Smartphones have gotten pretty effin’ smart. So smart, in fact, that now they’re really just mini handheld computers that you can also make phone calls or send text messages with. I’d been a holdout for years, though. All I wanted or needed out of my phone was for it to be a phone, nothing more and nothing less. Why complicate things unnecessarily? But I’m no Luddite, either. My reasoning was and is simple: I don’t need a smartphone as an expensive toy with all sorts of impressive but useless (to me) features that I’ll never use. I don’t want to play games on it. I just need a damn phone. If and when the technology advances to the point where such a device does become useful to me then I’ll get one. Until then, I wait.
Well, the wait ended back in March when my trusty old Nokia, which had survived numerous mishaps great and small, finally succumbed to an unintentional but vicious body slam onto the pavement. The battery flew out the back and shot into a nearby storm drain, while the crucial SIM card arced gracefully into the street and was immediately run over by a cab. Game over. A sad ending for a faithful and durable traveling companion of nearly 5 years that had once shrugged off full immersion in a pint of Guinness at a pub in Enniskillen, Co. Fermangh during my last trip to the Emerald Isle. Sláinte, mate, you were a fine friend!
The next morning I took the plunge and went modern: a new iPhone. It was an enormous step up from what I had been using, especially for texting. That was a function that I had seldom used on my old phone because, basically, anything but a real smartphone absolutely sucks for sending text messages. It was also extremely user-friendly and required little time to learn how to use, typical for Mac products. But the iPhones are really all about the apps, the programs that make it perform all manner of functions both useful and useless, and in the five months since acquiring my new phone I’ve found a few apps that tech-savvy mariners will definitely be glad to have.
Since our working lives revolve around the weather, you’ll be glad to know that your iPhone will ably serve as a very capable backup to your boat’s computer, giving you full access to NOAA’s marine weather forecasts. NOAA National Weather Service ($1.99) will give you all the shoreside and marine weather forecasts (coastal, offshore and high seas) you could ever want in a format that works perfectly with the phone’s touch screen. It’s far better than using the web browser and having to zoom in and out on the text. This one is a real winner. Another excellent choice is Bombora ($6.99), a way-cool surfer’s app that gives you direct access to all of the National Data Buoy Center buoy, tower and weather reports, along with the tides. It is simply excellent in every way. As I write this post, a quick check reveals that Hurricane Bill is pumping 22′ waves with a 16 second swell period at the Georges Bank buoy. The surf is officially up! And speaking of hurricanes, you’ll want to check out Hurricane ($3.99) too. Forecasts, bulletins, satellite and radar imagery, real-time tracking maps and data feed, and a full historical database of storm tracks going back to 1851 make this the tropical cyclone program of choice. US Radars ($0.99) gives you all (repeat, all) of NOAA’s radar imagery for the entire country, including Alaska, Hawaii, Guam and Puerto Rico, in full animation. Just get it. If you spring for the big bucks ($9.99) and get AyeTides, as a working professional mariner you won’t be sorry. It’s currents you need the most? Join the club and don’t be fooled by the name. This “tide” app has it all. The real-time “current” state of the current for any selected station is prominently displayed at the top of the screen, with the next time of slack water at the bottom. In between is a scrollable graphic displaying all maximums and slack water times, along with sun & moon rise/set times, in order of occurrence. Turn the phone on its side and you get a sine-wave graph instead, with the present time indicated on the correct point of the curves. The tides work exactly the same and you can save all of your regularly used stations as favorites. By the way, this program covers the entire world. Sunrise Sunset Pro ($1.99), Moonphase ($0.99) and iEphemeris Pro ($1.99) are also worth checking out for those who look to the stars and planets for navigating, or just for fun.
Finally, impress (or bore) everyone with your superior nautical knowledge. Coracle’s Maritime Glossary ($4.99) and Ports Information ($2.99) can be used to settle arguments (or start some more) when there are disagreements over definitions or points of fact and will prove, once and for all, just how wicked smaht you truly are.
With all this on it, if my new iPhone winds up back in the Guinness again then I’m bloody well diving in after it. Cheers!
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