7 Best Marine GPS Systems for Boats – Reviews & Buyer’s Guide

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It’s not an exaggeration to say that the marine GPS systems have changed the boating experience manyfold. The marine GPS systems today can help guide boats flawlessly across the largest oceans, enable fishermen to locate fish and paint an accurate picture of the underwater terrain so that boats navigating close to shore and don’t wind up on the rocks. 

Navigational skills that used to take years to master are becoming simple and easy. In simple terms, we say – obsolete as a position accurate to within a couple of feet is now available at the push of a button, all the time, from anywhere in the world. Many marine GPS devices today also feature fishfinder GPS which takes much of the mystery and break out of locating the best fishing grounds while others ceaselessly scan the ocean, harbour, lake or river floor and alert you to dangers. Looking for the Boat Fenders? Check out our Buyer’s Guide on Best Boat Fenders to know more.

What Is A Marine GPS System?

Basically, it’s the same GPS that you have built into your phone or your car, but it’s specifically designed for being out on the water. There’s a bunch of spots that you wouldn’t be able to use your phone at, especially when you’re in the middle of the ocean. These are different, and designed to help you navigate the open waters and return home safely. They use satellites that are specifically designed to receive your signals and help you as quickly as possible.

Why Navigation Is Important When You’re At Sea?

Safety is of utmost importance. If you were to head out to do some deep-sea fishing, say, you’re 3-5 miles out to sea or more, depending on how extreme you are, the dwindling horizon of the shoreline can quickly disappear. Finding your way back can be hard, but it can also be worrisome. If you’re lost and can’t find out which way the shore is after a fun day, you’re going to panic, and that panic isn’t going to help you navigate. Your GPS is the key to safety, and to getting some accurate predictions on timing. 


Our Top 3 Picks


9Expert Score
Garmin Striker 4 Marine GPS

The Striker 4 marine GPS and fishfinder from Garmin feature built-in GPS. While the graphics are above 2005 all the way they nonetheless accurately pinpoint areas of danger or interest so your trip can be both more profitable and safer. The high-performance CHIRP fishfinder/marine GPS combo allows you to identify your potential catch and mark it with a high degree of accuracy for later reference.

PROS
  • CHIRP technology allows for greater detail regardless of your line of interest
  • Identify fish, mark them and return later
  • 3.5-inch diagonal color display is one of the larger out there
  • Simple keypad operation does not require a steep learning curve
  • Attractive price point
CONS
  • Info is accurate but graphics are decidedly low-resolution

9Expert Score
Garmin GPSMAP 78sc Waterproof Marine GPS

The Garmin GPSMAP 78sc Waterproof Marine GPS features a clean, easy to use design, a 2.6 inch LCD color screen and amazingly it will float if dropped in the water with no ill effects. That waterproof design is a big plus but not the only one on display with the GPSMAP 78sc marine GPS.

PROS
  • A full complement of detailed charts of US coastal regions
  • 8 logically laid out navigation buttons including ‘page’, ‘menu’, ‘find’ and ‘man overboard or MOB
  • Triple access electronic compass built in
  • Waypoints, routes and more can be automatically shared from this handheld marine GPS with compatible devices
  • Powered by 2 AA batteries
CONS
  • 160 x 240-pixel screen resolution means to carry your reading glasses

8Expert Score
Humminbird HELIX 5 CHIRP

With its comparatively large display, you’ll be able to locate fish, scan the depths and navigate unfamiliar waters easier and faster than you ever thought possible. The Helix 5 marine GPS comes ready to go with its internal GPS chart plotting and its ability to move seamlessly from GPS to fish finder and back again. If you wish you can display both features side by side.

