Irrespective of whether you’re about to go fishing, kayaking or boating, equipping yourself the best handheld marine GPS is essential.
It’s an incredible safeguard to keep not only vessels away from rocks but also fishing boats in lawful zones at a quick look. So if you haven’t had one yet, why not now?
Here are the best handheld marine gps (Dec 2023 Update):
- Best Overall: Garmin GPSMAP 78S Marine GPS Navigator
- Ruggedized For Outdoor Use: Garmin Oregon 700 Handheld GPS
- Best For Kayaking: Garmin eTrex 20x, Handheld GPS Navigator
- Best For Boating: Garmin GPSMAP 78sc
- Best For Fishing: Garmin Striker Plus 4 with Dual-Beam transducer, 010-01870-00
- Longest Working Time: Garmin eTrex 10
|Top 6 Best Handheld Marine GPS|
|Garmin GPSMAP 78S Marine GPS Navigator||Read Our Review|
Ruggedized For Outdoor Use
|Garmin Oregon 700 Handheld GPS||Read Our Review|
Best For Kayaking
|Garmin eTrex 20x, Handheld GPS Navigator||Read Our Review|
Best For Boating
|Garmin GPSMAP 78sc||Read Our Review|
Best For Fishing
|Garmin Striker Plus 4 with Dual-Beam transducer, 010-01870-00||Read Our Review|
Longest Working Time
|Garmin eTrex 10||Read Our Review|
Best Overall: Garmin GPSMAP 78S Marine GPS Navigator
- Give a brighter display and can work in direct sunlight
- The text-entry design can work on different conditions, even when the screen is wet or you’re wearing gloves
- Helpful new interface for quicker navigating main menu items
- Can float if you accidentally drop it on the water
- Low resolution and bulkier than the GPSMAP 78
- The text-entry design is less intuitive than the touchscreens
- Inaccurate elevation gaining reports
Out of three versions of GPSMAP lines, we find the 78s is best for boaters and water sports enthusiasts.
It keeps the same size as the original version for portability while inheriting a lot of strengths from Oregon, Dakota, and Colorado series. Two shining examples are the new customization options or the ability to utilize BirdsEye aerial imagery and Garmin custom maps.
Meanwhile, there are some noteworthy improvements made on it.
Such as the interface. We realized this new design is more convenient to quickly navigate main menu items compared to the other text-entry counterparts.
Besides, the screen is leveraged to the transflective TFT model with a higher range of color. This means it will be much brighter and better invisibility, even under direct sunlight. Compared to the Oregon series, it’s more versatility.
|Garmin GPSMAP 78S Marine GPS Navigator Specifications|
1.2 x 2.6 x 6 in
Number of maps
2.6-inch TFT LCD display
2.6 inch diagonal
Worldwide shaded relief basemap
MicroSD card slot for optional mapping
1.7MB built-in memory
Due to the awesome interface and ultra-bright screen, this is the most competitive text-entry handheld marine GPS for boaters and water sports enthusiasts.
Ruggedized For Outdoor Use: Garmin Oregon 700 Handheld GPS
- Completely waterproof at 3’ deep underwater
- Dual-orientation touchscreens for more intuitive usage
- Can connect to Wi-Fi, ANT+, and Bluetooth so that you can easily work on it
- Feature Active Weather support to constantly update the latest weather conditions
- The touchscreen is hard to use when you’re wearing gloves or in wet condition
- Cold weather makes it devour AA batteries
In consideration of intuitive interfaces, the Oregon 700 prevails over the text-entry designs, making it the best candidate for people who have been used to modern electronic touchscreen displays.
It’s designed similarly to an ordinary smartphone with a dual-orientation touchscreen but way superior thanks to the sunlight-readable ability.
Making it truly outstanding is the customizable profile, which means you can create your own adventures via free trip-planning software provided by Garmin. This helps you easily track different activities, like fishing, sailing, kayaking, or hiking.
While the weather is always being the biggest enemy of hikers, fishers, and bikers, Oregon 700 with constantly updating Active Weather support will have your back to stay one step ahead of it.
The GPS itself is IPX7 waterproof rated, which means if you clumsily drop this into the water, it still survives.
|Garmin Oregon 700 Handheld GPS Specifications|
4.5 x 1.3 x 2.4 in
Number of maps
3D maps, 24k Topo map
3-inch sunlight-readable touchscreen display with Dual orientation
3-axis tilt-compensated electronic compass with accelerometer and Barometric altimeter sensors
Display resolution, WxH:240 x 400 pixels
In gloveless weather conditions, the Garmin Oregon 700 - with its rugged ergonomic design and IPX7 waterproof rating – is the best candidate for outdoor use.
