Written By Tijana Sredanovic
Published Feb. 18, 2021

There’s nothing more fun — and more relaxing — than heading out onto the water in your boat. Whether you’re a fan of lazy days at local lakes or prefer to spend afternoons at sea, any time you take your boat out, you’re in for a great time. But boating can quickly take a turn from calm and relaxing to frightening and panic-filled if the weather changes or you veer off course and get lost. In these instances, you need to know where you are to get back to the dock. And to do that, you need a handheld marine GPS device. 

With one of these GPS devices, you’ll be able to find your way anywhere out on the water. Able to offer positioning data, GPS location information, and an overview of your surrounding area, a marine GPS can be critically helpful. To find the best handheld marine GPS available, check out our top picks below.

The Best Handheld Marine GPSes

 

This handheld device is one seriously capable product, and its high-tech features make it very smart when you’re out on the water. Designed for rugged use whether you’re boating or enjoying watersports, this high-sensitivity GPS receiver features a 2.6-inch color TFT display that’s IPX7 waterproof and able to float. It comes with built-in BlueChart g2 coastal charts for the U.S. and the Bahamas, including shorelines, depth contouring, navaids, harbors and marinas, and more. Boaters will love the three-axis compact, barometric altimeter, and a microSD card slot so you can upgrade the memory capacity or maps. You can even communicate and share your waypoints and routes with other compatible devices, a fun extra.

A few things to keep in mind are that water can leak into the ports even when covered, and the battery compartment isn’t waterproof.

Key Features
  • 2.6-inch color display
  • IPX7 waterproof
  • Floats when dropped
  • Rubber side grips
Specification
  • Brand Garmin
  • Model 010-00864-02
  • Weight 7.7 ounces
PROS

Maps are in-depth and detailed

Can locate GPS positioning even with heavy cover

Can customize and expand with microSD card and new maps

CONS

Water can leak into the ports even when they’re covered

Battery compartment isn’t waterproof

This handheld GPS is an especially great product if you want to pinpoint your location and find fish. It offers high-sensitivity GPS capability as well as a fish finder that uses Clear Vu scanning sonar to show you what’s around your boat. The sonar will provide a wide range of information, with crisper fish arches and better target separation. Though this handheld device is compact, its 3.5-inch color screen shows you almost-photographic images of objects and fish under the water’s surface. You’ll easily be able to navigate with a waypoint map that shows you various locations and obstacles. The GPS device lets you mark hot spots, docks, and ramps, so you’ll always find your way back. You can even check your speed right on the screen.

However, this device does require a separate battery. Also, some users have reported that it doesn’t work as well in shallow water.

Key Features
  • Display measures 1.9 x 2.9 inches, or 3.5 inches diagonally
  • High-sensitivity GPS built-in
  • Chirp sonar for clearer results
  • Rated IPX7 waterproof
Specification
  • Brand Garmin
  • Model 010-01550-00
  • Weight 8 ounces
PROS

Extra convenient thanks to its dual uses

GPS gives accuracy within 1/10 of a foot

Can be mounted onto your boat

CONS

Does require a separate battery

Can struggle in shallow water

The Garmin GPSMAP 86i is a great option if you are fishing or sailing in your favorite offshore spot. This water-resistant GPS device floats and features a 3-inch display that is easy to read in the sunlight. It includes wireless connectivity, so you can pair it with your onboard marine system for added convenience. It can also pair with your smartphone. It also has satellite communication and text messaging using the Global Iridium satellite network. The device supports bluechart G3 charts and with a satellite subscription will provide weather forecasts. Users report that it’s easy to grip when you’re on a boat, and its long battery life (up to 50 hours in 10-minute tracking mode). Overall, it’s well built, receives GPS data quickly, and the charts are very good. The Bluetooth also works well and the tracking history is excellent.

One downside is that the manual isn’t very good, so you have to experiment a little to explore all the functions. And since it doesn’t have a touch screen, it’s tough to find a location at times.

Key Features
  • 8.74 x 6.06 x 3.66 inches
  • Water-resistant
  • 3-inch display
  • Wireless connectivity
Specification
  • Brand Garmin
  • Model 86i
  • Weight 1.9 pounds
PROS

Good battery life

Well-built, easy to grip

Good charts

Quickly recieves GPS data

CONS

User manual is not very instructive

No touchscreen

The Cobra MR Handheld Floating VHF Radio GPS offers both radio functionality and all of the perks of a handheld marine GPS. This device features radio channels in the U.S., Canada, and internationally for both short- and long-range communication — plus an instant Channel 16 for emergencies and NOAA weather channels. The GPS navigation functionality includes a built-in GPS receiver and Bluetooth capability, which means you can see your GPS coordinates on the device screen and send them to others. You can put your phone away and keep it safe while you’re on the water and rely on this radio-GPS device instead.

