App News – Get Your Captain’s License

SafeSkipper

Lot’s of sailors spend the winter poring over sailing books to increase their sailing knowledge.  Some even study or take courses that enable them to sit for their USCG Captain’s License.  Studying for this test can be both mind expanding and frustrating as you try to remember accurately the differences between inland and international rules or what shape a boat towing alongside that is greater than 50 meters should display.  Fortunately, app makers are making it easier and more enjoyable to study the rules of the road, which means whether you are studying for the USCG test or just want to improve your on the water knowledge – you can do so from the comfort of your handheld device.

Recently, we were exposed to a great app, and had planned to review it for you, but we were beaten to the punch by About.com writer Tom Lochhaas who did a better job than we would have showcasing this awesome reference app.  Read below Tom’s review and consider signing up for his newsletter by clicking here.

Review of Safe Skipper – Safety Afloat App

Good Reference Information to Have on Hand

By , About.com Guide

This app is a compendium of important safe boating information, like having a small safety handbook in your pocket. While very experienced sailors or boaters may not find much they don’t already know, it’s very useful for the less experienced and also makes a good teaching tool for those new to boating and guests on your boat.

Version reviewed: Android version 2.0
Requires Android 2.2 and up
Developer: theotherhat.biz
Available at Google Play Store – $2.99
Tested on Lenovo A1 7-inch tablet running Android 2.3
Apple versions also available for iPhone and iPad

Note: there is also a free “lite” version of Safe Skipper, but unlike some lite apps that provide significant functionality such that many users not needing advanced features can continue to use the free version, in this case Safe Skipper Lite is actually a preview just to give you a taste. Go ahead and take a look first, but if you find it useful, you will need to buy the full version. For what’s there, the price is worth it.

Key Features

This app gives you information; it doesn’t “do” anything beyond that. It’s a small boating safety book for those who want or need to keep the information conveniently with them rather than browsing online or reading a book at home and then tucking it away somewhere.

The information is presented in four basic sections:

  • Preparation (to stay safe – before you head out)
  • Equipment (what to have on your boat for safety and emergencies and how to use it)
  • Communications (signaling, radio use, DSC, etc.)
  • Emergencies (what to do when many different kinds of emergencies occur)

The information in each section is reasonably comprehensive (though nothing like a full book on seamanship), is written concisely mostly in bullet points, and is clear and authoritative. Compared to reading a large book, browsing this app is enjoyable and something one might want to review from time to time, as well as to offer for perusal by crew and passengers aboard. For those relatively new to boating (and even the many boaters who have been on the water for years but have never paid attention to safety issues), this is a great start to get you thinking in the right direction on a wide range of safety topics.

The Downside

While the app is marketed in part as a quick reference guide – such as what to do when disaster strikes – I would argue it should be viewed and used as a preparation tool. If your sailboat’s mast suddenly crashes down in a storm or smoke pouring from your engine compartment indicates a fire, you’re not going to reach for your smartphone or iPad and go flipping through menus and scrolling down pages to see what to do. You have to know what to do in advance, have equipment ready in the right place, and act fast. In most cases no app could get you the information fast enough. That said, it’s great to have an app with you that you can take a look at and show others from time to time until you’ve learned this information well. It’s really an educational app, and while not as detailed as many print resources, it’s pretty good for those who like their education in smaller doses.

Some topics are not covered in much useful detail, hopefully something users will recognize so that they keep other resources at hand also. For example, the section on medical emergencies is very thin, with only a sentence or so on most emergencies. The section does conclude by urging boaters to keep a good first aid manual on the boat, but it might be better not even to pretend to give instructions that could waste time in the emergency – just send users straight to the first aid manual!

Finally, most of the illustrations, which appear in all sections, while quite pretty, don’t really add substance. They’re attractive but not useful. Maybe graphics are needed to get some app users even to take a look, but we old-school types prefer to see illustrations that actually increase our understanding of the topic at hand.

Conclusions

The best apps focus on a specific type of audience and its needs and maintain a good focus to meet those needs. As an instructional app, Safe Skipper does that introductory job quite well – within the limits of its size (perhaps the equivalent of a 50-page pocketbook). Beyond that, for the finer points of safety, you’ll need a boating course, a decent book or online site on seamanship, or a lot of experience under the tutelage of a master seaman.

Other Important Boating Safety Information

Boating Safety Quiz
Safety Checklist Before Going Sailing
Best Sailing and Boating Apps

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