Best For Kayaking: Garmin eTrex 20x, Handheld GPS Navigator
- A rugged case that stays durable against drops and bumps -> work better than smartphones
- Lightweight and compact but provide up to 3.7 GB of memory to keep more routes and waypoints for your needs
- Allow you to download FREE topo maps and Basecamp for route planning
- Just water-resistant, not waterproof so it’d better put this GPS in a phone bag when taking kayaking
Whenever someone asks us for an affordable handheld GPS recommendation, we always tell them to pick the Garmin eTrex 20x.
It’s lightweight, compact, and easily helps you navigate the trails.
For kayaking, this will be a good backup in case you lose your bearings. From marking your starting points, see where you’re in relation to that, to showing the way back, it can work smoothly.
Like other siblings, Garmin includes a basic base map in this unit, meaning that you can track what interstate is close to your position and what city you are in.
But don’t be quickly disappointed just because it’s so useless. This GPS has the option to upload many FREE detailed topo maps and with 3.7 GB of memory, you can load up to 200 routes and 200 waypoints.
|Garmin eTrex 20x, Handheld GPS Navigator Specifications|
2.1 x 4 x 1.3 in
Number of maps
TOPO 24K, HuntView, BlueChart g2, City Navigator NT and BirdsEye Satellite Imagery (subscription required)
1.4 x 1.7 inches
2.2” 65K color sunlight-readable display
Large 3.7 GB of internal memory and microSD card slot
If you want an affordable handheld marine GPS packing a lot into a little for kayaking, we think the Garmin eTrex 20x is a perfect option.
Best For Boating: Garmin GPSMAP 78sc
- Provide nautical charts – which the GPSMAP 78s doesn’t have – to give more accurate GTS
- A handy wrist strap for hands-free capability
- The unit often locks up when navigating a route
When boating and in need of directions, you know that you can rely on this Garmin GPSMAP 78sc.
Why? – you might ask.
Because superior to the 78s, it comes with nautical charts from Garmin which are really NOAA raster charts.
This additional feature shows a more accurate ground track speed (or GTS) than the boat speed indicator, which is the result of the ASA104 test, not an opinion. Even though there will be some delay due to the way it calculates position, it’s unnoticeable.
Two other big bonuses are the waterproof rating, which is IPX7, and the ability to float in water. With these extras, you can rest the heart to use it, no matter how clumsy you’re.
|Garmin GPSMAP 78sc Specifications|
2.6 x 1.2 x 6 in
Number of maps
basic base map
2.6-inch color TFT display
Waterproof to IPX7 standards
Built-in 3-axis tilt-compensated electronic compass and barometric altimeter for heading/altitude/weather
Equipped with some notable features, the Garmin GPSMAP 78sc Waterproof Marine GPS is our recommendation for boating.
Best For Fishing: Garmin Striker Plus 4 with Dual-Beam transducer, 010-01870-00
- Using CHIRP sonar technology for less clutter imaging and better separation between fish and vegetation
- The screen display is up to 80% brighter than other models – ideal to be used in direct sunlight
- Huge memory – can save up to 5,000 waypoints and also allow you to customize them
- Don’t use any charts
- Can’t be upgraded with any conventional charts
This 2018 newest version highlights some remarkable features.
At such affordable pricing, the CHIRP sonar technology application is quite a pleasant surprise to us. It is considered superior to standard single-frequency sonar.
By using 4 frequencies (including 77/200 kHz) in addition to Dual-Beam transducer, it helps you easily distinguish between fish and vegetation with less clutter imaging. This transducer is also known for its incredible depth capability of 1,900 feet.
A-Scope and Fish Symbols are also available.
Another bonus is the screen display. It’s slightly larger and brighter than the Garmin Striker 4 with 4.3” in diagonal and 80% brighter in direct sunlight.
If you’re worried about the memory of this basic internal GPS plotter, the don’t. It can save up to 5,000 waypoints and even provide some icons to make them more suggestive. Besides, is a route creation function and a track recording function.
|Garmin Striker Plus 4 with Dual-Beam transducer, 010-01870-00 Specifications|
3.9 x 1.8 x 6.9 in
Number of maps
Built-in Garmin quickdraw contours mapping software
Sunlight-readable 4.3” display and the intuitive user interface
Rugged design for every fishing environment
For small fishing boats, the Garmin Striker Plus 4 is our favorite. It’s inexpensive, compact, and especially, packed with lots of practical features for fishing. Even with a bit of improvisation, it can be used on ice.
