Some of the best uses for a mobile phone aboard a boat are obvious, programs that help navigate or obtain information on weather, tides and currents. But there is a whole family of additional applications that can make your boating experience easier, safer and more manageable.
As mobile phones grow in popularity, there are applications to help manage lists, maintain a blog, streamline email and perform web browsing that helps with dozens of other common boating tasks.
What follows are some of the programs we have used while cruising, but this is by no means a complete list. A quick Internet search will turn up many more, so shop around when you have a need.
One of the first mobile phone applications that we used, and continue to use today, is SmartList To Go by DataViz. SmartList is an easy-to-use, highly-functional database program for Palm OS devices. There's a free 30-day trial and the software costs $49.99.
Not only can you create your own custom databases, there are 50 pre-defined templates that come with the program and thousands of others available on the web. For example, there is a data conversion template, which can be helpful if you want to convert liters to gallons, and a grocery list program to streamline your provisioning trips. You can customize any of the templates and add to the lists to meet your specific needs.
A few years ago we made our way down the Florida Keys to Key West. Armed with the DrinkMaster template, a bar tending guide with over 650 preloaded drink recipes, we decided to develop "the perfect Margarita." With plenty of opportunities to do research along the way, we started with one of the DrinkMaster recipes and continued to tweak it until we felt we had reached perfection. Our friends and family tell us we were successful and often beg for the recipe.
But SmartList really excels at practical boating uses. We keep project lists and maintenance log reminders. We keep a list of all boat parts with manufacturers, model numbers, serial numbers and other data. That way we always have this information with us when we go ashore. Once we were at a marine supply store and found a great sale on zincs. We simply popped into the parts list and got all the specs we needed to get the right parts. The savings from the ZHC-17 hull zincs paid for our slip that night!
We use a fuel log to keep track of our fuel usage and how it might change, which is important with today's high fuel costs. For example, we can track the savings we obtain by slightly reducing our cruising speed. In addition, spotting a moderate change in fuel consumption might point to an engine issue looming in the future.
We also keep a log of every marina and anchorage we have ever stayed at. Included is the exact latitude and longitude, notes about the stay, and other details. That was the first set of data we put into our ActiveCaptain website.
Finally, to show how completely obsessed we can be, we keep an engine room log that records various information on our hourly engine room checks. The information includes engine hours, temperature and RPM's, sea conditions, and other observations. This has actually proven to be an extremely useful practice. We have noticed engine issues early, such as when the engine temperature began behaving differently.
Programs also exist for other mobile phones. Ilium Software has ListPro which runs on Windows Mobile and Palm OS mobile phones. It has a variety of lists which you can download for free and customize to meet your needs. We've purchased ListPro for Windows Mobile and have run all of our boating databases on it with excellent results. There's a free 30-day trial and the software is $29.95.
HanDBase by DDH Software runs on Palm OS, Windows Mobile, Blackberry and Symbian mobile phones. Check their website for more information about the specific phones supported. The website offers more than 2,000 databases which you can download for free and use or modify. There's a trial version available and the software starts at $24.99.
If you have been looking at some websites with your mobile phone, you may have discovered that some will display quite well, while others offer a challenge. Most are somewhere in between. There are several third party additions for your Windows Mobile and Symbian mobile phones which can help make web browsing easier. Of course, the Apple iPhone already has excellent software for web browsing included, as do the Palm OS devices. Blackberry devices also have a built-in web browser which is known for its lackluster appearance. Fortunately, there's a third party replacement for Blackberry also.
Opera Mobile runs on Windows Mobile and Symbian mobile phones and uses their Small Screen Rendering technology to format web pages so that they display better on the small display. It removes navigation bars and advertisements to better show the main content of the web page. Performance is fast and it works on a variety of devices. Visit their website to view the list of supported phones. Opera Mobile is $24 and there is a free 30-day trial version available. Their upcoming version 9.7 is supposed to be worth the wait. If you have a Windows Mobile device, you should look into it. A Symbian version is expected in the future. For Blackberry mobile phones there's Opera Mini. While it lacks some of the features of Opera, such as a secure connection, it is free.
ThunderHawk, a web browser for Windows Mobile and Symbian mobile phones, reformats the screen display for easier viewing on your mobile phone and uses compression algorithms to increase download speed. With a subscription price of $5.95 per month, it is the most pricey option. However, there is a 30-day free trial available and performance and screen display are good.
Blogging from our mobile phone is something we have come to enjoy because it allows us to stay in touch with our friends and family while creating a memorable log of our trips. We enter descriptions, photos, even video, and always look forward to reading comments from those ashore. We've even made some great new friends out of strangers who have come to follow our blog.
There are several programs that allow you to blog easily from your mobile phone. One tool is mo:Blog, a blogging application for Palm OS mobile phones. It supports most blogging servers and lets you upload binary files, such as images, movies and sound using your email. You can create a basic blog for free or pay a subscription for additional features and better performance.
Blogger, which is Google's free blogging software, has great support for mobile phones via email or with Blogger Mobile. You can easily send photos and text to your blog from your mobile phone. Blogger works with any device that can send email and has additional support for some phones.
TypePad, which is one of the most popular blogging platforms on the Internet, offers blogging on your mobile phone for a sliding monthly fee, depending on the features you need. There are five price points to choose from, starting with the Basic version for $4.95 per month, if all you need is a single blog, to Business Class at $89.95 per month with unlimited blogs, priority technical support and enhanced storage space and speed. All five options allow you to post to your blogs from your mobile phone using email, and they support Windows Mobile, Palm, BlackBerry, Symbian and iPhone devices.
