TAP INTO NAVIGATION, WEATHER, AND AIS DATA IN THIS SEAMLESS ALL-IN-ONE APP FOR MOBILE DEVICES.
TESTED: Seapilot Navigation App PLUS: Furuno DRS6A-NXT radar
Irecently tested the premium subscription service for the Seapilot Navigation app, available for mobile devices using Apple iOS and Android operating systems. The app seeks to combine nautical charts with professional-level navigation technologies and AIS boat tracking, as well as other features, to make the app an all-in-one navigation solution. The app was free to download to my iPad 2, a 16-gigabyte model running iOS 9.3.5, and has a premium upgrade for $40 per year—that’s less than $3.34 per month. Android’s upgrade is less, at $38 per year. The download was quick for me, but that will depend on the user’s Wi-Fi or cellular connection. When I opened the app, it was easy and quick to download U.S. charts, but again, the Wi-Fi connection you’re using will have an impact on how this works. Charts are easy to find on the initial app launch, thanks to a dialog box that opens in the middle of the screen with a list of available charts. U.S. charts were free, but as I tapped my way through the other available charts in Europe and North America, prices ranged from $9 per year for Sweden to $35 per year for Greece. The chart files live on the device, so there are no fears about going out of cell range at sea.
I selected U.S. charts, which are handily broken out in regions, such as “South Carolina – Florida” or “Great Lakes (U.S.).” Oddly enough, by the geographical distribution, New York must be hiding somewhere between “New England States” and “New Jersey – North Carolina.” I found New York and Long Island in the New England States chart, and so we can only assume the app engineers at Seapilot never met a fan of the New York Jets.
That stands to reason, since Seapilot is owned by True Heading AB, a marine electronics company based in Danderyd, Sweden, just outside of Stockholm. Having met Anders Bergstrom, executive chairman of True Heading and a former Lieutenant Commander in the Swedish Navy, I have learned much about the evolution of the automatic identification system (AIS) that is now widely used in commercial vessels around the world and is making inroads into the recreational fleet. True Heading is a true believer in this technology.
So it stands to reason that AIS is a large component of the Seapilot app, and it’s a great feature. If you’ve been at the helm of a boat using AIS you understand what a comforting system it is to have on board, as it enables you to know the names of the vessels around you—that’s particularly helpful when enormous ships are moving quickly and passing near you. The ability to touch a target that’s appearing on your screen and know its position, course, speed, description, and, most importantly, name and call sign, means you can contact the vessel directly via VHF. We at Power & Motoryacht recommend you also get an AIS transmitter, so your boat shows up on everyone else’s AIS chart and radar.
Beyond AIS targets, the charts in the Seapilot app are lit up with data, all of it from NOAA vector charts in the case of U.S. charts, running on the company’s proprietary chart engine, which seemed to be very fast. The app itself is designed to capitalize on the user’s familiarity with the multitouch display of the iPad. Fingertip moves allow you to scroll along the chart; pinch to enlarge the chart scale and spread your fingertips to zoom in on an area of interest.
A nice orange crosshair cursor appeared when I touched a point on the chart, but it took a bit of getting used to. The
reason is because of good design. Instead of placing this cursor directly beneath my fingertip, only to have it be obscured by my hairy knuckle, the app placed it about an inch above the point where I touched. And there it sat awaiting my next move, even though I needed to tweak its position to zero in on a tiny target (my fault, since I should have zoomed in on the chart for this type of thing, to make that target easier to hit).
This cursor setup made route planning a real treat, since all I had to do was go to the route menu, easily found by touching an intuitively designed icon in a bar at the bottom of the screen (score one for Scandinavian design). A list of “Routes” then appeared, seemingly out of the screen’s left side. The Seapilot app makes judicious use of type-color gradation, too. When I was on a menu, I knew that I could click on items colored darker gray, while other items tinted lighter gray were not yet available. In full sunlight, that may be more challenging.
As with any well-designed app, Seapilot gave me multiple ways to do things. To create a route, I held my finger on the chart. When the waypoint came out of the left side of the screen I tapped “create route,” and my position on the chart was labeled “start” in that distinctive orange color. Then I tapped the screen at the point where I wanted to go and, lo and behold, a “finish” button came up, with a dotted line vectoring off the “start” point. I was then able to zoom way out to a large-scale chart and make a route with a couple of waypoints, but I liked to zoom in and look at all the hazards, and see for myself if I would be passing too closely to those random shallow points, obstacles and wrecks that were marked, if a bit faintly to my mind, considering the seriousness of their threats. Of course, my disagreement is with NOAA and not Seapilot in this case.
And speaking of NOAA, the app makes the most of the available weather information by offering GRIB downloads with comprehensive wind and speed information, as well as an easy touch-and-get (my term, not Seapilot’s) ability to display a sixday forecast for any spot on the chart, including cloud cover and precipitation, and a range of air temperature. Tap on the pull-down arrow on any of those days and get an hour-by-hour breakdown of the same information, in case you’re a stickler for “partly sunny” versus “partly cloudy,” and want to see for yourself. While I was able to update wind speed to knots, it seems that the temperature units in my weather forecast were stuck on Celsius.
The Seapilot app has other features, such as Facebook integration, which will probably be more interesting as the app becomes more widely used. The advantage of a navigation app such as this one is that the company can choose to expand features with a simple software update, something that happens on iOS, sometimes with users barely noticing.
The Seapilot app is a powerful backup for a helm system, that, through ease of use and breadth of features, may become a primary navigation tool.