It’s extraordinary how marine GPS technology has revolutionized the lives of army marines, professional boaters, and inexperienced boaters. A marine GPS is a standard piece of equipment that every boat enthusiast should own.
If you’re inexperienced in the marine scene, knowing how these versatile units work can be challenging. Selecting the correct type of unit for your water expeditions can also be overwhelming as there are so many excellent brands on the market.
So what is a marine GPS and how does it differ from your standard global positioning system? We will dissect all of your pressing questions about marine GPS units so you can pick the best one for your boat trips.
What is Marine GPS?
A marine GPS unit is specifically designed to navigate when you’re on the water. You can use marine GPS units for a number of on-water activities such as:
- Tracking aquatic life
- Finding a location
- Tracking other boats & ships
The Difference between Marine GPS, Outdoor and Automotive GPS Units
The difference between land units and marine units is quite extensive. They have different functionalities and displays. This includes mapping, satellite connections, and navigation technology.
Marine GPS Units
Marine GPS units are only for navigating you through the water. These GPS units can be small or large depending on the exterior.
These devices use some technological aspects of on-land GPS units as it’s much more difficult to find a location when you’re far out at sea. Marine GPS units are usually connected to satellites to pinpoint exact locations. It’s also used for safety purposes as anyone can get lost at sea.
Marine GPS units have important integrated features such as weather forecasts. It’s important for all marine GPS devices to have this feature as weather out at sea can be unpredictable and dangerous.
You can also use marine GPS units to locate fish. If advanced enough it will be able to tell you how far the fish are relative to where you’re situated.
Outdoor GPS Units
Outdoor GPS units are designed for any outdoor activities such as hiking, archaeology expeditions, hunting, backpacking, and even rock climbing. These units are more rugged as tech devices are prone to damage when you’re out and about.
Much like the marine GPS units these devices have strong satellite signals for safety purposes. This is so you can contact emergency services if there is an accident on your trail or if you get lost.
Outdoor GPS units must be light and portable so they don’t bring added weight to your backpacking adventures. It’s important that these devices are weather resistant as they could be subjected to rain and harsh environments.
Topography is one of the features you’d find on an outdoor GPS unit. This helps you determine the gradient of your trail and where there are water sources.
Automotive GPS Units
The automotive GPS unit is designed to navigate you on the road when you’re traveling by car, bus or truck. These units are mountable for easy viewing while you travel on the roads.
Because these are non-handheld devices, most of the brands will have integrated voice recognition programs. This is so you can find locations without the use of your hands. Other important features include realistic mapping technology so it’s easy to see when to turn off on highways and onto streets.
These GPS units can also inform you when you’re driving over the speed limit, how to avoid tollgate routes and suggest back road routes. If you’re on a time-sensitive trip your automotive GPS can suggest routes that have no traffic for faster travel time.
Marine GPS Maps
The terminology for a marine GPS map is called a chartplotter. A marine chartplotter has the technological ability to map out large areas. These plotters come with compasses and coordinates & they show you where you’re situated digitally.
You must make sure that your chartplotter is up to date at all times to avoid any dangers when you’re out at sea. It’s often the only aid to navigation when you’re on your boat.
The chartplotter has a number of useful functionalities. Not only can you plan your routes but you can also track your travel time relative to your boat’s speed. Here are a few other functionalities you might find useful on the chartplotter:
- Setting anchor times
- Alarm functions
- Tracking weather forecasts
- Changing the display to steering view or topographical view
- Tracking sea life
- Viewing the depths of water
- Easy viewing of compass displays
- Tracking speed
- Fuel consumption
Best Marine GPS Units in 2019
1. Raymarine Dragonfly Pro Chirp Fish Finder with Built-in GPS
The Raymarine Dragonfly Pro Is an excellent unit for leisure time fishing. With its 5" LED-backlit display screen you’re able to see with a clearer view. Its daylight display dispels glare so you’re able to fish anytime during the day.
With its dual-channel sonar, you’re able to get a wide spectrum CHIRP. It has a DownVision sonar for optimal photographic downward imagery and a second CHIRP capable of targeting fish.
Connect your unit to your SmartPhone so you can stream live sonar data straight to it. You’re able to connect to apps such as the Raymarine's Wi-Fish mobile app. It also comes with 3000 waypoints and 15 tracks. You can install an SD card for more storage space.
- 5" display screen
- Comes with a CPT-DVS Transom Mount Transducer
- Dimensions of 13.8" x 13.8" x 13.8"
- Weighs 1.8lb
2. Garmin EchoMap PLUS 94sv with Transducer
The Garmin EchoMap has a clear sunlight readable display with CHIRP ClearVü and CHIRP SideVü scanning sonars. It has preloaded BlueChart G2 charts for the coastal U.S. and built-in Quickdraw Contours mapping software.
