Marine GPS

by Caribou Betty

What is a Marine GPS ?


A Marine GPS unit is a must for any serious or even weekend or boater, whether a novice or a professional. It is imperatively useful and serves many purposes to help not only your navigation on the water but provide you safety as well as a host of other things. First let’s put a definition to the acronym GPS. GPS stands for Global Positioning System.  This defines the acronym but in and of itself does little to explain what it refers too. To further define, in the sky above us are found a network of satellites that our country as well as others have sent up into the sky to orbit the earth. In doing so these satellites have the ability to pinpoint the exact position on our planet as we know it to whoever is accessing the signals or, using a GPS. Originally they were developed to be used by our Military, however as time has evolved so has the use for GPS’s for drivers as well as boaters.

Therefore one of the applications of a Marine GPS for a boater is the ability to have your GPS determine on its screen the exact location of where you are on the water and lead you exactly to where you would like to go in the easiest, quickest and safest way. It truly enables an exact science.

Another application for the Marine GPS is for use in the event you get lost. With the extent of waterways, inlets and oceans we have on our planet getting lost is something that unfortunately can and does happen all too often. By having a Marine GPS onboard you will easily be able to find your way back to familiar water. To emphasize this point, boaters novice to professional understand, when you are traveling on a large body of water such as the ocean it is extremely easy to get disoriented. This is a very scary and nerve wracking experience. By having a Marine GPS you will have no more worries and can venture out to perhaps places you would normally not go.

What are some Features of a Marine GPS

Let’s now take a look at some of the specific components of a Marine GPS. First let’s discuss the use of the Chart Plotter found on Marine GPS’s. A Chart Plotter is extremely useful in planning your voyages and routes before you even leave the dock. What exactly is the definition of a Chart Plotter? In the easiest terms to understand, a Chart Plotter, through the use of a receiver reaching the satellites in the sky, tells your GPS your exact location to a pinpoint no matter where you are in the entire world. A good Chart Plotter then will continue to relay this information literally tracking your vessel on a digital marine chart that appears on your GPS screen.  Additionally it will plot you a route around land, give you a tracking to a harbor or anchorage, link you to a series of waterways that lead to routes and provide you with the opportunity to navigate your vessel over long distances without worry of running into land, getting lost, etc.

The next component of the Marine GPS system we will take a look at is the Sounder. A Sounder is quite simply an instrument that measures and displays on the screen to the boater either the depth of the water that the boater is looking for, if that is what the boater sets it up to do, or it can also provide the boater the distance between the bottom of the boat and what is underneath it; whether it be fish or shallows or a seabed, etc.. Fishermen can also use sounders to display to them specific depths of water they are looking for to fish in.  Different sounders have different numbers of colors to represent objects underneath the boat. The average is 16. For example, if the bottom is hard beneath the boat, the color on the screen usually will be a very dark color; however this varies from unit to unit.

Another important component of the Marine GPS is the Transducer. The most important thing to know about the Transducer is that it provides information to the boater through an actual sound alert as to an object beneath the boat. It’s an extremely vital part of the sounder as it provides the actual noise to alert the boater to the object beneath the water. It works quite simply through a complicated electrical system that reflects off the object underneath the water into an audible alert sound.

Cartography is another part of a Marine GPS. This is the part of the system that displays on the screen maps and charts. This is vital in helping with navigation. It also allows a boater to navigate on a map or chart exactly as to where they are and where exactly they would like to go. Ultimately its purpose provides maps and charts for proper bearings and directions.

Next is the FishFinder.  This part of the unit provides three important bits of information to the boater. By working with the other components of the Marine GPS, the FishFinder will chart/map your location as you make your way or troll thru the water.  The FishFinder also provides the temperature and pressure sensitivity within the water. The FishFinder also provides the speed at which the boat is traveling even if it is trolling. Some even will offer the boater the best speed to be traveling in regard to catching the fish underneath.

Another consideration in regard to a Marine GPS is the FishFinder Combo. The FishFinder Combo refers the vast majority of the time to the combination of the GPS, Chartplotter and the FishFinder. With the combination of all three of these into one, the boater will be provided with the necessary technology in order to fish, navigate waterways and inlet, chart them as well as save routes which provides the boater with an easy, quick way back to perhaps a successful fishing spot or to dockage. Is it better to buy all these units separate or as a combo? Honestly that depends on the extent of your navigation waterways; particularly are they 30 miles out to sea or more close to land? If you are farther out then it is usually better to purchase them not as a combo, however if you are usually within closer range of land then the Combo is recommended.

