Need a new GPS system to navigate your next trip? We recommend some of the best models currently available.
Plenty of companies claim to have the best marine GPS on the market, but only a few of these models are even worth considering. It’s amazing how many GPS models are difficult to use, and do a poor job at providing location accuracy.
In today’s guide, we take a close look at 5 of our favorite marine global positioning systems available in 2020. We cover the top handheld marine GPS systems as well as the leading mounted systems for boats.
Should you need a jet ski GPS or something more substantial, we’ve got you covered!
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Before we get to our marine GPS reviews, here’s a quick run-through of some of the things to look for when buying a marine navigation system.
We start with some more general advice, before going on to some more specific features.
A solid, dependable GPS system is going to cost a minimum of $100, with some reaching as much as $400+. Typically the sweet spot in terms of price is around $250, but it really depends on what functions you’re looking for. Just remember that expensive GPS units aren’t always the best, and affordable ones aren’t always the worst. Find the best fit for your needs.
A GPS with several functions, such as chart plotting and fish finding, is generally going to cost more than a base model. The different uses needed from a GPS vary from person to person, so it’s hard to say what is really essential other than location accuracy. It’s definitely convenient to have satellite navigation with multiple uses, but it can also dramatically raise the price.
Ease of use
Any GPS with multiple uses is going to be a little difficult to figure out at first. It makes sense that a basic model with only one or two functions is going to be much more simple to use than a unit with 5 or 6 uses. It’s important to look over the manual and give yourself some time to learn how to use the device. Just like with anything else, practice makes perfect.
This is one of the most important factors in choosing a GPS system. Some systems are overly complicated and difficult to use which makes renders them pretty ineffective to all but the most dedicated of users.
A good interface includes a large, well-defined screen and a menu navigation system that is intuitive and clear. A button system or touchscreen that is responsive and straightforward is a must too.
The Garmin models tend to have well-designed interfaces that make them among the easiest to use.
The handheld models obviously have smaller screens than the mounted models. A portable marine GPS should also not be too large and be well enough designed that it can be used with just one hand if needed.
First and foremost you need a certain degree of waterproofing. A rating of at least IPX7 is a must. This gives enables a device to be submerged in water of up to 1 m depth for 30 minutes.
It should be able to take a certain amount of bumps and bashes to. The best handheld marine GPS systems have rubberized edges that make them durable and long lasting.
The last thing you need is your GPS navigation failing you when you’re far out at sea. Battery life for the handheld GPS models tends to average about 15 hours but can last as long as 25.
Ideally, you want a device where battery changes can be made easily. It’s always good to carry a back up just in case. Some devices use simple AA batteries, while others use more expensive lithium ion types.
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Our Marine GPS Recommendations
These are the 5 devices that we believe are worth your consideration.
Garmin GPSMAP 64 * Top Handheld Marine GPS *
Although this is the base model in the line, the GPSMAP 64 offers a surprising amount of functionality. It comes with an easy to read 2.6-inch color screen, a high sensitivity GPS, and a GLONASS receiver with a quad helix antenna. That may sound confusing, but it just means it can track locations quickly and accurately.
It comes with a worldwide base map preloaded but can also be used in tandem with a BirdsEye satellite imagery subscription
The standard model comes with 4GB of internal memory and a micro SD card slot. As a bonus, 250,000 caches come preloaded for paperless geocaching.
It’s also IPX7 waterproof rated. This is the minimum we recommend for a marine unit. It means it can survive being submerged in water of up to 1 meter in depth for around 30 minutes. It does have a metal clip on the back with which you can attach it to your body. We’d also recommend checking out the many cases that are made specifically for this popular model by 3rd party manufacturers.
For anyone looking to get a more high tech unit, the upgraded models are worth checking out. They do come with a hefty price tag, but many enthusiasts find it well worth it.
This Garmin marine GPS reviews pretty well in all areas. It’s definitely one to consider.