PROS
  • A full 5 inch WVGA display panel
  • CHIRP broadband sonar emits high intensity pulse for more accurate rendering
  • SD card located in the waterproof battery compartment, protected from the elements
  • Built in Anima Cartography allows you to make the most of the GPS data
  • Max depth 2500 feet
CONS
  • Can entail a bit of a learning curve
  • Lacks standby mode that would allow you to save battery power

The 7 Best Marine GPS Systems


As we move into the realm of GPS marine navigation, charting, fishing and more the only relevant question becomes “Who makes the best marine GPS device?” Below we’re going to answer that question as we curated the 7 best marine GPS devices available today. So, let’s get started.


Garmin Striker 4 Marine GPS

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The Striker 4 marine GPS and fishfinder from Garmin feature built-in GPS and the company’s CHIRP transducer for a noticeably higher level of clarity when it comes to denoting schools of fish large or small as well as delineating underwater structural anomalies. As such, any boat owner whether engaged in fishing or any other activity that may require moving outside normal channels would do well to have one of these on board at all times. The underwater realm is the last great frontier. Unlock its secrets with the Garmin Striker 4 marine GPS.

The high performance CHIRP fishfinder/marine GPS combo allows you to identify your potential catch and mark it with a high degree of accuracy for later reference. The ability of the 77/200 kHz transducer to accurately record underwater structures both natural and manmade allows you to navigate safely under all conditions regardless of location. It can also be of enormous value when navigating in a heavy fog. 

While the graphics as we noted above are 2005 all the way they nonetheless accurately pinpoint areas of danger or interest so your trip can be both more profitable and safer. That’s because CHIRP continuously sweeps a full range of frequencies and performs a comprehensive analysis in microseconds continuously returning an array actionable data for your consideration. The whole unit is held firmly in place via a suction cup mount. Whether you’re sport fisherman, commercial fisherman, treasure hunter or ferry operator you’ll be glad you invited the Striker 4 marine GPS on board.

PROS:

  • CHIRP technology allows for greater detail regardless of your line of interest
  • Identify fish, mark them and return later
  • 3.5-inch diagonal color display is one of the larger out there
  • Simple keypad operation does not require a steep learning curve
  • Attractive price point

CONS:

  • Info is accurate but graphics are decidedly low-resolution


Garmin GPSMAP 78sc Waterproof Marine GPS

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The Garmin GPSMAP 78sc Waterproof Marine GPS features a clean, easy to use design, a 2.6 inch LCD color screen and amazingly it will float if dropped in the water with no ill effects. That waterproof design is a big plus but not the only one on display with the GPSMAP 78sc marine GPS. It also features a dedicated man overboard button that instantly marks the spot of the incident allowing you to relay it immediately to the Coast Guard and other nearby vessels. There’s also a barometric altimeter, an electronic compass and a full array of preloaded charts covering the US coast.

The 78sc marine GPS from Garmin is both user and marine friendly (save the screen size) and is an invaluable navigational tool for commercial vessels or private yachts, sailboats and family fishing boats. The ability to instantaneously share your waypoints, routes and even geocaches means the days of simply disappearing at sea are effectively over. Someone will know where you are and the route you’ve to take to get there should troubles arise and they can share that information with the Coast Guard and others. 

While the high sensitivity GPS for boats tells you where you are the built-in 3-axis compass and barometric altimeter will allow you to plot a timely and accurate course back to safety or back to that special fishing ground you discovered on your last excursion. Should waves crash over the bow and your 78sc marine GPS wind up sloshing about on the deck it’s no problem as the unit is completely waterproof. And in the event one of those waves should take someone overboard with it there’s the dedicated man overboard button that allows you to mark the exact spot where it occurred. No more navigating in circles with the 78sc marine GPS from Garmin. 

