iSailor and Navionics are both very capable nautical charting apps that turn a mobile or tablet device into a chart plotter.
In a recent comparison of lots of navigation apps, Navionics and iSailor came 1st and 2nd respectively, although it was incredibly hard to differentiate between the two.
Navionics is a popular charting app with competitive pricing and a great community, however, iSailor is a more capable app due to its commercial heritage. iSailor’s advanced features are only available through in-app purchases though, and it is compatible with fewer mobile devices.
iSailor is created by Wärtsilä, who own Transas, which is a standard commercial ECDIS system used on commercial vessels worldwide. iSailor seems like an adaptation of their commercial product, designed for use by recreational users on mobile devices.
The additional features in iSailor are impressive, although most of them are subject to a separate in-app purchase.
Some passage planning features are included as standard though, like XTD and Turn Radius. I have not seen those in any other app, so I was particularly impressed.
Unfortunately, iSailor did have higher system requirements than Navionics. My Android phone was not actually sufficient to run iSailor, although it would happily run Navionics.
Navionics, created by Garmin, is probably the most popular nautical charting app available. As such, they have a great community that provides an additional dimension to their charts through community edits.
You can find local tips about fishing spots, anchorages, or other similar information that would traditionally be found by chatting to locals in the pub.
Both apps are impressive, and I would happily run either one of them on my boat.
iSailor is a technically better application, with more controls and features.
Navionics is better for recreational users, with higher compatibility and fewer controls to mess up.
If I had to pick between the two though, I would choose Navionics for use on my boat. Although it lacks some of the features available in iSailor, it was priced more competitively and was actually compatible with all my devices.
Of course, Navionics and iSailor are not the only options available as nautical charting apps. You can read about 6 more competitive options in my full app comparison: Top 8 Apps For Marine Navigation: Judged By A Navigator
What is iSailor?
iSailor is a nautical chart application produced by Transas (purchased by Wärtsilä in 2018), available for iOS and Android.
The company behind iSailor has a lot of commercial experience, having produced one of the most common ECDIS systems that I witness on lots of the cargo ships that I navigate.
The app itself is well designed, and an absolute pleasure to use.
In Navigation mode, you are given all the information you need on a hidable sidebar. A lot of thought has gone into the importance of different information, nicely creating a hierarchy using different font sizes and positions.
Speed and course are the most used, so they are the largest.
Latitude and Longitude are used far less frequently, so they are smaller, taking up less screen real estate but still visible when you want them.
iSailor has some of the best customisation options when passage planning, with the ability to easily add XTD (Cross Track Distance), and turn radius to every leg.
Admittedly, these are not features used by most recreational boaters, but they are a great example of how Wärtsilä has adapted a commercial product for the leisure market.
The main downside that I found with iSailor was that it is not as compatible as other apps with different devices. Although it is available for iOS and Android, the Android version would not run on my phone.
I have heard similar reports from others, so you should carefully check compatibility before considering purchasing iSailor yourself.
If you are considering purchasing iSailor, you should first read my complete review of the app: iSailor: Reviewed By A Professional Navigator.
What is Navionics?
Navionics is a recreational maritime charting application produced by Garmin.
It is incredibly popular within the community, having topped several polls of the most popular charting applications.
The Navionics community is one of its greatest assets, giving a unique additional data source that is unmatched by its rivals.
Community edits on charts give you an extra level of local knowledge that just isn’t available elsewhere.
When the app is running, it is one of the easiest and most intuitive to use.
The chart itself is clear and easy to read, with lots of additional information placed around the edge of the screen.
It was immediately obvious that the app has been well designed and continuously refined by those that are actually using it.
Passage planning in Navionics is simple and intuitive. You simply tap along the chart in a line to create your route, and that is pretty much it.
The biggest downside that I found with Navionics was its simplicity. For most users, it might be considered a good thing, but I would have liked a little more control than I was actually given in terms of the chart and route customisation.
