05 - Navigating With Your Mobile Phone
An Increasing Number of Applications Turn Your Mobile Phone into a Chartplotter.

One of the most useful applications for a mobile phone is software to help with navigation. Whether you are on the water or on land, the addition of a GPS and a navigation program can turn your phone into a small chartplotter, giving you an onboard backup and a mobile navigation aid for the dinghy or on shore. For more information on adding a GPS, see Adding a GPS.

Navigation programs include marine specific applications as well as those designed for use on land. For maximum productivity, you may want more than one installed on your phone. We use both a marine navigation program and a street navigation program, and have found both to be very useful.

In order to run these navigation programs on a mobile phone, you need to make sure you have enough memory to hold the very large chart and map folios. Thankfully, almost every high end mobile phone supports memory cards that can be inserted to expand memory to many gigabytes of space. To store all the NOAA charts for the entire East Coast, for example, takes more than one gigabyte of space. It takes about 3GB to store every NOAA chart for the U.S. and its territories. To store all of the maps for every street in the U.S. and Canada, you'll need about 1GB of storage. Learn more about memory cards. Memory Map Memory Map is a mature and full-featured application.

Installing navigation programs to your phone is a snap. Installing the data can be more cumbersome. The files are large and can take multiple attempts. It is not uncommon to have files of 300 megabytes or more, which must be moved to your phone in order to gain access. But that is an exercise in perseverance.

Choosing navigation applications for your mobile phone is similar to choosing software for your computer: it takes a bit of research and reading. Here are some of the most common programs in use, which will help get you started.


Memory-Map is one of the best known off-road navigation programs for smartphones. It has been on the market since 2002 and is a mature and full-featured application.

Memory-Map runs on Windows Mobile and supports most GPS units. It allows you to plan your route on your smartphone or PC and then use a GPS to track your progress on a map or chart. It keeps tracks of the actual route you took allowing you to compare it with your planned route. Memory-Map supports a variety of cartography, including NOAA charts and USGS topographic maps, with maps covering much of the U.S. and many international locations as well.

The program comes with software for your smartphone and for your PC. To fully utilize all of the features of Memory-Map you will want the software running in both places, because some things, such as converting nautical charts, can only be done on the computer. The software comes in several different flavors targeting specific areas of interest with different prices.

Memory-Map Discoverer ($71.25) includes topographic maps for the area you choose. In the U.S., this is typically handled on a per state basis, but New England (ME, MA, VT, NH, RI, CT) and Atlantic (NJ, DE, MD, DC) are sold as bundles. The price for international bundles varies.

Memory-Map Navigator ($99.95) supports NOAA charts, which you must download from the NOAA website and then convert using the PC software. There are no maps or charts included with the software.

Memory-Map Professional ($225.00) has the features of the Navigator version plus AIS ship tracking on the PC, large-format printing and the ability for a programmer to customize the software (with the purchase of 5 licenses).

The bottom line is that Memory-Map has strong support for both NOAA and USGS topographic maps, although the multi-step conversion process for NOAA charts is somewhat cumbersome. They offer a USB2 external hard drive with topo maps preloaded. They are convenient but only include topographic maps and are rather pricey. The entire U.S. is $1,695, while each region is $699 a piece. Performance is fast on almost any high end mobile phone. Topographic map support provides excellent mapping for hiking and other off-road uses, which can be very nice when you want to find a trail to hike ashore.

They've recently released QuickCharts which includes the Pocket Navigator program and one region of NOAA charts preloaded on an SD card for $39.95. For more information visit Memory-Map.


ActiveCaptain Mobile is a marine navigation product that runs on Windows Mobile and Palm based phones. We developed ActiveCaptain Mobile software after launching our ActiveCaptain website, a visual database of marinas, anchorages, and local knowledge in a wiki-style that allows users to make additions, changes, and deletions. ActiveCaptain Mobile ActiveCaptain Mobile makes updated nautical charts available in mobile format.

ActiveCaptain Mobile acts as three applications in one. On its own it's a chart archive, providing the capability to store thousands of charts on a smartphone. All of NOAA's charts are available with ActiveCaptain Mobile and are updated twice a year. A single NOAA region is $19.95, and a bundle of all 14 NOAA regions is only $49.95. International charts will be available in the future.

