Browsing the App Store, you will find plenty of apps that claim to turn your iOS device into a workable chart plotter.
There are so many, that you may find making a decision is quite a challenge. Especially when you see the cost of purchasing charts to actually try them out.
To save you considerable time and expense, I have compiled a list of my top 5.
- Navionics (Overall Winner)
- iSailor (Very Close Second)
- C-Map (Best Worldwide Value)
- iNavX (Most Comprehensive)
Naturally, the top apps for iOS are actually the same as the top apps for Android, and they all feature in my list of the Top 8 Marine Navigation Apps.
I discovered that the apps that I rated highly, were available cross-platform. Clearly, they were the ones that wanted to reach the broadest possible audience.
In my Top 8 list, I tested a few iOS-specific apps, but they were all beaten by the cross-platform apps listed here.
Cost: Free app, with in-app purchases for charts. Chart subscriptions include advanced app features.
The overall winner in my tests, Navionics is well designed and reasonably priced. As the most popular boating app, it was clear to see why.
The app includes features like route planning & monitoring, currents & tides, NMEA integration and unique data overlays.
The vast Navionics community contributes edits to their charts, giving an extra dimension to your sailing experience through local knowledge.
Navigating using Navionics an easy and intuitive, and has clearly been optimised for use by recreational boaters.
I was particularly impressed with the way Navionics displays just the right amount of information around the edge of the screen in a very unobtrusive way.
Its main weakness is that there are fewer customisations available in comparison to other apps. Given the design of Navionics, however, you probably won’t feel like you need to customise anything anyway.
Read my full Navionics review: Navionics App: Reviewed By A Professional Navigator
Cost: Free app, with in-app purchases for charts and advanced features.
Created by Transas (now Wärtsilä), iSailor is based on one of the most popular commercial navigation systems.
iSailor was probably the most advanced app that I tested, with passage planning features including cross-track-distance (XTD) and turn radius available as standard.
Navigating with iSailor is great, with its sliding sidebar to display all the navigational information you need for your passage.
The main weakness with iSailor was that all additional features require a separate in-app purchase. This was the only reason iSailor ranked in second place rather than first.
Read my full iSailor review: iSailor: Reviewed By A Professional Navigator.
Cost: Free app, with an in-app purchase to save charts to your device and activate Premium features.
Recognised across the industry, the C-Map app is a great adaptation of an already successful commercial navigation system.
C-Map uniquely offers free worldwide charts, as long as you have an internet connection. Once you activate Premium, you gain the ability to download up to 1000 charts to your device.
Chart customisation in C-Map is brilliant, with a vast array of layer controls. You can instantly de-clutter the screen if it starts to look busy.
Navigation in C-Map is incredibly easy, with intuitive manual or automatic route creation and a simple way of following your track.
C-Map’s main weakness is that some navigational information can be hard to read on the screen, especially if you are using an iPad Mini.
Read my full C-Map review: C-Map: Reviewed By A Professional Navigator.
Cost: Paid app, with additional in-app purchases for charts. US charts are free.
iNavX is a popular app, and easily the most customisable one that I tested.
It is capable of drawing on almost every NMEA data type imaginable and displaying it directly on your navigational screen.
Users in the US can benefit from free raster charts from NOAA, and everyone else will get access to easily the most extensive app-based chart store. iNavX can run charts from many different providers.
The navigation experience within iNavX is very much subject to the customisations you make. As you gain experience with the app, you’ll find navigation easy and fun.
The main weakness of iNavX is its complexity because even simple actions seem more complicated than they do in other apps. With regular use, however, you will grow to love iNavX.
Read my full iNavX review: iNavX: Reviewed By A Professional Navigator.
Cost: Free basic app, with an in-app purchase for the Premium app. Charts are available as additional in-app purchases.
Seapilot, from Raymarine, was one of my favourite apps on test.
The charts in Seapilot were the closest match to the commercial systems that I am used to, making the entire app feel very familiar.
Its menu system gives you access to a whole range of controls, and its customisable navigation screen places the data you need in easy sight.
The main weakness with Seapilot is that it feels a bit more like a computer program rather than an app. The menu system, while functional, is not the most efficient for use in a touch screen device.
Read my full Seapilot review: Seapilot: Reviewed By A Professional Navigator.
What To Look For With iOS Marine Navigation Apps
If you are considering purchasing a marine navigation app for iOS, there are a few things you should look out for.
Check your device first
I own a Wi-Fi-only iPad, which does not have an integrated GPS. It was not an issue in the end because I bought a Bluetooth GPS, which arrived in time for my sailing trip.
Make sure you check your own device to see if it has all the functionality to run these apps.
Check the total price
All marine navigation apps have a different pricing structure. Most of them will offer a free app, then charge you for the charts.
You can check their websites to find out the price that you can expect to pay for charts before you become attached to an app.
Some people will use their app as a stand-alone device, using internal (or Bluetooth) GPS. Others will want to integrate with their boat’s NMEA network.
Not all apps offer full NMEA connectivity. Be sure to check the app that you are considering.
Form your own opinion
After testing so many different apps, I couldn’t believe how different my view was compared to other reviews that I had read.
Most apps offer a free trial, so make use of it and put a few to the test yourself.