Are you overwhelmed by the number of choices available to you when you are shopping for a marine GPS unit? These 7 tips will guide you towards buying the unit that best meets you needs, but not break your budget.
Unit Durability – Being on the water is a very hostile environment for electronic devices, especially saltwater. Water spray can get inside the unit and damage components. The constant jostling and bumping while underway can loosen or damage the unit.
Readability – Where will your unit be located? If it is above deck, there will be many times when you are trying to read the unit in direct sunlight. How readable is the screen in direct sunlight? If you are shopping for a unit in a retail store, ask the sales clerk to bring it outside for you so you can check the performance in bright daylight.
Fixed-Mount or Handheld – Are you primarily an inland lake and waterway fisherman? A long distance cruiser? The amount of time you are on the water, how far offshore you go, and the amount of marine traffic are all factors that go into deciding if you should buy a fixed-mount unit or a handheld unit. If you are an occasional boater or fisherman, a handheld unit is probably sufficient for your needs. And your budget. But if you spend a great deal of time offshore, and for extended periods of time, spend the money to buy a fixed-mount unit. Also invest in an external antenna, it will enhance your signal and make sure that you get accurate readings.
Ease of Use – When you are in a critical situation, such as being caught in the middle of a storm, or shrouded in fog, you want to be able to plot your course with ease, and not fumble around with the owner’s manual, trying to figure out how to correctly plot your course. If the GPS unit is too complicated for you to operate, don’t buy it.
Reliability – There’s nothing worse than that feeling you get when you are trying to enter an unfamiliar harbor at night and your chartplotter suddenly goes on the fritz. There are a number of manufacturers of marine GPS units today, so you want to make sure you buy from a manufacturer with an excellent reputation. Talk to your local marine products dealer, check with other boat owners in your marina, look up reviews on Amazon and boating forums.
Your Boating Style – Your boating style should determine how much you should spend, and the features you need. If you are an occasional boater, a $200 basic handheld unit may be all you need to get basic navigational information. Loading speed may not be important, nor whether the display is in color or black and white. However, boaters who spend a lot of time on the water, or who have a lot of money invested in their boat should look at GPS units that have more features. Fixed-mount, separate antenna units are recommended. Having the ability synch all of your boat electronics can make the boating experience safer and more enjoyable.
Your Budget – There is almost no limit to the amount of money you can spend on a GPS unit. Combo chartplotter/fishfinders can run over $3,000. If you are an occasional boater or fisherman, you can usually find a perfectly suitable unit for just $200 or so. Shop around and you can find the right features at a price that won’t break the bank.