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GPS technology delivers the most detailed, accurate, up-to-date location-related data possible to the extent that it has become essential for marine navigation and safety. Systems are increasingly sophisticated and miniaturized so that there is a great variety of features available now in portable units at much more reasonable prices than just a few years ago. If you want to locate fish, map a coastline, find a dive site, or just get back home again, there are hundreds of great models on the market.
With that in mind, finding the right GPS for your needs might be a little daunting. We’ll try to help by reviewing some of the best out there. Below are descriptions with key features outlined, photos, and introductory videos. After that is a basic comparison table followed by a buying guide.
Best Marine GPS in 2020
- Garmin GPSMAP 78sc Waterproof Marine GPS and Chartplotter
- Garmin Striker 4 Marine GPS with Transducer
- Humminbird Helix 5 Chirp GPS G2
- Simrad GO7 XSE Chartplotter/Fishfinder
- Garmin MAP 78 Handheld GPS
- Garmin eTrex 10 Handheld GPS
- Garmin MAP 64st Marine GPS
- Garmin Oregon 600 3-Inch Handheld GPS
This handheld model floats which is great for boating and other water sports like kayaking. It is easy to use and loaded with features like built-in coastal charts, a 3-axis compass, barometric altimeter, and man overboard button. The 2.6-inch display with an easy to navigate interface will run continuously for 30 hours on two AA batteries. In addition, it has a depth alarm and allows you to share data with other compatible devices wirelessly.
- Easy to see 2.6-inch LCD color display day or night
- Fast and easy to navigate interface
- Floats and is waterproof to IPX7 standards (to 1 meter for 30 minutes)
- Built-in coastal charts for the Bahamas & US
- Wireless sharing with compatible devices
- Built-in 3-axis compass and barometric altimeter
- Dedicated MOB (man overboard button) to mark the position
- 30-hour battery life on two AA batteries (included)
- Depth alarm to prevent running aground
The Garmin Striker 4 Marine GPS and fishfinder combines a built-in GPS with the CHIRP (Condensed High-Intensity Radar Pulse) transducer that provides a clear 3.5-inch color display of underwater structures and schools of fish of various sizes. It has an easy to navigate keypad system, a durable reinforced shell, and is quite affordable.
- Bright, detailed, 3.5-inch color display with 420 x 380 pixel resolution
- Easy-to-use keypad navigation using a waypoint map
- Capability to find fish and mark them for later reference
- Durable, reinforced plastic shell
- CHIRP sonar technology with a 50/77/200 kHz transducer
- Works to depths of 1,600 feet in freshwater and 750 feet in saltwater
- IPX7 waterproof rating (to 1 meter for 30 minutes)
This fish finder from Humminbird has a clear 5-inch color display, precise internal GPS chart plotting with built-in Anima cartography and a powerful dual-beam sonar. It comes with a micro SD card slot which allows you to use optional maps and store waypoints. The size is suitable for small boats and kayaks and it comes at an affordable price.
- 5-inch WVGA color display
- Powerful CHIRP (Condensed High-Intensity Radar Pulse) dual beam sonar good to 1,500 feet
- GPS chart plotting with built-in Anima cartography
- Micro SD card slot for saving waypoints or optional maps (placed in the waterproof battery compartment for protection)
- Side and down imaging
- A bit of time is necessary to master it
- Moderately priced for the features
This chartplotter/fishfinder from Simrad has a bright touchscreen backlit display with a high-speed GPS receiver and TotalScan transducer for CHIRP (Condensed High-Intensity Radar Pulse) and HD imaging. It has the widest possible cartography support with WiFi connectivity and is suitable for use on all powerboats.
- 7-inch flush or bracket mount display with LED backlight
- 10 Hz highspeed GPS receiver
- Has medium/high-frequency CHIRP sonar with the TotalScan transducer
- Full-featured chartplotter with broad cartography support from C-MAP, MAX-N, Navionics, Insight, Insight Genesis, and NV Digital
- Built-in Wi-Fi
- Multi-touch interface for ease of use
This model is a precursor to the 78sc model reviewed above and is actually a sort of slimmed-down version of it with many of the key features but at a lower price. It has a built-in base map with a micro SD slot and 1.7 GB memory to load more. It is lightweight, waterproof, and floats making it suitable for use on small crafts, kayaks, and for carrying around.
- 1.7 GB memory
- Easy to use design
- Handheld with high-sensitivity 2.6-inch bright color LCD display
- Floats and is waterproof to IPX7 standards (1 meter for 30 minutes)
- Pre-loaded maps with a micro SD slot to load more
- MOB (man overboard button)
- Uses two AA batteries (not included)
- Reasonable pricing
The small durable model has an easy to read 2.2-inch monochrome display, is waterproof, and has a 25-hour run time. At a budget price, this simple model provides fast accurate GPS positioning and allows storage of waypoints.
