Taking your smartphone paddling with you may not be for everyone, but it is often a sensible safety precaution. I keep my phone in my PFD pocket in a Lifeproof waterproof case. Five years in, that solution seems to work OK – it’s not the most watertight or foolproof place to keep it, but it’s always close to hand. Having your normal phone with you can help nip all sorts of fiascos in the bud: someone lost on the shuttle; a bit of gear forgotten in the car or communication between two groups on the river. Of course, it’s also useful for taking photos and booking your Sunday lunch. So if you’re taking your phone with you on the water, you may as well make the most of it! Let’s take a look at some of the best apps for paddlers. Some are mobile friendly web apps, which are easy to bookmark on your phone and quite a few are free too. I’m sure there’s loads of great apps we haven’t mentioned. Share your favourite apps for paddling on our Facebook page … and we’ll add the best suggestions to this list (in no particular order).
- Yr.no, weather
- Met Office, weather
- Dark Sky, short term weather
- Whitewater Guide, global river guide
- RiverApp, international river levels
- Rivermap, European river gauge map
- Rain Chasers, UK river levels
- Canua, canoe trips in Germany
- Canoe Navigation and Divoká voda, rivers of the Czech Republic
- American Whitewater, from Alabama to the Yukon
- Magic Seaweed, surf forecasts
- Windyty, glorious wind
- Waves Tracker, save your waves
- Viewranger, worldwide maps
- Gaia GPS, worldwide maps
- OS Maps, UK maps
- OS Locate, find your UK grid reference
- iSailor, nautical charts
- Navionics Boating, nautical charts and bathymetry
- Evernote, trip planning
- Rescue Knots, aide-memoire
- Coach’s Eye, video analysis
- Splittr, bill splitting app
- Apnea Trainer, hold your breath
- Strava, race everyone, everywhere
- Paddle Logger, record your trips
- What Fish UK, fish identification
1/ Yr.no, weather
Yr (the Norwegian meteorological institute) has very reliable forecasts for mountain regions worldwide, allowing whitewater paddlers to better predict which valleys will see more rain and wind strength and direction for sea kayakers. It can store your favourite locations on your homepage too.
2/ Met Office, weather
The UK Met Office App has a similar forecast layout to Yr.no, but has less detailed twenty-four hour predictions and is less reliable in the mountain regions or overseas. The rainfall radar map is, however, very useful for UK whitewater paddlers, it gives you a visual short term forecast of where the rain will fall, for how long and where the heaviest downpours are likely to be. The rainfall map includes the previous six hours rainfall radar record, so you can wake up and scroll back to see where the rain fell overnight. Pairing this information with the online gauges, chasing the water has never been easier!
3/ Dark Sky, short term weather
A really nice looking for rainfall radar history and short term rainfall predictions that works well in the UK, USA and Canada. The home page attempts to give you a hyper-local super short term prediction for how the weather will change where you are in the next hour and gives you an idea of how long it will be before the rain reaches you.
4/ Whitewater Guide, global river guide
Free – Android
A brand new competitor in the global whitewater river gauge and guide category. Whitewater Guide has a smaller set of rivers than some of the others at the moment, but has a well designed interface with the ability to search and filter information quickly, that will handle a lot of information. They have kicked things off with an eclectic mix of rivers from Colombia, Meghalaya, Galicia, Norway and Tajikistan. Follow them to see how the guide develops in 2018 over on Facebook.
5/ RiverApp, international river levels
This app wants to be your one stop for river level gauging stations across the world. You can tag a set of your favourite rivers or sections for quick access to places you visit regularly, and you can also set a push notification alarm at whatever level you choose on a section to let you know when your favourite river is in primo condition. There’s also a hazard reporting system, which works as well as the information people volunteer – so get involved.
6/ Rivermap, European river gauge map
Free – web app
A great mobile friendly kayaker’s gauge map for the Alps and beyond (including the Massif Central, Corsica and into the Balkans and Czech Republic). The large number of gauge stations on the map can be filtered by the current river level, the difficulty and by the type of spot (for example slalom sites) so you can make sense of the whole map quite quickly. You can chose different map tiles, a rainfall prediction overlay and a quick jump to Google turn-by-turn directions for the shuttle. Bookmark it now!
7/ Rain Chasers, UK river levels
Free – web app
Here in the UK, Rain Chasers provides calibrated river level info, in a very mobile friendly site, which every UK boater should have bookmarked. You can see the same information that you’ll find on RiverApp (which gets its calibration from UK paddlers from Rain Chasers), but with a great traffic light map and list view of all our river gauges. It’s a handy way to know which set of hills to head for. There are quick links to Ordnance Survey maps of the rivers and rainfall radar too. Rain Chasers does not yet have a feed of the SEPA gauges for Scottish rivers, for that you’ll need RiverApp, or for a map view, Where’s the Water?
