Here’s Why You Need an iPad on the Boat

by Christine Kling


The Apple iPad Loaded with Marine Apps - Photo Courtesy of Christine Kling

The Apple iPad Loaded with Marine Apps - Photo Courtesy of Christine Kling

(Editor’s Note — Chris Kling is a sailor with with more than 30 years of experience on the oceans of the world. She’s also an English professor at Broward College, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and the published author of the Seychelle Sullivan series of mysteries, including SURFACE TENSION (2002), CROSS CURRENT (2004), BITTER END (2005, and WRECKERS’ KEY (2007). You can and should buy them at this Amazon page. They’re great page-turners and the protagonist is a female tug captain and salvor through whom I could easily live vicariously (you know, except for the requisite sex-change operation of course). Chris recently got an iPad and has wasted no time collecting and testing marine apps for the sleek new tablet. You can visit her at her main website here or at her new blog, co-hosted with fellow writer Mike Jastrzebski, Write on the Water.)

I have wanted to share this list of some of my favorite boating apps for the iPad.  Some people have looked at the iPad and the high price for the device and they have said they just don’t get it.  Why would someone pay so much for that.  I can only report on my own experience — and this little computer has changed the way I interact with technology.  I find myself using my laptop less and less.  The iPad is so fast, so intuitive and does so many things that I could no more imagine living without one than I could imagine living without a computer.  Today, I will cover boating apps and in a later post, I will discuss writing apps.

To begin with, there is the problem with the screen outdoors.  I have found though, that if I change the setting from auto-brightness to manual and crank it all the way up, it is very easy to see and use for navigation outdoors.  Most of us wear Polaroid lenses when we are out on the water, and the iPad screen goes black when viewed in portrait mode with Polaroids on, but just turn it to landscape and the image reappears.


First, I need to mention that it is necessary to have the iPad 3G to get the real GPS chip in the unit for navigation purposes.  The non-3G units require wifi, which, of course, is not going to work at sea. Some have questioned whether the iPad GPS would work outside the range of the 3G connection, and I can attest that as long as you have already downloaded your charts, your GPS will work fine offshore.  Mine worked continuously on the passage three weeks ago from the Abacos to Charleston, North Carolina when I had absolutely no 3G connection.

iNavX Screen Capture on the iPad - Image Courtesy of Christine Kling

iNavX Screen Capture on the iPad - Image Courtesy of Christine Kling

iNavX – $49.99  I started using the Mac version of this software about four years ago and I love it.  There are other cheaper apps for marine navigation now, but I like using the same software on my laptop, iPhone and iPad.  This one app is universal, meaning it works with both the iPhone and the iPad with full versions for each device.  With many of the other apps listed here you would have to buy separate versions for the iPhone and the iPad.  Yes, it is a lot of money, but it is absolutely worth it to to get this full featured complete navigation system that can interface via wifi with your boat’s instruments.  The program comes with free access to all the NOAA charts, but you can purchase additional charts through X-Traverse. This service allows you to save, retrieve and move data on and off the iPad.  I bought the US and Bahamas Navionics Gold charts for the iPad for $49.99 which do show some marinas and other land features.

Charts & Tides Screen Capture on iPad - Image Courtesy of Christine Kling

Charts & Tides Screen Capture on iPad - Image Courtesy of Christine Kling

Navimatics Charts & Tides/ East Coast – $19.99 You might ask yourself what do I need another navigation program for.  Good question.  This app is by Navimatics and the app does show another type of cartography, but the navigation features do not work as well and are not as extensive as iNavX.  However, what this program does have is Active Captain, the Interactive Cruising Guidebook.   It was well worth the twenty bucks to get this feature that drops dots onto the charts where marinas, boatyards and various points of interest are located.  When you click on the dots you get a ton of info including cost of slip rental, phone numbers, reviews, laundry and grocery info, etc.  This is a sort of Wiki type thing for boaters and once you have your membership to the Active Captain website (free) and you input your info on the iPad, you can click a synch button and you’ll get the most up to date info available. When we were in Deltaville, VA, I saw a review that had been written one week earlier.  This is far better than a print cruising guide.  Yes, the info is available on the laptop if I am on the Internet, but with my iPad and my 3G account, when cruising here in the US, it’s available almost everywhere.

