You use a tablet PC to navigate the Internet, the business world and the roadways — so why not use it on your boat? Tablets are a great complement to onboard electronics, especially to tap into the latest cartography updates, boating articles and real-time weather data. In fact, some of the newest plotters and tablets synch automatically via Wi-Fi. But before you select one, make sure you know which features are best for boaters.
Some tablets have a GPS and antenna built in. These are convenient but aren’t necessarily so great for accuracy, since some don’t support WAAS. In these cases, accuracy may be significantly worse than what you’d see on a chart-plotter screen. Still, if you have the choice, getting an internal GPS is a good move and, in many cases, can be complemented by an external antenna.
Many tablets that don’t have GPS depend on Wi-Fi and cell data for position information. Obviously, these can’t be used to navigate when you’re too far from dry land. You can add an external antenna such as a Bad Elf (bad-elf.com) to some tablets, but not all; in other cases an app such as BlueGPS may be used to pipe in position data from other electronics via Bluetooth.
On boats with open helms, screen viewability can be a problem. Many tablet screens have a reflective coating that can be blinding in bright sunlight — the less reflective a tablet’s screen is, the better. Strong backlighting is imperative, but avoid “dynamic” brightness functions, which vary backlighting with image content and can make some charts look dim.
Three Great Apps for Boating Tablets
EarthNC Marine Charts $9.99
Jeppesen C-Map Plan2Nav Free
Navionics USA HD $19.99