8/ Canua, canoe trips in Germany
Free – iOS (German region only)
With the Canua app from Deutscher Kanu Verband (DKV, the German canoe union) you can plan, map and share your kayaking trip. Canua has more than 2,000 rivers and lakes, and has mapped more than 70,000 objects (gauges, weirs and the like). It’s Europe’s biggest database for canoeing. You can track your route with your phone’s GPS and share it with on social media with geotagged photos. Uniquely you can also save the GPX file to your personal logbook eFB (digital logbook for DKV members) and also contribute your photos to the public map. The map shows the put-ins, take-outs, grade of difficulty, weirs and other dangers. For overnight trips, the map also recommends accomodation and campsites. Unfortunately for tourists, this app is only available in the German region iOS app store.
9/ Canoe Navigation and Divoká voda, rivers of the Czech Republic
Two sets of river guides from developer Jan Laš. The Canoe Navigation app is a touring guide to the ten most famous Czech rivers; Vltava, Sázava, Otava, Ohře, Lužnice, Nežárka, Berounka ,Orlice and Morava a Dyje. The Divoká voda app is a guide to some of the country’s more rapid rivers.
10/ American Whitewater, from Alabama to the Yukon and beyond
The app of American Whitewater, the organisation for the preservation and protection of whitewater rivers in the USA. With hundreds of mapped sections as far afield as Quebec and Costa Rica, online gauges, and news from AW. The mobile friendly web app is for AW subscribers but you can get the same information on their Android app (which may persuade you to join the cause and subscribe to AW too). If you don’t have an Android phone and want to check out the app you can install it on your computer using Bluestacks too.
11/ Magic Seaweed, surf forecasts
Pretty much if people surf at a spot, then this app will give you a forecast. Using a number of different data sources, the site lets you see swell and wave height, buoy readings, plus wind and tide for up to a week out (the subscription service has greater range and live cams). Most spots have a brief description and image gallery, with the popular ones often featuring daily updates or web cams. Sometimes known as Lying Shitweed, the forecasts and star ratings are usually a good guide, but worth comparing against other sites like Windguru. If you are a good reader of swell charts, or have a working knowledge of a local spot you can line it up. The site also has a nice media feed (especially anything to do with big storm developments).
12/ Windyty, glorious wind
If nothing else, Windy is one of the most mesmerising ways to watch the weather online. You can track fronts zooming from a global view right down to your backyard. Although it’s focused on wind strength and direction it also shows other weather patterns, such as rain and temperature. In fact, it’s quite customisable, letting you choose units of measurement and different forecasts. Windy also has reports for kite and paragliding spots, and for those with a real train spotting disposition, the detail forecasts at international airports.
13/ Waves Tracker, save your waves
How many waves did I take last session and which part of the beach break was I working? Find out all this and more with Wave Tracker. You can upload tracks from your fitness tracker, smart watch or other GPX source if you don’t take your phone out in the surf. There is even a video editor in beta that aims to auto-magically sync up your action cam footage and cut together an edit for you of the good bits of your session.
14/ Viewranger, worldwide maps
With Viewranger your phone can be a useful replacement for cumbersome large paper maps (as long as your battery lasts) – especially useful if you don’t know exactly where your day will take you. Viewranger is an international mapping solution for your phone, with good free worldwide maps and more map choices at a price.
15/ Gaia GPS, worldwide maps
A leading competitor to Viewranger, Gaia GPS has a very large community of users. Top tip … have you lost GPS signal in the canyon? Got an altimeter on your watch? If you’re not sure how far down the river canyon you have got by day four and you remembered to take a reading from your watch at the put-in, you can get a rough estimate of where you are on the river by looking at the elevation on your downloaded map.
16/ OS Maps, UK maps
In the UK, Ordnance Survey Explorer 1:25,000 scale maps are hard to beat. They have entered the 21st century too, as there’s an app for that! You can download sections of map while you are in signal, to avoid disappointment when you try to find your way across the UK’s patchy mobile coverage. It will give you your grid reference instantly if you press on the location arrow, which might be useful if you making a frantic call to the emergency services.
17/ OS Locate, find your UK grid reference
A simple, free app which just gives your six-figure grid reference (in the UK), and does not need phone signal to do it (it just needs GPS to work). Useful if you need to call for help in an emergency.
