Best Marine GPS | Buyer’s Guide & Reviews | 2021
The best marine GPS units can broaden your horizons when it comes to exploring the water. GPS units will become firm favourites of anglers looking to find new fishing grounds, while they can also be used by water sports enthusiasts looking to explore new routes. The core function of these devices is to allow the user to continuously log their position, although they can also be used to track the position and movements of other watercraft, monitor fish activity and pinpoint target locations. Interested in purchasing a GPS navigator for use on the water? This buying guide will explore the key factors to consider when selecting the best marine GPS for your needs.
Best Marine GPS Devices Explained
Marine GPS units differ from conventional ones in that they are intended to be used only when navigating on the water. However, marine GPS system do utilise many of the same features of standard GPS units you might use in your car or when exploring the wilderness. As with everyday GPS units, marine GPS systems connect to orbiting satellites so you can pinpoint your precise location at all times. A key benefit of this when used on the water is that it can be used to alert rescue services to your location should you run into any issues when out at sea.
Unique features of marine GPS units include sonar technology. This is used to produce underwater topography readings, alerting you to any potential hazard and underwater obstacles that might cause damage to your watercraft. It also serves as a useful aid to anglers, allowing you to locate nearby fish. The most advanced systems on the market will give you a very clear indication of how nearby fish are to your vessel.
All marine GPS units will include a chartplotter. Unlike with standard GPS units, marine charplotters allow you to map far larger areas. Chartplotters incorporate features like coordinates and 3-axis compasses to provide you with a digital representation of where you are geographically. To ensure your marine global positioning system is as reliable as possible, you should make sure that you regularly update it.
Waypoints & Routes
Using waypoints with a marine GPS device is incredibly simple. When you spot a target location on your chartplotter that you would like to journey to, you simply need to place a waypoint on that location. This is as straightforward as touching the chartplotter in the desired location, with a pin dropping in place to produce a waypoint. You will then need to press a navigation button to connect your existing location with that of the waypoint. A line will then appear to visualise the quickest path from your existing location to the waypoint. However, you should avoid journeying in a straight line without using sonar to investigate potential obstacles and hazards. You should of course rely on your own eyes to determine if there are any other obstacles on the surface you should avoid.
Different Types of Marine GPS Devices
When shopping for marine GPS units, you will encounter three main varieties. Handheld marine GPS units are some of the most popular options. Unlike units that are designed to be mounted onto your vessel, these devices are very compact and lightweight. The big advantages of this type of unit is that they utilise their own battery reserves and do not require you to connect to your bot battery. All the essential technology they require to function, such as antennas, are integrated into their housing. Therefore you do need to worry about pairing them up with other items and accessories. Many handheld devices also allow you to use apps to load different apps, with some even including a microSD card so you can manually add new maps and software. Although inexpensive, these handheld devices are fairly limited when it comes to screen size. They also rely on batteries in order to function, so you will need to ensure your device is fully charged before you head out.
Portable GPS devices are another option to think about. These are fairly similar to handheld GPS units. They often include multiple mounting options, allowing you to attach them to your boat and easily remove them so you can use them on larger vessels. They tend to have larger display sizes and offer more functionality. Larger screens also mean you are more likely to encounter touchscreen functionality with portable marine GPS units. They also tend to offer more flexibility when it comes to power. You can choose to use battery reserves, or directly connect the device to an external power source.
If you regularly venture out onto the water and have a larger vessel, a mounted marine GPS device is something to consider. These devices have larger displays and are easy to read. They also include advanced features like chartplotter software and integrated sonar. These devices are also very rugged and feature waterproof housing. Mounted GPS units tend to be powered by an external power source, so you do not need to rely on finite battery reserves. These models tend to be more expensive, however.
Marine GPS Displays
This is one of the most important factors to think about when selecting a marine GPS device. You will want bright displays that can be viewed in all conditions, with full colour displays at high resolution to ensure you get the most out of integrated sonar technology. Screen size is also important. Larger screens are handy if you want to map coastal outlines. The bigger the screen, the more information you can view at once, without having to sift between different displays.
Touchscreens are also useful to have. Although keypads are fairly user-friendly, a touchscreen will you to navigate through settings and displays more quickly. They also allow you to add waypoints more easily.
Any marine GPS you buy should provide reliable connectivity and maintain good signal strength at all times. The best GPS units should connect to multiple satellites at once, allowing you to maintain precise positioning for the duration of your journey. However, when sailing at sea and in larger bodies of water, there is always the chance that you may lose satellite signals. Therefore, you should think about purchasing a GPS device that has a contingency in place. Devices that connect to a VHF radio are a must if you want the ability to contact the emergency surfaces should you run in trouble. The best GPS units will also provide Bluetooth and wi-fi connectivity. This will allow you to update your hardware without the use of wires or memory cards. It also provides you with an easy way to update software.
