Charting Apps – An Informal Review (1)

As a small company ( providing adventures in the Georgian Bay Biosphere we are regularly out on the water either with clients or working out new adventures. Operating with a 21′ foot Scout Dorado (the Beagle) equipped with a 150 hp Yamaha we have the ability to cover a lot of water quickly and still get onto the small islands that provide for unique perspectives of the area.

Our knowledge of the local area is good, and getting better, but we still rely on charts to keep off the rocks and help us find our way. If you have ever boated in the 30,000 Islands you will know how similar, yet unfamiliar, the many islands and inlets can seem. Having good charts is absolutely critical unless you have been on Georgian Bay for years or limit yourself to a few routes.

Until last summer we had been working with the approved commercially available Small-Craft Nautical Charts covering the area from south of the Massasauga Park to north of Pointe au Baril. They were effective but often proved difficult to use in practice. As an open cabin boat the charts would flutter when opened at cruising speed, they constantly needed to be ‘flipped’ over, and with time they were getting worn. But perhaps the biggest problem was that they did not tell you where you were. If you went exploring you needed to keep a sharp eye on where you had come from and where you thought you were. What seems easy in the introductory Power Squadron courses becomes a challenge at 40-50 kph, especially when the area is unmarked and there is the real prospect of hitting a rock.

So with that background you can understand why we started to investigate electronic charts. There are a few ways to go when it comes to electronics. One option is a dedicated GPS and plotter combination, much like the GPS units that come factory installed in cars and trucks. A second option is a handheld device like an iPhone, an Android phone, or a mobile GPS unit. These devices come with a GPS function built-in that can be used to plot your trip. When used in an automobile they connect with cellular towers to access maps that not only tell you where you are and display the roads, but also tell you how to get there. This is also an option when boating, but its really not practical, the screen is too small for boating at any type of speed, although it might be practical if canoeing, kayaking or sailing. And the ‘free’ mapping options don’t provide marine charts with water depths and navigation markers.

The third choice, and the one we will discuss in these articles, is using charting software on an Apple iPad. While the charting applications (Apps) we will review can be used on all iPads it’s only the GPS equipped iPads (not the less expensive WiFi-only models) that permit real-time location capabilities. These iPads typically cost about $100 more than the comparable WiFi-only models.

In our case we have a 3rd-Generation 32 GB iPad that is used for navigation, as well as credit card processing and the usual business email type activities, it also provides us with a real-time shore connection (texting and social media). It’s a very portable multifunction device that provides us with remarkable flexibility. The larger screen makes it much easier to see both details and the ‘big picture’.

But it would not be very useful on the Beagle without it’s GPS and charting capabilities. A fixed GPS and plotter would not only be considerably more expensive and require professional installation, it would take up precious space and not provide as much functionality.

In terms of charting Apps we used one package last summer with rather indifferent performance. It was, as a former colleague of mine would say, “better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick”. But it was far from optimal. Over the winter we looked into a couple of other options, one of which has become our go-to charting App. But your needs may be different. We’ll review our experience with the three Apps in the following series of post that I’ll try to get out on a weekly basis.

J. Bossart

Next Post (2) – Introducing the Three Apps

Disclaimer: all comments and opinions are the solely mine and not those of the Parry Sound Power and Sail Squadron. If you find an error or want to provide your perspective please post a comment. I’ll review them for appropriateness (there are too many spam bots out there) and make sure it gets posted up as soon as possible.

Flags Over Sail Parry Sound

Flags Over Sail Parry Sound