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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.

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