These days, we seemingly do everything by app. We listen to music, check the news or download an airline boarding pass. All are just a tap or two away on that magical gadget we call a smartphone. Which got us thinking, maybe we could actually go boating … by app. Make no mistake, we fully intended to have the real-world, outdoor experience, but maybe we could find and rent a boat, plot a course, check the sea and tide conditions, and even book a last-minute marina slip all with the same ease of use that one has to summon an Uber driver.
A quick search of the app stores reveal there are certainly candidates to get the job done. Apps have opened up a whole new world of possibilities in nearly every aspect of life, and enterprising, forward-looking programmers have stepped into the void to write the next big thing in code. So we downloaded a few boating-related titles and gave ourselves a challenge — we’d do everything in cyberspace but the actual driving and enjoyment.
Locate a boat, plan a trip, keep tabs on the weather, and book a slip in real time at an available marina? Trust us, there’s an app for that.
Dubbed the “world’s largest and fastest growing peer-to-peer boat rental and charter marketplace,” GetMyBoat currently offers access to over 40,000 boats in 143 countries. That’s an impressive inventory, especially given that founders Sascha Mornell and Raf Collado only launched the app in January 2013. Being sailors, the pair noted the tremendous number of boats sitting idle in marinas and knew well the high costs of boat ownership. Their solution provided a means for boat owners to offset costs, while allowing renters convenient and affordable access to the water.
Using the app is relatively simple. As a renter, allow it to recognize your location (or provide it via the search window), and up pops a local map with all the boats available in the area. Use the provided filters to specify power, sail, fishing, nonpowered or even megayacht, along with price range and passenger capacity. Clicking on one of the numbered icons in the results reveals a photo, short description of the boat in question, and the hourly price range. Delve one level deeper for a more thorough description of the boat, any restrictions, what type of payment is accepted, and a button to reserve the craft. Reservation details follow, with a pop-up calendar to confirm the date and hours, along with an opportunity to let the owner know any specifics about your plans, boating experience and trip details. Liability and property-damage insurance can be purchased for a nominal fee.
While the concept behind GetMyBoat is peer-to-peer rentals, commercial rental operators are included. My boat ended up coming from Tampa Bay-area Blind Pass Boat and Jet Ski Rental. A representative contacted me by email within hours of my booking, confirming the dates in question. Arriving on the designated date, the boat was ready, fueled and waiting, with an employee ready to go over all the operational details, confirm the local waters, and answer any questions. Peer rentals may not always be as simple, but, like Uber, both owner and renter reviews are encouraged to increase the odds of a smooth transaction. GetMyBoat also encourages parties to communicate as much as possible beforehand to ensure a successful transaction during use.
Navionics pioneered electronic charting all the way back in 1984, and today it has the world’s largest database of marine and lake charts. At one time those charts were primarily found on data cards plugged into chart plotters, but today that same info is available through a subscription to the Navionics Boating app, including nautical and sonar charts, even local info provided by fellow boaters. App users benefit from daily chart updates, ensuring you have the most accurate info about your boating environment, as well as advanced options that let you highlight shallow areas, select depth shading and filter depth contours, adjust water level or target key fishing areas. Navigation features include route planning with ETA, distance to arrival, heading to waypoint, fuel consumption, and for iPhone and iPad (coming soon to Android), dock-to-dock auto routing based on chart data and navigational aids.
Using the Route feature, we plotted a course out of St. Petersburg, across Tampa Bay to Anna Maria Island, and into the Intracoastal Waterway behind Longboat Key to Sarasota Bay. The most current detail far surpassed a paper chart, particularly in an area that sees semi-frequent shifting of depth, loose markers, buoys, etc. When we stowed the iPad due to rough seas in Tampa Bay and wandered slightly off our heading, a quick glance at the detailed chart enabled us to quickly get our bearings and correct course.