If you have a data plan on your smartphone, the software provides access to the online ActiveCaptain website (www.activecaptain.com). You can download markers that will be displayed directly on the NOAA chart, providing a living electronic guidebook. Markers indicating the location of marinas, anchorages, and local knowledge, such as bridges and inlets, can be displayed. Selecting a marker allows you to view additional information, such as phone numbers, services provided, and reviews from other boaters.

Add a GPS and ActiveCaptain Mobile becomes a portable chartplotter, which can track your location, offering a backup to onboard navigation systems; a portable navigation solution for the dinghy or onshore use; or simply a secondary navigation option for a different view. ActiveCaptain Mobile also supports the creation of routes and waypoints. For more information visit ActiveCaptain Mobile.


PathAway by MuskokaTech runs on both Palm and Windows Mobile smartphones. There are two editions: Standard and Professional. The Standard edition ($59.95) allows basic functions such as using a GPS to follow and display your location, the ability to create routes and tracks of where you have been, and the capability to display trip information on screen. PathAway Professional ($95.00) adds a two-way tracking feature that lets you communicate your location to other PathAway users.

Pathaway Pathaway runs on both Palm and Windows Mobile phones.

PathAway lets you display "web maps," which are downloaded on the fly from the Internet. These include Google Maps and aerial photos. It does not support NOAA charts directly, though you can obtain your own maps from websites, CD-ROM's or even by scanning them yourself and then use PathAway Tools. The Tools application for Windows converts your scanned images to a format supported by PathAway. While this offers great flexibility in the maps you are able to display, it is a multi-step process.

PathAway has a nice user interface and provides a good way to use your own paper charts for areas that have no digital support. We find that the performance tends to be sluggish and it lacks some marine specific functions, such as direct support for NOAA charts and boating specific point-of-interest data. For more information visit PathAway.


With the addition of a built-in GPS on the Apple iPhone 3G and 3GS it was finally possible to run navigation software on your iPhone.

iNavX was the first marine navigation application to take advantage of this new capability. iNavX displays NOAA raster charts and uses the built-in GPS to plot your location. You can create waypoints, take bearing/distance measurements, and check tides and currents. The iPhone's bright, high resolution display makes the charts look great.

The software costs $49.99 but does not include charts. You download charts from the NOAA website for no charge - this task is rather tedious as they must be downloaded one at a time. Or you can purchase charts from X-Traverse which includes Navionics international vector charts and Canadian raster charts. Pricing varies widely depending on the type of chart and region covered. For details go to the X-Traverse website.

We've had iNavX on our iPhone for some time and find it to be quite obnoxious to use. While it's not bad at showing our current location on a nautical chart, it is a frustrating exercise to simply explore the different nautical charts. For example, if you are thinking about an upcoming cruise and want to consider some routes by browsing through different charts, it does not allow you to smoothly move from one chart to the next. Instead it takes you through a convoluted process of moving up and down through different scales to move to the adjacent chart. At each step along the way it re-centers the chart forcing you to find the location you want and then makes you repeat the process for the next chart.

Given these and other limitations, we do not recommend iNavX for use on your iPhone. However, Rich Ray, the developer of iNavX, is continually updating the software and adding enhancements. We hope he will continue this process to improve the application.

Navionics Navionics uses the iPhone's built-in GPS.

Navionics Mobile also utilizes the built-in GPS to display your location on nautical charts on an iPhone. It uses Navionics vector charts and allows you to create routes, query objects, such as buoys, and create tracks. The software was originally $4.99 including all charts for a single US region, which includes a large coverage area. For example, the entire US East Coast from Maine to Key West is one region. They have been gradually increasing the cost with a US region now costing $9.99. They have great coverage for international charts, too. Navionics has recently been enhancing the social media aspects of their product. It currently has some nice companion support for Faecbook including photo cataloging.

We purchased the US East Coast region application and Navionics gave us the Caribbean region application. Using it live over several months and a thousand miles so far has been fun. It's easy to explore and plan although the text and depth soundings size are small and require reading glasses for us. There is one feature we think really stands out with the Navionics product - the tide and current display. It is, quite honestly, fantastic. We use it all the time. For that capability alone it is well worth the cost. We strongly suggest that you purchase this product if you have an iPhone.

Navionics has also been upgrading their product and we'd like to see much better route handling and creating, and chart rotation among other things.

There are a variety of other GPS/navigation apps for the iPhone. All in all, we've experimented with almost 20 GPS applications and they all seem to suffer from a common problem - the built-in GPS hardware is quite poor. Perhaps it is just our device but there is no question that the GPS on the iPhone is the worst GPS we have ever owned. The speed over ground and course over ground data is often way off. The slightest cover, such as a bimini or super-structure, seems to severely affect the GPS accuracy.