PROS:

  • A full complement of detailed charts of US coastal regions
  • 8 logically laid out navigation buttons including ‘page’, ‘menu’, ‘find’ and ‘man overboard or MOB
  • Triple access electronic compass built in
  • Waypoints, routes and more can be automatically shared from this handheld marine GPS with compatible devices
  • Powered by 2 AA batteries (included)

CONS:

  • 160 x 240 pixel screen resolution means bring your reading glasses


Garmin GPSMAP 78 2.6-Inch Marine GPS

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Like its big brother the 78sc the Garmin Marine GPSMAP 78 GPS navigator is full of useful features and boasts a clean, easy to use design that allows you to safely and effectively find your way either in the open ocean or the inlet near your home. Like the 78sc it’s also completely waterproof and will float. Those who worry that a floating marine GPS device may still work afterwards but the SD card will be ruined worry in vain because the microSD card for the 78 is tucked neatly into the waterproof battery compartment. Between preloaded maps and the optional BirdsEye Satellite imagery, you’ll have the world covered with the Garmin 78 marine GPS.

The Garmin 78 Marine GPS Navigator with a 2.6-inch screen is the precursor to the 78sc marine GPS and is a fine GPS marine navigation unit in its own right. Responsive, versatile and able to take a hit from the weather you’ll find your way through the deepest water or unfamiliar shallows using the high-performance GPS, tri-axial compass and the plethora of maps available for download. If you really want to win the gold medal for best prepared subscribe to the BirdsEye Satellite Imagery service and have the world at your fingertips. If you don’t currently have a marine GPS device on your vessel or you’re sporting an older model it’s time to move up to the 78 series marine GPS from Garmin and make the most of each outing.

PROS:

  • Fully waterproof and floats in water
  • 1.7 GB of built-in memory to store maps
  • Transflective display screen
  • WAAS enabled GPS

CONS:

  • Resolution is lost when zooming in
  • Comes with only the base map built-in


Humminbird HELIX 5 CHIRP

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The 5-inch WVGA display of the Humminbird Helix 5 CHIRP marine GPS is a welcome respite from some of the smaller displays that are often part and parcel of marine GPS devices like this. But that’s just the start of the units many incredible features. The CHIRP (Compressed High-Intensity Radar Pulse) broadband sonar represents a huge step forward in plotting and understanding what’s beneath the surface. While above the waves the high sensitivity GPS for boats keeps track of your movements within a few feet even on the rolling sea.

With its comparatively large display, you’ll be able to locate fish, scan the depths and navigate unfamiliar waters easier and faster than you ever thought possible. The Helix 5 marine GPS comes ready to go with its internal GPS chart plotting and its ability to move seamlessly from GPS to fish finder and back again. If you wish you can display both features side by side. 

The Humminbird Helix 5 marine GPS also features something it calls “Clear Mode” which eliminates clutter, allowing you to home in on the bigger individual fish and “Max Mode” which ramps up fish identification to even more effective degrees and is likely what you’ll want to use to identify schools. All in all the Helix 5 marine GPS and fish finder from Humminbird is easy to use and effective and will help ensure you don’t return from your fishing venture empty handed or get lost in the process.

PROS:

  • A full 5 inch WVGA display panel
  • CHIRP broadband sonar emits high intensity pulse for more accurate rendering
  • SD card located in the waterproof battery compartment, protected from the elements
  • Built in Anima Cartography allows you to make the most of the GPS data
  • Max depth 2500 feet

CONS:

  • Can entail a bit of a learning curve
  • Lacks standby mode that would allow you to save battery power


Garmin GPSMAP 840xs Marine GPS

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After a brief stopover on Humminbird land, we’re back to Garmin and this time with their outstanding GPSMAP 840xs Chartplotter-Sonar marine GPS unit. This is no hand-held unit. It’s meant to be screwed down into a place of prominence where its 8 inch SVGA display can be easily seen and the device can be easily utilized to provide you with the clear, concise navigational assistance you need. The 840xs marine GPS features two kinds of CHIRP technology along with HD-ID sonar so you’ll know exactly what’s going on both above and below the surface at all times.

Without a doubt, the 840xs marine GPS is a professional grade marine GPS navigation device with copious redundancies and a nice big 8 inch SVGA screen so you can clearly see and interpret what the device is trying to tell you. Preloaded LakeVu program features 17,000 cartographic maps of US lakes in case you’re more of a freshwater person. 

