Electronic charting on Estrellita: iPad, iNavX and Navionics

First, if you want to know how to set up a real iPad system, and who is a fan of iNavX (with some caveats) read this post and this post by Tucker on Convivia.

We have not set up a similar system and because our iPad isn’t our only navigation system running, we are not sure yet if we will add in the expense of the iMux or similar. Maybe someday...

First, the positive: We have limited experience because our iPad is new to us, but Navionics charts have been better than our other two chart types in the 3 islands in French Polynesia we’ve visited since we picked up an iPad. If friends’ reports are true, this pattern will stay consistent as we head West next year. The general consensus is that Navionics charts win in the South Pacific.


Here is where it gets awkward. Navionics charts are expensive (on a cruising budget) UNLESS you buy them through a single vendor, for use only with iNavX, only on an iPad or iPhone. So, if you want Navionics, you essentially are strong armed into buying an iPad and installing iNavX. The cost of the difference in chart prices essentially pays for an iPad if you can believe it.

So, is being strong armed into an iPad and iNavX so bad? We love our new iPad. It can be annoying because it assumes you are mainlined to the cloud at all times and as cruisers we are definitely not. However, it is fun. It is slick. We feel like part of the techie world again. My ereader broke and although I don’t love the iPad as much for reading I’m very glad that it serves that purpose as well. We have all kinds of other apps crammed onto it that we love. Generally we’re happy to have one aboard.  The only real negative for an iPad with navigation is that because it doesn’t have an easy way to get files on and off the tablet (unless it is networked) it makes swapping files difficult and swapping tracks is a big part of the cruising community at this point. Not that file swapping is possible really with iNavX, but I get ahead of myself…

What I really don’t love is iNavX. It is a shame because it looks so pretty, and swiping your fingers around is so fun…but it cannot do so many of the things I am accustomed to being able to do, as standard, in every navigation program I’ve used. Simple, basic things really. To us it feels like an app, not a fully functional nav program. You can certainly use it to navigate around the world but it is missing the flexibility of a full nav program.

A few of the ways I find iNavX underwhelming:

  1. There isn’t a one touch MOB feature. Woah. What? A navigation program. For sailors. Without a MOB button. I’m boggled. You are supposed to tap on your position icon (hope you can tap exactly where you are in that triangle shape in an emergency) and then select “go to” from the menu in order to navigate back.
  2. The way iNavX handles tracks is terrible: cache and importing. iNavX has already decided how much space you can use on your iPad for tracks. You can’t change this. It doesn’t matter that you bought a 128GB iPad. Even though you have loads of space left on your iPad, your track cache will quickly get full. Your capacity to store tracks also clearly affects importing tracks – your own, or those given to you by another boat. Tracks are not huge files. I am accustomed to having all of my own tracks for an entire country in each of my navigation programs PLUS the tracks given to me by others. In fact, in many programs I can even color code the various tracks so I know which are mine and which are from friends (and which friends). This means, if I want to use my iPad for navigation, I have to set it up with the tracks that I want on it for every navigation rather than knowing that everything is already ready to go.
  3. The way iNavX handles tracks is terrible: naming and exporting. You cannot name a track for a given day. You cannot export a track for a given day. All you can do is export the entire track history from your iPad. Oh, and you need to do your export while online (except when exporting .kmz files if you have also downloaded the Google Earth app). We use GPS Exchange files (.gpx) because they port in and out of all of the programs we use which means we can only back up iNavX while online. That doesn’t really matter though because we don’t use our iNavX tracks because we can’t segment them with the program easily. We could download a separate program to cut and name our iNavX tracks, but why bother when it is easy to do standardly in our other nav programs.
  4. You cannot create a route in a single step.  You must first create waypoints and add them to a route in two separate steps. That’s just silly to me – clearly the most amazing advantage of tablet navigation would be the ability to tap, tap, tap your way to a route. I can click, click, click my way to a route in SAS Planet, in OpenCPN and in SailCruiser so iNavX’s route creation awkwardness felt like a step backward in software.
  5. You must use unique names for waypoints. You cannot have two waypoints called “reef” or “pearl farm” or “Pac Sea Net 1”. If you want to mark a bunch of reefs, or pearl farm buoys, or check into the Pac Sea Net on more than one passage, you have to let them have generic autogen names like WPT00023 or start making up variations. 

Caveat: We are new iNavX users and so I’m hoping to be wrong about the above. I did send iNavX an email about each of the above and they responded to our email quickly (with links to specific pages on their online help which I was able to view the next time I was online). If you know how to fix any of those 5 issues, please dish here.


  1. We are relatively new (18ish month) ipad users and also have iNavx with Navionics charts and also are completely underwhelmed. Issues you mention aside, I'll add a couple of other rants.

    1) iNavx is DOG SLOW. Mind numbingly, ridiculously slow! We had the newest generation ipad in July 2012 when we purchased the hardware and the app- there is no good reason for the way it behaves.

    2) it seems to be very, very hard to get iNavx to interpret taps onscreen, and adding / modifying a waypoint is often a very frustrating extended process of: tap... wait... iNavx reponds unexpectedly... try again... wait becuase %@#*ing app is so slow... repeat ad nauseam.

    I believe you can also just get Navionics charts directly, not purchased through iNavx but independently. It does not have the crazy slow refresh / repaint of iNavx. I hate to throw away our investment and we do have charts through the Indian Ocean already, but will be happy to switch if iNavx isn't any better by the time we need to fork over $$ for charts again.

    OpenCPN/CM93 is our primary.

  2. I was all excited about using our ipad or iphone as a secondary anchor alarm in our cabin using iNavx. Until I opened the program and saw that I had to specify how much anchor rode we laid out IN NAUTICAL MILES (how much chain do they think we have??). No option to specify rode in feet, meters or fathoms. I'm starting to wonder if iNavx developers secretly hate sailors. I don't recall ever being as disappointed in an app as I was in iNavx.

    For Canada and US, the Garmin Bluechart Mobile app is brilliant. We used it all the way from Alaska to Seattle. The charts were cheap (~$50 for all of Canada, US and Mexico) and great looking. Can't speak for the quality of Garmin's charts for anywhere else (except for Pacific Mexico where they're terrible like everyone's).

    s/v hello world

  3. First EVERYONE - Apparently I am wrong and you are NOT forced into an iPad. You can use an android tablet, the Navionics app and Navionics charts. However, I have not been able to find online how much, for example, the charts for the S Pacific would run on that setup to compare the cost of the charts with the iPad/iNavX charts.

    Hello Behan - Our iNavX isn't running slow but we are having the same tap issues and we (as I am sure are you) are fairly touch screen friendly.

    Heya Jason - I *hate* when they use nm for anchor alarms! Give me meters, yards, feet, anything but nm for an anchor alarm. Good info on the Garmin Bluechart app.

  4. Can I also add that the way you have to choose the chart all the time is annoying, openCPN just chooses the best chart for the area you are viewing. I cant zoom or scroll to another area without having to choose a chart, how do I know which one is to the east, that is why I have a chart plotter. ( thank for listening)



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