Navionics (iPad) vs Chartplotter (B&G, Raymarine, Garmin) – Which Is Best For Sailboats

As a cruising sailor or sailboat owner, choosing the right navigation equipment is crucial to ensure a safe and enjoyable sailing experience.

Navionics vs Chartplotter – What is Best?

Two popular options for navigation equipment are Navionics on a Tablet or Smartphone (iPad or Android) and using a Chartplotter. In this blog post, we will discuss the pros and cons of each and explore how they perform in different sailing locations, weather conditions, and integrated systems such as autopilot, radar, and AIS. We also discuss their alternatives and other systems we use regularly aboard our bluewater sailboat.



Navionics on a Tablet or Smartphone

Navionics is a navigation app available for both iOS and Android devices. It uses electronic charts and GPS to provide real-time navigation and is a popular choice for many sailors due to its portability and convenience. Here are some pros and cons of using Navionics on a Tablet or Smartphone.


  • Portability: Navionics can be used on a tablet or smartphone, making it easy to take with you wherever you go.
  • Cost-effective: Navionics is often cheaper than a chartplotter, and if you already have a smartphone or tablet, it can be an affordable option.
  • Easy to use: Navionics has a user-friendly interface and is easy to learn, making it an ideal choice for beginners.
  • Real-time updates: Navionics is constantly updated with the latest information, making it a reliable option for up-to-date navigation.


  • Limited screen size: The small screen size of a smartphone or tablet can make it difficult to see details on the chart, particularly in bright sunlight.
  • Battery life: Using Navionics on a tablet or smartphone can drain the battery quickly, which can be a problem on longer trips.
  • Reliance on technology: If your device runs out of battery or loses its GPS signal, you could be left without navigation.

Examples of Tablets for Sailing

Using a Chartplotter

A chartplotter is a dedicated piece of navigation equipment designed specifically for sailing. It uses electronic charts and GPS to provide real-time navigation and is often integrated with other onboard systems such as autopilot, radar, and AIS. Here are some pros and cons of using a chartplotter.


  • Larger screen: Chartplotters usually have larger screens than tablets or smartphones, making it easier to see details on the chart.
  • Integration with other systems: Chartplotters are often integrated with other onboard systems such as autopilot, radar, and AIS, making it easier to manage navigation and sailing systems in one place.
  • Durability: Chartplotters are designed to withstand the harsh marine environment and are often waterproof, making them a reliable option in adverse weather conditions.
  • Long battery life: Chartplotters usually have longer battery life than tablets or smartphones because they are hooked directly into the boats main power source, making them suitable for longer trips.


  • Cost: Chartplotters are often more expensive than tablets or smartphones, and the cost can increase if you need to purchase additional components to integrate with other onboard systems.
  • Complexity: Chartplotters can be complex to use, and it may take some time to learn how to navigate through the system.
  • Less portable: Chartplotters are designed to be installed in a fixed location, making them less portable than tablets or smartphones.

Chartplotters for Sailboats Examples

Sailing locations and weather conditions

The type of navigation equipment you choose may depend on the sailing location and weather conditions. If you are sailing in calm waters with good visibility, Navionics on a Tablet or Smartphone may be a suitable option. However, if you are sailing in adverse weather conditions, a chartplotter with a larger screen and integrated systems may be a more reliable option.

Integrated systems

Integrated systems such as autopilot, radar, and AIS can make navigation and sailing easier and more efficient. Chartplotters are often designed to integrate with these systems, making them an ideal choice for sailors whowish to have all their systems in one place. Navionics can also integrate with these systems, but it may require additional components, which can add to the cost.

Autopilot: Autopilots can be integrated with chartplotters, making it easier to manage navigation while underway. The autopilot can be programmed to follow a route, freeing up the crew to focus on other tasks.

Radar: Chartplotters can be integrated with radar to provide a clear view of the surrounding area, even in adverse weather conditions. This can help sailors to navigate safely and avoid collisions with other vessels or objects in the water.

AIS: Automatic Identification System (AIS) can be integrated with chartplotters to provide real-time information on the location of other vessels in the area. This can help sailors to avoid collisions and navigate safely through busy waterways.

Budget Concerns – Navionics vs Chartplotter

When it comes to budget, Navionics on a Tablet or Smartphone can be a more affordable option compared to a Chartplotter. The Navionics app is available for purchase on the App Store or Google Play Store, with prices ranging from $15 to $75, depending on the coverage area and features included. Additionally, using a tablet or smartphone that you already own can further reduce the cost. However, keep in mind that you may need to purchase additional components such as a waterproof case, charging cables, or a GPS receiver to ensure reliable operation while underway. These additional costs can range from $50 to $200 depending on the quality and features of the components.

