Best Android Apps for Boat Charts and Navigation

Woman steering yacht
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With Android smartphones and tablets becoming increasingly popular, a number of developers have now made available boat charting and navigational apps. Here we'll look at the best Android apps that include marine charts and at least some functions for GPS navigation on the water.

Choosing a Chart Navigation App

A boater's selection of a navigational app is a partly personal choice -- but there are also objective differences in how apps work, what they do, and how well they do it.

Following are specific factors to consider when selecting an app.

  • Obtaining charts for offline, on-water use. All charting apps include some method for downloading and storing charts for offline use because you never want to have to depend on connectivity when boating. In most cases, charts are included free with the app, but you still need to get them. And you need to be sure that you have every area you might possibly need, and in sufficient detail.

  • Type of chart: raster vs. vector. Raster charts are electronic versions of paper charts, with exactly the same information. Vector charts have a simplified graphic display that allows for greater compression and smaller amounts of storage used on the device. Raster charts generally provide more information and look familiar. Vector charts contain all needed depth soundings and navigational data but less information on shore and other features. Both raster and vector charts come from NOAA and can generally be trusted.

  • Navigating functions and features. These apps vary considerably in features. In all, you see your boat moving on the chart and can mark some sort of waypoints on your chart. Some allow you to create a route you can then follow when navigating. Only one has a rich list of navigating features more advanced sailors will like.

  • Extras. Some apps have special features like the ability to overlap satellite maps or share your track log via social media. While these bells and whistles look good on a list of features, they have little to do with the experience of navigating a boat by an app's chart and probably shouldn't have too much influence over your choice.

  • Speed and ease of use. If you're actually using a charting app (as most do) for information and support when on the water -- such as to avoid a rock or stay within a narrow channel - then you want it to work perfectly and fast enough to avoid getting in trouble.

  • Price. Price shouldn't factor into too much of your decision since after a few weeks of using an app on the water you'll likely care less about whether it was free or cost you $20. Often you get what you pay for, and choosing a navigational product simply because it was free could endanger your boat or even your life if it fails you when you really, really need it.

Good Android Apps for Charting/Navigation

Following are the strengths and weaknesses of these five apps for Android devices -- shop wisely before you buy. (Note: Each of these apps shows your boat's position on the chart.)

MX Mariner
Type of chart: raster charts downloaded by region
Navigating functions: waypoints, distance measurements, SOG and COG
Extras: very flexible backlighting modes, road maps and satellite views, good help offline
Speed and ease of use: moderate

Type of chart: raster, charts downloaded individually
Navigating functions: waypoints, routes, position, ETA, average and maximum speed, cross-track error, distance log, more
Extras: navigation data panel
Speed and ease of use: good

Navionics Marine & Lakes
Type of chart: vector charts downloaded by region
Navigating functions: waypoints, routes,
Extras: share routes, photos, etc. via social media; community layer, maps and satellite views; tides and wind data; offline help
Speed and ease of use: moderate

Finally, GPS Long Distance Log is a logging app for Android -- not a plotter but a good system for logging a voyage.

Remember that any electronic device can fail at any time, so don’t depend on only a chart app. To be prepared, learn also to navigate with just a depth finder and a chart.