Garmin eTrex 10 * Our Budget Choice *
For those on a budget, the Garmin eTrex is one of the most affordable handheld marine GPS units available. Although the base model has limited functions, it costs under $100, making it an affordable option for just about anyone.
With the base model, users can expect to get a standard monochrome navigator with a preloaded worldwide base map. It has a 2.2-inch screen display that can be read fairly well in just about any lighting. While the base model has limited capabilities, it does provide quick positioning and supports geocaching.
This is a great choice for a hobbyist, or someone looking to get a backup GPS. There are better versions of the eTrex that offer many more features, but their price is significantly higher as well.
One of the standout features of this model is the outstanding battery life. Two AA batteries give a battery life of up to 25 hours.
Humminbird Helix 5 * Best GPS & Fishfinder Combo *
One of the more classic models available, the Hummingbird Helix has long proved itself as one of the top marine satelite systems on the market. There have been several iterations of this model made, and they continue to get better with each passing year.
The Helix 5 has a 5-inch color screen and an easy to use display. A big difference between these mounted models and the handheld devices is the size and quality of the display. 5 inches is far superior to anything a handheld GPS device can offer, and the color and fidelity are of noticeably higher quality.
Other than functioning as an excellent global positioning system, it’s an extremely accurate fish finder too. It comes with built-in CHIRP dual beam plus sonar. However, this dual functionality does make it more expensive than others on this list.
Don’t be surprised if it takes a couple of trips to the water before mastering this model. There are a lot of features to get to grips with. But, there’s a big payoff in terms of performance if you’re willing to persevere.
The Helix 5 is without a doubt one of the top fishfinder/GPS combos on the market, but it may take a little while to adjust to all the bells and whistles.
Garmin Striker 4 Marine GPS & Fish Finder
The Garmin Striker 4 is a great budget option for someone who wants a fish finder and GPS all in one unit. It’s easy to use with impressive location accuracy.
There is a 3.5-inch color display with a small keypad for operation, and a base on the bottom for mounting. Although this isn’t a chart plotter, waypoints can be stored on it which is very convenient.
Overall this is fish finder/GPS combo for someone on a budget. Ironically, most people find the Striker 4 easier to use than some of the more expensive models with tons of bells and whistles.
Recommended Next: Don’t miss our awesome guide to marine radio systems.
Raymarine Dragonfly Pro Fishfinder/GPS
One of the leading marine GPS and chart plotters is the Raymarine Dragonfly Pro. The Dragonfly Pro has plenty of features including a map, compass, and a fish finder.
Like most good marine global positioning systems units, a high sensitivity GPS receiver comes built in. Its color screen is 7 inches, so even the smallest of details can be spotted easily. To top things off, the Dragonfly Pro is even waterproof.
The only drawback of Dragonfly Pro is it is bulkier than some other options. This is a tradeoff that comes with the benefit of a large screen, so there really isn’t any getting around that. However, it can be easily removed so if it’s taking up too much space it can simply be placed in storage.
It’s an awesome piece of kit that’s full of features but it’s also got a price tag that some may find off-putting.
Choosing the Right GPS
When trying to decide on the perfect marine GPS for your needs, don’t be swayed by all the features. Simply, only get what you need.
If you’re not into fishing then avoid the fish finder models as the added features just clutter the interface more.
If all you want is a unit to get you from point A to point B and back without getting lost, then a cheaper model will work just fine. On the other hand, if you intend on using a GPS unit as a fish finder or chart plotter as well, you may have to pay a little more.
Do you need a jet ski GPS or one for a boat? The type of watercraft you use should also have a large bearing on the type of device you choose.
Keep in mind that like with all technology, marine navigation devices can sometimes take a little time to get used to. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t figure things out right away. Some models are more complicated than others, so it might take a few uses to get the hang of things.
You really can’t go wrong with any of the models we’ve listed here. They represent a wide range of what’s available with regards to features as well as budget range.
We’d love to hear from you if you have any experience with these models (good or bad). Likewise, if there’s a model that you recommend, let us know in the comments down below.