If you are considering purchasing Navionics, you should first read my full review: Navionics App: Reviewed By A Professional Navigator.
iSailor vs Navionics: Which wins on price?
Navionics has a better pricing structure than iSailor, although the usual caveat applies – the true winner will depend on your exact use.
With Navionics, charts are generally more expensive, but they include all the app’s advanced features like tides, currents and weather.
I spent £34.99 ($35.99) for charts covering my local area, but that activated everything I could need so no additional purchases were needed.
With iSailor, individual charts are cheaper, but you also have to make in-app purchases for any additional features that you want to use.
I spent £13.99 ($19) for my iSailor charts but would have had to spend more to activate other features.
Most of the optional features within iSailor are not available within Navionics, but even things like basic NMEA inputs and Tides & Currents would have cost me extra.
|NMEA Compass & ROT||£4.49|
|NMEA Wind Sensor||£7.99|
|NMEA Echo Sounder||£7.99|
|AIS Reciever Support||£8.99|
|Navdata From AIS Class A||£21.99|
|AIS Ship Contours||£0.89|
|Tides & Currents||£8.99|
Overall, I actually spent less with iSailor because I did not need any features.
Given the cost of the basics though, I am happier with the pricing of Navionics rather than iSailor.
Had I been interested in sailing across multiple different chart areas though, I would probably have preferred iSailor.
iSailor vs Navionics: Which wins on passage planning?
iSailor was unique among the apps that I tested because you can set XTD and Turn Radius for each of the legs of your passage.
These are both standard features in commercial navigation systems but are rare within the leisure app market.
I was left with the impression that iSailor has successfully managed to scale down a commercial product into an app for recreational users, whereas Navionics has created an app for leisure users specifically.
Both of them were easy and intuitive to use. I did not need to consult the documentation of either one while I was passage planning.
Had it not been for the additional controls with the iSailor tracks, it would have been a draw for passage planning.
iSailor vs Navionics: Which is best for navigation?
When navigating with an app, you want to be able to clearly see your own vessel as well as an indication of your course and speed through a vector.
You also want to be able to pull up information about your passage, so that you know the DTG and TTG so you know if you are making the right speed.
Both apps clearly show your own vessel on the chart with a line indicating your present course.
iSailor then gives you control over the length of the line, so you could set it to act as a 12-minute vector so you have an idea of your speed.
With Navionics, you have no control over the line length, so it is just a heading line rather than a vector.
Both apps also show additional information around the edge of the screen.
With Navionics, it is placed in the corners permanently, but I found it so unobtrusive that I never had a need to try and remove it.
With iSailor, you pull out the sidebar and everything is displayed there. The sidebar does cover up a lot of the chart, but having the ability to side it away means that you have a choice.
Overall, the navigation experience in Navionics and iSailor was almost identical.
I did, however, prefer the fact that iSailor lets you control the length of your vector. Combined with a slight preference for iSailor’s data display, that was enough for me to declare iSailor the winner for using the app for navigation.
iSailor vs Navionics: Which one is best?
iSailor and Navionics are both capable apps that are easy to use. If I had to pick a winner though, I would choose Navionics.
Primarily because Navionics was compatible with my phone, and iSailor was not.
Additionally, I did prefer the pricing structure of Navionics because I got access to all their features without needing to make additional in-app purchases.
The Navionics community was another influential part of my choice because it gave me information about an anchorage that just wasn’t available through other charts.
In my test of 8 navigational apps, iSailor was a very close second though, because I do believe the app itself is more capable than Navionics in many ways.
The extra control over passage planning (XTD & Turn Radius), and your vector length were particularly useful features.
iSailor does also have a more impressive list of additional features, although those are all subject to additional in-app purchases.
If I had a state-of-the-art phone and was not concerned about the price of optional extras, iSailor would have been the clear winner.
As it currently stands though, Navionics is my top choice.