How to use Marine Electronics with your SmartPhone

NMEA data on your Android or iPhone

Do you have an AIS receiver on your boat? Maybe a wind instrument or anemometer if you are a sailor. If you are a fisherman, you most likely have a depth sounder. Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could use these electronic devices with your Android or iOS phone or tablet?

The good news is that now this is possible even if the company that sold you does not support your mobile phone platform. i-Boating, an extremely popular ​marine navigation app​ on iOS, Android & Windows has added support for NMEA​. This makes it possible to connect a wide variety of marine electronic devices including Wind Instruments, Sonar / Depth Sounders, AIS receivers, even GPS and more.

How this works?

This is made possible by NMEA. ​NMEA is a combined electrical and data specification for communication between marine electronics such as echo sounder, sonars, anemometer, gyrocompass, autopilot, GPS receivers and many other types of instruments. It has been defined by, and is controlled by, the National Marine Electronics Association.

NMEA uses a simple ASCII, serial communications protocol that defines how data are transmitted in a “sentence” from one “talker” to multiple “listeners” at a time. Through the use of intermediate expanders, a talker can have a unidirectional conversation with a nearly unlimited number of listeners, and using multiplexers, multiple sensors can talk to a single computer port.

At the application layer, the standard also defines the contents of each sentence (message) type, so that all listeners can parse messages accurately.

TLDR: Implement an NMEA talker/listener in your Android or iOS device and you can use your marine electronic device with your smartphone.

i-Boating step by guide for using AIS & other marine electronics

  • Connect your phone/table to the onboard Wi-Fi network/Wi-Fi network setup by your AIS receiver. Note that this step needs to happen outside the app.
  • Press menu/overflow button and select “Start AIS” and enter the following details:

You would have to refer to your AIS receiver manual to get the exact values. The application supports NMEA over both TCP & UDP. Here is a screenshot for how this looks like.

AIS display

  • The app support automatic age-ing of targets. The targets would turn grey if no messages are received for that target for 5 minutes. You can adjust this interval in AIS setup when you start AIS.
  • The targets are color coded. Class A Targets are orange, Class B targets are dark pink, Base station targets are green, ATONs are purple, SART are red and everything else is yellow.
  • If the heading is available, then the target is drawn with the heading vector drawn on the map.
  • Tapping on a target would display all info about the target (including static info such as name, ETA, destination, MMSI etc.).
  • Static AIS messages are sent less frequently than dynamic AIS messages. So static info about a target make take a little longer to become available.

Using GPS over NMEA

There are several AIS receivers that can stream GPS data as NMEA over TCP/UDP (on wifi network setup by that receiver). There are several Windows and Mac applications that can do the same. You can force the i-Boating client to use this as GPS source instead of the built in GPS receiver on your android device.

  • Tap menu/overflow button and select Settings
  • In Setting screen scroll down and tap on “NMEA Instrument Settings”
  • Check the box ” Use NMEA as GPS Source”
  • Tap on Save

Wind, Sonar, Temperature and other instruments data

The application includes support for NMEA instruments.

  • Wind direction: The application also shows the wind direction as yellow arrow next to the current location. To view wind direction on the map, you must tap on Auto Follow. Otherwise it is just shows as text on top of the map.
  • Wind speed
  • Sonar depth
  • Water temperature

Vector marine & Fishing charts in your browser

Most marine chart plotters do not come with built in fishing maps. You have to purchase them externally. They can only be accessed in your chart plotter, which is typically mounted in your boat. This makes it virtually impossible to use them for planning. Now you can use the free i-Boating web app for planning.

The ​fishing web app​ is available at ​​ and includes the following features.

  • Worldwide coverage:​ Includes US, Canada, Australia & New Zealand (Other regions coming soon):
  • HD contours:​ 1 ft bathymetry is available for over 5000 US lakes (and growing). This makes it really easy to identify those humps and holes and plan a route growing over those humps when fishing.
  • Switch background maps​ to Street Maps, USGS Satellite Imagery and more: To get an idea of the nearby terrain and streets, you can switch base map to USGS aerial imagery or even regular street maps.
  • Change depth unit​ to feet, meter or fathom: All depth contours, soundings and depth areas are shown in feet. But you can switch it to fathom or meters.
  • Distance bearing tool
  • Display latitude, longitude under cross hairs​
  • Rotate maps​ using mouse or standard touch gesture (Text stays upright on rotation). ●    Tilt Maps​ / Bird’s Eye View

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