PDF READERS AND WI-FI
Another useful tool to have on your mobile phone is a reader for PDF files. It is possible to get manuals for almost every piece of gear on your boat on the Internet as a PDF file. This can be quite handy when you are trying to solve a problem or just need information on your systems, engine or any other device.
Adobe has a free PDF reader, Adobe Reader for Symbian OS, that allows you to view PDF files on Nokia 6680 mobile phones , Nokia Communicator 9500 series and 9210/9290 devices. There's also a version for Palm OS and PocketPC/Windows Mobile.
The Apple iPhone has a PDF reader built in. For BlackBerry mobile phones there's DocHawk Platinum which opens a wide variety of file formats including PDF files. They offer a free 3-day trial. The software is $19.95 for a 3 month subscription and $59.95 for a full year. BeamBerry is another program that will open various file types on a BlackBerry device. The software costs $17.99 for a single license which includes free email support. There's a 10-day free trial.
A good WiFi utility can be very helpful on your mobile phone if it has WiFi hardware. You may wonder why you would need WiFi if you have a data plan. We have found that accessing a local WiFi network is sometimes faster than our data plan when it comes to speed. We often will check for WiFi first before connecting to our mobile provider. With mobile network providers no longer offering unlimited data plans you will want to use a WiFi connection for data intensive tasks such as Skype, YouTube, or Slingbox.
WiFiFoFum by Aspecto Software will search for WiFi connections in your area and provide you with helpful information, such as the strength of the signal and whether the connection is secure. It will also attempt to obtain a GPS location and show you the WiFi hot spot position in reference to your location. This allows you to move closer to a good WiFi spot to enhance the connection. WiFiFoFum works with Windows Mobile mobile phones. The software can be downloaded for free but you are encouraged to pay the fee, about $20, if you enjoy and use the software. Let's be honest - they win hands down for best software name!
Remote World WiFi Scanner, also for Windows Mobile, will display WiFi connections found and their signal strength. It can be purchased for about $4. A companion product, Remote World WiFi Analyzer, will analyze and display WiFi quality in graphic and statistical form for about $10.
For Palm OS devices there's NetChaser which costs $12 and provides signal strength, latitude/longitude information, loss-of-signal information and much more. Another Palm OS product is WiFi-Where for $9.99 with similar features.
EMAIL AND MORE
While the email application that comes with your mobile phone is probably adequate, we find that it is often helpful to use a third party product with enhanced features.
On previous cruises we did most all of our email using SnapperMail on our Palm mobile phone (we now use our iPhone). We have several personal email addresses, as well multiple business emails and multiple domains. With SnapperMail, we could easily check every email at one time and have them displayed in a single inbox, where we could organize them as needed. The software is easy to use and worked very well on our Centro mobile phone. There are four versions of SnapperMail. We found the Lite version at $24.95 does everything we need. There's also a free trial.
FlexMail for Windows Mobile offers similar features for only $9.95 and has a trial version. Another Windows Mobile option is PushEffect for $19.95, if you need your email delivered the moment it is sent. There's a 7-day trial version available and it supports full "push email" services. Both programs handle multiple accounts and offer enhancements for email attachments.
Of course, the list of add-on applications for your phone is long. Calculators are one good example. For Windows Mobile there is Osymo Calc, a $12 shareware program. Osymo Calc has numerous specialized calculators including financial, conversion, body mass index, fuel and tip calculations. You can even create your own specialized calculator. A 15-day trial version is available.
EasyCalc is a freeware calculator for Palm OS devices. EasyCalc is a scientific calculator with trigonometric functions, complex numbers, graphs and many complex functions. A company called 3GR Technologies carries other calculators for Palm OS and Windows Mobile, one of which is sure to meet your needs.
There are also numerous calculators available for BlackBerry mobile phones. There's a simple loan calculator from Infodev Technologies for $7.99. They also have a conversion calculator for $19.99. Lygea Calculators has a financial calculator, a business calculator and a scientific calculator each for $12.95.
Naturally, calculators are only part of the application universe. If you're like us, the best time of the day is when you're safely settled at your anchorage, maybe with our world famous margarita in hand, and you can just look up and enjoy the stars. Is that Orion or Ursa Major? With Pocket Stars, you can have "the universe as near as your pocket." Pocket Stars runs on Windows Mobile devices and provides you a star chart, astronomy reference and celestial navigation tool for $19.95. There's a 15-day trial version available.
Astromist, for Palm and Windows Mobile devices, provides detailed astronomical charts and accurate simulators for eclipses, planets, comets and asteroids. The software is $39. BlackBerry and Symbian devices can use a freeware program called MicroSky.
There are certainly other useful programs and application areas that can enhance the usefulness of a mobile phone on your boat. We didn't even get to games! I've found a game of solitaire can do wonders for staying awake during an overnight passage. Search the web for your particular favorite.
- 01 - Introduction
- 02 - Boost Your Signal
- 03 - Locating Cell Towers
- 04 - Calculating Line Loss
- 05 - Navigation
- 06 - Adding a GPS
- 07 - Memory Cards
- 08 - Weather Forecasts
- 09 - Tides and Currents
- 10 - Other Applications
- 11 - Connecting a Laptop
- 12 - How to Buy a Phone
- 13 - Palm OS
- 14 - Windows Mobile
- 15 - Apple's iPhone
- 16 - Blackberry & Symbian
- 17 - Bluetooth Headsets
- 18 - Power Accessories
- 19 - The Bahamas