Navionics – $19.99  I have not purchased this, but Navionics has their own nav program which like the one above, includes the nave. program with the charts and for this price you get the East Coast.  You would pay again for the West Coast and again for the Great Lakes.  You can only use their charts.  With iNavX all the NOAA charts are included for free, and then you can add other charts if you want to buy them.  However, I’d like to hear from others who might use this to know how they think it compares to iNavX.

MotionX-GPS $2.99 has recently added marine charts.  I have not gone this route or explored it, but I would love to hear in the comments if anyone else has done so.  As soon as I have the time I intend to explore this — I mean, for three bucks — why not??

AyeTides Screen Capture on iPad - Image Courtesy of Christine Kling

AyeTides Screen Capture on iPad - Image Courtesy of Christine Kling


AyeTides XL — $9.99  This tide program is fully integrated with iNavX so that you can click on a tides button in the nav program and get your info.  The program has just released this iPad version (August 2), and it is beautiful.  And it still has more tide stations and information than the tide program included with Charts & Tides.

Marine Day Tides — free   Actually, there are two versions of this program and I use the free one which gives the most tides info I’ve seen, but it will only give you the info for today — not for the future.  The planner version of the program is $9.99 and it is great, but I get enough info to suit me with the Ayetides and it interfaces with my navigation program.


I have tried a few marine weather apps for the iPad, but I haven’t found anything yet that I particularly like.  I would be very interested to hear from others what they like best.

Wundermap —free   This great app comes from the folks at WeatherUnderground.  This includes various types of radar and infrared screens which require an Internet connection.  It uses the GPS to determine your location and gives you a satellite map with an information overlay.  Now I just wish they would make a version that includes Marine Weather forecasts.

Weatherbug Elite for iPad — free   This little app has tons of great info on a very tight screen.  I like their wind direction compass rose.


Boater‘s Pocket Reference — $4.99  1,800 pages of boating information including Rules of the Road, aides to navigation, illustrations, photos, buoys, signal flags, etc.  A great on-hand resource.

Shipfinder Screen Capture on the iPad - Image Courtesy of Christine Kling

Shipfinder Screen Capture on the iPad - Image Courtesy of Christine Kling

ShipFinder HD — $7.99  This app shows the AIS feed of ships in your area.  It is broadcast over the Internet so it will only be good as long as you have an Internet connection either via wifi or through a 3G account.  When coastwise cruising, however, it’s wonderful to see the name, course and speed of that ship in the distance. Yesterday, sailing from Fishing Bay to Solomons, we passed a strange gray ship off Point Lookout, and I was able to look it up with Shipfinder and discover it was a Naval High Speed Craft called SEAFIGHTER and she was at anchor.

Nautical Terms for iPad — $0.99 This is a great replacement for the old dog-eared nautical dictionary I had and the numerous bookmarks that I could never find for online dictionaries.

Knot Guide HD — $2.99 This includes 91 knots in 17 categories.  What more could you ask for?

Pocket First Aid and CPR — $3.99 From the American Heart Association, this guide appears to be one of the most complete for emergency situations as it includes illustrations and videos.

Air Display – $9.99 – This turns your iPad into a second display for your laptop.  Currently this only works with Mac OS but they are working on a Windows version. You could run your laptop nav program on your iPad using it as a slave screen and avoid having to buy the costly iPad apps.

Another boating plus is that you can load all your PDF manuals into Goodreads or now into iBooks, and they will be there ready to load in a hurry.

As for waterproof cases for the iPad, I have found the simple for $19.99 that looks like a glorified Ziplock bag to this fancy one from Germany for 280 Euros.  There are also various mounts here and others here that one can get to make your iPad function more like a helm chart plotter, but I am waiting for the swing away arm.

The iPad has become much more than just an eReader for me, and though many of these things I could do on a laptop, I couldn’t do any of them as fast or as easily as I can on the iPad.

Fair winds!


Original article Copyright © 2010 by Christine Kling. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2010 by OceanLines LLC.  All rights reserved.

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About the Author

About the Author: Tom Tripp is the owner of OceanLines LLC, the publisher of OceanLines and founder of Marine Science Today. He is an award-winning marine journalist, science writer and long-time public communications specialist. His PR career and much of his writing stems from the fact that he loves to explain stuff. It all began when he and his brother Mark threw all of Mom's tomatoes at the back wall of the house. . . .


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  1. greg says:

    awesome article, extremely useful. It convinced me to get an ipad for work (boat) use! I am busy getting the apps you suggest. thanks

  2. Cdrpilot says:

    Great article. Very useful apps that would have been hard to find without it. Many thanks to Chris.

