Getting NMEA data to an iPad or iPhone

iAIS with iPad+Chart for Web

Although Digital Yacht have had wireless products for getting data to iPads and iPhones for a while now, it is clear (from the many questions at recent boat shows), that customers are still not sure of exactly what is possible and what they need, to turn their iPad/iPhone in to a chart plotter.

One of the biggest areas of confusion is GPS and whether an Apple device has its own internal GPS that can be used for navigation at sea. All 3G iPhones and 3G iPads come with their own internal GPS that works even when you are outside of 3G coverage and anyone wanting to take an iPad to sea should make sure they have a 3G model. IMPORTANT NOTE – you do not have to fit a SIM card to the iPad for the GPS to work.

If you only have a Wi-Fi model of iPad or an iPod Touch, do not despair as this post will explain how you can get wireless NMEA data in to your device – read on and watch out for a NOTE that explains what to do later in this post.

By far the most popular marine navigation app, is the Navionics App which is ideal for anyone that goes anywhere near a boat – even if you are just going on a cruise or ferry crossing. With pricing between £10 and £40 depending upon the area you are sailing in and the device you are using, this really is incredible value as you get the app and the charts in one easy to download package.

As a planning tool or backup/hand held chart plotter, the Navionics App is really good and with the recent update to their App (Spring 2015), adding SonarCharts “Live” technology, the Navionics App can now receive external GPS and Depth data over Wi-Fi. To coincide with this update, Digital Yacht have developed a product called SonarServer specifically for Navionics Users who wish to create their own SonarCharts (detailed bathymetric charts) or who want to use the app on a non-3G iPad or iPod Touch that does not have an internal GPS. SonarServer takes NMEA0183 GPS and Depth data from the boat’s navigation system and sends it wirelessly to the Navionics App. For more information on SonarServer click here.

One important area though, that the Navionics App does not manage to fulfill, is getting AIS and Instrument data in to the iPad/iPhone. Many customers are now wanting to take their portable navigation to the next level and get Boat Speed, Depth, Wind, Heading and AIS data on to their iPad/iPhone. This is where Digital Yacht’s wireless NMEA products come in. If you want to add AIS to your boat and have the same data on your iPad/iPhone, then our popular iAIS is the ideal “one box” AIS Receiver solution or if you want to transmit your position as well, our latest AIT3000 Class B transponder with Wi-Fi is the product to go for.

If you already have an AIS or want to have an AIT1500/AIT2000 Class B Transponder, then our WLN10HS can add wireless connectivity to any AIS system. NOTE – HS stands for “High Speed” which is how people refer to the 38,400 baud rate used on the NMEA outputs of AIS units.

So that people have something that works straight out of the box, we have published a free app called iAIS, that will display all of the received AIS targets on a “Radar” type display. With a series of range rings, course up display and the ability to zoom in/out and pan around, iAIS is a great little app and works with all of our wireless products. If you want a more sophisticated App which plots the AIS targets on electronic charts, then our NavLink UK and NavLink US Apps are also available on the App store. Click here to see all Digital Yacht’s Apps available on the App store.

For those of you that want to run a performance sailing app like iRegatta, or an NMEA instrument display App like NMEARemote, then our normal WLN10 will happily convert any 4800 baud NMEA 0183 data from an instrument system in to wireless data that these apps can read.

As mentioned, the Navionics App does not read AIS and Instrument data (only GPS and Depth data) but there is a very good alternative called iNavX. This app is fast becoming the de-facto standard for serious iPad/iPhone navigation and supports AIS, instrument displays and even weather overlay with easy to download GRIB files. Running the same Navionics chart areas that you get on dedicated chart plotters (but at a much cheaper price) which you download from the X-Traverse website, iNavX really does turn your iPad in to a full function chart plotter.

For more information on upgrading from our free iAIS app to the paid app iNavX please download our Tech Note that explains exactly what to do.

These are just a few of the apps that are now available for Apple devices and to help you choose the right one for your application, we have published an article on the “Best Marine Apps for Apple iOS Devices” which you can read by clicking here. All of the Apps that have a green tick in the “External NMEA” column are compatible with Digital Yacht’s wireless NMEA product range.

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