The PolarView MX navigation and charting app has just come out for iPads and other Apple devices, and I'm excited to test it out soon. Not long ago I installed the PC version of Polar View on my cruising laptop and wrote a full review - one of the best things about it as an inexpensive, full-featured chartplotter software program is the integration of the Active Captain interactive cruising guidebook. A huge database of important information about harbors, marinas, local knowledge, etc. - all of which you take with you offline for instant use within the navigational software. If it works as well on an iPad, I'll heartily recommend it there too. But given how much information cruisers will find themselves accessing, I'd be hesitant about using it on iPhone's smaller screen, except perhaps as a backup. If you're serious about cruising information, take your laptop or tablet!
Well, OK, that's a dumb question. Obviously everyone does, if you want to avoid collisions with other boats. And most sailors do know the rules that determine, in every sailing situation, which is the stand-on boat and which the give-way boat. (As for powerboaters, well, that's a mystery to me - and there are many serious collisions every year and subsequent fatalities when powerboats run into each other....) But if you're new to sailing and unsure of the rules, or if you're an experienced sailor who knows the sailboat rules very well but are studying for your captains license and need to learn all the ColRegs rules for all boats in all situations, then you might find this ColRegs Rules of the Road app for both Apple and Android devices useful.
I'll never forget the first time I saw a barge being towed at sea on a really, really long tow cable. From a distance the two vessels seemed a quarter mile apart, and I was tempted to sail my course and pass between them. But something didn't feel quite right, so I checked with the binocs and sure enough, there was a taut steel cable between them maybe 10 feet above the surface. I was practically shaking as I changed course, remembering how in my coastal village some years ago, a fishing boat at night got snagged by a towline like that and was rolled over, trapping and killing the fishermen. Imagine if you were out there at night yourself in your boat and saw two lighted boats in the distance: could you tell by the configuration of lights what they were? Someone at my local yacht club tangled with a fishing boat offshore one night, the unseen outrigger of which dismasted the sailboat. There are a whole bunch of ways to get into trouble at night if you don't correctly interpret the lights of other vessels. If you don't already have on board a resource for quickly looking up light configurations, this app may be what you need.
If you have an Android tablet running Android 4.0.3 and up, you might want to check out this free app from NOAA. (I haven't tested it yet myself, as the Android tablet I've been using to test apps for almost 2 years won't run this one - guess I need to upgrade!) Download the app and get the free NOAA raster charts to see your position on the chart. A nice feature is the integration of the Coast Pilots. While the app doesn't offer chartplotter functions such as waypoints and routing, many sailors don't need these functions and it's enough just to see your boat on the chart. NOAA is releasing this version as a beta test until September, after which it will evaluate comments and decide whether to move forward with a fuller version for additional devices. For those whose Android device won't run this app, I'd recommend MX Mariner for Android or PocketNav for Apple, or check out these other navigation and other sailing apps.
Okay, I admit it, I'm just cheap when it comes to getting the most bang for my boating bucks. I hate monthly smartphone fees just to get email and the web when I'm cruising under sail. I used to be one of those guys with a "road warrior" extended power wi-fi antenna so that when I anchored in some quiet cove, I could tap into someone's unprotected wi-fi signal ashore. Sadly, people finally learned how to protect their routers and it became nearly impossible to find free wi-fi on the water unless you took on a monthly cellular plan. But for those boaters who still balk at the big monthly charges, or the extra charges for tethering your laptop, I'm happy to report that FreedomPop's mobile wi-fi hotspot may be your perfect solution! For about $4 a month you can get 3G or 4G connectivity (where available) in limited megabytes that won't allow streaming lots of movies but that will give you more than you actually need when cruising. Read all about it!
Here's a new sailing app for Apple devices creatively titled SailingApp that has a lot of good information about sailboats and many sailing situations, best for beginners. It overlaps somewhat with the Boaters Pocket Reference app, but if you like to have information at your fingertips on your iPhone or iPad, here's one for novice sailors or those teaching beginners. Maybe sooner or later we won't need to buy good books on sailing or seamanship at all (but we're not there yet).
OK, I confess it: I'm feeling all app'd out. For marine navigation and chart plotting alone, I'm running three or four different apps on two Apple devices, plus a couple more on my mid-size Android tablet, plus three or four additional full-fledged navigation software programs on my desktop and laptop. (Yes, I know, testing all these is part of my job....) Over the years I've been thrilled by all the functionality such apps have brought to navigation when sailing - what a difference from the old days when I navigated Downeast in the fog by noting which way tidal currents were tugging the lobster pots! But I'm also somewhat amazed that app developers keep introducing more and more new apps not really all that different from what's out there. Must be something about the free enterprise system. So ... today I just finished reviewing the SEAiq navigational app, just one of the more recent ones, and ended up concluding I'll stay with the tried-and-true apps I've been using. It's worth looking into if you're still new to apps, but if like me you've been happy with what you already have, I wouldn't go rushing off to the app store.
Stay safe when sailing! As National Safe Boating Week (May 18-24) gets in motion, get your safety consciousness in motion too. Virtually all boating accidents, injuries, and fatalities could have been prevented with the right knowledge and equipment - and above all, by always thinking safety first. Once you've gotten into the habit, staying safe doesn't diminish the joy of sailing. The fewer problems that occur, the more fun you'll have. Check here for a collection of articles and guidelines on all aspects of safety under sail.
The good news is that U.S. boating fatalities in 2012 were down from 2011, continuing a downward trend. The bad news is that 651 boaters died from incidents on the water, along with another 3000 injuries significant enough to be reported. As in past years, not surprisingly, alcohol use was a major causative factor, but operator inattention and inexperience continued to play major roles. While the most boats involved were motorboats and personal watercraft, a significant number of incidents involved sailboats. You can download the full report here. And here you can read a series of articles about how to stay safe on your own boat.
A stern rail seat is perfect for a crew or guest who wants a clearer view ahead than you can get from the cockpit benches or for someone who simply wants to keep out of the way of winches, sheets and lines, and the crews' sailing or racing activities. Plus it's just plain fun to sit high up on the stern. Most new sailboats now sport these seats, but you can easily build one for an older sailboat and save a fistful of dollars in the process. Check it out here.