Longest Working Time: Garmin eTrex 10
- Retained battery life up to 25 hours to last you for a whole kayaking or boating trip
- Offer quick GPS functionality
- Lack of color display and expandable memory
- More expensive than the eTrex 20 model
Last up, is the Garmin eTrex 10.
With new improved compatibility for Garmin’s spin-mounting accessories, worldwide base map usage, and better interface, it’s a premium entry-level handheld GPS for both beginners and pros.
Even though it lacks color display and expandable memory, it strikes back with GLONASS and HotFix support to quickly locate your position with the highest accuracy. The unit is also praised for its remarkable compactness and especially, the extended battery lifetime – up to 25 hours.
Out of the box, it acts as a perfect assistant for general geocaching and outdoor exploration.
|Garmin eTrex 10 Specifications|
1.3 x 4 x 2.1 in
Number of maps
basic world map
Preloaded worldwide basemap and 2.2-inch monochrome display
WAAS enabled GPS receiver with HotFix and GLONASS support
Nothing is more frustrating than your GPS receiver out of juice during your water sports adventure. But with the Garmin eTrex 10 and its extended 25 hours of battery life, it’s not a thing anymore.
How To Choose The Best Handheld Marine GPS?
- There are two key features to consider when you are looking at a handheld marine GPS screen – screen size and resolution.
- First off is screen size!
- This feature is dependent on when and where you’re going to use the GPS.
- For example, if you intend to be on a kayaking trip, you will want something portable and easy to handle.
- Smaller dimensions of the device results in smaller screen sizes but remember, don’t go for anything smaller than 1.5 inches of screen display because below that range, it’s really hard to see the data.
- Now, what if you’re going to be on a medium boat with other screens around?
- Size up!
- A 4-inch or 5-inchscreen would be able to give you all the required information easily with no needs of squinting or leaning forward. Besides, it’s still portable to carry around like a breeze.
- Resolution is the next thing to keep in mind but doesn’t worry, this feature is quite easy to consider.
- The higher the indicator, the better.
- One more thing you should look out for GPS screens is if you intend to use it under direct sunlight. As a matter of fact, when bathed in this environment, your GPS turns out to be harder to see what’s displayed on the screen, just like your smartphone’s.
As your handheld marine GPS gets higher chances to get wet when it’s in the sea, water resistance will prolong its lifetime and keep it well-functional when you need it the most.
The nearer you’re going to be to the water, the higher the water-resistance of your marine GPS:
Don’t resist water
Water-resistance from vertical drops
Water-resistance from vertical drops + drops at 15-degree angles
Water-resistance from spray up to 60 degrees
Water-resistance from splashes at all angles
Water-resistance from water jets at all angles
Water-resistance from stronger jets at any angles
Waterproofing in no deeper than 3’ underwater
Waterproofing in over 3’ deep underwater
How do you use a handheld GPS for fishing?
Here is a step-by-step instruction to using a handheld GPS for fishing:
- Check the fishing sites’ maps in your GPS
- Mark your launch site, especially when you go fishing in a new place
- Turn the “Breadcrumb” on to help you record your travel routes so if you lose your bearings, you can rely on this to find the way back
- Ensure it has enough strong signals
During the trip:
Use the “zoom” option will help you easily read the maps
There will be some fishing spots where you catch the most fish, mark them by labeling the waypoints. The same with potential fishing sites for more fish that you’ve scouted from other anglers (remember to make notes the reason you marked it)
Before going back to shore:
Check all the essential information recorded during your fishing trip to the device. Store it! Don’t forget to make notes about the overall results and conditions.
How does marine GPS work?
There are many satellites orbiting the Earth twice a day and each of them will transmit signals (including its time and location) to the ground equipment. Your marine GPS will rely on 4 different transmissions to help you to locate your boat position accurately.
If you want to learn more, watch here:
Are there GPS for boats?
Yes, there are.
A GPS device is workable anywhere as long as it receives satellite transmissions.
But if you’re wondering a car GPS can be used for boat, our answer is “sort of”. As it’s not programmed with aquatic maps, it’s struggling to read it.
How do you read a GPS?
Watch this video to learn more:
Does GPS work on the ocean?
It’s dependent on which kind of GPS you’re using.
As mentioned, automotive GPS can literally work over water. But as it’s not specifically programmed with aquatic maps, meaning that you can’t load shoreline maps, detailed depth, and topography, it’s hard to read it.
There’s no universal marine GPS that can work flawlessly for all purposes, which is the reason we take time to research, test, and categorize them meticulously.
Finding out the best handheld marine GPS might be time-consuming but in the end, you’ll be completely pleased with the results. Hope this detailed guide has been helpful for you.