  3. MxSailor says:

    Because I live and sail in Mexico, free NOAA charts aren’t important to me.
    I’ve been a Mac user since 1968 and when I purchased the Navionics Marine app for the Caribbean ($19.99) I was knocked out. It charts everything along the US border south to, and including, parts of South America. It features a wonderful tides and currents database with a beautiful interface, shows marinas in good detail along with phone numbers, addresses and other contact information and facilities. Of course it tracks, plots, sets waypoints, etc. At this price, a real winner.

  4. Editor says:

    Wow, MXSailor, you were using a Mac 8 years before the company was even formed and 16 years before the Mac was even introduced!!

    That’s kind of funny. Thanks for the into on the Navionics app.

  5. CS says:

    Don’t forget about the SailTimer app for iPad, iPhone and iPod. You can find it in iTunes, or linked from

    SailTimer is licensed for use in MacEnc (Apple) and NavSim (PC), but is also available in it’s own app to give a quick and easy display of your optimal tacking angles ($13.99).

    Whichever product you use, Tacking Time to Destination ™ is a unique function in SailTimer that is far more accurate for sailors than ETA (or VMG) on a standard GPS chart plotter.

    If you need something more waterproof and designed to be used in direct sunlight, the same functions are also available soon in a new handheld called The Sailing GPS. You can get information on it from the website above also.

  6. Robby says:

    To learn more about screen capture on the iPad, check out:

  7. Mark Nerczuk says:

    Great article. Is there an easy way to mount the ipad in a cockpit of a sail boat? And I do realize that I should not get it wet but I would not mind to use it on the nice days.

  8. Matt says:

    What about using these apps in EUROPE?
    I just bought a wifi version so, i am not be able to download the charts in wifi zone and afterwards use them on sea?
    Nice publication!

  9. Good to know that you were able to use the GPS apps while not on the 3g or wifi networks. That’s something I’ve been wondering about with taking the iPad out on the boat and trying to use the GPS features within an app. Thanks for sharing that detail.

  10. TommyJ says:

    I have the InavX app and the navionics charts on my ipad. They are great! If you are leary of the 3G connection for GPS reliability, or don’t have a 3G ipad you can get a blue tooth app for your Ipad (search for Roqy BT) and install then purchase a mini bluetooth GPS receiver ($50-$60). i have use these with my NON 3g Ipad and it works flawlessly, and is cord free. you may have to Jailbreak your ipad to install Roqy.

    I mounted my Ipad to my boat using Panavise and a clear plastic storage container you can get at Target or Walmart for $10. keeps it dry and out of the elements. I still put mine in a gallon-sized ziplock for extra protection from moisture.

  11. Georgina Moon says:

    Thanks for the info. We are renovating a boat in the UK then planning to sail to the Mediterranean and live aboard in Greece. The Ipad seems much more than a new gadget and you have definitely persuaded us to buy one! I am researching all the different marine and navigation apps available and your info has been most interesting, although of course we will be using British and European charts.

  12. For those of you that may be looking for a protective case for your iPad and iPad2, we offer two waterproof models that are well suited for boats or RVs.



  13. Dave says:

    I use myradar its an app my boss uses for his airpla e to look at th current weather patterns . They have a free version and a 1.99 paid version .

  14. Craig says:

    Hi, interesting article. Before I purchase an ipad for my sail boat, I wanted to ask how the gps performs inside of the cabin. One would put the reciever outside on a standard marine gps thus my questions?



  15. Editor says:

    Craig – I’ve forwarded your question to Christine Kling, the author, who is traveling up the east coast of the U.S. right now. I know she’s using her iPad for realtime navigation so let’s see what she says. Thanks for your question.

    — Tom

  16. karen says:

    I love my ipad for navigation except it is hard to see I the sun. Works great below deck. Never a problem with the built in GPS.

  17. Bald Eagle says:

    I have an iPad and love it.I was just cruising 2 weeks and used it every day.I aggree I have not found an app with marine weather but do use Accu weather which is fast and does give current wind speed.

  18. Bastu says:

    iPad (and iPhone) can also be used as an external instrument display. There is a simple app called Marine Instrument Display (MID) on the App Store.

  19. Two Oceans says:

    I use Marine Instrument Display for iPad. Simple and easy-to-read app for showing the basic GPS data and heeling.

