Helpful apps for mariners

Did you get a new iPhone for Christmas? Even though Apple doesn’t announce its numbers until Jan. 24, analysts estimate that some 35 million iPhones were sold in the December quarter.

So if you are one of the 35 million, by now you have played Angry Birds, figured out your email, have made some embarrassing auto corrections, asked Siri out on a date, and maybe even made a few phone calls.

Now it’s time to start downloading apps that might have some maritime uses or just be plain amusing. I have a couple of suggestions. First, I like Ship Finder Free. It is an AIS tracker that shows you what vessels are in your area. Like anyone who dreams of sailing off to distant shores, I like to watch the comings and goings of whatever port I am in. Last week I was out in the San Francisco Bay Area and I was wondering where the ship traffic was focused. So I got out the old iPhone and tapped on the Ship Finder app and was greeted by a nice graphic representation of the entire Port of Oakland complete with the tugs and pilot boats.  It is a great way to get oriented to the waterfront.

For those of you who are on the water, I would definitely spend $9.99 and get Navionics. It is a powerful electronic chart system that has most of the stuff the guys in the wheelhouse are looking at. It is a great learning tool for new mariners because you can fool around on your phone and get not only tides and charts, but also all kinds of user-generated info on locations. It has an easy to read interface too.

Another good purchase is the NOAA Buoys and Ships app. You can get real time data from any of the NOAA weather buoys including wind speed, direction and precipitation. Another great weather app is MyRadar, a free app that provides local radar.

While you are downloading apps, you might as well grab the free Celestial Compass. It looks cool and there is no magnetic interference. It also helps you spot the North Star and the Big Dipper. But if you want to learn celestial navigation, you need to spend big bucks —$14.99 — and get Celestial by Navimatics Corp. It provides a complete package that enables you to perform sight reductions, calculate fixes and record them.

Maybe you were even luckier and got an iPad 2. If so, get Star Walk. With this app, you point the iPad to the sky and it names the stars you see, tracks the constellations, and shows you the phases of the moon. This app won Apple’s Design Award for 2011 with good reason. There is a version for iPhone as well.

If you get bored with the stars and charts you can always go back to watching YouTube videos of Journey.

About the author

Kathy Bergren Smith

Kathy Bergren Smith has been a correspondent with WorkBoat since 2002. She is also a writer and photographer for the Port of Baltimore Magazine covering shipping and port activities. Smith, also a noted commercial and fine art photographer, resides in Annapolis, Md.

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