It doesn’t seem that long ago when GPS was seen as new technology. It’s easy to forget that there was a time when we didn’t have satellite navigation in our cars or phones which can find out where we are in an instant.

There is now also portable marine GPS systems which can guide you through the water and help locate any fish that might be around. Finding the best marine GPS to suit your needs though can be tricky as they all have different features and finding the top rated boat GPS can be tough.

To help make it easier we have created a buying guide and looked at the marine GPS reviews to come out with a great list of the best devices out there. So read on and find the best boat GPS for you so you can head out on the water in confidence that you can find your way and find that catch.

How To Choose The Best Marine GPS – Buying Guide

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Screen Size And Resolution

The importance of the screen size and resolution can depend on when and where you’ll be using the device. If you’re going to be on a medium sized boat with other screens around you, then you probably won’t want to be squinting and leaning forward trying to make out what the screen is saying. Alternatively, if you’re on a kayak then you probably want one that is small and easy to handle.

All the products that we’ve reviewed here have impressive displays with some offering near-photographic shots of the water around your boat. There are some key features to look out for though when you’re looking at GPS screens such as if you’re going to be in direct sunlight often.

Many people will know from their phones and other devices how hard it can be to see something when it’s being bathed in direct sunlight. If that is going to be an issue then you want to look out for GPS’s that are going to work well in this environment.

In terms of resolution, the higher the number, the better the picture will be so always look out for devices which have the highest figure possible. While being important, it’s not as important as in other areas of technology as you will be following a rough map or a picture of the fish below you so the image is never going to be crystal clear.

If size and weight isn’t an issue then you want to be looking for the biggest screen that you can and a 5-inch screen should be able to give you all the information that you require easily. If size and weight is an issue though there’s nothing wrong with going a bit smaller so that you don’t have to worry too much about carrying it around.

Power

It’s important when you’re out on the boat that you’re GPS can last for the whole time you are out on the water. There are a few different power options available to you and they have their advantages and disadvantages. Thankfully there is always additional power options out there which can save you should you have run out of power.

Firstly there are the type of GPS devices that need to be hooked up onto an external battery. This is ideal if you’re on a boat with a battery and the GPS is going to be a permanent feature on it. Once the set-up has been completed then you can rest easy knowing that you’re not going to run out of power. This does require a small amount of installation though and that is something that you would have to bear in mind before purchasing.

Another option is to pick a GPS that uses traditional batteries with most of them taking two AA batteries. The run-time on these devices should be up to 20 hours so you should at least be able to get a couple of trips out of them and one it runs out then the batteries can be easily replaced so you have charge once again. The disadvantages of this is clear though as you need to carry around additional batteries and if you don’t have them you could find yourself in a situation where you’re without power and can’t do anything about it.

There is though another solution and that comes in the form of a rechargeable battery. This should give you a lot of charge while knowing that you don’t have to keep buying batteries in order to power the device. If you do run out of power while you’re on the boat then you have the option of recharging the GPS through the battery or by an external device such as a solar panel.

Transducers

A transducer is a device that will convert energy from one form to another and you might be wondering what use this would have while you’re out there on a boat. What a transducer does in a GPS device though is convert that electrical energy into sound waves. More accurately, they turn them into sound waves that can’t be heard by the human ear but will be sent down through the water.

This sound then bounces back to your GPS unit which gives it the ability to detect what is underneath the water as the sound will bounce back from things that are in the water, such as fish, so you know where they are going to be. This is obviously a vital part of your fish finder.

If you don’t like fishing then you won’t need to look for a GPS that has a transducer as you won’t need to know what’s lurking there beneath the waves. If you do like fishing though then this is a vital part of what you should be looking out for. If you can’t specifically see that it has one, then there is no need to fear. Some companies won’t advertise it as they know a lot of people don’t know what one is. If the description shows that their GPS works as a fish finder, then it will have a transducer.

Water Resistance

If you’re going to take an electrical item onto something like a boat or a kayak then it’s clearly going to need some sort of water resistance but in those two examples we see two very different scenarios where water resistance is one is a lot more important than the other.

