Essential Sailing apps for your iPhone or iPad

The guys in the office know I like to sail, but how relevant is software and technology to mucking about in a boat over the weekend? When aboard, surely you just switch off the phone and crack open the rum?

In fact, there are lots of useful apps for salty sea dogs that can make your sailing safer or faster, whether you're out for a booze cruise on your old wooden Cornish Shrimper or competing in an international regatta on your friend's hi-tech carbon fiber racing yacht.

I review a few of my personal favourite sailing apps in this blog:

1. Weather

Before you leave home, you'll want to know if the weather will be suitable for your planned sailing, or if you should make straight for the bar instead. Sailboats need wind some is better than none, and lots can be too much sometimes (especially if it's tropical storm season). The direction the wind is coming from is useful to know as that will also affect how fast go in your intended direction. Also, do you need to smother on the sunscreen or pack the sou wester? Actually, pretty handy in a number of adventure apps.

A good free weather app is Windguru which displays the key data you need for your chosen location (albeit with a slightly outdated and clunky look and feel):

You do get what you pay for, and I like the PredictWind app which provides some limited weather data for free and access to more detailed forecasts and features through in-app upgrades. It has lots of cool maps, graphs and tables to pore over and help you get an edge on the competition (ie anyone else out sailing near you):

The tidal range is not huge here in Hong Kong (approx. 2.5 meters) but knowing whether it's coming in or out can make a big difference to your performance if racing, especially in the relatively narrow Victoria harbour. My TidesPlanner app answers that question:

2. Knots

Once you're aboard and before setting off, it's likely that you will have to use a rope to re-attach or tie down some essential piece of equipment, like the sails, or a dinghy, or a crate of rum. Of course, as I seasoned sailor I know how to tie all possible types of knot by heart, and so I only have my Knot Guide free app as a means of easy reference for those landlubbers occasionally allowed on board

3. Navigation

Proper nautical charts are essential for navigation as they show you things you may not be able to see but need to avoid, like the land, partially submerged rocks, wrecks, submarine cables etc. As a back-up to official paper charts, many boats these days have GPS and chartplotters installed that enable the tech-savvy sailor to add waypoints to set a safe course, and track the boat's co-ordinates while sailing along. Navionics Marine have created a fantastic app that does all this on your iPhone (at least until your battery runs out):

Sometimes you need to record a precise bearing or azimuth to a given target or to determine a location, particularly on a point-to-point race such as the Hong Kong to Macau series. I have always eyed my friends sighting compasses with envy until I downloaded my Compass Eye app!

I really like this one as it uses augmented reality to do the job (which is perfect for getting a bearing on your mobile strategy in the boardroom):

When laid down flat, the apps shows the compass overlaid on a map of your area:

4. Racing Tactics

Many races are lost or won on the start line to have a chance you need to get there on-time, at the right end (it's not unusual for one end to be slightly favoured due to wind shifts) and then you must head off in the right direction. This means taking note of (or trying to remember) quite a number of variables while also trying to interpret various flags and sound signals and jockeying for position with your competitors in the minutes leading up to the start.

The big budget racing crews have lots of things we don't have, including sensors and instruments enabling them to wring out the maximum performance from the boat, and sometimes professional crews with actual sailing ability. Their slick-looking tacticians may have iPads linked up to receive data from the boat's onboard blackboxes via NMEA/WiFi interfaces with custom applications to interpret the data.

Which is really great and all. I tend to rely on the crew's experience to make the right calls which could be why we do not have a designated sailing-trophy-polishing night in our house.

I have not tried this one yet, but must say I am getting quite excited about our racing prospects at the weekend since downloading iRegatta:

Short of actually sailing the boat and shouting Avast ye Scallywags at the crew, it seems to do everything! So grab your waterproof phone case and get mobile on the water.

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