Many web sites and apps can give you weather observations and forecasts important for sailors, such as wind speed and direction, tides, and other weather data, but only MarineCast brings it all together in one convenient place. Most of this information can be found free elsewhere in smaller chunks, but if you can afford $5.99 and have an Apple or Android device with connectivity, it's faster and easier to get it organized for you.
Even if you don't have connectivity while on the water, it's good to check relevant weather data before setting sail. Warning: MarineCast does not save the weather data it downloads, so you lose it all if you close the app unless you maintain connectivity.
Version reviewed: 1.3.5 for iPhone and iPad
Key Features of MarineCast
Begin by first selecting your region and the nearest NOAA weather source (such as an automated buoy); this is then saved, and thereafter at startup MarineCast presents a long list of types of data in different formats, easily selected from a long, scrolling main menu. Key items on the menu are described below.
- Recent weather observations: taken from the nearest NOAA buoy: present wind speed and direction, air temperature, barometric pressure; maximum forecast wind and air temperature; small graph of wind speed over last 18 hours
- Wind graph: average wind speed and gusts plotted against the forecast wind over the last 10 hours
- NWS marine forecast: the NOAA forecast (same as on radio and web) for four closest areas
- Computer model forecast: table of forecast winds (direction and speed) for a wide range of specific points nearby
- Map of wind observation snapshots: from nearby NOAA stations and buoys
- Wind vector forecast maps: wind direction and speed forecast by the hour
- Radar map: for the nearby area
- Tidal current forecast: maps by the hour showing present and future tide currents as directional arrows
- Satellite map forecast: including forecasted changes for the next 4 hours in 30-minute increments
- Radar plus satellite: present observation and forecast for next 10 hours in multi-hour increments
- General weather map: past observations and forecast of air temperatures at map points
- Comfort index map: apparently a forecast of wind chill mapped at hourly increments
- Thunderstorm potential: mapped by multi-hour intervals for next two days
- Tidal graphs: tide heights at stations on map, observed and forecasted
- Wind observation summary: table of most recent observations of wind speed and direction at many points nearby
I can't think of any kinds of additional weather information that would be useful for boaters, so there's no complaint here about the content of this app. If anything, there's almost too much - such as the several different ways to find out how much wind is blowing out there. Remember too that most of this data is already available free through NOAA automated buoy reports or National Weather Service radar if you don't mind using bookmarked web pages. Still, the convenience of MarineCast seems clearly worth six bucks.
I would hope, however, that the MarineCast developers continue to work on the software itself, which has some limitations and quirks you almost might call bugs:
- Most important, there's no reason why MarineCast can't save the data you've just accessed, but now it works only when you have connectivity. This limits its use for wifi-only devices and even for cellular-connectivity users who sail outside their signal range. Want to check that forecast again now because you forgot exactly what it said earlier? Oops, too late - no signal and you have a blank screen!
- Note that MarineCast covers only the areas covered in the SailFlow website, which is U.S. waters including the USVI, Hawaii, and a few other areas. Don't buy MarineCast until you're sure your area is included.
- Some of the maps are small and it's impossible to read the time stamp in the corner without expanding the image and panning around.
- On most of the maps, the time and date are provided below the map when first presented - but this labeling disappears when you swipe ahead to the next map, unless you tap the forward arrow instead of swiping as many touchscreen users habitually do. That's irritating. The same thing happens once you "pinch" to enlarge an image: the label disappears and doesn't return even when you've swiped ahead to the next small map. You have to remember to tap the screen somewhere to get the label back.
- Some of the color maps are lacking the legend key explaining what the colors represent - until you scroll ahead (up to 10 or more times in some maps) to find it at the end. A bug, I think - but I can't guess whether only for my particular device or for all. Hopefully to be fixed soon.
- With so many apps now automatically using your location (whether determined by GPS or wifi location services), it seems kind of old-fashioned to have to manually select your area the first time you begin MarineCast and change it once you've sailed into a new area?
- And weirdest of all: on some of the maps, when swiping or tapping the right arrow to advance forward (e.g., to the right), you discover you're actually moving backward in time, opposite the time flow in other maps. Maybe there's some reason for this, but I don't get it at all.
So much has been done well here that I'm tempted to overlook the limitations/issues above, but smart device apps have been around long enough now that we're getting used to and now expect perfection. Hopefully the programmers will keep improving this one, because it really is handy for sailors!
One thing I'd love to see in the next edition is a more sophisticated display of tide and current information, such as in the AyeTides app.
If you don’t need everything that MarineCast offers, the free version of Marine Weather may be your best choice for both Apple and Android devices, and it also includes tides, radar, and more.
Another good choice for weather data is the free version of the PredictWind app for both Apple and Android devices.