This unit can be connected through WiFi so you can download the ActiveCaptain app. This helps you upload data, and download additional maps.
- 9" screen display
- 11.3" x 2” x 6.4"
- 2.7lb in weight
- Nine Keys
- Wi-Fi connection
3. Garmin GPSMAP 78sc Handheld GPS
This is a Small handheld device perfect for those relaxing days on the boat. It comes with a highly sensitive GPS receiver and a bright color screen display. The Garmin GPSMAP comes with an integrated BlueChart g2 U.S. with multiple coastal charts.
The Garmin GPSMAP 78sc also has an electronic compass and software to determine the weather and the altitude you’re traveling in.
- Battery operated
- 2.6" color screen display
- 2.6” x 1.2” x 6" dimensions
- 20-hour battery life
- Micro SD card slot
- 160 x 240 pixels
- 3-axis compass
4. Garmin GPSMAP 64s Worldwide with High-Sensitivity GPS and GLONASS Receiver
The Garmin GPSMAP 64s has an optimal bright color screen with a 160 x 240 pixels display resolution for easy viewing.
It comes with wireless connectivity so you’re able to update software, share your location and connect effortlessly to your SmartPhone. You can receive additional smart notifications that help you with the weather and the speed in which you’re traveling.
This unit also has built-in sensors for your heart rate and to determine the temperature outside.
- 2.6" daylight readable color screen
- GPS and GLONASS receiver
- Quad helix antenna
- 4 GB internal memory
- Micro SD card slot
- 3-axis compass
- Bluetooth connectivity
- 16 Hours battery life
- 2.4” x 1.4” x 6.3"
5. Garmin Striker 4 with Transducer, 3.5" GPS Fishfinder
The Garmin Striker 4 is known for its simplicity and extensive sonar technology. With the CLEARVÜ scanning sonar, you’re able to know more of what’s around your boat with detailed imagery of structure and fish life.
It has an easy to understand key interface which assists you with finding features and icons rapidly. It also comes with waypoint mapping for easy route plotting. The built-in CHIRP sonar allows you to view more extensive information.
- Built-in Flasher
- 3.5" color screen display
- Has a CHIRP 77/200 kHz sonar transducer
- Sensitive GPS connectivity
- A weight of only 8.1oz
- Power is 200W
- Freshwater depth of 1,600 ft
6. Humminbird Helix 5 Chirp GPS G2 Fish Finder
With the Humminbird Helix 5, you can switch up your viewing with SwithFire. This allows you to change the appearance of your return with Max Mode and Clear Mode. It changes the structure and the amount of detail you’d like to view.
This unit comes with CHIRP ClearVü and CHIRP SideVü scanning sonars for optimal viewing. It also has built-in base maps AutoChart Live and a built-in GPS so you’re ready for almost any scenario.
- 500w power
- Micro SD card slot
- Internal GPS
- Chart plotting
- 2D Sonar
- 5" Display screen
- Keypad control
- Multiple sonars
- Built-in maps
- 1.13” x 7.55” x 4.28"
7. Simrad GO7 XSE Chartplotter/Fishfinder w/TotalScan Transom Mount Transducer
The Simrad GO7 XSE is a mounted marine GPS unit and fish finder. This unit has a large display with an easy touchscreen interface. The screen has a bright LED backlight so you can easily view details, even at night.
This unit has a built-in GPS and an easy to use chartplotter. You can also connect this device to Wi-Fi which assists with updates, uploading data, connecting to specific applications and receiving push notifications.
- 7" LED display
- Uses a flush or bracket mount
- Touchscreen interface
- TripIntel technology
- 10Hz GPS receiver
- GoFree Wi-Fi
- Worldwide base map
- CMAP cartography
- 10” x 9” x 8" dimensions
- 7.8lb in weight
Additional Information You Should Know When Buying a Marine GPS Unit
How to use Waypoints
If you see a location on your chartplotter that you’d like to visit, you can simply drop a waypoint. To do this, touch the area on your chartplotter to drop a pin. You can then click a navigation button which will connect you to the waypoint.
Usually, it will draw a straight line from where you are and where the waypoint is. You must never simply travel in a straight line. Always make sure your marine GPS unit has a function that changes to steer view to avoid dangers on your path.
Once you’ve successfully pinpointed where you’d like to go the chartplotter will give you a compass view. It will also give you a display time which tells you how long it will take to get to the waypoint based on the speed you’re traveling.
You can plot and change your routes on your chartplotter by simply changing your destination. It’s important to plan out your routes effectively to avoid any dangers such as rocks, large aquatic life, weather change and if there are ships in the area.
With the marine chartplotter, you can use the tracking functionality to read tide charts. You can do this by setting up your time format on your plotter. Also, track weather forecasts and what’s in & around your area when you’re traveling.
