Disclaimer: We may receive a commission for products purchased through some links in this article.
Best Marine GPS Reviewed
In the old days, sailors, fishing vessels, and their crews used nothing more than a map, compass, and the stars to direct their travel. But today, we can do a lot better, thanks to satellites.
Now you can find out exactly where you are on the surface of the globe with the help of the global positioning system (GPS).
We here at Rowing Inc know exactly how valuable your time in our on the water.
That’s why our team has reviewed countless Marine GPS, and finalized our list for the best marine GPS in order to help you spend less time surfing the web, and more time hitting the open waters.
Modern marine GPS devices benefit heavily from the developments in the broader mass consumer market. New iterations feature robust design and construction, upgraded software, and more user-friendly interfaces that make them a joy to use while you’re out on the ocean.
Today, the level of sophistication of GPS units goes well beyond the old satellite navigation used by the military. You get much more than just a map and a dot showing your location.
Modern devices provide you with swell data, proximity to storms, the best fishing spots, and more. You can also do things that enhance your convenience, such as plotting routes from one destination to another via a series of waypoints of your choosing. In many ways, boaters have never had it so good.
We’re also seeing many of these devices include more connectivity. You probably won’t have a signal while you’re riding the waves (unless you’re paying for an internet satellite service).
There are all kinds of opportunities to sync with your regular WiFi once you get back to base. This feature lets you do things like log your travel history, heading, directions, coordinates, and just about anything else you can think of.
In this review, we run through some of the best marine GPS devices currently on the market. While affordability is important, you always get what you pay for. The higher the price, the more robust and feature-packed the device.
Check Our Our Favorite Marine GPS
Top Marine GPS Comparison Chart
Best Marine GPS
1. Simrad Cruise-9 Chart Plotter Marine GPS
When Simrad was developing the Cruise-9 Chart Plotter Marine GPS system, it’s clear that they wanted to provide a boat GPS system that offered more than just simple positioning.
The brand, therefore, started working on providing additional information that would help inform sailors cruising both coastal waters and the high seas.
To that end, Simrad provides a highly visual and information-rich guidance system that offers practically all the data required for full situational awareness. Depth readings, underwater hazards, buoy locations, and other points of marine geographic interest are all included in on-screen data feeds.
The brand also includes a helpful chirp sonar transducer in the system. This additional piece of kit isn’t essential, but it helps to provide peace of mind, especially when in highly changeable seas. The onboard system provides live updates that override any estimated depths on the included charts.
The Simrad comes pre-loaded with US coastal waters maps which will suffice for the majority of domestic boaters. Most people don’t travel more than fifty miles from the coast.
However, if you do want to explore the high seas or travel outside of the US, then you can get enhanced maps from C-MAP Navionics, though you’ll have to pay a premium.
The device is also much larger than you might expect, measuring around 9 inches across. The chassis is considerable, but it’s also confidence-inspiring and often just what you need when traversing the seas in rough conditions.
Ultimately, this device is for boaters who want a GPS system that is going to help to keep them safe in US Coastal Waters – and potentially further afield. The large display combined with the rotary dials makes it a joy to use, even in rough seas.
2. Garmin GPSMAP 78sc Waterproof Marine GPS
Garmin is probably the biggest name in GPS devices today, making systems for a wide variety of markets, including car drivers, bikers, hikers, and even skiers. The GPSMAP 78sc Waterproof Marine GPS is its solution for boaters.
The immediately you’ll notice about this system is it’s minimal profile, which allows you to place it just about wherever you like, and allows for easy transportation and storage.
The Garmin GPSMAP 78sc is more than just a GPS device with a small screen. It comes with the company’s veritable entourage of technologies and features.
For instance, you get a helpful 3-axis compass, which allows you to navigate your vessel without GPS if the situation demands it.
A benefit that comes with a Garmin product, is that it comes with the ability to set geocaches, share your routes with friends, and view your waypoints from third-party devices. The “sharing” feature is reassuringly similar to a smartphone.
The Garmin 78sc comes with BlueChart coastal maps preloaded, providing data on depth contours, harbors, marinas, and navaids in the US and Bahamas coastal waters. You also get a worldwide base map which Garmin will flesh out for you if you pay a monthly sub.
Lastly, the device comes with perhaps the most impressive waterproofing of any device in this list. If you drop it in the sea, it’ll continue functioning as normal. Water doesn’t phase it at all.
3. Lowrance HDS-12 Live Marine GPS
Lowrance wanted to provide boaters with the most advanced marine GPS system on the market, providing a large screen and even fish-finder support for trawling vessels.
The device features a picture-in-picture display for viewing multiple types of readouts at once, including regular locations underwater solar contour images.
Perhaps the standout feature of this device is the quality of the hardware that Lowrance put into it. Most GPS customers don’t know the difference between various internal components of devices and don’t understand how they impact performance.
But in spite of that, the HDS-12 Live Marine GPS features a multi-core processor and a multi-touch SolarMAX HD screen, with incredible viewing fidelity. The result is a device that not only looks great but responds to user input snappily too.
