Sail the oceans using iPhone apps.

Paul Oliva, Special to The Chronicle Friday, December 4, 2009


When award-winning tech entrepreneur and Santa Cruz sailor Philippe Kahn sails a grueling ocean race, his navigation bag holds something unexpected: an iPhone.

A growing number of mobile applications, or „apps,“ are helping to keep boaters informed, on course and entertained.

Plus, they’re often free or low cost, making a $25 gift card go a long way.

For the uninitiated, a mobile app is software that downloads just like a ring tone to a Web-enabled phone or other device.

Kahn’s iPhone 3GS, packed in a watertight OtterBox case, runs an app his company developed called MotionX-GPS. A thousand miles from California, racing his boat, Pegasus, in this year’s Transpac to Honolulu, Kahn used MotionX to navigate, record his course and upload his positions to a Google map, Facebook and Twitter with comments, photos and video. Incidentally, Pegasus set a world double-handed record in that race.

Palm and mobile Windows devices have some apps, but Apple’s iTunes store has the most.

There’s an impressive array of navigation apps there, in addition to full GPS navigation such as MotionX-GPS ($2.99). For instance, Navionics offers $9.99 interactive marine charts with navigation and a database of tide, current and marine services. Wondering how long it takes to tack toward Alcatraz? SailTimer ($13.99) calculates the answer. Anchor Alarm ($9.99) says your boat is drifting, Ship Finder ($4.99) gives details of that ship about to run you over (California not yet available), and StarPilot is a celestial almanac ($29.99) that could be used with a 99-cent Sextant app.