However, with all these features, this handheld marine GPS uses up the battery very fast, which can be problematic when you’re in the middle of nowhere. Also, its audio is very quiet and hard to hear, even at max volume.

Key Features
  • Operates at 1, 3, or 6 watts of output power
  • IPX waterproof and submersible
  • Offers emergency weather alerts
  • Includes a belt clip and wrist strap
Specification
  • Brand Cobra
  • Model MR HH600W FLT GPS BT
  • Weight 11.6 ounces
PROS

Great alternative if you don’t want to use your phone on the water

Clear, audible alerts when danger is ahead

Can replay missed transmissions and incoming calls

CONS

Uses battery power quickly

Even at max volume, it’s very quiet and hard to hear

This well-rounded device has two-way radio and navigation. Designed specifically for boaters and marine use, this handy gadget gives you communication capability and offers a GPS receiver so you can always find your way. You’ll get plenty of functionality thanks to features like loud audio and noise-canceling for both TX and RX audio. This device is submersible and rated IPX8 waterproof, so if you drop it into the water, it’ll float. A built-in 66-channel GPS receiver gives up to 11 hours of location data, and you can see where you’re located on the 1.7 x 1.7-inch full dot matrix display. With both waypoint and route navigation plus day and night modes, you can use this GPS any time.

Keep in mind that it can be a bit bulky to hold. Also, the included rechargeable battery may have a short lifespan, so you may want to bring a backup battery.

Key Features
  • Measures 2.6 x 5.43 x 1.5 inches
  • 11-hour runtime
  • 1.7 x 1.7 inch full dot matrix display
  • Navigates to waypoints and along routes
Specification
  • Brand Standard Horizon
  • Model STH-HX890BK
  • Weight 2.2 pounds
PROS

Encased in a rugged military-standard case

Includes a water-activated emergency strobe light

Easy to read in both day and night modes

CONS

Can be bulky to hold

Battery may have a short lifespan

This GPS is designed specifically for sailing, and it includes several features just for sailors. It comes equipped with SailAssist, a combination of helpful sailing technologies like a virtual starting line, countdown timers, a speed history, and tack assist. Built with high-sensitivity GPS, you can use this device to mark and store as many as 1,000 waypoints and 100 tracks. An intuitive user interface helps you find the features you need while you’re out on the water, and backlit buttons plus a lit screen help you see in any conditions. Boaters and sailors alike will love extra features like marine alarms for anchor drag, getting off course, and more, plus a man-overboard alert.

While the sailing features are great overall, some features will need an additional person to work. The saving data can also be clunky and slow, and the screen is smaller than other GPS devices on this list.

Key Features
  • Measures 6 x 1.2 x 2.6 inches
  • Battery life lasts over 18 hours
  • Spacious data storage
  • Backlit screen and keys
Specification
  • Brand Garmin
  • Model 010-01504-00
  • Weight 8 ounces
PROS

GPS works and tracks even in challenging locations

SailAssist is extra helpful for sailboats

Displays marine data, like sunrise and sunset, ETA, and more

CONS

Saving data can be clunky and slow

Need an additional person to use some sailing features

Screen is small

As both a handheld marine GPS and a handheld marine VHF radio, you’ll be able to communicate with others via the radio while navigating to waypoints, harbors, marinas, and more with ease. This device includes a few features that make it a great pick. Float’n Flash sets off an emergency strobe light when the device falls into the water. Active noise canceling helps you hear radio transmissions without difficulty. And the integrated GPS offers your location, bearing, and speed at a moment’s notice. It uses fast setup and pinpoint accuracy, and you can see your navigation information on the device’s large, full dot-matrix screen whether you’re in bright sunlight or limited lighting.

One drawback is that the buttons are small and difficult to use. Also, the device’s critical functions can be a bit tricky to find when you need them.