The system includes C-MAP Genesis Live mapping with Navionics auto-routing options as standard. And the device comes with C-MAP US charts featuring contours of more than 4,000 lakes in the US. It has both Bluetooth and Wireless technology which helps when integrating it with the rest of your onboard electronics.
This device, therefore, is for people who want the fastest and speediest GPS on the market. You’ll pay for the privilege. But the result is a device that actually gives you everything you need for a decent boating experience.
4. Hummingbird NAV HELIX 7 CHIRP MSI Marine GPS
Boaters looking for the maximum number of pre-installed maps should consider the Hummingbird NAV HELIX 7 CHIRP MSI Marine GPS.
Out of the box you get data on more than 21,000 lakes and water bodies, with the option of installing more if you need them.
Hummingbird targets this device squarely in the middle of the market. But it’s also a cheap option for fishing vessels that want to find good fishing grounds without spending thousands of dollars on the most expensive gear.
Despite the relatively low price point, the device comes with some helpful fish finder tools. The side-scan feature, for instance, is ideal for novice fishermen who aren’t exactly sure where they should be looking.
Most people agree that the screen is clear and sharp and that the down image that it produces is excellent. The roomy 7-inch screen allows you to display multiple images one next to the other.
The menu is also a breeze to use. But please be aware though that the device can find it difficult to find the bottom at speeds in excess of 16 mph. So if you are traveling through waters you don’t know well, you’ll need to slow down.
Ultimately, the Hummingbird NAV HELIX 7 CHIRP is a great all-rounder and suitable for most leisure and recreational users. It does appear to have limited performance at speed, though.
5. Garmin ECHOMAP UHD 74Cv Chartplotter Marine GPS
The Garmin ECHOMAP UHD 74Cv Marine GPS Chartplotter is a little different from the brand’s other device in this list.
It looks much more like a traditional GPS for boats and features a large sunlight-readable display plus a heavy-duty mount for fitting to your vessel’s cabin.
If you already have Garmin transducers on your boat, then you’ll benefit from the fact that this device will slot into your existing setup seamlessly.
It works with the Panoptix LiveScope scanning sonar system which provides you with genuine 360-degree information on your boat’s surroundings at all times, showing you the structure and shape of objects under the water and the seabed.
Just like other devices in its class, it provides split-screen views, allowing you to keep an eye on the digital image of the seafloor beneath you, as well as your current position on a contour map and various heat signatures.
Garmin brand the ECHOMAP UHD 74Cv Marine GPS Chartplotter as “network capable” which means that you can share data between similar devices on your boat.
Garmin’s system will also connect to FUSION-Link audio systems, autopilots, VHF, and other utilities that you might have on your boat, providing an added level of integration.
Ultimately, Garmin built this device to take advantage of the brand’s existing ecosystem of integrations, navigation tools, and products. It’s great if you already have these installed on your vessel.
Top Marine GPS Features To Consider
Marine GPS equipment is essential, but the market isn’t exactly friendly to novices. There’s a lot of technical jargon that needs busting and multiple options depending on the type of sailing that you do.
GPS Fish Finder
A GPS fish finder sounds like an almost magical piece of equipment, but it works just the same way as any other sonar-based system.
The emitter sends out sound waves and then an onboard clock measures the time it takes for them to return. The system then uses this information to construct an image of all of the objects under the water, including fish.
Knowing where the fish are can help fishing vessels find abundant fish stocks and exploit them.
All marine GPS units lay your boat’s coordinates atop preloaded maps, showing you your precise location, relative to features around and under the water.
At the very least, they should come with maps preloaded onto their internet memory or on an SD card you insert. Otherwise, they’re no use at all.
But marine GPS systems ideally need to do more than this. Many models, therefore, offer additional tools such as emergency calling facilities (which is helpful if you’re traveling a long way from land), compasses, barometers (so you can get the heads-up on the weather), and weather updates.
You also want marine GPS units to suit their application. Some boaters like portable devices they can take anywhere. Others prefer those that fix to your dashboards. Which variety you choose depends on the nature of your expected usage.
Ideally, you’d like your marine GPS unit to be waterproof. The combination of splash, spray, rain, and sea makes it almost certain that it will eventually come into contact with water.
The industry has a bunch of standards that reveal the extent of waterproofing, ranging from IPX0 which means no waterproofing whatsoever, and IPX8 which offers full waterproofing up to a depth of three feet.
IPX5 for instance will protect against water jets. IPX1 will protect against water spray coming from a 60-degree angle.
Being able to clearly see information on your GPS screen is also essential for a high-quality boating experience. If you’re continually squinting to see the graphics or don’t understand the way the interface works, then the brand isn’t doing its job.
Many of the devices on this list come with advanced interfaces that make adjusting the settings an intuitive process. Rotary buttons on some models make scrolling easy.
To some degree, though, you have to accept that these are professional devices and that a degree of complexity is unavoidable. Menus do have a learning curve, but that’s all part of the boating experience.
Mostly, it depends on where you go. If you stick to US lakes and coastal waters, most devices should provide you with full support from the get-go.