Smartphone tricks to smarter boating
If you’ve not yet joined the tech-savvy generation by marrying your smartphone to your vessel, this overview will help you make the leap.
Just about everyone has a smartphone, and most of us take it everywhere. This simple device (and its bigger cousins, tablet devices such as Apple’s ipad) contains more computing and navigation power than any other device on your boat. It also has features that your other electronics do not, primarily the ability to connect to the internet along most of New Zealand’s coastline. So, what can your phone do for you? First, you need to understand the technology built into it, and the list is quite impressive: GPS receiver, compass, accelerometer (to measure movement), inclinometer (to measure tilt angles), clock, light, strobe, 4G radio receiver, speaker, Wifi and Bluetooth capability.
Batteries generally last a full day or more, and most phones
have a bright light that can serve as an emergency torch. With the right software (apps), your smartphone can replicate most of the functions provided by your dedicated devices. And with some additional hardware, you could well replace almost every electronic device on your boat with a smartphone solution.
Of course, the fact that you can doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Excluding the most recent models, smartphones are notoriously non-waterproof and unsuitable for exposed situations.
Also, while mobile chartplotter, fishfinder, engine management and digital switching applications are readily available, these are arguably far too important to rely on a single handheld device which could accidentally be dropped overboard. Dedicated devices (such as engine gauges at the main helm station) are best supplemented by a mobile solution.
And that’s one of the great benefits of a smartphone/tablet – it can be moved around, without requiring cables. By adding Wifi capability to your existing electronics, you can replicate their functions on your handheld device.
The latest multifunction displays (chartplotters and fishfinders) from Lowrance, Simrad, Raymarine, Garmin and Furuno all have Wifi connectivity built in, and even with an older model you may be able to add a Wifi gateway to your boat’s network.
Custom apps from each of these manufacturers are available to replicate the functionality of the main display onto your mobile device, greatly simplifying the process of adding secondary displays to a flybridge, saloon or cockpit.
A smartphone’s other important feature is its ability to connect to the internet, and herein lies its real power. By combining its GPS capability with an internet connection, you can implement apps that provide solutions which might otherwise costs thousands of dollars.
Here's a sample of the possibilities:
While the marine forecast available on your VHF is essential listening, a visual chart of the weather forecast is often easier to understand. The Metservice app is a good start, while Metvuw, Swellmap, Windguru and Buoyweather each provide different views and options. The Coastguard app also provides maps, forecast and tides for all marine areas.