Boat Safe is a community supported site. We may earn commission from links on this page, but we have confidence in all recommended products.
Getting lost during your boating escapades is one of the most gut-wrenching ordeals for any water enthusiast. And, with the absence of a reliable navigation system, this scary thought can quickly become a grim reality. But it’s a double-edged sword because these navigation systems come at a steep price.
Fortunately, with the advent of technology and the soaring popularity of smartphones and tablets, the best GPS app is a great alternative to consider. It’s not only pocket-friendly (some are available at no cost) but also gets the job done. Sounds like a win-win, right?
Let’s face it. In today’s digital era, there’s a wealth of options that can leave you engulfed in a wave of confusion, puzzled on the best fit for you. Fortunately, you’ve come to the right place because this guide explores the best GPS apps to buy.
With these bad boys, your tablet or smartphone becomes a full-blown chart plotter in a jiffy. So, you’re armed with an invaluable backup to the electronics at the helm. Moreover, it’s convenient to bring this technology along for the ride aboard small boats that lack built-in navigation systems.
Based on Garmin’s remarkable Blue Chart marine charts, this GPS is user-friendly. The route management, radical menu, and waypoints are impressively intuitive. When you’re on the move, your chosen route and position are clearly outlined.
Moreover, the app is armed with a vast assortment of essential features that range from wind direction and speed, distance-measuring, and sun and moon phases, to currents and tides. For route planning, the Garmin Blue Chart app syncs with Active Captain for enhanced performance.
You can also integrate it with Garmin gadgets, plan a route on your iPhone, for instance, and wirelessly connect it to your Garmin chart plotter. The best part is that this GPS app is free and comes with a topnotch world chart (from $29.99).
• Free to use
• Useful features included
• Syncs perfectly among Garmin devices
• Integrates with Active Captain for better performance
• Clearly depicts the chosen position and route
• Top-level world chart isn’t free
• App cannot enable an active route
Are you on the quest for a well-established GPS app that provides free US NOAA raster charts along with an array of other maps and charts (sold separately)? Then the iNavX GPS app wraps up your search.
Upon installation, the charts are found in a conventional table menu that categorizes charts as per the region. Once you select a chart, your position is shown in real-time with zooming and panning capabilities.
To choose a different scale chart, simply zoom in and out or go back to the chart menu and select the relevant chart.
For a standard price of $49.99, the app has route management, GRIB weather forecasts, waypoint management, tides and currents, GPX export and import, and port search. Furthermore, it syncs with NMEA data via WiFi that serves as a repeater for AIS along with GPS.
• Facilitates free US NOAA raster charts
• Displays your position in real-time
• Full-featured GPS app
• Comes with the ability to zoom and pan
• Seamless integration with NMEA data through WiFi
• Doesn’t come with community guidebook integration
• Not as easy to use as other apps
If you’re searching for one of the most affordable navigation apps, then the iSail GPS that utilizes the free NOAA raster charts is your Holy Grail. At a budget-friendly cost of $7.99, the app has export/import waypoints, chart management and download, tracks, and routes.
As you navigate a given route, the distance, speed, heading, bearing, and data on your exact position are visibly displayed at the top of your device’s screen. The iSail GPS app was developed with underway navigation in mind. Moreover, it pairs well with local sailing. You’ll be pleased to learn that it has a usable chart display.
• Best GPS app for affordability
• Packed with essential features
• Clear display at the top of the screen
• Shows usable charts
• Designed to navigate while underway
• Suitable for local sailing
• Actions such as pan, center, and zoom are hard to remember
• Lack of POI detail or guidebook
It’s a fairly new GPS app that has an impressive user interface with unmatched intuitiveness along with a broad chart library. The extensive selection is categorized into folios of TX-97 vector charts.
You’ll be blown away to discover that the chart regions cover the most renowned cruising areas across the globe. And they begin at $4.99 and stretch up to $24.99 for larger regions.
Operating on iPads or iPhones, iSailor integrates all the information into a vector chart, tracks views, and supports routes. Furthermore, routes and waypoints can be exported and imported via GPX. Users also have free rein to throw in objects to customize their downloaded charts.
• Covers popular cruising areas worldwide
• Supports track and route displays
• Impressive user interface
• Perfectly integrates essential information into a vector chart
• Users can incorporate objects into their downloaded charts
• Routes and waypoints can be imported through GPX
• Inserting way-points while constructing routes can be challenging
• No guidebook or online community
As one of the top navigation apps that penetrated the competitive market, Navionics is a force to be reckoned with. It’s compatible with iOS and Android gadgets and features the exclusive state-of-the-art Navionics Gold vector charts that come with terrain overlays, maps, and satellites. And the best part is that you get to enjoy these perks for free. You’ll be impressed by the intuitiveness of the user interface with the uncanny ability to zoom and pan.
Upon tapping on the chart, you’ll see a cross-hair pointer that will display local information on sun and moon phases, wind forecasts, tides and weather, and currents. The editing and creation of routes revolve around placing marks along the route. Then, you can make adjustments by deleting or moving marks.