  20. bruce a moniz says:

    Im just curious how it gets a signal offshore to keep you position. does it receive a satelite signal?

  21. Editor says:

    Hi Bruce — Yes, it has a built-in GPS receiver that uses the GPS satellite constellation for position information. That’s why it’s important to get the version that has the GPS in it. Not all do. — Ed.

  22. TechSailor says:

    Has anyone tried MID WiFi app that shows the predicted boat speed? It has been developed by the same company as Marine Instrument Display app mentioned above (

  23. vizugonesailing says:

    Thanks for this info. I have a 3g iPad and confirmed it can run the GPS on Plan2 Nav marine navigation, even after I removed the 3G SIM card and no internet connection.

    I bought a tide app. ($1.99) called Flytomap all tides. It will calculate tides all over the world even without internet connection!
    To me it was far more desirable compared to tides app using internet connections and fees to renew the app every year…

    It is an iPhone app adapted to iPad, so it looks like you have an iphone on your screen, but it is very usable and perfect for the price and for life, not just a few months….

    s.v. Neige d’ete (Canada) , presently in Penang, Malaysia.

  24. vizugonesailing says:

    To Ed. the editor

    For people with an non 3g ipad, you can buy a bluetooth GPS compatible for iPad.

    Before I read this article, I was going to buy one, thinking my 3G ipad needed internet connection to have GPS…

    I found two on e-Bay; the XGPS 150 selling for $87.00 and the GNS 5870 selling for $89.00 and no need to jealbreak your iPad…

    Fair wind to all

    s.v. Neige d’ete
    Canada, presently at the Tanjung city marina, Penang (Malaysia)

  25. Toronto Sailor says:

    I am on the verge of getting the IPAD2 and INAVX, I have been told that I can tether my IPHONE 4 3G to the IPAD2 via Wi-Fi, thus not needing the 3G on the IPAD2. I know some have said even without 3G connection it still updated their position, do you think this still applies for a tethered IPAD2? Thank you.

    Whitby, Ontario

  26. Arthur says:

    Great article Navionics is a great app agreed. I use it all the time especially for trip planning for routes fuel burn and trip times etc.
    One app that I use for weather is PocketGrib it downloads GRIB data as the name suggests I use NOAA which is good for marine zone forecasts and buoy present and past 24 hour data and the Pocket Grib app really is great on top of the NOAA data.

  27. Dan says:

    Great article – I have the benefit of starting from start on a navigation/electronics package and I definately want to include the ipad apps. What would be the best radar system that would tie this all in or do I have think independently on that aspect?

  28. eTienne says:

    About not finding a suitable weather app: did you try ? Any comments?

  29. Chris says:

    I checked out that app, but the comments say that as a European-made app, it offers poor coverage of North America.
    Also, the screenshots look like more of the same, i.e. weather comments like sunny or cloudy, temperature and precipitation chance. Sailors need wind and wave height and a discussion of the weather outlook such as where lows and highs are forming and moving. Your suggested app doesn’t seem to offer anything like that.

  30. Patrick Tadlock says:

    My wife and I just bought a 23′ Ebbtide Cuddy, in which we plan to take day trips, and maybe overnight on the mid to upper Mississippi R, We do most of our boating out of St. Charles , MO. My wife likes to follow our course on a river map, but as the river bank changes (like after a flood) and the maps become outdated, sometimes she looses track of exactly where we are.
    I would like to get a GPS unit that would pinpoint our location on the river. If I purchased an iPad, can I get an APP for that section of Mississippi R. and that would also show our GPS position on a chart? We already have iphones and Mac laptops, but I would like to get an iPad instead of a fixed mount GPS.

  31. Dave Rogers says:

    I become a bit concerned when you indicate every vessel needs an ipad. For the past several years I have been studying USCG recreational boat accident statistics. The major catastrophic accidents are caused by inattention and collision. Collisions ranging from other craft, above and below water impediments, parked tugs, barges, new breakwaters, on the way to an accident, racing. It would seem to me, from my studies, that an ipad presents the ideal facilitator for distraction. Very true, charts, Doppler weather, etc. But when push comes to shove, it is still useful as a ‘real time communicator’ and and a source for distraction. Doesn’t really provide a ‘real time’ picture or graph of the environment inside the vessel or outside. What is needed is a separate proactive warning system, dedicated client/on-shore server for by-region managment, tracking vessels, assistance in disastor and emergencies, closed system tracking and proactive threat warning followed by an advisory threat evasive course/action. I’m trying to find a Venture Capitalist. We’re ready to go to Beta site on the Potomac – have outsources, long term manufacturing plan etc. Is there help out there? One on-board graphics display cellular-based commuicator – 1/12th cost of a chart plotter, close to cost of iPad.