The 500W, 77/200 kHz transducer supports CHIRP, the company’s DownVu as well as traditional broadband sonar. Throw in the fact that the system gleans data from both the US GPS system and the Russian GLONASS system with a robust GPS refresh rate of 10 kHz and you have all the data you’ll need to be presented in virtually real time. Regardless of the size or function of your vessel and whether it’s a river or lake-bound or seagoing it will benefit from installing the 840sx marine GPS on the bridge.

PROS:

  • The unit comes preloaded with LakeVu HD and Bluechart G2 US coastal maps
  • The high sensitivity marine GPS receiver accesses both the GPS and GLONASS earth positioning systems
  • The unit is Garmin Radar compatible
  • NMEA 2000 allows the device to be connected to autopilot for sure navigation
  • Built in down imaging and optional side imaging

CONS:

  • Easily the most expensive marine GPS on our list but worth the stretch


Garmin Marine Echomap Chirp 43Cv

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The Garmin Marine EchoMap CHIRP 43cv is one of the company’s newest marine GPS systems. Although it’s technically an upgrade of their 43dv system the 2 are practically identical and that’s fine since the 43dv was/is a fine marine GPS unit. The new 43cv is a chartplotter with a 5Hz GPS that refreshes every 1/5 of a second. One result of that is that it does a pretty good job displaying the speed of your vessel as well as its precise location. The 43cv can hold up to 50,000 track points and as many as 50 tracks. In this sense, it’s on par with some large marine GPS units. It also comes preloaded with thousands of LakeVu cartographic charts, a big boost for freshwater boaters.

The EchoMap CHIRP 43cv from Garmin is a relatively inexpensive yet highly sophisticated marine GPS device that provides users with best in class sonar reading via the CHIRP (Compressed High-Intensity Radar Pulse) broadband system. You’ll see everything around your vessel including fish, wrecks, large debris and of course naturally occurring features and anomalies. There are built-in maps including LakeVu cartographic maps, US Bluechart G2 charts and Canada LakeVu as well. From the impressive 5 Hz GPS that updates 5 times a second to the ability to create depth contours of your own using the Quickdraw contour system and the affordable price, you can’t really afford not to have this type of marine GPS system on your boat.

PROS:

  • Provides accurate details of the waters near your boat
  • Comes with comprehensive maps, G2 charts and more
  • GPS location is updated every 0.2 seconds ensuring accurate data
  • Preloaded with thousands of LakeVü cartographic maps
  • Full screen marine GPS capability

CONS:

  • The instruction manual is not device-specific


Raymarine Dragonfly 5M

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With the Dragonfly marine GPS, you get a user friendly interface, 50 channel high sensitivity GPS and a decent processor that won’t have you taking a nap while you wait for your maps to load. And when those maps do load you can pan and zoom as much as you need to get your bearings and chart your course.

The Dragonfly sets up in no time and utilizes a ball and socket system that allows you to see your information regardless of where you’re sitting or standing relative to the device. There’s optical bonding built into the LCD display which is something they only recently decided to give to their more affordable marine GPS models. As a result, you’ll find the screen crisp and clear regardless of environmental conditions. 

The Dragonfly marine GPS by Raymarine doesn’t get the kind of press its competitors over at Garmin do but it should. It’s a first class affordable marine GPS system that provides you with a wealth of relevant information regarding everything from underwater hazards to your position relative to the dock. With its Wi-Fi capabilities, it can also be connected directly to your smartphone.