If you’re in a boat and you are mounting a GPS device onto your system then water resistance is going to be a lot less important. If you’re in that situation and your GPS is underwater then you’ll have a lot more to worry about than whether it’s going to keep the water out. It is, however, likely to get wet at some point though either by the weather, mist from a wave or numerous other ways things on a boat can get wet.

If you’re on a kayak, then it obviously becomes more important. If you’re on a kayak and your GPS is underwater then it’s probably the case that you have either momentarily capsized or it’s been dropped. Either way you want to make sure that your device is able to handle such incidents which is why in these circumstances it’s probably for the best to find a device that is waterproof and not just water resistant.

Clearly then if you want a GPS you need to think about where you’ll be using it, if it’s going to be well away from the water then you will be happy to look for a device that has water resistance and if you’re going to be nearer to the water then waterproofing will be ideal. Hopefully your device never gets wet but if it does, you want to ensure that it’s going to keep working.

When it comes to these devices, there is actually a scale used to determine how waterproof it is which goes from IPX0 all the way up to IPX8. Now IPX0 means that there is no waterproofing at all and there isn’t sufficient enough waterproofing until we get to number 4 on the scale as IPX4 offers protection from ‘water splashes in any direction’ which is fine if you’re on a boat.

5 and 6 offer slightly advanced protection on the scale with waterproofing from water jets and powerful water jets but at IPX7 we see the first rating which will guarantee your device to be waterproof. This though only promises it to three feet of water so if you’re looking for more protection than that then you need an IPX8 rating which will offer protection from more than three feet.

Barometer

If you’re looking for your device to have a little bit of weather predicting technology then having a barometer will be able to help with that. A barometer is a device that can measure atmospheric pressure and feed that information into your device.

By measuring pressure you have a greater chance of being able to predict short-term changes in the weather patterns. How this relates to you is that you are able to more accurately predict if a storm is going to be coming so that you can start heading back to shore. Of course there are other ways of seeing this information so a barometer is not a vital piece of equipment but one that can be useful to have.

Electronic Compass

GPS systems are great for a lot of things but they can be limited in a lot of aspects. GPS will simply tell you exactly where you are. If you’re not moving then it won’t have any idea which direction you are facing in which can be a big problem when you’re trying to work out where to go. You may have found with your smartphone GPS that it works a lot better for directions when you are driving than when you are walking.

The reason for that is due to the fact that if you’re moving then the GPS can make a prediction about which direction you are going in. If you move from point A to point B then that’s the way that it’ll start pointing. If you’re going slowly then it’ll have less information about where you are going.

The same thing happens when you’re on a boat and this can especially be a problem if you’re fishing and stopping in the same spot for prolonged periods. You’re GPS will know where you are but not in which direction you are facing. This is where the term ‘GPS’ can be a little false as these devices can contain a lot more than just the tracking data.

By incorporating an electronic compass the GPS will be able to point in the right direction due to the information that it’s getting from it. This will be very helpful if you’re in situations where you might be stopping for a while and need to know your direction. If you’re going from one place to another then having an electronic compass on board isn’t really required.

There are negatives to having an electronic compass though. As it’s additional technology then it will likely increase the cost of the device and it needs to be powered too so it will take additional battery power. There are of course other options as well. It could be that your boat already has a manual compass onboard so you don’t need one then there is obviously the option of buying and carrying a compass as well.

Charts And Maps

Not all GPS devices come with the same level of mapping and it’s important to take this into consideration before buying your product. Some will come with more built-in maps than others and the level of detail will vary as well.

You’ll know where you want to travel and you’ll want to make sure that they have the maps available for your area. The more built-in maps the device has then the better it will be but there is no need to fear, there are plenty of places where you are able to buy more detailed maps for your area.

If you’re adding data to your device then you need to make sure that it has the memory to cope with that and if it doesn’t, then ensuring that it has the capability to add more storage in the form of a micro SD slot. The standard maps that comes with the device might not be the most detailed, so even if you have them, downloading additional content could leave you with maps that have advanced contours and labeling.