Key Features
  • Measures 1.2 x 4.9 x 2.1 inches
  • Fifty waypoint memory locations
  • 5 watts of output power
  • Includes emergency features
Specification
  • Brand Icom
  • Model IC-M93D
  • Weight 1.2 pounds
PROS

Active noise canceling removes any background noise

Aqua Quake feature drains and clears water away from the speakers

Backed by a three-year warranty

CONS

Small buttons make using the features difficult

Critical functions can be a bit tricky to find when you need them

Best Handheld Marine GPSes Buying Guide & FAQ

If you’re currently without a quality handheld marine GPS — or are looking to replace an older model — you have plenty of options, but choosing the right device can be a bit complex. Do you want GPS navigation and location data alone? Or do you want a multifunctional device? Do you need a radio too? All of these decisions can affect which marine GPS is the best fit for you.

No matter what kinds of marine hobbies you enjoy, there’s a handheld marine GPS device that’ll cover everything from pinpointing your location to highlighting marine topography to directing you back to the harbor or marina. Our handheld marine GPS buying guide will help lead you to the perfect device for your boating, sailing, and other watercraft fun.

Benefits of a Handheld Marine GPS

The versatility and convenience of a handheld device are unmatched, and it offers you the chance to take your GPS with you whether you’re hopping off the boat and onto the shore, riding kayaks, or doing any other kind of marine activity. 

As long as you choose a marine GPS, your device will be safe enough to survive some pretty rugged — and wet — environments.

Handheld marine GPS devices also offer great functionality. In addition to being able to go anywhere, these handy electronics can be simple or complex. They can give you all kinds of details about your marine travels, from insight into what’s underneath the surface of the water to saving waypoints and routing you to specific destinations. And there are even more benefits when you choose a great handheld marine GPS.

  • You can use a handheld marine GPS device anywhere—no cords or wiring required. 
  • Replaceable and rechargeable batteries allow you to take your marine GPS on or off your boat with added flexibility.
  • You’ll have preloaded maps that cover bodies of water both locally and across the country — or even internationally.
  • Handheld marine GPS devices are rugged enough to survive marine life, including impacts and drops into water.

The Most Common Types of Handheld Marine GPSes

While marine GPS devices might all seem pretty similar, there are some significant differences between them. Some handheld GPS models are more advanced, with larger screens, more detail, and more high-tech navigation technology. Others are simple and straightforward, giving you just the basics. Discover which one is right for your needs on the water right here.

Non-Mapping Marine GPS

If you’re looking for a basic handheld marine GPS device, a non-mapping marine GPS is the perfect fit. These devices are pretty basic, preloaded with a set of electronic maps that allow you to see your position on a detail-driven chart. It’s kind of like navigating with traditional paper charts — the GPS receiver will show you where you’re located and let you route your course via waypoints. 

Some non-mapping marine GPS devices are more advanced than others. You can find options that offer combined capabilities, like non-mapping GPS plus a fish finder. These can be great if you have a specific kind of need, like a marine GPS that can help you navigate lakes while making every fishing trip more successful. 

Marine GPS with Base Maps

Marine GPS devices with a base map are another basic option. However, these are even simpler and more stripped-down versions than other types of GPS receivers. They come preloaded with a base map or a simple map that gives you a somewhat block-like view of surrounding geography. It’s nothing fancy, but these devices can give you a good sense of your surroundings and help you pinpoint your off-road location.

Additionally, marine GPS devices with a base map only tend to be the most economical choice. If you don’t rely on a GPS receiver often or just want a solid device at a budget-friendly price, this type will do the trick.

Chart Plotting Marine GPS

If you’re looking for the most detailed, most high-tech handheld marine GPS, you’re going to want a chart plotting marine GPS device. This type of GPS offers the highest, fullest level of mapping detail. It includes charts with a wealth of information — accuracy of water depth within a few feet, electronic moving maps that make identifying your position crystal clear, and the ability to see various points and places nearby.

A chart plotting marine GPS also allows for updates and custom maps. These digital maps are preloaded onto your handheld device, and they typically cover the entire world. You can also find models that put the maps on a microSD card, which allows you to buy new chips for different regions or add more custom options.

What to Consider When Buying a Handheld GPS

When looking for the best handheld marine GPS device, it’s essential to focus on accuracy and capability above all else. After all, what use is a GPS device if it can’t help you find your location and navigate more easily? A great GPS for marine use will be able to offer you consistent accuracy. The best GPS devices are typically those dedicated to GPS functionality above all else. While multipurpose devices like radio and GPS combination devices can be great, they may lessen the importance of GPS in favor of other features.

And you can’t forget about the display: being able to easily see your location, get coordinates, and find your way to various waypoints or destinations is critical. A quality display can help you do exactly that, offering a good balance of crisp, clear view and important information that’ll guide you and your boat.