Marine GPS Reviews
Looking to make marine navigation as straightforward as possible? You might want to consider investing in one of these quality marine GPS devices.
The Garmin GPSMAP 78s is a reliable option for anyone looking to upgrade to a new GPS navigator. An ideal choice for boaters or anyone who likes heading out onto the water, the GPSMAP 78s boasts many great features, including a 3-axis compass, detailed colour mapping and a barometric altimeter. It also features a high-sensitivity receiver to ensure you get the best feedback possible. A microSD card slot is included, allowing to you add further maps to your device. This is also easy to handle when on the water, with moulded sides so you can always maintain a firm grip. In the event you do drop this device in the water, you will be glad to know it floats, allowing you to quickly retrieve it.
This GPS unit comes loaded with a global base map, allowing you to start navigating wherever you are in the world. The tilt-compensated electronic compass also lets you know exactly where you are heading, even if you are stationary. The tilt compensation also means you do not have to worry about holding the device level in order to enjoy accurate readings. The barometric altimeter is also very effective at monitoring pressure changes, allowing it to always deliver precise altitude readings. This is also a wireless device, meaning you can share routes, tracks and waypoints with compatible devices. If you want to share a specific location with a friend, data sharing is easy, with a simple send command on hand to allow for instantaneous transfer.
Garmin 010-01550-00 Striker 4 with Transducer, 3.5″ GPS Fishfinder with Chirp Traditional Transducer
The Garmin Striker 4 is a superb choice of GPS receiver with plenty of premium features. This handheld GPS device utilises ClearVu scanning sonar to provide you with a clear indication of what is going on in the water around you. The sonar utilises high-frequency waves to provide you with crisp details in photographic detail, giving you a good idea of underwater topography and potential obstacles. The keyed interface also makes this a particularly user-friendly option. Large buttons make it easy to sift through settings and make adjustments, even when you are exposed to wet conditions. This particular GPS receiver has a 3.5-inch screen, although larger display options are available. All size models boast a waterproof rating of IPX7, meaning you will not have to worry about keeping your device try when on the water.
A waypoint map feature is provided here, allowing to plot routes easily. You can also mark your location and make quick work of navigating to target destinations. For anglers looking for fish-finding functionality, the Garmin Striker 4 will not disappoint. It can provide readings of freshwater depths of up to 1,600 feet. If you are using the device at seat, you can expect depth readings of around 750 feet. Chirp sonar technology ensures a continuous frequency sweep, giving you a broader range of data feedback. This chirp sonar functionality is particularly useful at providing you with better target separation feedback.
This Garmin GPSMAP 78s marine GPS receiver is a good option for those who want to make quick work of plotting routes and navigating new surroundings. The 2.4-inch LCD display is a little on the small side, but you can enjoy crisp images with plenty of detail that compensates for the smaller display size. A worldwide base map is already loaded onto the device, but you have a microSD slot provided so you can load additional maps. You also have 1.7 megabytes of integrated memory, which provides plenty of storage potential for permanent transfer of new maps.
This is a good option for boaters or those who need a GPS navigator when using a kayak. The waterproof housing and buoyant housing means this device can be exposed to water without you damaging the circuitry. It also floats, meaning there is no need to panic if you drop the device in water. A 3-axis electronic compass means you can always be sure on your position, while tilt compensation means you do not have to waste time ensuring the device is level in order to pinpoint your exact location. An effective barometric altimeter is also included, which precisely monitors changes in altitude to ensure you can always be confident on your position. All in all, this is a user-friendly GPS system that will hold up well in all conditions.
The Simrad Cruise 5 is one of the most user-friendly chartplotters on the market. This global positioning system has everything you could possibly need to ensure simple GPS navigation and is a good option, even if you have minimal experience with such devices. This device comes loaded with a US coastal map, with plenty of detailed charts on hand to ensure you can explore the water with confidence. This GPS system also offers compatibility with charts from Navionics and C-MAP, making it easy to enhance your device with the exact information and map references you need. With its large screen size and intuitive controls, operating this device is effortless. A rotary dial and simple keypad means you can navigate between screens quickly, with real-time displays with no lag.