On the other hand, a Chartplotter is a more specialized piece of equipment designed specifically for sailing, and as such, it can come with a higher price tag. The cost of a Chartplotter can vary widely depending on the manufacturer, model, screen size, and features included. Budget models can start at around $500, while more advanced systems can cost upwards of $5,000 or more. Additionally, installation costs can add to the overall expense, especially if you need to purchase additional components to integrate with other onboard systems. The cost of installation can vary depending on the complexity of the system, but it typically ranges from $100 to $500, not including the cost of any additional components.

It’s important to keep in mind that cost should not be the only factor when choosing navigation equipment. While Navionics on a Tablet or Smartphone may be a more budget-friendly option, it may not be as reliable or convenient as a Chartplotter, especially in adverse weather conditions. Similarly, a Chartplotter may come with a higher upfront cost, but it can provide additional features and integration with other onboard systems that can make navigation and sailing easier and more efficient. Ultimately, the decision should be based on individual needs and preferences, as well as the sailing location and conditions.

Use In Extreme Conditions

While Navionics on a Tablet or Smartphone can be a convenient and affordable option for navigation, it does have some drawbacks, particularly in extreme conditions. Here are some of the challenges that sailors may face when using Navionics in these conditions:

Heavy rain: In heavy rain, it can be challenging to use a touch screen device as the water droplets can interfere with touch sensitivity. This can make it difficult to enter waypoints or adjust the zoom level on the map. Additionally, if the device is not protected by a waterproof case, it can be damaged by exposure to moisture.

Spray from waves: When sailing in rough conditions, the boat can be hit by spray from waves, which can also damage the device if it is not protected. Additionally, it can be challenging to see the screen in these conditions as the water droplets can obscure the map.

High humidity: High humidity can cause condensation to form on the device, making it difficult to see the screen. This can be particularly challenging in tropical locations or when sailing in areas with high humidity.

Extreme temperatures: Both extreme heat and extreme cold can impact the performance of a touch screen device. In extreme heat, the device may overheat and shut down or become unresponsive, while in extreme cold, the battery life can be shortened, and the touch sensitivity may be reduced.

Bright sunlight: In bright sunlight, it can be challenging to see the screen of a tablet or smartphone. This can make it difficult to read the map or navigate accurately.

To mitigate these challenges, sailors can use a waterproof case to protect the device from moisture and spray. They can also use an anti-glare screen protector to reduce the impact of bright sunlight. Additionally, it’s a good idea to have a backup navigation system such as paper charts, a handheld GPS, or a standalone chartplotter in case the tablet or smartphone becomes unusable.

In extreme conditions, a Chartplotter can be a more reliable option as it is designed to withstand harsh marine environments. Chartplotters are typically waterproof and have larger, high-contrast screens that can be easily read in bright sunlight. Additionally, they are designed to integrate with other onboard systems, such as autopilot and radar, which can be useful in extreme conditions.

Accuracy of Charts

The accuracy of charts is an essential aspect of navigation equipment, and it’s crucial to choose a system that provides reliable and up-to-date information. Navionics and Chartplotters differ in their approach to chart accuracy and update frequency.

Navionics charts are generated using a combination of data sources, including government charts, surveys, and user-generated data. The charts are updated regularly, with most areas updated annually or bi-annually. In addition to the standard charts, Navionics offers a subscription service called Freshest Data, which provides daily updates to the chart data, including changes to navigation aids, depth contours, and shoreline features. This service can be especially useful for sailors who are exploring new areas or sailing in regions with changing conditions.

Chartplotters, on the other hand, typically use proprietary charts that are developed by the manufacturer or a third-party supplier. The frequency of chart updates varies depending on the manufacturer, with some providing updates quarterly, while others provide annual updates. Some manufacturers offer subscription services similar to Navionics Freshest Data, which provide more frequent updates to the chart data.

In terms of accuracy, Navionics and Chartplotters can both provide accurate chart data. However, Navionics seems to be more accurate in areas with navigational challenges, such as the Bahamas and Patagonia. This is because Navionics uses a combination of government charts, surveys, and user-generated data to generate their charts. In areas where government charts may be outdated or incomplete, user-generated data can provide more accurate and up-to-date information.

