Of all the summer delights, few are more irresistible than a vacation by the water, be it an ocean, a lake or a city harbor. You can swim, sail, fish and enjoy the age-old tradition of lazing around.
But a seaside holiday is also an opportunity to discover. Maybe you want to learn to tie knots fishing and boating? Or decipher those colorful signal flags do you see on ships and in shops by the sea? With the right app, you can make a vacation on the water something deeper: identify the fish you just caught or the ship passing by, discover the shell you saw or the lake you dive into, explore shark migrations in the neighborhood and study the rhythms of the moon and the tides, while keeping your toes in the sand.
Follow ships on the horizon
When I saw a ship slide into a harbor one evening, I wondered aloud where it could have been. “Let’s see,” said a friend, who then grabbed his phone and opened it MarineTraffic — Track Shipan app that can identify ships near and far.
The app’s live map lets you zoom in and out on major ports and shipping routes around the world to see ships, their details, and itineraries. Each vessel is represented by a colored pictogram, including dark blue for passenger vessels, orange for fishing vessels, and purple for yachts and pleasure craft. For example, when I was looking at a Norwegian cruise ship on the Hudson River in New York, I opened the map (there is a desktop version on MarineTraffic.com), tapped its icon and was immediately shown a photo of the ship with information such as its name, flag, last known port (it had been at Kings Wharf in Bermuda two days earlier), speed, and status (it was moored in as opposed to, say, on the road, using a motor). Later, when the ship departed, I opened the app and saw with a glance that it was now on its way to Norfolk, Va. (You can also search for a specific ship by name.)
Free; $9.99 per year for a “starter subscription” that includes more vessel and port information and features such as an augmented reality tool to identify vessels using your smartphone camera. Note: The app uses a coastal network Automatic identification system (AIS) receivers to display vessel positions. It costs extra to unlock details for a vessel that is out of AIS range.
Try your hand at boating and knotting
Are you going boating, fishing or camping this summer? Buttons 3D uses color animations to teach you how to tie more than 150 knots, from knots that can catch a fish to knots that can save your life. Read about the use and history of the knots, adjust the speed of the animations or pause them, twist a knot for a different perspective and use your finger to tie and untie it. There are several ways to search for knots you want to master, including by category (such as: sail, fishing and camping) or node type (such as anchor hook, bowling and fisherman’s eye). Plus, the app doesn’t require internet service, so you can even practice while you’re in the backcountry.
Follow sharks from your beach chair
You never know which creatures will share the water with you during your summer vacation. Or is it?
this app from oceana non-profit organization that facilitates global ocean and fish research, allows users to: follow the migrations of sharks (and some other sea creatures, such as turtles) tagged with satellite tracking technology. In July, for example, I was able to see on the app’s map that an 883-pound white shark, more than 10 feet long, was in the Atlantic Ocean off a nearby beach. The app allows you to track such sharks as they travel thousands of miles (select “all pings” on the app’s map to see both historical and recent tracking activity). Meanwhile, the data collected through tracking is helping scientists understand the sharks’ migration patterns and life cycles to help better protect them and ultimately the oceans.
Dive into the history of oceans and lakes
Open Earth 3D — World Atlas for a virtual globe that spins at the swipe of a finger, so you can explore wherever you are — or want to be for a long time. Vacationing to the Great Lakes in Wisconsin? Tap Lake Superior to read about the first humans who came to the region thousands of years ago. On the coast of South Carolina? Tap the Atlantic Ocean to find out how big it is. Or touch the Caribbean Current to discover where it flows. On holiday in a big city? Tap a monument or landmark, such as Florida’s Key West Lighthouse, to learn more about it.
The information about the places comes from Wikipedia, which is easily accessible on the internet. And Earth 3D lacks the granularity of, say, the Google Earth app. Nevertheless, it’s a charming, eye-pleasing way to spark interest in geography and history, especially among young people.
(For a more quirky compendium, try the Atlas Obscura Travel Guide app where you can discover lesser-known sights around you or elsewhere in the world on an interactive map. And you can’t beat the price: free.)
Identify shells and other finds by the sea
Let’s say you are walking along the coast when you see an unknown object. Whether it is a shell, a piece of coral, a plant or an insect, try to consult Google Lens. Point your smartphone camera at whatever you want to know and Lens will search the web for visual matches and information. For example, when it recently pointed at a grenade, it found pages of photos that showed it was likely a moon snail.
You can also point your camera at a building or statue to discover its history. And you don’t have to do it in real time either: Lens works on images in photos too. Some objects yield more useful results than others, but Lens is undoubtedly a powerful tool. Available as an app for Android; iOS users can use the google appwhich allows you to search images with Lens.
Decode the sights and sounds of the harbor
This digital reference book for boaters provides information on essentials such as collision avoidance. But even beachgoers who have never set foot on board can take advantage of Navigation Rules Pro to decipher the sights and sounds of a seaside holiday. For example, you can find out what those colorful flags and pennants mean (and how each corresponds to a letter) with the app guide to the International Code of Signals, a system ships use to communicate. Just type “ICS” into the search function to read how signals can be sent and to see flag images, their meaning, associated letters and phonetic alphabet letters.
Or you may want to study international Morse code using the dot and dash charts in the app (just search for “Morse”), or learn more about the Earth and its coordinates by selecting the “nautical charts” section. Much of this information can be found online for free, although the app houses it in one place. So you can sit at a bar on the harbor and watch things you’re curious about – like how waves form at sea – with one hand while sipping a beer with the other. Only for iOS.
Tune in to the moon and the tides
Keeping track of time may not be necessary on every type of vacation, but if you’re hoping to catch the sunrise or cross a sandbar before high tide, a little planning is in order. Tides near me makes it a breeze to check the current and get the time of the next tide, sunset, or moonrise. Look further ahead by tapping the ‘week’ tab. Free.
For a more refined experience, consider spending a few bucks on Tide Warning (NOAA) – United States, which has an inviting, interactive interface and uses tide forecast data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A map with a wavy line represents ebb and flow. A yellow dot on the line indicates the current time and tide height. You can use your finger to drag the yellow dot forward or backward, virtually back in time to see what the tides were, or forward to see what they will be. Moon and sun icons on the map show the times of sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moonset. You can also see that information at a glance by tapping ‘rise and set’. Touch the calendar icon to see monthly moon phase calendars. iOS only. Cost: Free trial, then $3.99 for three months; $11.99 per year.
Surfers may also want to take a look at the MSW Surf Forecast app by Magicseaweed for predictions including surf and swell height. Free. An ad-free, pro version with features like live surfcams from around the world are available for $12.99 per month; $99.99 per year (free trial available).
And if you’re planning to go fishing, check out the fisherman app to explore fishing spots and view tide phase and barometric pressure maps, weather and wind conditions, sun and moon states, as well as a “fish forecast” that suggests the best times to fish based on Solunar Tables (how the moon and the sun can influence fishermen). Even if you don’t manage to catch anything, you can use the app to learn about the top species in your area, whether it’s an American anglerfish or a Yellowtail snapper. Free.