18/ iSailor, nautical charts
Buy worldwide nautical navigation charts for your phone or tablet (the series of charts covering the UK’s North Sea coast is £33.99). The full yachting navigation features are not so useful in a sea kayak (except perhaps for open crossings) where a printout from Google Maps in your map case is often enough to help you ‘keep the land to your left’ to find your way home. But it can be handy to have the tidal diamonds, overfalls, buoyage and shipping lanes available (the tidal diamonds are not as useful inshore for sea kayaking as hour-by-hour tidal stream atlases or guidebooks written by sea kayakers).
19/ Navionics Boating, nautical charts and bathymetry
Another GPS chart plotter for your phone. The free version allows you view your craft on a very simple base map. It also shows your speed and course over ground. Upgrade to the paid charts (about £33 for the whole UK coast and Holland) and you get a very detailed bathymetry map of the seabed, perfect for kayak fisherman looking for fishing hotspots such as reefs and sandbanks. Find a good spot and you can plot a waypoint to navigate to another time. It’s also useful to locate areas of potentially dangerous tidal conditions. A must-have app for the kayak anglers out there but would also be useful for sea kayakers. With depth in half metre increments it’s better than iSailor for bathymetry, but iSailor wins out among the yachties for having more familiar looking vector charts and tidal streams AIS data (with an internet connection). (Recommended by Liam Faisey)
20/ Evernote, trip planning
Grab a river description from a hard-to-find blog page, save it instantly from your browser with one click in a simplified, easy to read form, straight into a folder of river trip information you have shared with your buddies. Save web pages permanently to your Evernote alongside PDFs and even phone shots of magazine articles (Evernote reads the text in your photos) to make a library of beta which you can take on the trip with you, saved offline on your phone. Have your team’s travel, insurance, ID and medical documents shared between your group too. It’s great for saving information on fantasy ‘some-day’ trips too.
21/ Rescue Knots, aide-memoire
There’s a number of ropework apps out there for people who aren’t very good at remembering knots. I personally like the simple layout of the Rescue Knots app. It does not rely on signal or data, so you can use it while out on the water.
22/ Coach’s Eye, video analysis
Watching video of yourself will help you to see mistakes and better understand what you need to do in order to improve. This app makes scrolling through frame by frame really easy. You can put two videos side by side to compare two people, or your earlier and more recent performance. There are many other handy features, so have a play!
23/ Splittr, bill splitting app
Free with in-app purchases iOS (Android coming soon)
You’re on the Euro road-trip of a lifetime, setting off from the UK with Tom to drive to the Alps and then on up to Norway where you’ll meet Emma and Giles. You bought food and beer in Denmark for the whole team (but Tom has already run out of money since he spent all his euros at Outdoor Mix festival). At the end you need a degree in maths to calculate who owes what, right? Not with Splittr! Simply enter who paid how much and Splittr will do the rest. It handles multiple-currencies and exchange rates so cross-border bills and receipts not a problem.
24/ Apnea Trainer, hold your breath
£2.99 – iOS
How long can you hold your breath and remain calm? Probably longer than you think with a bit of practice. Staying calm under pressure and rolling up ready to paddle away is a good thing for any paddler to cultivate. This app guides you through a programme of diaphragm breathing exercises that will help you to hold your breath and stay calm. (Recommended by Bren Orton)
25/ Strava, race everyone, everywhere
Everything’s a race! One of many GPS tracking apps that records time, distance, altitude, and where you have been. It can be useful as a training log or for an impromptu mate’s race. Originally intended for cyclists it now includes the option to record your activity as ‘kayak’ and to find recorded segments (timed sections of your track) for kayaking (some older segments may well have been recorded as ‘swimming’!) The accuracy of your phone’s GPS on tight or short courses is not brilliant, so Strava won’t replace your stopwatch, but losing the ‘Queen of the Mountain’ to a friend is sure to inspire some great banter.
26/ Paddle Logger, record your trips
£3.99 iOS phone and watch
A GPS trip logger with a community like Strava, but focussed on paddlers. The interface has simple large controls to make them easier to use afloat, which also work on the Apple smart watch. It has some neat features like geotagging photos from your phone along your route.
27/ What Fish UK, fish identification
£1.99 – Android (iOS currently unavailable)
A useful one for the kayak fishers out there who’ve caught something and don’t know what it is! This app has a flowchart fish identifier and information on hundreds of species of fish which can be found in UK waters. There’s information on minimum sizes; record sizes; a description of the species; recommended rigs and bait; species habitat range; and even interesting facts and recipes! There are also plenty of images to help with identification. (Recommended by Liam Faisey)