That said, it’s essential to note that no navigation system is 100% accurate, and it’s crucial to cross-check chart data with other sources, such as paper charts and onboard instruments, to ensure safe navigation. Additionally, even the most accurate charts can become outdated due to changing weather conditions, shifting sands, and other factors, so it’s important to stay aware of the latest navigational information and update charts regularly.

Ultimately, the choice between Navionics and Chartplotters comes down to personal preference and individual sailing needs. Both systems can provide accurate and reliable chart data, and the decision should be based on factors such as sailing location, budget, and integration with other onboard systems.

Alternatives to Navionics and Chartplotters

Navionics and Chartplotters are popular navigation options for sailors, but they are not the only options available. OpenCPN and Expedition Navigation Software are two alternatives that offer unique features and benefits.

OpenCPN is an open-source navigation software that can be installed on a laptop or desktop computer. The software uses a variety of data sources, including free and open-source charts, to provide navigation information. One of the key benefits of OpenCPN is its affordability, as the software is available for free download. However, users will need to purchase or download charts separately, which can be an additional cost. OpenCPN offers many features, including route planning, chart plotting, and integration with AIS and other onboard instruments.

Expedition Navigation Software is a comprehensive navigation solution used mainly by professional racing sailboats that offers advanced features such as weather routing, data acquisition and analysis, tidal prediction, and GRIB weather file downloads. Expedition can be used on a laptop or desktop computer, or it can be integrated with a standalone chartplotter, instruments, radar, and AIS. Expedition’s chart data is supplied by a range of sources, including official government charts, and it is updated regularly. The software is available for purchase, with prices starting at around $1200 for a license.

Both OpenCPN and Expedition offer benefits such as affordability, advanced features, and flexibility. However, they also have some drawbacks. One potential drawback of OpenCPN is that it requires a laptop or desktop computer, which may not be practical or convenient for some sailors. Additionally, free and open-source charts may not be as comprehensive or up-to-date as commercial charts.

For Expedition, the cost can be a drawback, as it is a more expensive option than Navionics or some Chartplotters. Additionally, the software may require more technical expertise to set up and use, which could be a challenge for some sailors.

Ultimately, the choice between Navionics, Chartplotters, OpenCPN, and Expedition will depend on a sailor’s individual needs and preferences. Each option offers unique features and benefits, and it’s important to consider factors such as budget, sailing location, and integration with other onboard systems when making a decision.

What Do We Use On Board Our Boat

As the crew of Sweet Ruca, we have found that utilizing a combination of navigation tools has been the most effective solution for our long-distance sailing needs. We rely on Expedition Navigation Software for offshore sailing, data logging, and weather routing. The software’s advanced features, such as weather routing and GRIB weather file downloads, allow us to plan our routes with greater efficiency and safety. Additionally, the software’s chart data, sourced from a variety of official government charts, ensures accuracy and reliability.

While the B&G Zeus chartplotter is an essential tool for visibility and integration with radar and AIS at the helm, we also use Navionics on an iPad and Android phone for different chart views and detailed inspection of anchorages. This provides greater convenience and flexibility, allowing us to make quick decisions about our route while moving around the vessel. The faster big picture route planning available with Navionics has been particularly useful for us.

As a backup to Expedition, we also use OpenCPN. This open-source navigation software can be installed on a laptop or desktop computer and provides a range of features, including route planning, chart plotting, and integration with AIS and other onboard instruments. This ensures that we have redundancy in case any of our primary navigation systems fail.

Ultimately, by utilizing a combination of navigation tools, we can ensure accurate and reliable navigation throughout our journeys. It’s important for sailors to consider their individual needs and preferences when choosing their navigation solutions, but we’ve found that a variety of tools can provide the greatest flexibility, convenience, and safety.

Our Conclusion About Chartplotters for Sailing Navigation

In conclusion, the choice between Navionics on a Tablet or Smartphone and using a Chartplotter will depend on the individual sailor’s needs and preferences. Navionics offers portability, ease of use, and affordability, while Chartplotters offer larger screens, integration with other systems, and durability. The sailing location and weather conditions, as well as the need for integrated systems, can also influence the decision.

Ultimately, the most important thing is to choose navigation equipment that is reliable and easy to use, allowing sailors to navigate safely and enjoyably. Whether you choose Navionics or a Chartplotter, always make sure to have a backup navigation system and paper charts, as technology can sometimes fail, and it’s important to be prepared for any situation while out on the water.


No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.