Android at sea: my favorite nautical apps

Vern Graebel, the founder of my ISP,, was walking down the hill to Ropes Beach after a Cotuit Kettleer’s baseball game a few weeks ago. I caught up to him and we started talking about sailing and a particularly great spot to spend the night, Tarpaulin Cove on Naushon Island, the largest of the Elizabeths. I shared my fear of anchoring there and dragging during the night and how anchor-dragging-paranoia made it tough for me to get a good night’s sleep aboard the sloop.

“There’s an app for that,” Vern said, drawing his Motorola Droid out of his pocket. And indeed there was, “Anchor Alert” — an cool little $15 app that uses the GPS receiver in the smartphone to determine one’s position. You anchor, pay out so many feet of chain and line, determine the length of scope of that, and tell Anchor Alert which then draws a series of concentric circles with your “anchor” in the middle and an icon of your boat out the specified length from the mooring point. Using the GPS’s  accuracy rating, the program waits until you move N feet away from the radius of the circle formed by your anchor and boat. Slip 30 feet and you receive an alarm (or a SMS if you aren’t aboard).

I use my HTC EVO for a few other nautical tasks. I may need to invest in a decent waterproof case (I use a kayak bag to keep it dry now), and the battery life with the GPS enabled is pretty sucky. But …. it is amazingly useful for some essential tasks.

  • Tides: I use “TideApp” to give me the times for high and lower water at any of the dozen locations I sail to. It also gives me essential data about the ebb and flow times of the current, an essential aid in navigation for determining the offset of one’s course caused by the lateral forces of the moving water.
  • Chart Plotter: Okay, so it isn’t a $3000 binnacle mounted Garmin chart plotter with integrated radar — that has to wait for more flush financial times, but the Navionics USAEast chart pack is awesome for giving me an accurate and detailed fix on a valid NOAA nautical chart. This is a little expensive at around $15, but it is great to have a precise fix when I need it on the water. I use it sporadically because of the battery draw down, but suppose I could rig some 12v car adapter sort of rig to keep it going 100% of the time. Again — smartphones and the cockpit of a sloop in Nantucket Sound are not a felicitous combination, keeping the thing dry is a constant worry.
  • Google Sky: “Give me a tall ship and star to steer her by …” It’s been years since I’ve taken a noon shot with a sextant (something I might brush back up on this winter), but knowing the stars while at sea is always good fun and Google’s star map is awesome to play with.

Any sailors out there have other apps to recommend?

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

6 thoughts on “Android at sea: my favorite nautical apps”

  1. “I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
    And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
    And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
    And a grey mist on the sea’s face and a grey dawn breaking.

    I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
    Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
    And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
    And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

    I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
    To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
    And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
    And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.”

    -John Masefield


  2. My boating apps:

    Navionics (a must for boaters)
    WindGuru (wind predictions)
    Surf Report (for surfers, but a great indicator for fisherman
    Boating Suite – log, maintenance, expense, etc.
    Float Plan – Creates a float plan and sends it to someone…good safety…
    Weather Bug
    The Weather Channel
    Knot Time – a db of any possible knot you might need
    Translator – does a fair job of translating into just about any language you’d need. In case I end up in France, or Tahiti or something

    Having spent significant time in my youth living on charter boats, as well as anchoring off shore for tuna I offer this advice: Go a full anchor size or two above what the boat calls for and be sure you’ve got plenty of chain – again more than needed for the job.

    Of course, this will bring in the next problem: you’ll foul and need to dive on the anchor, so bring a mask and fins, at the very least.


  3. I am indeed an iphone users…but most should have Android equivalents.

    BTW, have you noticed that we are now back to the bad old days, with Iphone versions, web versions, Android versions, Ipad versions. It’d like the netscape IE wars of 1997. Back the wrong platform and you’re hosed…


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