We would not want to rely on our iPhone to navigate though a narrow channel as we have done with our other phones. The shame is that the iPhone has Bluetooth support which would allow the use of one of the many excellent Bluetooth GPS devices on the market. However, Apple does not allow connectivity to an external GPS device at this time. We hope they change this in the near future. Until then, many great potentials, like a reliable anchor alarm next to your bed, are just not possible due to the unreliable GPS.


TomTom is arguably the best known street navigation program. Most of us either have it ourselves or know someone who does. We have had several versions of TomTom over the years, which we use to navigate in our car. Each version has gotten better. It provides a vector map of streets and many locations such as the nearest Subway restaurant or Hilton hotel.

To specify a route you simply enter an address and tell it to navigate from your current location. TomTom will calculate the "best" route based on criteria you specify. For example, you can travel only non-toll roads, or choose the shortest versus fastest route (not always the same thing). Turn-by-turn voice prompts will direct you to your location.

TomTom will automatically re-route you if you have deviated from the original route. This may occur because of construction, or if you simply missed a turn. It is constantly looking for the best route from your present location. Of course, all of this is made far simpler by sticking to the streets. If only it were that easy on the water!

The TomTom application for your mobile phone is the same as the TomTom hardware products for your car. The advantage of using the software on your mobile phone is that it is always with you. If you rent a car while exploring an area on your cruise, you'll have your familiar street navigation system to use without additional hardware, powering options and mounting brackets. TomTom TomTom is a well-known street navigation program.

TomTom Navigator 6 software is no longer available from TomTom for Palm, Windows Mobile or Symbian. They are only promoting an app for the iPhone on thier website. However it is still possible to purchase the TomTom Navigator 6 from other sources on the web such as Amazon. TomTom is for street maps only sand does not support NOAA charts.

TomTom is fast, robust, and the perfect solution for navigating in a car. We have it on our mobile phone, along with our ActiveCaptain Mobile software. It comes in handy when you are driving your rental or courtesy car but also any time you go ashore, particularly in more populated areas. A few years ago we were docked in Brooklyn, New York and used it to find a nearby Chinese restaurant.


Garmin is well known for their all-in-one GPS devices, which they call Personal Travel Assistants. These devices can be pricey, running from a couple hundred dollars up to more than $1,000. Garmin Mobile XT offers a software-only street navigation solution that runs on a mobile phone for $99.00.

Garmin Mobile XT will run on many Windows Mobile, Palm and Symbian phones. Their website offers a list of all compatible phones. The application is pre-loaded on a microSD card (with a miniSD and standard SD card converter) that includes both Garmin navigation software and street maps for the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. International options are also available. Garmin Mobile XT is for street maps only and does not support NOAA charts.

The program also allows access to Garmin's online service, which lets you access real-time traffic reports, weather updates and fuel and hotel prices for no additional charge. However, some users have found the data sparse, or out of date. For example, hotel data is provided by Hotels.com and is limited to the hotels they cover. The traffic data looks for incidents at the time the route is calculated but does not find traffic slowdowns and does not update the information enroute.

The software and maps come preloaded on a 512MB card. Unfortunately, Garmin prevents you from moving the software and maps to a larger card, which they make plain on their website: "Due to proprietary and security reasons, it is not possible to transfer your Garmin Mobile XT data to a larger card." This seems to be an unnecessarily burdensome restriction. A larger memory card would allow users to store programs and other data on a single card, reducing the need to swap cards in and out.

The software features standard street navigation functions. Enter the address you wish to go to and it will automatically create a route from your present location. Like TomTom, it offers turn-by-turn voice prompts and will automatically redirect you if you miss a turn.

With Garmin's PeerPoints feature, which is included, you can text message your position to any other phone, and view and navigate to the location of Garmin Mobile XT users in your group. If you send your current position via text messaging to your Garmin Mobile XT partner's phone, your location will show up on your partner's map page. For more information on Garmin Mobile XT visit their website.

This is just a sample of the navigation programs available for mobile phones. It is simply meant to help you understand what is possible on a mobile phone. Others exist including Fugawi, Navimatics, and O2iExplorer for offroad navigation, as well as many other street navigation programs. You should carefully look at each to determine which will best meet your needs. Turning your mobile phone into a powerful onroad and offroad navigation system is just one way to enhance your next outing.