The best boating apps

hand holding smart cell phone

If you’ve been boating as long as I have you’ll remember the bad-old-days when there weren’t smart phones. What Boatman and I would have given to have access to live radar during our vacations to Lake of the Ozarks or Kentucky Lake when we would often drive 25 miles down the main channel before anchoring. In fact, I recall one such adventure where we were caught off guard and were almost blown off the water, figuratively, when a lightning storm seemed to materialize from nowhere. But I digress…

The saying “there’s an app for that” has never been truer as there are literally hundreds of thousands of apps for anything and everything imaginable. So when it comes to boating it stands to reason that there is no shortage of apps that can assist while you’re on the water. Here are just a few that you may find useful as you plan your summer fun.

The top 20 apps for boating

1. Animated Knots by Grog

If you don’t like to read instructions or follow diagrams, this paid app teaches knot tying by using step-by-step photo animation.

2. Boat Essentials – USCG Safety Gear

The quintessential guide to everything you need to be safe onboard. This free app, takes into account your type of boating, whether that’s on small lakes or oceans, by providing a useful checklist of safety requirements.

3. Boat Ramps

This app from provides a guide to over 35,000 boat ramps through the US. This free app is perfect for trailer boaters as it also provides directions to your chosen ramp.

4. Boat Weather

Since you can never have enough weather apps, this one is simple and straightforward if you need to make a quick decision about the weather forecast for your day on the water. And it’s free.

5. Boater’s Pocket Reference

As you would expect, this app contains hundreds of pages of boating information, including illustrations and photographs, at the touch of a button. It’s not free, but sometimes you get what you pay for!

6. Boating Suite

Made for long distance cruisers and anyone who likes to record the details of their adventures on the water. It’s not free but if you are living aboard your vessel you will probably want to log this information.

7. Compass

There are many compass apps. If you’re a boater, just get one that’s easy to read with a large display that displays the direction you are heading.

8. Flashlight

There are many flashlight apps to choose from but the app by iHandy, Inc is Boatman’s favorite. This one even has a compass that gives the direction in the dark.

9. Float Plan EZ

This easy to use paid app can provide your trip information to your family or friends via email. It could be a good addition to your safety plan if you don’t have another way of keeping loved ones informed.;

10. GPS Tracker

A good way to keep track of anyone using your boat. It’s free!

11. Lightening Finder

This paid app displays lightning strikes in near real-time, on a map, and will tell you how far you are from nearby strikes. Of course, you should never be on the water during a lightning storm!

12. Navionics

Promoted as the world’s most popular marine and lakes app, this GPS app includes interactive charts and route planning tools. There’s a free version as well as a paid version that gives access to advanced mapping tools.

13. NOAA Buoy and Tide Data

This paid app is for iOS devices and provides weather data such as wind speed, gusts, and direction, and other pertinent marine information directly from NOAA buoys.

14. NOAA Weather Radar

Many claim this to be the best weather app available as it includes real-time animated weather radar images from NOAA. And best of all, it’s free!

15. Safe Skipper

This paid app is a low cost way to make sure you have boating safety information and practical tips with you at all times.

16. Speed Tracker

As the name implies, this app turns your smart phone into a speedometer by using location data from the GPS. And it has large digits so you can read it while driving fast.

17. The Ship Finder

Commercial vessels are required to have a radio-based system (Automatic Identification System) that shows other vessels’ locations and other identifying data such as present course and speed. Both a paid and free versions are available for this app.

18. The Tides & Currents

For all you sailors, this free app provides the tides and currents for locations all over the world.

19. The Weather Channel

This interactive app from The Weather Channel includes local forecasts, radar maps, storm tracking, and rain alerts. With severe weather and lighting push alert capability, this free app is a must have for any boater.

20. Weather Bug

One can never have enough weather apps and Weather Bug is a personal favorite with its up-to-the-minute forecasts, alerts, and live radar!


There’s no question that smart technology has helped make boating safer, but don’t be lulled into believing that cell phones are your only answer on the water as they can be problematic and may fail when you may need them most. That’s why you must always have a VHF radio on board. And while there’s likely an app for anything imaginable, make sure you have loaded some useful marine-oriented apps to assist in keeping you prepared and safer during your time on the water.

Happy and safe boating!

About the author: Karen has been boating for 25 years and is a Markel boat insurance customer. Her 23’ Chaparral is slipped in the Chain O’Lakes, in northern Illinois, where she and her husband spend as much time as they can during the summer months.

hand holding smart cell phone
This article is intended for general informational purposes only regarding non-insurance matters and is not designed to provide professional advice.
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