Using mobile devices at sea


Paul Cuss, from marine logbook app WaveTrax, explains how a mobile device can enhance your boating experience.

Personal mobile devices, with their increasing number of apps, can now replicate much of the navigation, mapping and tracking functionality that until recently you could only get with a complicated on-board device. The technologies of cellular data and Wi-Fi means that being tied to the chart table down below every time you need to perform a simple task at sea is no longer the case.

Apps are increasingly taking advantage of not just their own built-in technologies, but in future they will integrate in a more connected way with the boat’s own systems, increasing the range of what you can do with an app whilst out on the water.

Navigation apps mean that passage planning and navigation en-route can now be done from a tablet and journeys shared between the boat systems and the device itself. Simple and useful apps that help sailors with training, learning knots, navigation aids, flags and so on, are very accessible and there are many specialist apps for tasks such as weather forecasting, finding marinas, AIS, racing and the recently-launched WaveTrax app for making a comprehensive marine logbook.

Here are some tips for using your mobile device at sea:

1. Battery Life: Take all necessary steps to conserve power and reduce battery drain.
Navigation using GPS and cellular data is a drain on the device’s battery reserves. For most coastal trips and short passages a full charge will be enough for use of most apps, but the following measures will help maintain the charge level: only use your device when you have to, do not keep the app on ‘display’ all the time, shut down non-essential apps, dim your screen, keep tasks to a minimum, connect to a suitable charger whenever you can, use battery life extender units and use a good solar charger where possible and safe.

2) GPS Reception: Consider a Bluetooth GPS receiver
On the water, a good GPS signal is normally found when your device is receiving a good cellular signal from your network operator or roaming provider. When out of reach of a cellular signal, the Wi-Fi and cellular models will eventually make a reasonable to good GPS fix. All models can also connect via Bluetooth to a Bluetooth GPS receiver such as the Dual XGPS150. For minimal outlay, this offers increased choice when looking to obtain a good GPS signal.

3) Cellular Service Offshore: Remember that the cellular signal will fade further from land
Cellular coverage will weaken faster in coastal areas where there is poor coverage even on land. However, in most locations you could expect to pick up a cellular signal offshore until about 5 – 10km out to sea. It is a good idea to make a cache (stored map) of the area you are planning to be in as, for apps that do not store maps in the device memory, you will eventually lose map visibility. When outside of cellular coverage, apps which sync data back to a server will only sync back the saved data when the device is receiving a 3G/4G signal or is connected to Wi-Fi and the Internet.

4) Complementary Tool: Do not rely on apps as substitutes for the primary on-board systems
Although tablets and smartphones are fast becoming a standard part of the boater’s toolkit, they are complementary in nature and must not be substitutes for the primary navigation, weather, radar and other communications systems on board. By virtue of their primary task of being a communications device, however, they should always be present as safety coverage in the event primary boating systems become immobilised.

5) Personal Safety: Do not allow the use of any mobile device to interfere with safety on board
In difficult conditions or heavy seas, it is better not to be distracted by continually using your mobile device. If heading into rough weather, place your device in a safe and dry place, such as the cabin, where it can still receive a reasonable GPS signal and power.

6) Damage or Loss: Protect your mobile device when at sea
Taking an expensive device on the water is always a risk for damage or loss so consider appropriate insurance. In any event protect your device by use of a waterproof pouch.


Paul Cuss_2

Paul has written Marine iBook, Marine iPad & iPhone Use On the Water Guide, which is available free on iTunes at:

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