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Old 08-22-2013
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Skipper App Review

To the mods: I wasn't sure if this belonged in GI or in the Apps forum, or if you want it elsewhere. Feel free to move it as you see fit.

For those who don't know me, I'm a novice. I read a lot, and am happy to share my experiences and what I've learned, but in the end, I'm a novice. So, it was with some trepidation that decided to try to move my newly repaired, new-to-me boat from Rock Hall to Forked River, NJ. I started off by using Active Captain to study the charts for my intended route. Toward the end, I think I could have drawn the route on the map, including approximate depths, in my sleep. That being said, I wasn't about to trust my memory. I had a Garmin 440S chart plotter from my old boat that I was planning on installing on the new boat, but I wanted to have backups. I didn't really want paper charts, though. So, when the team with Skipper posted their free 1 year trial offer, I decided to take advantage of it.

Skipper is a really neat app. It uses your phone/tablet GPS to get your position, and acts as a chart plotter. It can even download the most current charts and store them on your phone, which is a GREAT feature if you're in areas with bad cell coverage (as was the case occasionally during our trip). It also allows you to superimpose different layers on top of each other, so you can see, for example, the local chart on top of satellite imagery, which was a great help when trying to find buoys or other waypoints. It also integrates with Active Captain, which is good for helping to identify shoaling and other possible issues, and it can track your movements so you can see the route you've taken.

In addition to the typical navigation stuff, Skipper also has easy access to weather forecasts and tidal information for your current GPS coordinate, or for any other location. The tidal information was very handy as we moved about on the ICW, so we could better predict when the currents would change to something more favorable to us.

Over all, I was very pleased with Skipper, but I do have a few minor nits. First, the app crashed on me twice. Mind you, I had it running pretty much 12-14 hours a day for each of the 3 days we were out, and I accidentally left it running one night while we went for dinner, too. I used the app a lot, zooming in and out, scrolling here and there, pulling up tidal and other information, so I'm not surprised that it would conk out; I basically gave it a stress test. The fact that it "only" crashed twice is actually pretty good in my book, but it would have been better if it didn't crash at all. The tracking also didn't restart when I restarted the app, and that was annoying because I would forget to turn it on for a while, so we lost some data.

The weather information doesn't make much sense to me. They give you the current NOAA weather forecast, but they don't include the marine forecast. Or, at least, I didn't see a way to get the marine forecast. For a boating app, that seems like a no-brainer. However, having the weather at your fingertips (literally) without switching apps was pretty neat and it still includes some useful information.

I don't like the way Skipper handles the superimposition/tiling of the maps. Our last day, we decided to try to make the run from Cape May to Forked River in a single day. We opted to go out to the Atlantic to Atlantic City, then follow the ICW up to and through Barnegat Bay. That's over 85 miles and the second half of it was largely twisty, winding channels in some very skinny water. We used the Garmin to help the pilot steer to the appropriate next channel marker, and used Skipper to help us find the next few markers, identify areas where we could "cut corners", etc.. Unfortunately, if you zoom Skipper out "too much" you lose the ability to see depth information, the purple ICW line, or much else from the nautical charts. Toward the end, when we wanted to know where we were in a more general sense, we used Google Maps to see what towns were nearby and our position relative to Forked River, Skipper showed us where we were at the "medium zoom" chart level, and the Garmin helped with a detailed view. Had we not used Google Maps, we would have sailed right past Forked River because you couldn't see the river on the chart while still displaying the ICW.

All in all, I was very glad to have Skipper along with me. I know the annual fee is something like $12-15 if I want to keep using it after the first year's trial is over. I'm frugal, but that sounds like a reasonable price for what I was able to get out of the app. Compared to the cost of buying paper charts (which quickly get outdated) or updated charts for my Garmin, it seems like a good deal.

I have no affiliation with Skipper, and they haven't asked me (or authorized me) to post this. But, since it's a new app and since they generously offered a free trial to any Sailnet members, I thought I'd pass along my opinion. I hope this is helpful!
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