The Most Important Features of a Handheld Marine GPS

Every handheld marine GPS device comes with a different set of features. Some are more far-ranging and high-tech, while others focus on alerts, weather, or even emergencies. Which features are the most important to look for, so you know you’re getting a great GPS? You’ll want a device that includes some of the following. 

Real-Time Tracking

Real-time tracking isn’t just helpful — it’s essential when you’re trying to figure out where you are. Boating, sailing, and other marine activities are especially challenging when trying to find your location as you can float and move easily. A marine GPS with real-time tracking will ensure you always get accurate location data, no matter where you are or how the water is moving. 

Real-time tracking can also be critically important if you get caught up in currents, unexpected weather, or other rapidly changing conditions out on the water. A handheld GPS device will then be able to give you the most current location data so you can find your way to safety or to shore when you need it most.

Alerts

A handheld marine GPS that offers alerts can be super helpful. Alerts can notify you of critically important information, and they can even help to keep you safe. There are different kinds of alerts a GPS device might offer. Emergency alerts are the most important — these alerts will notify you if you’re in the path of changing or dangerous weather, or they can alert others when you’re in danger. 

GPS devices can also offer alerts for communication. If your GPS is paired with a radio, you can get alerts to critical updates on radio channels or when incoming calls happen. If your marine GPS has Bluetooth, you may be able to get more customized alerts too.

User-Friendly Interface

A user-friendly interface is also very important when you’re choosing a handheld marine GPS. No one wants a device that’s hard to use, especially when you’re boating or being active on the water. You need one that’ll give you the information you need quickly, easily, and without any frustrations along the way.

Factors and features that can make for a user-friendly interface are a clear menu and simple, straightforward navigation buttons. You should easily be able to figure out what to press to get the results you want. A large screen that makes it easy to see — and understand — your location or navigation is also important. 

Care and Maintenance for a Handheld Marine GPS

Taking care of your handheld marine GPS is pretty easy: the biggest maintenance you’ll need to perform is checking the battery — and even this regular maintenance will vary from device to device. Some GPS models will need frequent recharging or run through batteries often. Others may last days or weeks (or even longer) before they need any power maintenance.

If you’re worried about water and your GPS, don’t worry too much. As long as you choose a marine GPS, your device will be safe enough to survive some pretty rugged — and wet — environments. Most handheld marine devices are built to withstand falling, moisture, and even being submerged in saltwater and freshwater.

  • Some handheld GPS devices run on AA or AAA batteries, while others use a single rechargeable battery, affecting the battery lifespan and range.
  • You may want to purchase new map packages every so often for customization and updates if you have a marine GPS that uses a microSD card.
  • If your GPS needs map updates, you’ll need to plug it into a computer or download the maps based on how your specific device requires updating.
There’s nothing more fun — and more relaxing — than heading out onto the water in your boat.

Best Handheld Marine GPSes FAQs:

If you have questions about finding the best handheld marine GPS device, you aren’t alone. With so many different features and details to consider, there’s a lot of comparing and thinking to do before you settle on which model is the right one. Find answers to some of the most common questions about handheld marine GPS devices below. 

Q: What is the most accurate handheld GPS?

We consider the Garmin 010-01550-00 Striker 4 GPS to be one of the best handheld marine GPS, in part because of its great accuracy. However, there are plenty of high-tech options that can offer excellent, accurate location data. 

Q: What is the easiest handheld GPS to use?

The Garmin GPSMAP Waterproof Marine GPS and Chartplotter is a great choice if you want a GPS you can easily understand. It offers clear information — and a lot of information — and is a straightforward GPS, so you can figure it out in no time.

Q: How do you use GPS in a boat?

You can use a marine GPS device in a few ways. You can either use GPS to pinpoint your location and understand your surroundings. You can also use this kind of GPS to navigate, following waypoints or heading to areas like harbors and marinas. 

Our Top Pick

The Garmin GPSMAP Waterproof Marine GPS and Chartplotter is our top choice for a handheld marine GPS device. With high-tech features that make it smart and built-in BlueChart g2 coastal charts, this device makes it easy to navigate any body of water. Boaters will love the three-axis compact, barometric altimeter, and a microSD card slot so you can upgrade the memory capacity or maps. 

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for a well-rounded and top-quality marine GPS, the Garmin GPSMAP Waterproof Marine GPS and Chartplotter is our pick. You can also consider the Garmin 010-01550-00 Striker 4 GPS, an affordable option that features both a marine GPS and helps you find fish.

Sources:

  1. Chartplotter – Wikipedia

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