Just as when driving or for some of you while walking, using a cellphone while in motion is not a safe practice if you are at the helm. Things happen pretty fast on the water and the lack of brakes on a boat can get you into serious trouble if you are staring at the screen and not keeping your eyes on the water.
However, the applications (apps) written for use on the smart phone do have their place. Our students quite frequently ask what apps we use or what apps we would recommend. Some are very useful here in the waters around Marco and some are niche applications that might work for a limited activity. Like anything, your personal experience with an application will be the deciding factor for whether you use it or uninstall it. Also, some apps are maintained and updated, others are not and you may find a newer app that would supersede something you have used for some time.As a disclaimer upfront, the apps I will mention are those that I personally have found to work for me. This is not an endorsement or recommendation from Flotilla 95 or the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary or the U.S. Coast Guard. It is simply my personal experience. Boating Safety It should be no surprise that I list the U.S. Coast Guard app as my favorite boating safety app. That was the design built into this application. It is available free, for both Android and iOS platforms. The app provides a very clean interface from the home screen and you can identify the boating safety laws for your home state; request a vessel safety check from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary; determine what safety equipment you are required to carry by law; file a float plan; review the boating “rules of the road;” access weather information for your current location; report a navigational hazard; report pollution; even report suspicious activity to the Coast Guard. Plus there is a button to use should you need emergency assistance by using your phone’s GPS to send you location to the Coast Guard or connect you to 911 services. The next two apps would be selected depending on which boating assistance company you utilize, either BoatUS or SeaTow. Like the U.S. Coast Guard app they both utilize your phones GPS to provide them with your location. Should you not use either service provider, you can still contact them in an emergency. The benefit of using the app comes from the ability for you to add in your profile information so they have your account number coverage information. This saves you trying to find it while you are dealing with your emergency. The app can also help you file claims and find service or repair facilities nearby. Weather
Something we all need to check before, and during, our boating day is the weather. I start watching TV weather shows well in advance of the cast off time. But I augment that with several very useful weather applications. I like to see both the forecast and radar sweeps since our local TV stations will report the weather for a broad area with comments like “scattered showers or thunderstorms.” If I’m boating in the 10,000 Islands, knowing that Fort Myers might get rain doesn’t provide me with the details I need to know if the weather will impact my plans. The following apps (and I use them all) give me regional or very localized weather depending on how I expand or focus in the screen display. Top of my list is MyRadar. It utilizes a map background and shows the place names. It zeros in to my current location and I can see any rain clouds from the radar. It even showed the path of the recent hurricanes. There is a full range of weather data available from the various screens. The next app is Windy. You see this tool used by many of the weather channels as it shows the direction and speed of the wind in a very graphic display. Once again, it uses the phone’s GPS to find your location, but you can change it by pinching or expanding the screen. You can also switch from Wind to Waves or Rain. You can select a location by tapping the screen. If I wanted to know the conditions 20 miles offshore, I just need to tap the screen and it moves the reporting indicator. Windy uses the meteorological modeling tools you all heard about with the hurricanes. And you can change the model being used if you like. I do use the Wink Weather app but mostly for the daily forecasts, not the radar anymore as MyRadar does a far better job with that process. Navigation
The only navigation app I use is Navionics. This app will turn your smart phone, or tablet, into a chart recorder. It has the marine charts displayed like any of the GPS units on a boat. It will track your trip and save it if you like. You can set routes and waypoints. I can also use it to show someone the location of an interesting place on the water, like my favorite fishing spots. There is a free version of the app and a subscription version with the latter providing higher quality charts. There’s also a high definition version for use on a tablet. You could use this as your GPS on your boat, as long as you have telephone service. Depending on your type of boating this is a very useful tool. Tides
For our waterways you better have very good tide data, or you will find yourself running out of water. One quick comment before I mention the app. Our area has some really shallow water normally. Hurricane Irma move a lot of debris and other materials during her visit to Marco and the depth reported on charts or depicted on your GPS may be very different from what is actually present today. Be very mindful of that. In addition, we experience fluctuations in our water depth in addition to the effect of the tides. The ever present breezes on Marco move what little water we have either into the bays and backwater, or into the Gulf. You can have a high tide and yet have no water in the 10,000 Islands due to the wind. If the wind is out of the Northeast, it will push the water into the Gulf and impede its return on the incoming tide. That is why you need both a wind app and a tide app. The tide app I rely on is Tides Charts Near Me. I can set various locations and have the tides available for today depicted as a tidal curve image. I can also scan ahead to see what the tide will be at a specific time. I can also check days or months ahead, which is critical when planning trips into the 10,000 Islands. There is also a view that lets me choose the date and then switch back to the tidal curve view. Using this graphical display is so much better than just knowing the time when the tide is high or low.
Are there other apps folks on Marco use? Yes. Many of my friends use Fish- Weather or NOAA Buoys to obtain wave conditions offshore. Some also make sure they have the FishRules app loaded that keeps them current with what species of fish is in season and what legal size and bag limits are set for each species. You may already have a favorite that I did not list. But the ones I did list will give you the basic information you need to become a more informed and, therefore, safer boater.
For more information about safe boating courses, contact Joe Riccio at 239- 384-7416 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To schedule a free Vessel Safety Check contact John Moyer at 239-248-7078 or email@example.com or call the Coast Guard Auxiliary Station – Flotilla 95 at 239-394-5911. Interested in joining Flotilla 95, USCG Auxiliary? Call Bob Shmihluk at 215-694-3305.
Keith Wohltman retired to Marco Island from New Jersey, where he spent decades on the water. He joined the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary to help make boating safer around Marco and the 10,000 Islands. He has served as the Flotilla Commander and a Coxswain and is currently the Public Affairs Staff Officer for Marco Island’s Flotilla 95.