6 Best Boat GPS Systems - Reviews and Buying Guide for 2020

If you use your boat on open waters, there could be a chance that your smartphone won’t be able to connect to Wi-Fi. While out on the open waters, you might not be able to access GPS. Instead of being lost at sea, you can use the best boat GPS to navigate the waters. 

What To Know About the Best Boat GPS

A marine GPS is a necessity, especially if you sail on large lakes or waterways that do not have consistent Wi-Fi. You can save lives with a reliable GPS, especially during night-time sailing or navigating to unknown marinas.

Styles of Boat GPS Devices

GPS devices come in three different styles: handheld, portable, and dash-mounted. They both have pros and cons for boaters. Most GPS devices rely on information from three satellites, thus the idea of triangulation. There are usually at least 12 to 24 satellites available at any time. 

Handheld GPS usually run on batteries or 12-volt power. They have small screens that measure around two inches. If you struggle with reading small text, you might have issues reading the menus and maps on the small screen. But, in a pinch, a handheld GPS gets the job done. 

Portable GPS systems look like small tablets. They usually have touch screens that measure around six inches. These are easier to read and often have more memory than handheld devices. You can carry these with you and use them while on the road or on the water. 

Dash-mounted GPS systems are permanently installed on the dash. These have large screens, too. If you install one inside of your boat or under a bimini top, you might need a more powerful antenna to access better satellite reception. Like the portable models, they have more memory than handheld models. The screens are usually around six inches diagonally. 

Screens You Can Read

Screen resolution is essential, especially if you are looking into a handheld GPS device. Before buying a portable or dash-mounted device, check the resolution, too. Low-resolution is tough to read, even on a six-inch screen. Buy the GPS device with the highest resolution so that you can read the maps. 

The least expensive GPS devices have black-and-white screens. Unfortunately, those screens do not show colored buoys, which are useful when navigating unknown waters. If you can afford a full-color display, you’ll have better maps to read. 

You will also want screens that you can read in full sunlight. All too often, sunlight affects the readability of digital displays. Check reviews to see if you’ll be able to read the maps in the day. Also, look for night modes so you can navigate in the dark, too. 

Mapping Systems

If you are using your GPS on a large lake or an ocean, then you should invest in an advanced GPS mapping system. On the other hand, if you are boating on inland lakes, non-mapping is probably a better choice. So, what is the difference?

A non-mapping system only shows a compass and how far you have traveled. Some also show latitude and longitude. They are basic devices with minimal information. 

A standard base-map GPS device includes the images you usually see on your phone or car GPS. They include waterways, like rivers and lakes. Some have port information or marina information for larger cities.

Advanced or detailed mapping is the top-of-the-line option. These have 3D capabilities on the screens, and many have underwater terrains, too. Your advanced GPS device could also include weather information. They have detailed maps, too. 

Do You Need a Fishfinder?

If you love to fish, then your GPS device should have fishing features. Some GPS devices include fish and depth finders, too. The best boat GPS devices with fishing features let users zoom in on underwater terrain so that you can find fish in unexpected places. 

GPS-fishfinder systems are more expensive than stand-alone devices, but why buy two when you can buy one? Of course, if you don’t fish, then you only need a GPS that does GPS duty. 

Best Boat GPS Under $150

With the best boat GPS, you will know where you are on the open water. Most have fishfinders and sonar so you can clearly see features below the waves. 

Garmin Striker 4 with Transducer, 3.5" GPS Fishfinder with CHIRP Traditional Transducer

This is a handheld GPS device that includes a GPS with fishfinder capabilities. With sonar scanning, the GPS device shows what is in the water, with high-res, photo-quality images. The device is available with different screens, with the smallest measuring at 3.5-inches. 

The high-res screen has a waypoint map so you can mark and navigate to fish-friendly spots. The sonar scanning reaches depths of 1,600 feet in freshwater and 750 feet in saltwater. It continuously sweeps the water with CHIRP sonar and can even be used for ice fishing. 

Pros

  • Mark fishing spots
  • Convenient keypad
  • Full-color maps
  • Upgradable technology
  • Swivel mount

Cons

  • Small screen
  • Requires one lithium-ion battery
  • Buttons have some construction issues
  • Unit can dislodge from mount
  • Day-mode can be tough to read

Garmin Striker Plus 4 with Dual-Beam transducer

This Garmin GPS device has a 4.3-inch display that you can read in bright sunlight. It has a built-in GPS for marking waypoints and tracking your boat’s speed. The colorful screen shows crystal-clear map images. You can store maps in the quickdraw mapping software, too. 

The GPS device includes a dual-beam transducer that includes the CHIRP sonar for images of the waterway floor. You can also use the split-screen feature to see maps and sonar at the same time. 