You can share the tracks across social media platforms or email. For further navigation, handy features that range from sonar charts and in-app enhancements (at a price) to automatic routing, is a lifesaver.
Navionics recently released an advanced version of the app known as Navionics Boating. It’s packed with the features of the initial app and then some. For instance, you’ll stumble upon Plotter Sync. It allows the wireless transfer of waypoints and routes from a plotter to the app.
• New chart regions seamlessly pair well with current charts
• The creation and editing of routes is straightforward
• Routes and waypoints can be transferred wirelessly
• Tracks can be shared via email and social media
• Compatible with Android and iOS devices
• Integrates with the Navionics Community
• Chart regions and extra features are sold separately
Are you seeking a useful app that’s perfect for navigating areas that are relatively close to the shore along with high-traffic anchorages? Then Boat Beacon is right up your alley. With a stable and strong Internet connection (usually no farther than 15 miles from the shore), Boat Beacon can track vessels that also use AIS.
The app allows sailors to see other close-by ships and their details, ranging from size, CPA, and heading, to speed. Moreover, the app constantly updates AIS and positions even as it runs in the background.
While the collision-avoidance is always activated, which steps up your safety on the water, the flipside is that it drains your device’s battery. Lastly, Boat Beacon allows you to share the data it generates with your loved ones via email and social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
• Comes with collision-avoidance for enhanced safety
• Perfect for navigating high-traffic anchorages
• Allows data sharing via email and social media
• Users can see nearby vessels and their details
• Continuously updates positions and AIS
• Excellent boat tracking
At a budget-friendly price of $8.48, you can get the Marine Navigator app on your Android tablet or smartphone. As the advanced counterpart of the Marine Navigator Lite, this app comes with a boatload of handy features that will make your experience on the water a pleasant one.
So, upon purchasing the app, you have free rein to download NOAA raster charts and the KAP/BSB navigational charts. Marine Navigator shows a vessel’s COG, position, and SOG while allowing you to throw in routes, tracks, and waypoints in the mix. These are all recorded when the app is active or operating in the background.
The exportation and importation of routes and waypoints occur courtesy of GPX. Depending on the boat’s location, charts update automatically and link seamlessly. Furthermore, Marine Navigator shows a compass and has features that come in handy for MOB situations.
• Handy features for MOB scenarios included
• Users can add tracks, routes, and waypoints
• Charts automatically update and sync perfectly
Are you searching for a free app that supports NOAA raster and vector charts and pairs well with Active Captain? Then your search ends here with Polar View MX. The space within the display is effectively used, delivering the finest details without unnecessary functionality and overlays.
Upon installing the app onto your iPhone or iPad, you’ll notice essential navigation information in real-time, at the top of your screen in a see-through layer. It includes bearing, GPS position, COG, SOG, and distance.
For its cost, Polar View MX delivers unmatched usability. While it lacks tracking, routing, and waypoint features, Polar View MX is the best GPS app if you prefer an NOAA chart viewer that has Active Captain. It provides a solid entrée into a fundamental chart plotting on your device.
• Navigation information is included in real-time
• Raster charts and NOAA vector is supported
• Provides full detail without unnecessary functionalities.
• Pairs well with Active Captain
• Available for free
As a navigation app that functions seamlessly with Active Captain, SEAiq utilizes NOAA coupled with US Army Corp of Engineer raster charts. With the fundamental version that’s available at no extra cost, users can sift through charts by region then download them as a set. You can then easily activate or deactivate the regions based on where you’re sailing.
The creation of routes occurs upon taking your pick from the array of waypoints. As you do so, keep in mind that the app can play around with the route segments and reverse them as deemed necessary. The free version comes with a 7-day trial of the premium option that starts from $24.99. And it comprises handy features such as an anchor alarm, route and waypoint management, chart display personalization, vector charts, and the importation via GPX files. The premium version allows AIS sharing, which implies it retrieves AIS data from a network of AIS stations. And it gets data over your boat’s wireless network.
• Easy to enable and disable the regions
• Allows reversal and reshuffling of route segments
• 7-day free trial of the premium version
• AIS sharing supported
• Easy to create a route from the various waypoints
• Advanced features are only accessible in the premium version
It’s a fairly new GPS app from Pocket Mariner that borrows a leaf from Boat Beacon, the company’s signature app. With SeaNav that costs $14.99, you can navigate and plan using NOAA vector charts (in the US) and UKHO charts (in Ireland and the UK). The chart tiles instantly download as you check out the high-level map view.
Moreover, the display has three different modes to choose from: hybrid, map, and satellite.
Simply tap on the chart to look for a place along with its coordinates or explore various surrounding objects such as ships, buoys, bridges, and lights. Courtesy of the augmented reality view, you’ll see a live camera view from ships and buoys, which includes their bearing, names, and range.
• Provides great value
• Delivers an augmented view of surrounding objects
• 3 display modes to select from
• Chart tiles download automatically
As a new and exciting GPS app that makes use of NOAA raster charts and automatically pieces them together, Skipper guarantees excellent display. With different transparency levels, terrain maps, satellite images, street maps, and USGS topography can be overlaid on charts.