This GPS navigator provides you with an amazing level of detail. You can view readings relating to depth, your precise position, battery life and more. As you can monitor multiple datasets at once, this is a great option for those who want a hassle-free solution for maintaining oversight of critical functions when boating. This device also includes a chirp sonar transducer. This provides you with superior tracking performance and means you do not have to worry about carrying out preparatory tuning and programming. This device is designed with fixed mounting in mind, so you should consider where on your vessel it will be most useful.
Garmin Striker Plus 5cv with Transducer, 5″ GPS Fishfinder with CHIRP Traditional and ClearVu Scanning Sonar Transducer and Built In Quickdraw Contours Mapping Software
The Garmin Striker Plus 5cv is a first class choice of marine GPS. Designed with anglers and boating enthusiasts in mind, this GPS system offers plenty of premium technologies to make your chart plotting and marine navigation as straightforward as possible. An integrated transducer and CHIRP sonar provides you with exceptional scanning performance. This particular GPS unit comes with additional CHIRP ClearVu scanning sonar for even better feedback. This system comes pre-loaded with Garmin Quickdraw Contours software that allows you to create and store your own map. This software will allow you to produce maps with 1-inch contours, extending to a coverage of up to two million acres.
The built in global positioning system technology makes it easy or you to mark things like waypoints and create bespoke routes. You can also use the GPS functionality to monitor the speed of your watercraft. If you are after a larger screen size, the Garmin Striker Plus 5cv is a good option. The 5-inch display provides you with incredibly clear viewing of your maps. It is also readable in bright sunlight. Although this does not offer a touchscreen, the large keypad buttons to the right of the display are intuitive and easy to get to grips with. This system is designed to be mounted on the hull of your vessel, so is a little bit limited if you prefer handheld convenience. However, its rugged build and water resistant housing makes it well suited to maritime adventures.
Garmin GPSMAP 86sc, Floating Handheld GPS with Button Operation, Preloaded BlueChart G3 Coastal Charts, Stream Boat Data From Compatible Chartplotters
The Garmin GPSMAP 86sc is the perfect option for those looking for something compact and easy to operate. This water-resistant GPS unit might be small, but it performs well in challenging conditions. The 3-inch display is easy to read, even in bright sunlight, while the exterior housing means this device will float in the water should you drop it overboard. The intuitive buttons also make for easy operation, allowing you to switch between displays in moments. With this Garmin GPS unit, you can directly stream data from any compatible chartplotter and similar devices. This will allow you combine all your essential marine navigation data for reference.
This Garmin marine GPS comes loaded with Bluechart G3 coastal charts, with first-rate maps from both Garmin and Navionics. This versatile device can also be utilised as a remote controller for operating other marine hardware, such as Garmin autopilot and Fusion devices. This device will offer you exceptional battery life, with the lithium battery providing you with around 50 hours of runtime after a single charge. Although this device impresses on a lot of counts, it is designed to be used alongside other devices. If you are after a solitary GPS system that can perform all the key functions you need independently, it is probably not the best option for you.
The Garmin Striker Plus 7Cv is a robust and reliable choice of GPS system for outdoor enthusiasts. This GPS unit includes a transducer, with integrated Garmin CHIRP sonar technology, along with ClearVu scanning functionality to provide you with first-rate performance. This device also comes ready loaded with Quickdraw Contours mapping software. This software will allow you to create and store your own maps, with incredible levels of contoured detail. This makes it a good option for anglers and boaters.
This device also offers built-in wi-fi connectivity. This means you can access the device via your smartphone or mobile devices, provided you have downloaded the ActiveCaptain app beforehand. This also provides you with access to the Quickdraw Contours Community, allowing you to share waypoints and other datasets with ease. This also makes it easy to stay on top of software updates to ensure you are always getting the most out of your device. This particular GPS unit stands out with its large 7-inch display. The screen is readable in even the brightest of conditions, allowing you to refer to maps and plotted routes with no glare.
Things to Remember When Selecting a Marine GPS Device
When selecting a marine GPS device, there are a few main things to remember. A large screen size and user-friendly controls are a must. A good display should not only provide you with clear oversight of maps and waypoints, but allow you to enjoy clear readings in all conditions. If you intend to regularly refer to your GPS device, you should think about purchasing one with a touchscreen. This will allow you to make instantaneous changes and sift between screens in seconds.
Regular users of GPS units should also think about connectivity. If you need to constantly update your unit with software updates and new maps, wireless and Bluetooth connectivity is essential. This wireless connectivity also makes it easy to share data between devices.
No matter how basic or advanced your GPS unit, you should never overlook the importance of waterproof housing. Look for models that provide an IPX7 waterproof rating as a minimum. If you are opting for a handheld or portable device, you should definitely go for a model that will float in the event you drop it overboard.