PROS:

  • Comparatively large 5” LCD screen on this nautical GPS reads nice and sharp even in sunlight
  • CHIRP high intensity radar is an element of underwater scanning others can’t match
  • 50 channel marine GPS sensor
  • Store up to 10,000 track points, 3,000 way points and 150 routes
  • Tilt and swivel capability via the ball and socket mount

CONS:

  • The stripped down control array takes some time to get used to


Marine GPS Systems – Buyer’s Guide

A lot of us love heading out on the boat, drifting out to sea, and having a great day. However, we’re not all directionally gifted, and we could use a little bit of help getting back to shore. That’s where your marine GPS comes in. If you’re going to hit the open sea, you’re going to need a little buddy to help you navigate, find new destinations, and get back home safe and sound. That’s where our handy list comes in use – these tidbits of information to help you decide what you need in a marine GPS.

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Things To Consider When Buying A Marine GPS

Like any piece of inspired tech, marine GPS has a bunch of features that you ought to be on the lookout for. We’ve broken down the list by category so you can assess every single model we’ve found for you, and find out what makes them tick. The process of this is pretty straightforward—you’re either boating out to sea, or you’re not. There’s not a lot of preferences on these; you simply need to go with what’s going to contour to your lifestyle more. Deep sea fishing or just boating around a new area; you need a marine GPS.

1. Maps Included – This is something you’ve probably encountered with your own GPS system in your car. If you plan to hit the docks of Barcelona or you want to take a dive in the Mediterranean sea, you’re going to have to know where you’re going. If you’re not travelling, the maps included portion of this list isn’t going to matter too much, but since your marine GPS system doesn’t come with 100% of the world already loaded into its system, you need to ensure that the places you want to visit will be loaded in, or prepare to purchase additional map cards.

2. Portability – Some of these units are mounted directly to your boat, while some are handheld. If portability is important to you (if you’re going to boat-hop from yours to your buddy’s, your GPS system is basically going to stay put), then you need to put it at the top of the list. When you spend so much time out at sea, you don’t want to forget your GPS system or simply neglect to bring it due to the time it takes to dismount it from your boat.

3. Power Options – Is your model of choice charged by USB, AC adapters, or did you happen to get a connectable mini solar panel to ensure you’re never without it? The power options matter, especially if you forget to charge your GPS in between uses and there’s no time to get another battery or find another power supply area.

4. Waterproof – It sounds like all marine GPS models should be waterproof, but they’re not. Most mounted units actually are not waterproofed because there’s a far less likely chance that they’re going to be dropped in the water. You’d have to dismount them, and it doesn’t seem like you’re going to do that. Waterproofing is important if you were to hit a few waves when the waters got rough, you’d want your GPS system to withstand it and keep working for you.

5. Reliability – You’re getting a marine GPS system for the sake of reliability, but this is where it gets tricky. Some companies don’t have dedicated satellite bandwidth, so you end up piggybacking on another satellite and barely getting a signal when it’s at peak times of use. That’s the opposite of reliability – you want to be certain that your marine GPS isn’t going to quit on you, no matter what.

6. Display – This one matters more than you think. If you can’t really see the display, then what’s the point? Some displays are small and difficult to see, while others don’t have a high enough resolution for users to maker out all the exact details. With our list, we’ve done the best to ensure that these products have good resolutions and displays so you don’t have to spend all day squinting at the screen.

7. Price – Price is always going to be a defining factor in any purchase, especially when it’s high-grade tech like this. You have to assess what your priorities are, and how much you really need a marine GPS before diving head-first into buying one. Take all the features into consideration if you’re out at sea, and a lot can happen to your equipment. If you’re going all-in, be certain to get any additional attachments. If your GPS isn’t waterproof, get a waterproof dome. If you won’t want it falling into the water, get a hook-and-chain.


Final thoughts:

The marine GPS today is a marvel of modern technology that sweeps hundreds of years of development in analog navigational devices off the table. They’ll enhance your ability to navigate to any destination in any weather, help you locate fish, warn you of underwater hazards and obstacles and alert others to your route and last known location should anything unfortunate transpire. The marine GPS devices will make your life simpler, easier and more profitable. We hope you found the above reviews of the best marine GPS devices helpful in determining which one of these high performance products is right for you.


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