A Depth Finder measures and provides the boater with the depth of the water. In regard to the FishFinder, they are quite similar in that they are both forms of active sonar but they have one major difference.  Whereas a Depth Finder only displays a number for the depth of the water a FishFinder provides a graphic and usually scrolling timeline. Both units usually use the same type, or if in one GPS unit, the same transducer, they just provide different information to the boater in different ways. If a FishFinder is purchased as a separate unit apart from the Marine GPS it will have a separate transducer than the Depth Finder, that unlike the Depth Finder which only displays a numeric depth of the water, the Fish Finder will actually reflect fish on the screen as they are seen underwater.

A Marine Radar System gives the boater its distance and bearing of its vessel and other ships as well as land targets that may be in the vicinity in order to avoid collision while navigating at sea. In regard to a Marine GPS it is used in combination with the Chart Plotter among other parts of the GPS and is rarely bought alone.

Most Marine GPS units contain an Autopilot. This instrument allows the boater to use the system for auto-guided navigation. It offers great security because if the helm is turned in anyway the Autopilot will immediately disengage and alert the boater in unison with other components of the GPS.

Another part of the Marine GPS is the Communications Systems. The type of system varies from unit to unit but they all provide the same ability; to communicate not only from ship to ship but also from ship to land or dockages as well as with the Coast Guard. The range of the communications system depends upon the unit the boater buys and should be determined by the length away from land the boater intends to navigate.

Networking Apps are fairly new parts of Marine GPS units and are especially useful in the Military yet as well to boaters alike. Networking Apps provide Ethernet, Wi-Fi or other complicated technology to give boaters a digital display support for engine configurations, Chart Plotters and other parts of the display.

Weather Solutions are a critical component of a GPS.  They provide real-time weather and sea conditions in the exact and nearby locations of the vessel. Depending on the Marine GPS unit purchased, these weather conditions are usually displayed by fully interactive maps. They can display everything from waves to fronts moving in that the boater needs to be aware of.

And finally in regard to the Marine GPS unit there are the multitude of Instruments and Sensors that can be found that will and can display depending on unit to unit everything that a novice, regular, weekend or professional boater needs to know to navigate and travel our waterways safely. Many of them come with the capabilities of being interactive while others may just show display. Depending on your boating, make sure you purchase a Marine GPS unit for your vessel. It is a critical component to have on board not just for navigation but also clearly for safety and full enjoyment.

The following diagram serves to highlight the most prominent features of a Marine GPS. Consumers can use it for guidelines because these are the most valuable features to ask for in any Marine GPS.

How to Choose One?

The selection criteria differ with the type of intended usage of a Marine GPS. Since a Marine GPS is used for both commercial and consumer use, the required features of a Marine GPS will be different for commercial fishermen as compared to the requirements of a consumer.

Fishermen need such features as Sonar, Transducer, Networking, Weather Stations, etc. whereas for consumer use, requirements will narrow down to the most basic ones.

Fishermen go across oceans and in deep waters, whereas people on recreational activities use a Marine GPS for only as far as a freshwater lake or a nearby campground.

Fishermen need advanced features that are also costly; however, for consumer use such features are neither affordable nor useful.

You should look for a ‘navigate-to-point’ feature. This feature displays the path that you had been following, and then saves it in the memory, so that you can retrieve it for future reference in order to track the previous course.

You should also consider the display size which is suitable to your eyesight, and the display orientation i.e. vertical or horizontal whichever you feel comfortable with.

You can also look for MOB, the short form of another feature of a Marine GPS that is Man Overboard. It enables you to mark a specific location of some incident simply by pressing a button.

Marine GPS’s also have digital compasses. Screen displays your speed throughout. Other information like expected time and the actual distance to reach the destination point is also displayed for user assistance.

If you want to have an exceptionally great experience of fishing then you can look for some advanced features that are extremely beneficial for commercial fishermen and high-end adventurers.

These advanced features include satellite imagery so that you can always locate yourself. You can further have tide information and auto-guidance with the help of these complex features.

Customized alarms alert you of upcoming turns with the help of radar. Moreover, it will also inform you in case any boat is entering your sea route so that you can contact the other boat’s driver to stay safe.

Popular Marine GPS models

See some of the favorite Marine GPS models




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