    Dave Rogers
    South Burlington, VT

  32. Dave Rogers says:

    Reply to Patrick Tadlock, Pat, our new system uses an on board ‘communicating, warning, and course advisory’ device. It will pick up a GPS within the device, as well as other on-board information. Yes, depth. Thus as yours, and every other vessel with a real time depth sounder, will transmit in real time at a rate of 1 packet/sec equal to the new GPS frequencies. That packet depth info will be analyzed by a software module on the server that updates the downloaded chart from NOAA, Navteq, etc. This is particularly important to the barge commerce on the rivers, just like it is important to you. We estimate millions of dollars in savings due to delay avoidance. We want to take navigation assistance to the next generation. The only way this will be accomplished is use of server based software apps that apply years of knowledge that has been applied in controlling large industrial processes, etd. (Automatic APPS, so to speak, that are enabled by the postion of your vessel) If I could only find the funding, we would be on our way!!!! We estimate
    $ billions in savings, and we see profitabiltiy, just like the game and Internet Socializing Corps. – Long term a couple $ billion per year. We need to get the word out. Everyone is focused on FACEBOOK, TWITTER, we want to use new technologies to save lives in rivers, waterways, lakes, and at sea. I very firmly believe that our system with its Proactive Threat Warnnig and course advisory capability, based on high refresh speeds vs. AIS, would’ve prevented the Contra Concordia – Of course I would have to assume that a Cruise ship company such as Carnavale have excellent charts that the software could process – after all they have thousands of people on-board.

    So, I’d appreciate it if the word got out about our ANN (Assistant Naval Navigator) System – it’s difficult to find anyone who knows something about marine navigation, that has interest in funding a solid project that involved more than 50 experts in boating,towing, military, A-Captains, state-of-the-art technologies.

    Dave Rogers

  33. Dave Rogers says:

    A little bit about my background that gave me suffient oh-water and computer systems entrprise necessary to do the team leadership to design the ANN System. I was an Assoc. Research Consultant with US Steel Research and HQ Engineering in the process control group – systems for steel plants, underground coal mines, chem and plastic plants,etc. then rec’d an appointment as Senior Fellow with Carnegie Mellon Univesity’s Research Institute, again, robotic, computer systems enterprises. Retired and was lead engr for the EMMA System (
    while sailing for 5 Years on Lake Eriev – 28 ft. Pearson Sloop, learned navigation and seamanchip then.

    So this all prompted me, in the interest of preventing loss of life and serious injury to come-up with the next generation navigation system. But don’t be concerned, we are not all work, no play. There are some ‘play related features in the system. Point to point safe course monitoring to transient docks, entertainment, lodging, keeping track of your favorite fishing hole, etc. then provide a safe course to it when you want to go. Yes, we are human and LOVE SAILING.
    US Pat #7,047,114 that serves as the model for the system platform. Now living in South Burlington,VT.
    Good to meet you all. If you have questions, input,suggestions,etc. Don’t hesitate to send me an Email.

  34. Dave Rogers says:

    I just read back through the comments. One brought-up a very interesing point. The question was whether or not the GPS in an iPad can be sensed in a cabin. All hifreq signals are line of sight. Thus you would need a GPS antenna on the boat exterior. I don’t quite know how that can be accomplished with an iPAD -doubt if there is a connection. I am very much opposed to dependence on personal (hand carried) devices for navigation. I view GPS as a wonderful type of measurement that allows your boat’s GPS info to be part of a process control software algorithm, along with every boat near you. Because of new GPS refresh rates, the ANN System can, so to speak, “love and protect you” (Song from Fiddler on the Roof – I love). Back to reality. Our system will have a version for portability around the boat. I’ll not tell you how, that is unique. Secondly, if you are intereste how we include your, and other GPSs as part of control system algorithms, I suggest you take a look at the patent – – search on Pat No. 7,047,114. I feel this is a very novel, secure and fail-safe approach for protection. No Internet socializing or games in our system, we are all business and want to keep you safe, as Ford Motor says, “QUALITY IS JOB ONE’ we are both, “QUALITY and YOUR NAVIGATION SAFETY” is job one. – Dave Rogers