ICW Cruising Resources

Resources We Depend Upon While Cruising the ICW
(Updated 1/3/2016 fixed links and grammar)

Ann and I have been in boating for over 30 years and our cruising territory has included Maine, Long Island Sound and the east coast ICW to Key West. We've often been asked what reference material or resources we use while cruising so I'll summarize what works best for us, your needs may be different. I won't cover the obvious like depth sounder, wind speed and direction, knotmeter, radar, etc. I will comment that set and calibrate your depth sounder to read the depth of the water, not the depth under the keel and not with a "safety factor". You always want to know the exact depth in units that map directly to your chart. So when you go over a 8 ft spot on the chart, it's comforting to see your depth meter read the same number when corrected for tide. You want to keep the mental gymnastics to as little as possible while negotiating shallow waters! The resources below are focussed on the use of a laptop on board. For similar iPad resources see Apple iPad on a Boat.

1 - Chartplotter
You really need to get a chartplotter when negotiating ICW's twists and turns. The path is not always obvious, to say the least. The chartplotter will point the way. Of course you always follow the markers but sometimes they are not obvious, a chartplotter helps greatly. I use a Garmin GPSMAP492 but any good chartplotter will do. I favor the Garmin line, they've been in business long enough to process a lot of feedback from boaters and improve their chartplotters as a result. They typically come preloaded with charts for the entire USA so there's no additional charts to buy.

2 - Active Captain
Without doubt, the Active Captain website is our number one reference while on the ICW. The website is free to join. It displays a NOAA chart with icons representing marinas, anchorages, hazards and local knowledge (inlets, approaches, etc.) What makes Active Captain unique is the input and constant updating by boaters of the site information. For example, the data on marinas is much more extensive than anywhere else (current price per ft for dockage, fuel prices, reviews by boaters who've been there and much more). You will often find a review just days before you make your choice for the night so the info is very current. Likewise, reviews for anchorages are overlayed on the NOAA chart for determining their exact location that includes reviews and any problems encountered by recent boaters. The information on whether there are places to take you pet for relief is invaluable. The hazard icons are right on the NOAA chart where a problem was encountered by a previous boater with details on the depth of the hazard and the nature of the problem encountered. All these icons can be updated with your new experiences so the information stays current. Plus, everything is located right on the NOAA chart. You don't have to plow through unrelated hazards for an area you will not be going through that day like some sites that group hazards by general area (e.g., all of North and South Carolina). Try the site out and explore, it's worth it.

3 - Waterway Guide
A well organized site for ICW information, I use it to supplement Active Captain.

4 - Cruisers Net
Generally a good site for a wide range of information with some unique contributors in specialized areas.

5 - Coastal Marine Text Forecasts
You can listen to the weather of the VHF or just go directly to the NOAA site for the same info without having to wait for the VHF channel to cycle through all their forecasts (takes forever...) This site is all text so it loads fast.

6 - National Hurricane Center
Of course you'd better pay attention to hurricanes when going down the ICW in the fall!

7 - Buoy Data in real time
An all text site to select and display buoy data such as wind speed, wave height, gusts, etc. I nice to know what's actually out there fore leaving your comfortable anchorage.

8- Atlantic City Waves
We have to go outside down the New Jersey coast, it's too shallow and the bridges are too low for us to go inside during this part of the cruise. So we typically anchor at Atlantic Highlands and wait for a weather window and constantly access this site for wave action on our route south. We like 1 to 2 ft at most, lower is better (at least for us). There are predictions for sites along the entire east coast, just click on models and select the third graph box down. I also use the apps I recommended for the iPad (see Apple iPad on a Boat)

9 - NOAA Local Weather Forecast
Of course you need weather forecasts. The link goes to New York City but you can enter any city for a forecast. The radar for the area can be accessed further down the page by clicking on the small, radar view.

10 - Grib Wind Forecast
You can download a free application that will allow you to process the free grib files that will show wind speed and direction for up to 8 days. We've found them to  generally be more accurate than NOAA predictions which can cover a very larger area. The grib prediction can be localized to small areas of concern. It's another great site for planning the outside passage down the New Jersey coast. The iPad app shows the same data on the tablet.

11 - PolarView
A good navigation program for your laptop is a good thing to have and PolarView is excellent and at a very reasonable price, currently $49.99 if you download the free charts yourself as opposed to getting them on a DVD. It includes both vector and standard NOAA chart scans, AIS capability, route import and downloads, display of grib data for free and more.

12 - AIS - Automatic Identification System
Most modern chartplotters have the capability to display AIS signals. You get an icon on your chartplotterchartplotter. I use MilTech Marine. For my use I bought whatever AIS receiver they had on sale and also an active antenna splitter so I could use the VHF antenna on the top of my mast for maximum range. For the Garmin 492, the icon showing your boat will display a line off your bow showing where you will be in 10 min, likewise for all AIS ships in range. Looking at the 10 min line, you can determine whether there's a possibility of an encounter or not. It is surprisingly hard to judge by eye if you're going to be close - with AIS it's a breeze. For those who think radar is good enough, try going through New York harbor with 10 or more barges going in all directions, some anchored, some not, cruise ships departing and coming, water taxis all around  - you have to pay attention and can't be plotting collision courses on your radar!