- 2.2-inch monochrome display
- Waterproof to IPX7 standards (1 meter for 30 minutes)
- Two AA batteries with a 25-hour run time
- GPS and GLONASS satellites for positioning
- Preloaded worldwide base map
- Paperless geocaching
- Low priced
This small portable model has a high sensitivity receiver, bright display, built-in compass and altimeter, and is waterproof. With 16 hours of battery life and 8GB memory, it offers smart notifications and preloaded maps with the option to add more with the micro SD card slot. In addition, wireless uploading is possible for viewing or sharing data.
- 2.6-inch sunlight-readable color display
- High sensitivity GLONASS and GPS receiver and quad helix antenna
- Waterproof rating of IPX7 (1 meter for 30 minutes)
- 8GB memory with micro SD card slot
- Preloaded TOPO U.S. map base
- Uses two AA batteries with 16 hours of battery life, or optional rechargeable battery pack
- Wireless connectivity
- Smart notifications possible with optional ANT+ sensors (heart rate monitor, temperature sensor, speed/cadence, VIRB action camera controls)
- 3-axis compass and barometric altimeter
This versatile Garmin GPS has a 3-inch easy to use touchscreen display that has a variety of features suitable for use on land or on the water. It has dual-band satellite positioning and a 3 axis compass with accelerometer and barometric compass, wireless access for sharing of data, and options to add topographical maps and a digital camera.
- 3-inch reflective sunlight-readable touchscreen display
- Numerous buying options
- 1.5 GB memory on the base model with 3.5 GB and 4 GB memory available
- GLONASS/GPS dual-band satellite positioning
- Uses two AA batteries with 16 hours of battery life or optional rechargeable battery pack
- 3 axis compass with accelerometer tilt compensation, and barometric altimeter
- Wireless connectivity
Best Marine GPS in 2020 Comparison Table
Features to Consider in Selecting the Best Marine GPS for Your Needs
Display – The screen size and degree of resolution is important. If it is difficult to see in the bright sunlight, it is of little use. Even small screens like those reviewed here can contain a lot of high-resolution details that are clear and easy to see under all circumstances.
Portability – If the display is to be permanently mounted the size is not so important. In fact the larger the display the more data can be presented in greater detail. If it is be mounted on one boat but will be used on others the ease of dismounting and remounting can be important. For other handheld models portability is as easy as it is with a cellphone.
Power Options – It’s important to have power available to operate your device for the duration of the time needed. For a GPS that is permanently fixed an external battery source can be a good stable power choice. For others that use AA batteries with a run time of 16 or more hours, a supply of replacements is easy to plan for. Some use rechargeable batteries and you’ll need to keep in mind recharging times and the source of power such as through a battery or perhaps another external source like a solar panel.
Water Resistance – How water-resistant your GPS needs to be depends on how much contact with water you foresee is possible. If the unit is mounted in the wheelhouse with little chance of getting more than the occasional splash of water that is one possible situation. Using a portable model on a jet ski or kayak where there will be a substantial chance of major splashing and even the possibility of it falling into the water is another situation to plan for. You have to make sure your GPS will handle what it is likely to encounter.
There is a rating scale that indicates the level of waterproofing running from IPX0 to IPX8. IPX0 is no waterproofing whatsoever. IPX4, IPX5, and IPX6 designate degrees of splashing a unit can withstand. IPX7 and IPX8 are for units that are waterproof for a period of time underwater to shallow levels.
Charts and Maps – You need to make sure the GPS device you are using has charts and maps for the area you plan to be. Some models have built-in maps to cover a vast number of areas and some don’t. In some cases, the details may not be adequate for your needs. Most locations have maps available to load. You need to make sure your device has the memory to hold additional maps if they are needed or the capability of adding more storage using a micro SD slot.
Transducers are an essential component of GPS models for fishing and underwater salvage. A transducer converts electrical energy into sound waves that are sent down through the water. When these sound waves (that the human ear cannot detect) hit an object like a fish or school of fish or the underwater topography, they bounce back and the data is converted into the visual image projected on the display. CHIRP (Condensed High-Intensity Radar Pulse) dual beam sonar is a transducer technology. If you are not concerned with fishing, salvage, or other similar activities, then a transducer is not likely to be important for you.
Reliability – To be reliable a GPS must have satellite connections. Some companies and cheaper models don’t have dedicated bandwidth and rely on piggybacking on others. This can result in the signal being dropped during times of heavy use. If your model is from a major brand name, like those reviewed above, they will have dedicated bandwidth. Otherwise, inquire about it before purchasing.
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