While the free navigation app delivers a fundamental user-friendly NOAA online chart viewer along with satellite imagery, the premium version provides much more. So, for an annual $9.99 subscription, users can store charts offline, effectively manage routes and waypoints, display tides and weather, connect to multiple devices simultaneously, and integrate with Active Captain. Compared to GPS apps, the subscription is fairly reasonable, given the rich set of chart overlays and useful features that are part of the package.
• Overlay can be customized
• Nautical charts are up to date
• Charts can be stored offline
• Affordable annual subscription
• Highly intuitive
• A rich set of handy features
• Multiple light settings included
• Stable internet connection required for seamless functionality
Do you have an Android device? Then you’re in luck because MX Mariner was designed with Android users in mind. Along with easy access to the Active Captain interactive guidebook, the app allows users to access their raster charts offline. For added functionality, it also has road maps.
However, these are only accessible upon connecting your device to Wi-Fi or data. As is the case with other navigation apps, you can conveniently view, edit, and input waypoints.
Moreover, the measure tool comes in handy for quickly measuring the distance between two points on the charts. The distances are then shown in kilometers, nautical or statute miles, depending on your preference.
As a bonus, MX Mariner comes with several light settings for different conditions. So, whether you’re sailing in the middle of the day or the dead of night, this app has you covered.
• User-friendly with no frills
• Useful roadmaps for a trailer boater
• Easy access to the Active Captain guidebook
• Roadmaps included for enhanced functionality
• Useful measuring tool
• Roadmaps need access to the network
Buying Guide: How to Pick the Best GPS App
In recent years, navigating via an iOS or Android-powered device is becoming more feasible. Apps have advanced to the point where they’re rivaling generic chart plotters and charts.
But, with the wealth of navigation apps that have littered the market, finding the best option for you can be daunting. So, to help you narrow down, your search here’s a breakdown of the differentiating factors to consider.
Chart Type and Availability
In the US, it’s no secret that NOAA raster charts are the most renowned options you’ll stumble upon. In a nutshell, they’re scanned visuals of the archaic paper charts. Keep in mind that raster charts are larger, which ushers in more complex display features and chart management.
Contrarily, NOAA vector charts span larger areas, provide impressive display between chart areas, and grant users free rein to zoom and pan. Moreover, they support several layers with having unique levels of detail. Apps such as Navionics and Garmin deliver global chart regions.
Chart Management Functionality
When using a navigation app, chart management should be as easy as installing, selecting, and downloading chart regions or tiles. It should make the storing of charts onto your device a breeze, so you can use them offline and underway. Keep your eyes peeled for included features of a satellite view, terrain map, and street map overlays.
All GPS apps similarly show a boat’s location. So, what differs is zooming or panning around the chart, displaying its quilts and layers. You should gravitate more towards an app whose usability you understand. Moreover, it should have transparent overlays, user-friendly zoom buttons, uncluttered and well-organized display, and intuitive menus.
Route Creation and Waypoint Management
Granted, most navigation apps support tracks, routes, and waypoints. But the degree varies. The more advanced apps allow you to create routes and manage waypoints from a predetermined list. And the newer options manage routes via linking marks on the chart, which renders actual waypoints less useful.
An app that facilitates the management of routes and waypoints and their importation via GPX is your best bet. GPX refers to a data format that allows users to share GPS information across several gadgets, concurrently.
It’s no secret that sharing tracks via email or social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter is soaring in popularity. It’s an ideal way of communicating with family and friends amidst a race debrief or cruise. Similarly, a GPS navigation app that allows you to geo-tag photos to waypoints are handy, as they allow you to capture photographic reminders of different locations.
It’s a new feature that’s a lifesaver in planning routes. A myriad of navigation apps is integrated with Active Captain. It’s a community-generated interactive cruising handbook that’s packed with markers for hazards, local knowledge, marinas, and anchorages. Likewise, the Navionics Community avails marine guides and POI, whereby the information provided is invaluable in route planning.
It’s essential when selecting the best GPS navigation app. While some are free, other apps can cost $50. Before making a purchase, confirm that the app comes with NOAA charts. If not, keep in mind that the chart regions will fall anywhere between $20 and $100. The current trend is to charge a yearly subscription fee that has chart updates.
To Sum It Up
And there you have it; 12 best GPS navigation apps for tablets and smartphones that will make your experience on the water a memorable one. And, with the essential buying factors discussed, you’re assured of finding the best fit for you.
So, it’s time to charge your devices, hit the waters, and point the bow for distant horizons. As long as you don’t venture too far from the cell towers and have a charger with you (GPS apps are battery hogs), you’re good to go!
Outdoors, I’m in my element, especially in the water. I know the importance of being geared up for anything. I do the deep digital dive, researching gear, boats and knowhow and love keeping my readership at the helm of their passions.
Established in 1998, BoatSafe is your independent guide into the world of boating, fishing, and watersports. We provide expert insights and detailed guides to help you find products tailored to your needs and budget.
Address: 4021 West Walnut Street. Rogers, AR 72756