Pros

  • Includes STRIKER+ fish-finding software
  • Weighs 11 ounces
  • Full-color 4.3-inch screen
  • Stores up to 2 million acres of maps
  • CHIRP sonar clarity

Cons

  • Small screen
  • Mount has quality-control issues
  • Depth numbers are difficult to read
  • Lacking intuitive design
  • Does not include an owner’s manual

Best Boat GPS Under $500

When the price goes up on boat GPS devices, so do the number of features and the quality of the screen and resolution. These are the best options priced under $500. 

Humminbird 410210-1 HELIX 5 CHIRP GPS G2 Fish finder

This GPS system has a colorful 5-inch WVGA screen that uses Anima cartography for precision navigation. It has the CHIRP Dual-beam sonar and has a microSD card for adding maps and saving spots. 

It includes a built-in base map, and the GPS device also includes crystal-clear imaging sonar. You can see what is on the floor of the waterway you are navigating. The five-inch screen is backlit. The device weighs one pound, and the dimensions are 1.1 x 7.5 x 4.3 inches.

Pros

  • 256-color display
  • Five-inch screen
  • Crystal-clear sonar technology
  • Lightweight
  • Basemaps included

Cons

  • Clips break easily
  • Occasional quality-control issues
  • Mount is low-quality
  • Short transducer wire
  • Screen can freeze

Simrad Cruise-5 Chart Plotter with a 5-inch Screen and US Coastal Maps Installed

When you use the Simrad Cruise-5, you get outstanding images in bold colors. The five-inch screen offers split-screen readings so you can see depth readings and positional readings at one time. This GPS device has preloaded US coastal maps and worldwide base maps. The menus are easy to use with a dial and keypad controls. 

The GPS device also tracks where you have been and shows it on the five-inch screen using Simrad TripIntel technology. It also includes CHIRP SONAR for depth tracking. The depth tracker showcases high-res features on the waterway floor. 

Pros

  • 83/200 Transom Transducer
  • Five-inch screen
  • CHIRP Sonar technology
  • US and Global Maps
  • Split-screen technology

Cons

  • Flush mount needs to be ordered separately
  • Weighs over three pounds
  • Screen cover needs to be ordered separately
  • Only reads depth directly below the unit
  • Does not have an external antenna

Best Boat GPS in Class

The best boat GPS in class has all of the features you need, plus more you didn’t know you wanted. These are the best choices for your boat GPS devices. 

Garmin Echomap Chirp 74Cv with transducer 

The Garmin Echomap Chirp has a seven-inch screen with crystal-clear color and images. You can see crisper fish arches with the CHIRP sonar, and the preloaded blue chart maps include US coasts. The sonar is so clear that you can see structures and fish on the floor of your favorite waterways. 

The Echomap Chirp includes an internal GPS that updates five times per second. You can mark your waypoints. This unit is waterproof and includes a one-year warranty. You can read the screen in the brightest sunlight, and it includes Wi-Fi that lets you pair it with OneChart. 

Pros

  • Seven-inch screen
  • CHIRP Sonar technology
  • Pop-off mount for portability
  • Easy to set up
  • Intuitive controls

Cons

  • Occasional quality-control issues
  • Long transducer
  • Memory issues
  • Some maps are inaccurate
  • Fishfinder works better than the navigation system

HDS-7 LIVE - 7-inch Fish Finder

This GPS device includes outstanding fish-finding technology that uses CHIRP Sonar with 3D and HD resolution. You can see the fish under the water. It includes a dual-core processor for speedy results in full color. 

The GPS antenna uses 10Hz updates with maximum accuracy. The seven-inch screen shows charts from over 4,000 lakes in the US. This device has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities. It weighs just under six pounds. 

Pros

  • Seven-inch screen
  • CHIRP Sonar technology
  • 10Hz GPS antenna
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
  • 3D CHIRP Sonar

Cons

  • Not for the occasional boater or fisherman
  • High price
  • Heavier than other units
  • No internal battery

Conclusion

When you are shopping for the best boat GPS, you have several price points and models to choose. The higher-priced models include large screens, up to seven inches when measured diagonally. Most of them include fishfinder technology and high-quality sonar technology. 

If you are looking for the best boat GPS, choose the SIMRAD Cruise-5 Chart Plotter. The five-inch screen isn’t the biggest on the market, but this screen has the best technology with crystal-clear images. 

The SIMRAD GPS device includes coastal maps from all over the world, so you can use it wherever you choose to sail. It includes split-screen technology so you can see maps and information at the same time. The menus and control buttons are easy to use with their intuitive design.