The Cruisers Forum app is a valuable asset for any sailor or boater - a great source for all types of information related to sailboats, powerboats, and cruising in general. With over 84,000 members as of this writing, as well as countless other unregistered users, Cruisers Forum is a terrific example of crowdsourcing at its best. Ask a question or search past posts and you're almost certain to find the answer you're looking for.
Cruisers Forum is the name of the app as it appears on your device, though it shows up in the app store as "Sailing & Boating Community." This app is a special version of the cruisersforum.com website optimized for smart phones and tablets. While it is not quite as convenient to use as the website on a larger computer screen, if you have connectivity while on your boat, the app is very helpful for use underway or when you need quick information or help with almost any boating issue.
Version reviewed: 1.3.13 for Android (Android 1.5 and up) - free
Available also for iPhone and iPad - version 1.5.14 - free
Anyone can use many of the information features of Cruisers Forum for free without registering - such as searching for the different kinds of information in past and recent posts. The free registration level of involvement allows you to post your own questions and comments. In addition, you can upgrade your membership for an annual fee currently of $15.01 - which provides some recognition and benefits (such as being able to post more photos to your album) but does not increase the amount or type of information you can access on the site.
Postings are organized in the app as in traditional online forums. A person posting an initial question or comment chooses the appropriate specific forum by topic (there are dozens) and makes the post with a new thread title, like the subject line in an email. Any member can respond to that post, thereby continuing the "thread." Other members can post replies to the original post or to any previous reply, and thus conversations can continue and grow considerably over time. Often a thread develops as a sort of time-lapse conversation among two or more members.
A user seeking information that may already be posted, rather than asking a new question, has a choice between browsing specific forums (topics) or conducting a word search of all postings in all forums. For example, say I am new to cruising and want to learn better anchoring skills. From the home screen I choose a category of forums from the broad grouping; in this case "Engineering & Systems." (New users may have to browse through groups and categories to figure out where to look.) Then I select Anchoring & Mooring from a sublist of topics, and there I find a listing of all threads, through which I can scroll to (hopefully) find a series of posts that will help me learn what I'm looking for. A key advantage of browsing through a category rather than searching for a very specific topic is that often you learn related things as well. Sometimes you don't even know what it is that you don't know.
To search, simply access the search box and type in your key term(s). The app searches the text of all posts in all forums and presents a result listing. Unlike the Cruisers Forum website, you cannot choose to search for the key term only in post titles, which in many cases would help narrow down the search somewhat (but only when posts are well titled).
Following is just a sampling of the many forum topics covered in the Cruisers Forum app:
- Scuttlebutt: cruising news, destinations, costs of cruising and equipment, best nautical books, and more
- The fleet: information on types of boats, general sailing forum, and more
- The aquatic life: provisioning, seamanship, , navigation, health, rules of the road, making a living with a boat, living aboard, and more
- Captain & crew: women on boats, cruising with pets, children aboard, and training and licensing
- Systems: construction and maintenance, product reviews, electronics, electrical systems, engines, boar gear and equipment, dinghies, and more
- Business and commerce: classified ads, crew wanted or available, and commercial posts
The app contains various other functions as well, including making your own profile for other members to see, posting private messages to others, and subscribing to selected threads. In all, Cruisers Forum is a great community of sailors willing to share useful information in practical ways. The Active Captain website is another great sailing community resource for marina and anchorage information.
I suspect because Cruisers Forum evolved slowly over time from an original web-based site, some of the forum category names or organization may seem odd at first. For example, if you wanted to browse postings from boats seeking volunteer crew, you might think to choose "Captain & Crew" on the home screen, but that leads to a list of four forums that don't seem to included crew-wanted posts. Instead, you have to look under "Cruising Business & Commerce," since some crew are paid. This issue of names and organization is a tiny issue, however, and you can soon find what you're looking for.
Another issue is the search function, which is a Boolean word search. There is so much information included in all these forums that search can be similar to googling the whole web, and in the same way you have to be very specific about what you are looking for. If I need help today with my boat's Yanmar diesel, for example, if I search only "Yanmar" I come up with 177 different threads containing posts using the word Yanmar. Narrow it down to "Yanmar overheat" and I get 34 threads with still potentially hundreds of messages to sort through. Better yet, I narrow it to "Yanmar overheat smoke" to better describe my problem - and lo, I get a list of much more pertinent postings.
As with much Internet-based information, be sure to remember the source of all this information: other people. You can't automatically trust what you read, but you can query back as to why something is so, ask others for opinions, and sort through multiple answers to a question seeking consensus. So this really isn't much of a weakness, because Cruisers Forum has been around a long time on the web and has gathered a large group of serious boaters who usually do have some expertise - or at least experience - to share.
Finally, as in any online forum, there is just a lot of chatter mixed in among the serious information sharing. For example, as I write, I see that this morning someone posted in the crew-wanted forum to say he was looking for a young, fit female to join his boat as crew. Within 5 hours there were already about 60 reply posts, mostly just joking around about the obviousness of this guy's seeking a woman more than a crew (as in, go to some other website!) and related chattiness. Clearly a certain percentage of the users are just killing time here, perhaps stuck on a boat in a foggy port!