As a Small Dog Consultant, I implement Macintosh and iOS solutions for my clients, but I also do tech stuff for fun in my personal life. One of my passions is sailboat racing, and I have gotten to know a lot about various marine usage of iPads, iPhone, Macs and wireless technology.
The iPhone and the iPad (3G or LTE models) include chips for compass and GPS. Newer units even support the GLONASS satellites, too (the Russian version of GPS). While the compass data isn’t quite as reliable as dedicated marine compasses, the location data is great, especially on the newest models.
To add more data to the iPads and iPhones on boats, there are wireless bridges that take NMEA data from boat instruments and broadcast it on Wi-Fi, so you can get wind speed, wind direction, speed thru the water, autopilot data, depth, and anything else that you have a boat sensor for.
Here is some of the most popular hardware for this integration (list from the iRegatta website):
Regardless of what hardware you choose to integrate, the coolest stuff is the software that takes this data and makes it into something useful aboard a boat.
iRegatta is the premier tactical racing app for iPad and iPhone. I used it all last summer and its features rival those of several expensive dedicated marine devices put together. You can use it to manage the waypoints of a race course, enter marks for the start line, and display realtime data for your performance. At the start, you can use it to estimate your time to the line and help you get the best start possible.
With real or estimated wind data, you can track wind headers and lifts and use that information to choose how to handle wind shifts efficiently. With course marks in, you can get time and distance and bearing to your next waypoint as you sail around the race course. You can also use it with polar data to help see if you are really sailing your boat to its potential in a given wind condition.
Sailing is not all about the data, and you need to keep your head out of the boat to do well, it can certainly help to have good information to help you make tactical decisions.
Whether racing or not, boaters need accurate charts to be safe on the water and help decide where to go on the water. On bigger boats, it is always prudent to have a set of paper charts, but more and more sailors and power-boaters rely on dedicated GPS chart-plotters to aid in navigation. The iPad and iPhone (especially in waterproof cases) make great navigation tools.
The top dog for iOS navigation is iNavX. It is an excellent chart-plotter, and you can download free NOAA charts for North America or invest in more sophisticated and seamless charts from other providers, and download them
directly to your device. You can create waypoints, track your movements, set alarms and integrate with weather GRIBs, AIS and radar data, and any NMEA data from your instruments. Waypoints and routes can be imported and exported to allow you to collaborate on your planning and tracking. It is an amazing app and worth every penny. The company also makes a couple of Mac apps that I also recommend.
Besides iRegatta and iNavX, there are many other cool apps in the App Store, some for tactics and navigation, some for rules, flags and symbols, and others that just act as simple data displays. I encourage you to explore and try this stuff out if you spend any time on the water.
Just make sure to waterproof your devices! Small Dog sells LifeProof cases which are great to protect your devices on a wet boat.