Portability

How much portability you want in your device will depend on where you are going to be using it. Here we have looked at devices which are much larger and meant to be permanently positioned on a boat to smaller devices that can be taken anywhere. Having something that’s highly portable might seem like a great choice but it can come with its downsides too.

A few of the GPS devices that we have looked at here are meant to be wired into your existing battery so obviously aren’t very portable at all. If you’re looking to mount a GPS on your boat then this isn’t going to be a problem as it’s never going to be taken anywhere.

On the other hand, if you’re on a kayak you probably don’t want to be carrying around an external battery for your GPS so you’ll want something that is more portable and can be held in one hand. For these types of GPS you not only want one that will have a long battery life but one that you can out in your pocket and easily store away until you need it.

There are other options as well as there are GPS devices which offer an in-between solution as they are big enough to be able to go on a boat but don’t have to be wired in so can be used in other situations as well. Which level of portability that you need clearly depends on where you’ll be using it.

Reliability

If you’re out there on the water then you’ll always want to make sure that you’re getting a strong signal so that you always know where you are. If you buy a cheap model then there is a possibility that they won’t have their own dedicated satellite bandwidth and will instead rely on the bandwidth from others. This can mean that the signal can drop during times of heavy use. One way to avoid this is by getting a GPS from a top brand so you know you’ll always be able to use your GPS without the signal ever dropping.

FAQs

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Q: What is a Marine GPS?

A: A marine GPS is one that will be able to track your position when you’re out on the water. What makes it different from a regular GPS is the extra features that it has. One of the biggest aspects is the maps that it will provide as it obviously doesn’t need any detailing of roads or any land features.

What it will show you is the coastal maps and other detail such as contours and labeling which make it easier to confidently steer your boat. There are other features too such as the waterproofing that it has which regular GPS devices don’t need, this will make sure that your GPS isn’t destroyed should it come into contact with the water and there are even devices that can float.

A marine GPS will also have other features such as a compass which will be able to show you the direction that you are going in, this is an aspect which doesn’t come easily to other types of GPS devices. Not only that but there are many which have fish finding capability which will use sonar to look beneath the waves to see if there is a good level of fish to catch.

Clearly a marine GPS has many features that makes it perfect for being out there on the sea but it’s main duty, as with any GPS system, is to show you exactly where you are on the map so that you are able to navigate your way through the waters to ensure that you stay out of trouble and get to where you need to be as quickly as possible.

Q: How Does Marine GPS Work?

A: Marine GPS systems work in the same way as a regular GPS system which is a genius solution that was found many years ago. How it works is that your GPS will send a signal to a satellite and the timing and direction it received the signal will give the satellite a good idea of where you are. This interaction though won’t just happen with one satellite though as it will actually make contact with all the satellites that it can see.

The more satellite that are used, the more accurate your location will be and your device will constantly switch between satellites as they become invisible as they go around the world or become visible once they have come back around. This information is then placed over a map so you can see your position on that map. Other pieces of technology then will give you reading about direction as well as any other features that you have.

Q: What Is The Main Purpose Of Your Marine GPS?

A: That can depend on what you’re going to be using it for. The GPS part of the device will be able to show you where you are and show you where you want to be as well. If you are unfamiliar with the waters or want to get back to a specific waypoint then this can be crucial. In this respect you can use your marine GPS much in the same way that you’d use it in your car in order to get you from one place to another.

If you are fishing then you might see the main purpose of the marine GPS as the ability to find the best sport for you to fish if it comes with fish finder technology. You are able to use the mapping to get to a point which you know is a great spot then you can use the sonar ability to find the fish that you need.

It can be easy to get lost and the GPS can often act as a safety blanket to be able to guide you home should you ever lose your way. GPS is a vital piece of equipment for a number of situations and it makes sense to have one on your boat as it will get you to where you want to be more quickly and it’ll allow you to navigate your way home if you ever needed it to.

