is a very cool option for areas of a chart that do not contain much detail. As more and more boaters travel through the area, more and more information is collected. I have reviewed some of the updated charts and it is quite fascinating to see the “lines between the lines” on traditional charts.

Last year, Navionics teamed up with Raymarine to introduce a product called Plotter Sync, which allows you to update your Raymarine Plotter wirelessly through your iPad. The latest release also allows you to transfer routes and markers, update your charts and upload your sonar logs.

Garmin BlueChart Mobile uses exclusive g2 marine cartography vector charts, to plan and view routes on your iPad. You can then wirelessly transfer those routes to your compatible Garmin networked chartplotter. For some Garmin chartplotters that do not include wifi, you can purchase a marine wifi adapter kit to connect your iPad to transfer your routes, waypoints and tracks. Once underway, the wireless adapter allows your iPad to follow the boat by wirelessly sharing the GPS location from your chartplotter. This is especially useful if the iPad doesn’t have a built-in GPS. The real bonus with this app is that it includes weather data and you don’t have to pay extra. It includes buoy reports, marine, temperature, pressure and wave forecasts. The premium weather data, an in-app purchase, includes infrared cloud imagery, radar, lightning, StormWatch and bulletins.

Garmin BlueChart uses ActiveCaptain to provide a web community of more than 100,000 mariners that generate real-time content. It gives you the ability to read and contribute reviews and ratings about marinas, share local boating knowledge, anchorage and hazards.

Both Navionics (SonarCharts) and Garmin BlueChart (ActiveCaptain) provide a forum for their users to submit real-time updates to the community. It would be impossible for any hydrographic service to provide this level of detail for every corner of the world. The information provided by these communities is invaluable because it is based on local knowledge and verified by numerous sources.

The Navico Family (Lowrance, Simrad and B&G) has a GoFree app that basically provides the same capabilities for each brand. The Lowrance GoFree controller and viewer works with the Lowrance HDS Gen3, Gen2 Touch and Gen2 (view only) multifunction displays and allows you to use your iPad to enter waypoints, adjust radar settings and control your sonic hub audio. The Lowrance WiFi-1 access point must be installed on your network to enable the wireless connection. The Simrad GoFree controller and viewer functions like the Lowrance app but works with Simrad multifunction displays in the NSS7/8/12, NSO evo2, NSS7/9/12/16 evo2 series. This app also requires that a Simrad WiFi access point is installed on your network. The B&G GoFree controller and viewer allows you to control your B&G Zeus Touch or Zeus2 W wirelessly from your iPad or iPhone and also requires a B&G WiFi-1 access point.

Raycontrol allows you to remotely view and control your Raymarine c-Series or e-Series multifunction displays from your iPad. However, you must upgrade your MFD software to the latest version and it works the best with an iPad 2 or better. This app allows you to remotely control your electronic charts, sonar, radar and even your thermal night vision.

The FUSION-Link Remote Control App introduces advanced wireless remote control of the FUSION 700 series marine entertainment system. Using a DHCP ethernet router or the existing wifi onboard, the app connects to your MS-IP700 or MS-AV700 and gives you full control of all of the music, DVD’s and audio zones from your iProduct. If your stereo is installed below deck, this app will allow you to be at the helm and change songs, adjust the volume, browse playlists or adjust the zones.

Maretron’s N2KView mobile software allows you to monitor and control your boat’s systems, such as lights, pumps, watermaker and air conditioner, from your smartphone or tablet even while you are away from your boat. The unique thing about this app is that you can customize the screen. The part I like the best is that you use your computer or laptop to configure the layout and then download them to your device. The app is free but you will have to purchase a Maretron internet gateway to interface with your existing wifi aboard the boat.

The capabilities of MFD’s and apps has gone beyond what one boater could imagine and the learning curve can be quite steep. YouTube is a great resource for new app owners. All of the major manufacturers have instructional videos demonstrating all of the options available. But I bet you were already thinking, “there’s an app for that.”

Download the free RCM-SAR Boating Safety App which includes a listing of tides, current, wind, weather, active notices to shipping, VHF radio channels, useful checklists, Transport Canada safety information, DFO fishing regulations and emergency procedures.

About the author: Jeff Cote is the owner of Pacific Yacht Systems, a full service shop delivering marine electrical and navigation solutions for recreational boats. Visit their website and blog for info and articles on marine electrical systems, projects and more: