The 5 Best Sailing Apps You Need: In-depth Review
In the old days, boats sailed around the seven seas without phones, internet, chart plotters, GPS, and even electricity. But times change, and the digital tools available to sailors today are nothing short of impressive. Most of us are using smartphones and tablets on our boats, and there is a vast selection of sailing apps available in every imaginable category.
However, some are more helpful than others, and I will show you the 5 best sailing apps you need in 2022 to make the most out of your sailing adventure.
Why sailing apps are excellent tools for sailing
Some sailing apps make life easier and even safer when sailing. With modern technology and help from the cruising community, we now have apps with accurate and detailed sea charts that let you navigate safely and give information about landmarks, navigational hazards, and tides.
Many apps show the location of lovely anchorages with details and photos.
We have comprehensive and accurate weather forecasts that even let us receive the latest forecast in the middle of the ocean without any phone reception, just with the addition of a bit of hardware.
Do you want to learn a few new knots? Don’t worry. There are apps for that too.
With all that said, let’s start at the top and work our way down the list.
PredictWind is my number one go-to sailing app for accurate weather forecasts, with good reason. It provides a wide range of forecast models, and the app is very user-friendly. You can easily compare the different models, giving you more confidence in the forecast. The app comes in an excellent free version and a more comprehensive paid version with the option of various subscriptions to extend its functionality.
The features I use the most are the wind and wave map, a comparison table, and daily briefings, all of which are available in the free version.
PredictWind stands out from the other apps available because they offer a hardware kit. The kit includes a satellite modem with an optional external GPS, which allows you to receive updated weather forecasts directly to your connected device. The service work anywhere in the world, regardless of your cell connection.
Let us have a look at the functions that makes PredictWind a great sailing app:
Accurate weather forecasts
The daily briefing gives you the typical weather forecast you would see on TV. It includes wind direction and speed, gust strength, and temperature. It also shows if it will rain or be clear, the UV index, swell direction, and height. Lastly, it gives info about the tide.
The table and graph give you a comparison overview of the different weather models and includes the same info as the daily briefing, only in more detail per hour. The option to compare all the models is excellent and gives you a tidy overview.
The wind, wave, rain, cloud, isobar, and temperature map gives you a selection of weather models to choose from and shows the selected model and category on a live map. Tapping on a specific location on the map reveals more local and detailed info based on the type of map you have selected. This info is highly convenient, especially when planning your route before departure.
The local knowledge tab is a new function that I have yet to test. Still, the potential is excellent, and I am excited to use this function in the upcoming season. It shows a map with AIS targets and local info about anchorages, harbors, passage routes, and location-based user feedback. It also gives a local forecast with a graph indicating the selected anchorage’s protection level. A very similar function to another sailing app I am a massive fan of further down on this list called Navily.
Satellite forecasts offshore
PredictWind offers three different forecast subscriptions, which open up some additional functions.
The Basic package costs 29$ a year and adds a CAPE and gust map, wind observations, and a forecast alert. Another function is the 1km resolution on the PWG and PWE models, which you honestly don’t need.
The Standard package costs 249$ a year and adds many extra functions. The most important ones are Departure planning, Route planning, Wave polars, and the possibility of downloading GRIB files through satellite via the IridiumGo! unit.
I have been using the standard package, but I am sad that some tools, like lower-resolution wind maps, are moved up to the professional package. However, this is probably the most popular deal, and I have been a happy user for years.
The Professional package costs 499$ a year and offers the full suite of functions you can read about on their web page. This package is aimed more at professional racers, and the additional functionality is probably unnecessary for most regular cruisers.
If you want to extend the functionality above the free version, use our referral link below. It won’t cost you anything extra, but it will put a few dollars in our cruising kitty, making us forever grateful!
There are many good weather apps out there. Windy and Windfinder PRO are good free sailing apps, and I use both as references. However, If I were to use only one, PredictWind has it all, and even the free version is, in my opinion, the best one out there. The added functionality with “Local Knowledge” brings it even further up.
Get the IridiumGo! Package and the Standard subscription. It is an excellent toolset for weather forecasts onboard your boat.
Download the free version here:
You might also be interested in the following:
Navionics – Boating Marine & Lakes
Navionics is highly user-friendly and my primary source for navigation onboard. That is how big a fan I am of this sailing app. Ask any cruiser, and I bet 9 out of 10 will say that they use Navionics for most of their route planning and navigation.
This app will turn your device into a fully functional chart plotter if your instruments onboard have a wifi interface. The app connects to your boat system, utilizes your external GPS antenna for improved accuracy, and shows the AIS data directly on the screen.
Navionics requires a chart subscription, but this subscription is heaps cheaper than your average chart plotter chips.
Let us have a look at the most critical features:
Once you have Navionics installed, there are some configurations you need to set correctly to get the most out of the app.
Note: The app is called Boating Marine & Lakes in the app store.
You head into your settings and add the length, beam, draft, and height of your boat, your average cruising speed, and fuel consumption per hour. Then you head into the “Units” settings and choose your preferences. Now you need to get a chart package for your sailing area and download the portion of the map you plan to use.
These charts come at different prices depending on the coverage area, which you can see in the picture below.
With everything set up, Navionics finally starts to show its strength. The auto-routing function is straightforward to use. Select “Route”, tap “Automatic”, and tap and hold the screen to set your starting point and each waypoint on your route.
The last added point is considered your finish line. Once your route is set, Navionics will calculate the quickest way based on the data you put into the initial setup. The course will avoid bridges lower than your boat height and keep you out of areas shallower than your draft.
On the left side, you will find detailed info about the distance of the route, the estimated time to complete the trip according to your average cruising speed, and the amount of fuel it takes to motor the distance. Remember that the actual conditions will only make these predictions approximately, but they are handy in planning your route.
Once you are ready to set off, hit “Go” and “Start” to initiate the route. Navionics will now use the GPS to show your position on the map live with speed, estimated time of arrival, and info about the distance sailed and distance to your next waypoint and target.
Navionics supports system integration for improved and extended functionality. Let’s say you have your chart plotter, wind instruments, GPS, depth sounder, autopilot, and AIS unit connected to a wifi network.
You can then connect your device to the network and have Navionics read out data. Navionics will now use your external GPS for increased accuracy. AIS targets will show up in real time on the charts. It will also show and log the depth directly from your depth sounder and insert it into the Sonar Chart overlay to give you a more accurate chart.
Imagine when thousands of boats use this functionality worldwide, and the depth log synchronizes with the charts. Everybody contributes to making better charts, and everyone benefits from increased accuracy! This isn’t the only function in Navionics that benefit from user input, which brings us to another
good excellent feature:
Active Captain Community
If you zoom into an area or anchorage on your map, you will notice several symbols and markers. Tap the lighthouse to see details about the blink frequency. Tap the green anchor symbol to read a review with helpful information from other cruisers about the anchorage, hazards, seabed conditions, protection level, nearby dinghy docks, shops, stores, chandleries, and you name it.
Tap the orange icon in a narrow passage to read navigation guides and details about the area. The charts are packed with all the valuable information you could imagine as a cruiser.
Are you sailing into a new country and wondering what channel to call out your arrival to? Or where to check in?
Don’t worry. The information is already in the app. Download the map of your location and have everything available offline. The offline function is a cruiser’s wet dream and almost too good to be true!
As you probably understand by now, I love this sailing app. The functions and information available in the charts described above are just scratching the surface.
Navionics also gives you a simplified weather forecast based on the selected location and live information about tides and currents from weather buoys displayed in easily readable graphs.
The app even allows you to add markers and notes, which is convenient for marking that tiny sand patch in your favorite anchorage.
Navionics writes a snake trail of your path when you start your route and saving your tracks allows you to pull them up afterward to review your trips. It even logs your top and average speed and compares your performance to previous tracks! You can also save your routes if you want to repeat the same trip.
As long as your subscription is active, you can update your maps as often as possible. You also choose whether to download the entire map or only portions. Needless to say that this can be convenient on a limited internet connection.
I might sound like a sales rep from Navionics (I am not affiliated with them in any sense), but this sailing app is truly unique. I haven’t tested any other navigational apps, and I am sure there are other good ones out there. But honestly, I don’t need another charting app. Navionics does everything I want and a ton more. And all this in a very fair-priced package that is way cheaper than buying paper charts or chart chips for most chart plotters.
If you still aren’t convinced, Navionics offers a free trial version.
Download Boating Marine & Lakes for free here:
Are you new to sailing? Then you might also be interested in:
Navily is an excellent app for finding sweet anchorages no matter where you sail. When you first open the app, you are shown a satellite map of your area with various anchor symbols that indicate anchorage locations.
The other symbols you might notice are marina locations and other Navily user locations. What I like the most about this app is its community-based database. This means that the information you find is made by cruisers for cruisers! The only exception is the marina locations, but more on that later.
Let us start with the anchorages, which are the true power of this sailing app. You will notice that the anchor symbols appear in three different colors.
The green symbols indicate an anchorage that is well protected from wind and swell according to the local weather forecast and has a good user rating.
An orange symbol indicates low protection level, typically below 50%. The weather forecast shows that the anchorage is exposed to wind and swell. The user rating is still good.
A red anchor symbol means that the anchorage has a low user rating and no protection from the current weather conditions.
One has to remember that the forecast is sometimes inaccurate, and what appears to be a protected anchorage in the app might not be so in reality and vice versa. However, my experience is that the app is pretty accurate in most cases.
Once you tap an anchor symbol, more information about the anchorage appears. First, you see the name and a star rating ranging from 1 to 5 and, often, user-posted pictures. Then you can tap “view” for more information.
The app now shows you some symbols indicating if anchoring is allowed, if there are mooring buoys, if the typical anchoring situation is on a dock where you moor stern too, or if stern lines ashore are the most common way to anchor.
Continuing down is a section for real-time warnings. A warning can be anything from the presence of jellyfish to local weather phenomena like strong gusts in a specific topography or other temporary issues. If you anchor in a spot and experience anything you want to warn other cruisers about, you can add a warning and description yourself.
Protection score and weather forecast
The following section is the protection score. Navily has a built-in local weather forecast that adds wind and swell markers to a circle graph. It also displays wind speed and swell height. It even shows air and water temperature!
Following is information about seabed conditions. Here you will see if you can expect to anchor in sand, mud, seagrass, or on top of rocks. Sometimes it can be a combination of several of these conditions.
Scroll along, and you get information about the amenities nearby, like restaurants, beach, tap water, and dinghy dock available ashore.
In the end, you find the user input. Users put in their review of the anchorage and give it a score based on their experience. People often write about the seabed condition, hazards to be aware of, the general knowledge of the anchorage, and sometimes about what amenities and services are available nearby.
When you register an account with Navily, you get a profile that you can set up with your name, information about your boat, and a profile description. When the app runs, it shows your profile picture as a symbol on the map of your location.
The great thing about this is that you can find other users in the anchorage you are already in and send them a message! It is also handy to send a message to someone in an anchorage you are going to if you have questions about the place, like how crowded it is or anything else you might wonder about.
I often use this function myself and have sent messages and received them from other cruises. And that is what this sailing app is all about, supporting the cruising community and sharing information.
Let’s take another good example. You are sitting in your cockpit with a cup of coffee, and the wind is suddenly starting to gust hard. The boat next to you begins to yaw around, and you can see it is dragging. If this person has a profile on Navily, you can quickly send a warning message before you jump in the dinghy to go and try to help.
The other symbol you will see on the map is the white and blue one indicating a marina. Like the anchor symbol, this also has extended information. Let us take a look at the white sign first.
First, you will see the user rating and pictures. Then you get the local weather information and practical info about which VHF channel the marina use, the type of berths, maximum boat draft, and length.
Next, the app tells you if there is fuel available, the fuel prices, and what amenities are available like water, electricity, wifi, showers, etc.
At last, there is the user comment section with people’s experiences from their visit.
The blue marina symbol indicates that you can book a berth directly in the app. When you tap this symbol on the map, you get the user rating and info about the price per night calculated from the boat data you have put into your profile.
Tap “view” to find comprehensive information about the marina and similar info as you get from the white symbol. The difference here is that you get a “booking request” function.
Now you can select the dates you want to stay, and the app will show you the estimated price and what amenities are included, like water, electricity, and taxes. It will show you practical details about how to pay and the marinas cancellation policy.
Booking directly through the app requires you to add your credit card information to your profile.
Important to note
Navily claims they don’t take any commissions, but their prices are based on the information the marina has provided them. The cost typically doesn’t include taxes and other fees. The booking process in the app is easy, and you will get a response from the marina pretty quickly with details and get asked to confirm your booking.
I have used this feature a few times myself. Still, my experience is that you can often negotiate a slightly better price if you contact them by phone. However, it is super easy and convenient to get the estimated price prediction before deciding to go to the marina.
Navily has a function that lets you download a map area making all the information available offline. A very convenient function if you are cruising in an area without internet. Let’s say you want to go island jumping in a remote area without service. You then simply mark your area and add it to the offline mode. It is like having a digital anchor guide straight into your device!
However, this function is only available in the paid version of the app.
If you find yourself in a great anchorage unmarked in Navily, you can create your own symbol. Up on the top right-hand corner is a + symbol. Tap this and choose “Anchorage”. Now place your marker and confirm the location.
The app will take you through a guide to add all the information available for everyone to see, just like the anchor symbols we discussed earlier. When you submit the data, it will go through a moderation process, and if approved, it will show up on the map for everyone to enjoy and comment on. Anyone can upload pictures and add their rating.
The above is how the Navily community is improving and expanding, making it such a great app.
The premium package isn’t necessary to enjoy the essential functions of Navily. Still, with a price of around 20 bucks, it is worth it, in my opinion. The parts you get in the premium version versus the free one are:
72 hrs weather forecast instead of 12 hour
Distance and automatic itinerary (I haven’t tried this function yet)
Advanced map filters
Navily offers one of the best user-generated anchorage information worldwide available today. The app is frequently updated with new functions. With a vast user base, it continues to grow rapidly, only making it better. Navily isn’t just for information but also for connecting cruisers in a community aimed to improve our sailing experience and allow us to explore places we otherwise could have missed.
If you read the entire article, you probably remember the “Local knowledge” tab in the PredictWind app and the “Active captain” function in the Navionics app with similar functionality and information.
One can argue that if you have PredictWind and Navionics, you won’t need Navily, which is true, but there is a huge BUT:
None of the above has as active users as Navily has. It will be interesting to see how the PredictWind community grows and expands over time with similar functionality. Still, as of now, my opinion is that Navily closes the gap between them.
This app trio gives you the best tools to make your sailing adventure as pleasant and easy as possible. If you don’t want to stuff your device with apps, you can probably stop reading here because these three are all you need.
However, I have added a couple of other useful apps that you might enjoy as well.
You can download Navily for free here:
An excellent alternative
An alternative to Navily is Noforeignland. This app is browser-based and has many similarities to Navily but includes other functions, like boat groups, photo contests, and the possibility to post your own content along your journey. Noforeignland is also growing rapidly and is completely free to use.
Noforeignland was developed by two cruisers named Steve and Helena. They run the app from their boat, which they live and cruise on full-time. This truly makes it into the category “made by cruisers for cruisers”. If you want to contribute to keeping the app ad-free, you can become a Patreon and send a few bucks their way to help with running costs.
I have yet to fully explore this app and look forward to using it in the coming season!
Check it out in the link below:
I recently discovered this app and found it helpful as an addition to my trusted little knot book in my ship library. Knots 3D gives you a vast selection of knots sorted into categories ranging from boating to camping, diving, and several others.
Tap any of the categories (i assume boating is the one you’re going to tap on like I first did). The app gives you a massive list of knots that fit into this category.
Once you choose a knot, the app will serve you a detailed animation of how the knot is tied, and you can choose to slow down this animation if you like.
Knots 3D also serves you detailed information about the usage of the knot, its history, and other names this knot is known to have. There is a section that explains the structure of the knot, but probably most importantly, details of the strength and reliability of the knot.
You get a graphical overview of related knots and other variants of the same knot, making it easy to discover alternatives and new favorites!
What impressed me most about this app was the detailed animations and the extended info about the usability and weaknesses of the knots. The app is a well of helpful information, and this excellent sailing app will teach me some new valuable knots.
Knots 3D will set you back about seven bucks as a one-time fee and is, in my opinion, well worth it for any sailor!
Download Knots 3D here:
Website: Knots 3D
Google Maps is probably familiar to most as it comes standard on almost every Android device. The app has been around for a long time and has too many functions to describe in this article. So I will focus on the usage that is helpful for sailing and cruising.
Like Navionics and Navily, also map-based apps, Google Maps lets you download areas of the map to use offline. When you download the area, you get access to the map details offline, which is convenient.
The satellite map is beneficial for reviewing details about areas with shallow waters you plan to navigate and even shows you those nice sand patches to anchor in between the seagrass. However, Navily does give you this same map. Where Google Maps take over for Navily as soon as you go to shore.
Off the boat
Let’s face it. Even the saltiest sailor must go to shore now and then to stock up on provisions and explore foreign land for new adventures. Google Maps has information about restaurants, grocery stores, fuel stations, and anything else you could imagine.
It can calculate distances and hiking routes like any modern sat-nav and gives you valuable information about places of interest, landmarks, notable sights worth visiting, and where the nearest ship chandlery is.
Google Maps is such a helpful tool for any activity ashore that I had to include it in this list. The best is that the app is free, and you probably already have it installed on your device.
If not, it can be downloaded for free here:
Website: Google Maps
There you have it. You can fill your device with all kinds of apps for everything, but if you have the top 3 on this list, you are pretty well set. Add Knots 3D and Google Maps, and you have a robust library of helpful digital tools that will sort you out in most situations you encounter while sailing.
I have to add that these apps do NOT replace common sense at sea, and having a second source of sea charts is always advisable. Whether you rely on digital maps only or paper charts, ALWAYS have a backup!
Electronic devices at sea live in very harsh conditions, which can and probably will kill them at some point. I can testify to this myself after having gone through 3 smartphones and one tablet in 3 years of cruising…
I will repeat this: Bring a backup option for all the necessary tasks and information onboard, and never rely only on your digital companion.
These apps are great for what they are, and they are the ones that I use and have been using while sailing and cruising around the world. As a digital nomad, it is hard to imagine how sailors in the old days did without this modern technology.
Anyways, I hope you enjoyed reading these reviews, and I am curious to hear from you:
What are your favorite sailing apps? Leave your comment below!