The Bottom Line
- Single-screen view of your position on the chart plus speed, heading, and distance traveled
- Lock screen to head-up or north-up view, or freely move manually
- Includes tide graph and other information at vessel or chart location
- Easily search for locations, marinas, etc.
- Includes ActiveCaptain Guidebook database (easily updated) and allows ActiveCaptain input
- Vector charts show less detail than raster charts (few land feature, less water data)
- Must zoom and tap markers for detail of aids to navigation - awkward and slow for live navigation
- Online User Guide not optimized for small screen - clunky to use
- Not all features designed for intuitive interaction
- Interfaces with iPhone built-in or external GPS for live navigation
- Comes with current edition NOAA vector charts for entire area (U.S. East Coast, West Coast, Gulf Coast, or Great Lakes)
- No switching among charts - seamless views and zooming
- Users can create/save/edit waypoints and use Go To function to navigate to them
- Waypoint navigation with Horizontal Situation Indicator to compare vessel's track to desired track and show cross-track error
- Includes a Ruler Tool for quickly measuring distance and bearing on the chart
- Built-in offline ActiveCaptain guidebook provides information about marinas, anchorages, and local navigation
- Version 4.0 (updated 1/11/11) allows user to directly update ActiveCaptain information
- Includes tides, currents, NOAA weather buoy reports (when online), and sun/moon times
- Currently $19.99 per region at iTunes Store
Guide Review - Charts and Tides Marine Navigation App
I'll confess first that I really dislike vector charts for coastal navigation - and that's my one real disappointment with this app. Having previously tested and used PocketNav, which uses raster charts in an navigation app for the same iDevices, I was quite impressed by how much navigational detail can be seen in a raster chart on the tiny screen of an iPhone. Pan around and see the names of towns, harbors, and rivers along with roads and landmarks - an easy way to stay oriented when planning a voyage. The same view in a vector chart in Charts & Tides usually provides much less detail, and if you zoom out you may see nothing but a featureless unknown coastline. Raster charts also provide information on navigational buoys, bridge heights, and other marine features, while on vector charts you typically see only an icon and have to click on it to get the detail. This lack of always-visible detail is one main reason why I rate Charts & Tides only 4 stars out of 5.
The advantage of vector charts, of course, is that they take far less storage space, so you can have the entire East Coast on your iPhone in just a few megabytes - and never worry about forgetting to plan ahead to load the right chart. That's just the start of all the features provided by this app. One of the best features is the inclusion of the ActiveCaptain Guidebook, which provides detailed information about marinas, anchorages, and other local features - integrated with the chart view. Symbols in different colors on the chart indicate different kinds of information available, and simply tap one to get the data. Learn more about ActiveCaptain here. In version 4.0 of Charts & Tides you can even contribute updates and reviews to the ActiveCaptain database directly from your iDevice.
The bullet points above list most of the key navigating features available in this app - far more that you'd expect from a little program running on a little screen. They all work well, despite some design oddities. It took a while to find the tides information, for example - it's placed on the bookmarks page, not some place I'd think to look if I hadn't yet started bookmarking locations. Similarly, the sun and moon times are accessed by tapping first the chart, then the latitude-longitude info bar. And don't even think about trying to read the User Guide on an iPhone screen - it's baffling that the designers didn't optimize what looks like a pdf file for the small screen. You practically need a magnifying glass!
Still, Charts & Tides succeeds generally at what it sets out to do: provide many of the features of a good chartplotter, plus added information of value for cruising sailors, in a nice little package that gives a lot of bang for the buck. If they continue to enhance the system in new versions, as they have so far, this will likely be the one to buy when you want all the navigational features.
Note: This app is presently available only for Apple devices. For Android devices, check these apps.
Note: It’s critical, especially when using a chartplotter app, to understand the accuracy of charts and be cautious around underwater hazards. Learn more about how to interpret chart accuracy when using electronic charts.