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Do you remember how your great grandparents used to rely on moon and star charts along with compasses to know when to go out at the sea and where to go? Come to think of it, it is pretty amazing how our ancestors were able to navigate through unknown sea territories with only a compass and some latitude and longitude numbers on their hands.

GPS have slowly become a necessity in the marine industry. Navigating through the open water became much simpler and way more convenient than our ancestors must have thought possible. Today, anyone who can understand a simple GPS application can tell their location and direct the way to go to reach the target destination.

Because of the great necessity, marine GPS manufacturers have suddenly increased. There now are a lot of marine GPS devices available in the market shelves which have led to consumer confusion as to which one to buy.

Types of Marine GPS Devices

Before we proceed to the actual features you should be looking for, let us first discuss the three types of marine GPS devices there are. Recognised brands of these navigation devices are Garmin, Lowrance, Raymarine, Humminbird and of course Furuno. and  Knowing the difference between the three types can actually trim down your options right away and properly direct you to the right direction.

With the ever growing and advancing technology we see today, this is probably the oldest marine GPS used. Almost all the new ships and boats today are already equipped with built-in navigation instruments. However, there still are those several ones that do not have these advanced technologies and they are the ones that need standalone navigators more.

Today, almost every boat and ship has a backup navigator just in case something goes wrong in the first line of navigation while at the middle of the sea. Standalone navigators basically have the capability to track boat position, provide speed, and other necessary course information.

  • Chartplotters

This type of a marine GPS device basically has the ability to plot the position of the boat on a nautical chart. It can also provide more detailed information about navigational courses, therefore, giving several options about the available routes.

Essentially, chartplotters are comprised of a display unit which is usually positioned at the boat’s helm and an antenna which should be placed at the highest point of the boat. This ensures a better and more accurate GPS signal. Figures are then received by the antenna which reflects at the display unit. The information is shown graphically on the chart screen.

The usual types of information shown are depth contours, land masses, surrounding buoys, and even potential hazards. A chartplotter also usually creates and shows waypoints and routes. They may or may not come with keyboards. Some can even be connected to a computer for ease of use.

This is the most popular today as it is like having two kinds of devices in one. It is more practical and easier to use given that you do not have to look at two different devices anymore.

These units combine the benefits of a GPS device and a sounder which therefore provides depth and bottom information. In addition, most chartplotter-fishfinder combo units also show AIS or Automatic Identification System which is a collision avoidance method as it acts as a tracking system that clearly and accurately shows the position, speed, and course of a given vessel on the chart.

The Important Features You Should Look For

Now that you know the three different types of marine GPS devices, we can proceed on to the important features that you should look for. Regardless of which of the three types you have chosen, incorporate these important features when trying to look for the model that would best suit your needs.

What we suggest here is to try each of the marine GPS devices you are particularly interested in. You have to try it out to see which one you feel most comfortable with. Basically, there are three design options – handheld units, chartplotters, and GPS-enabled computers.

If you want the cheapest, the handheld units are mostly affordable, compact, and simple to use. GPS-enabled computers provide the most benefit to seafarers as it can track and provide any kind of information and even store them for future reference. The chartplotters, on the other hand, seem to be the most expensive today as the charts already appear in digital formats.

  • Screen Size

Most GPS devices today come at a wide variety of screen sizes ranging from 3.5 inches to as wide as 15 inches. As expected, the larger the screen size is, the better detailing.

You have to give each one of your options a try and determine which one you think is easiest to use. A marine GPS device may be all-gorgeous and feature rich but if you think the learning curve is steep, go look for another one. You cannot function fully out at the open sea if you keep finding your way around your GPS device. It might even lead to problems and inaccurate measurements or false interpretations.

  • Fishfinding Capability

If you plan to get a GPS device for your fishing trips, then this should be your number one concern. Look for the one which can give you accurate information about the marine life underneath you. You might even be surprised that some marine GPS devices even have the capability of giving fish species information.

  • Safety Features

Raymarine e127 Marine GPS chart plotter fish finder

Raymarine e127 Marine GPS and fish finder

The latest GPS units come with advanced safety features like waypoints if in any case something falls off the water and weather updates/information.

Accurate navigation is extremely necessary whenever one is in any body of water whether lake or sea, shallow or deep water areas. Given that bodies of waters are unchartered territories more often than not, marine GPS devices help to have an idea of what is around that they are not able to see with the naked eye immediately.