Types/Sizes of GPS Units
When you purchase a marine GPS unit, consider the size you would prefer. There are three types of handles:
This determines the simplicity in use and the functionality of each unit.
Hand Held Marine GPS
These devices are not mounted onto the boat and aren’t integrated into the build of the boat. They are small and light which make them easy to carry around.
- Not reliant on the boat for power
- A daylight reader color screen display
- They can be plugged into a power source to charge the batteries
- An integrated internal antenna
- Allows you to use different map cartridges or load different maps on an app
- The display screen is small
- Usually works on batteries which need to be charged regularly
These Marine GPS units are usually inexpensive but they still exhibit all the functionalities of the more expensive brands of Marine GPS units.
Portable Marine GPS Units
Although this can be a handheld unit, it can also be mounted. Some of these units will come with more than one mount design so you can use them on dashboards or on windscreens. They’re portable as well so you can take them with you wherever you go.
- Bigger screen display
- More functionalities
- Touch screen operation
- Can be plugged into a source or works off battery power
- There aren’t many brands that make this design
- Not a big enough display
Mounted Marine GPS Unit
These marine GPS units are usually mounted onto a dashboard of a boat with a permanent mounted fixture. A mounted unit uses the boat as a power source.
- Wider display screen
- Fully waterproof
- Daylight readable screen
- Chartplotter programs are built into the unit
- No batteries needed
- Stable electrical supply
- Sonar technology
- The device is not portable
- More expensive
- Some units are not touchscreen
Marine GPS Unit Display
The display of the marine GPS unit is extremely important. It should be clear and visible at all times. There are common features every GPS unit should have. Without these features, it may be difficult for you to navigate through the waters.
Most marine GPS unit display screens are set in color. This is especially important if you have a sonar unit as it shows you the different colors of objects and life projected onto the screen.
How Wide is The Screen?
Many boaters prefer to have large screen displays. This is because they want to see bigger map projections such as coastal cartography. Sometimes there are extra icons displayed on the screen. A bigger screen means you’re able to see these extra icons easily.
Lighting and Resolution
If you love being on the water during the day or night, you’ll need to make sure your display is visible during all these hours. The sun usually causes a glare on digital screening; however marine GPS units have screens that eliminate glare.
Depending on the brand a marine GPS unit should also have an excellent resolution so you’re able to see everything clearly on the screen.
Does it have a Touchscreen?
Some Marine GPS units have touchscreen displays. This helps with fast and easy navigation as you’re able to rapidly find the features. However, if you’re more old school you can use units that have physical button operated interfaces.
As mentioned before, the three different types of units also have different power options. Handheld and portable devices are usually powered by batteries. They will need to be plugged in regularly to be charged.
Mounted devices are only powered by electricity from your boat.
Marine GPS Connectivity
For safety precautions, your marine GPS unit should always have good connectivity strength. A marine GPS unit usually picks up multiple satellites that give you the precise location of where you are and where you’re going.
When you’re sailing in a large body of water such as the ocean, there is a risk of getting lost. You can connect your marine GPS unit to a VHF radio. This helps you report any emergencies you may face on the water.
Some marine GPS units allow you to connect with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. This helps you update your software on your unit as well as your maps. You can save data and even upload additional mapping systems.
Marine GPS Compass
The compass display on a marine GPS unit should be easy to understand and easy to read. This will help you navigate to your waypoints. The function of the compass is to show you the direction you are pointing to, whereas the GPS shows you the destination you’re headed to.
Having a compass integrated into the system lets you see exactly when you’re sailing off route. Sometimes because of currents in the water, your boat may shift slightly off course. So when you’re headed to a certain waypoint, the compass assists you with always heading in the right direction.
With most GPS units, after you’ve plotted your route or you’ve pinned a waypoint, you’re able to change the display to steering mode. The arrow of the compass will show you which way to steer your boat to get to your waypoint.
Every marine GPS unit should be waterproof, even if you’re always on calm waters. The unit should be durable enough to withstand any conditions. Usually, marine GPS units are quite rugged and able to withstand almost any temperature or weather conditions.
The price you pay for marine GPS units can be quite expensive. This is because of all the features and top technology that go into making these devices. Make sure that your unit comes with an excellent warranty in case of any software malfunctions and damage is vital.
If you’re looking for a top of the range marine GPS unit, you’ll most likely pay a lot of money. But luckily there are budget units that you can purchase that have all the software, functionality and features all the expensive units have.
As long as the unit has a good display, excellent connectivity and comes with all the features that suit you, you should be able to find a marine GPS unit that’s economical.
Marine GPS units are designed to add additional fun to your water sports, fishing and expeditions. The technology is easy to understand and it makes boating trips far more interesting and much safer.
If you’re looking for an exciting way to travel on the water, owning your very own marine GPS unit is the first step in making it happen.
Try a marine GPS unit today and see where it takes you.