Q: Why Orientation Is Important At Sea?

A: Having a great sense of direction and knowing the waters that you’re in sometimes isn’t enough to not get lost. There are plenty of hazards while you’re out on the water and being able to have access to a GPS system can be vital in staying out of trouble.

It could well be though that you’re in a place which is not very well known to you and you need that guidance about where you are on the map and where you need to be. Having a marine GPS system will take away the time you’d spend trying to figure it out and instead allow you more time to do that you love.

Orientation is vital at seas but for hundreds of years people worked without any such technology, but that doesn’t mean that it’s below you. Just like having it in your car, you are able to get to places faster and more efficiently than ever before.

Q: Can I Use A Car GPS On My Boat?

A: A car uses the same satellites as a marine GPS so why can’t you just use one of those? The answer comes down to what they were invented for and how useful they are likely to be. If you used a car GPS on a boat then it’d be able to tell you exactly where you are and would most likely have a map so you could work out where you were sailing to.

In that respect you could use a car GPS on a boat if that’s what you wanted to find out but then it’s equally as useful as the map that will be on your smartphone. A car GPS was designed for being on the road and as such its features are tailored to that experience.

A marine GPS will be a lot more adept at being able to give you more detailed coastal maps as well as being able to set waypoints and other features. If you have an electronic compass then it will be able to show you the direction you are going in and also if you have fish finder capability it will be able to show you what’s underneath the water which is something that a car GPS obviously wouldn’t have.

They are very different so if you want a GPS for your boat and think you can just take the one that’s in your car then you’re going to be very disappointed. All it will be good for is telling you where you are in the world but marine GPS devices have a lot more detail which is tailored to the experience of being on a boat.

Globo Surf Overview

Having a boat navigation system can be vital in making your way through the waters. Whether you’re paddling down a river on a kayak or heading out to sea on a boat it’s always vital to know exactly where you are at all times. Not only that though, a marine GPS system can do many other things depending on the features it has such as tracking the weather, searching for fish or being able to point you in the direct direction.

Whether you’re looking for a portable marine GPS or an ocean GPS everything is covered here as there are many options available. Many of these products are a Garmin boat GPS but there are also other great brands available offering high-quality boat GPS navigation.

There are many considerations when it comes to getting the best marine GPS but perhaps the biggest is whether you are going to be fishing or not. Many of these products come with dedicated fish finder ability which will be able to send a signal down below the surface to give you a picture of the fish below. If you’re solely going out on your boat to fish then this is an extremely useful feature which is sure to increase your catch.

If you’re not interested in fishing though then you need to decide whether this extra technology is going to be a waste or not as with that technology comes an extra price to pay as well as the extra battery power. If you aren’t going to use it then it’s best to buy a marine GPS which solely focusses on the navigation side of the device.

Once you have settled that then there are other aspects to consider too including where you are going to be using it. If you’re on a boat which has a battery then you will probably want to buy a more permanent solution which can mount onto your console and be directly connected to the battery. If you’re out doing watersports then this is clearly not an option so you’ll be looking for a device that’s a lot more portable.

There are other features which can set a GPS apart as well such as screen size and resolution, water resistance, additional features like a barometer and how much data has been built-in to it. It’s important therefore to know exactly what you want and exactly what you need before making a purchase otherwise you might find yourself without something that you need for your voyage.

Hopefully in this buying guide we’ve answered all of those questions so that you can make a much more informed choice about exactly what will be the best boat GPS for you. The key considerations are on what vessel you’ll be using it, what power it needs and what features you need from the GPS. Once you have those questions answered then the rest should be quite simple.

Once you have picked the best marine GPS system for you, you’ll be able to head out onto the water in confidence that you’ll always be able to find your way in the shortest possible time and avoid the scary thought of ever getting lost.

More Boat Reviews:

Globo Surf Marine GPS Review

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Every boat needs a good GPS. This is a very detailed and objective article and it helped me a lot when choosing the best GPS for me.

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My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!