Caveats? Navionics is free during a one-week trial period; a subscription to Navionics+ (including updates and sonar charts) costs $50 to $55 for HD versions on the iPad and $10 to $15 on the iPhone. Subscriptions can be renewed at an approximate 50-percent discount or users can continue to use the previously downloaded charts for free. Given the level of detail, we also found the app was best viewed on a larger screen. With so much available information, the display can look quite busy. Our iPad easily surpassed our iPhone for quality viewing.
With a boat rented and course selected, the next logical step was to check weather and tides. For the former we tried Buoyweather, an app that uses a global network of “virtual” buoy points to deliver accurate, long-range marine forecasts with wind and weather data. Users set their GPS location on the map and choose a time zone and units before bringing up a morning and afternoon marine forecast for a two-day period, complete with wind and sea state, swell period, surface-pressure charts, and a link to further details on the trend for the coming days. A two-day period is the limit of the free version; upgrading to the paid version extends the forecast out to seven days. High-resolution wind forecasts provide a graphical look at conditions and help make informed decisions on upcoming conditions. One-click access is available for favorited locations.
Tide Graph uses the harmonic predictions from literally thousands of coastal stations across the U.S. and forms them into a simple interactive graph. Bring up details, like the next high and low tide, sun and moon rise and set, and future tide predictions. With it’s large format, Tide Graph proved great for a quick-look update out on the water, especially when entering shallow waters. A separate app, Tide Graph Pro ($2.99), provides over 6,000 U.S. tide and water conditions, and doesn’t require an Internet connection to update. Predictions are based on data provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
As multigenerational boaters, the creators of SlipFinder know the frustration of trying to easily find and book an available slip or mooring. Over the years, they also noted the oddity of the occasional empty slip on a busy holiday weekend. “There is a paradox in the industry that boats have increasingly high levels of technology built in, and yet some marinas are still operating the way they have for the last 30 years,” explains SlipFinder’s Keith Cooper. “We’re using apps in many other areas of our lives. Why can’t we just book a slip or mooring from our phone?”
With SlipFinder, you can. A still relatively young startup, SlipFinder currently offers a choice of 200 marinas on its app, primarily centered along the Northeast, East Coast and Bahamas. The company’s goal is to promote more active boating by ultimately building a network of marinas that will allow boaters to explore, “marina hop,” or travel. There’s no charge for marinas to sign up. Boaters pay the dockage fee directly through the app. Available results are tailored not only to the area, but they also take into account the dimensions of your vessel. Users will never show up to find their boat won’t fit the available slip, and marinas avoid the same.
The app itself is simple and intuitive. I recorded the boat’s name and dimensions under the Boats tab, noting dockside requirements, like power and water, before using the Finder to search for results. Available slips and prices immediately followed. An individual slip’s status includes color-coding to indicate if the slip meets all your needs or lacks any specific amenity. We selected a slip at Longboat Key Club Moorings with a quick tap, noted the number of days, and paid by credit card. SlipFinder uses an established website/app credit-card processor, and stores no payment information on its own server. The My Slips tab saves the reservation, as well as previous slip purchases. An email confirmed the purchase and included the dockmaster’s contact info. In our case, the marina also followed up by phone to confirm our arrival and make sure it was ready to address our needs. Upon arrival we contacted the marina via VHF, and a dockhand cheerfully greeted us at the slip.
As to everyday boating apps, we also checked out Animated Knots by Grog. Knots are broken down into categories. Choose boating and 39 popular choices pop up, with frame-by-frame visual instructional. Pause or rewind the animation to get a specific detail; select the Information tab to learn the various uses of the knot, along with its strengths and shortcomings.
We assigned our 10-year-old first mate the task of securing our boat at the marina with a variety of appropriate knots, a feat she accomplished by watching the animation on an iPad and then mirroring the task. By the end, she tied a bowline better, and faster, than us.
Extras include how to fashion a figure eight and Flemish flake, properly coil attached and unattached lines, splice, and even rope care and cleaning. The app also has a cleaner, more attractive interface than the Grog website, making it perfect to review on a phone or tablet out on the water.