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Monday, May 30, 2011

Searching for a good GPS handheld

I borrowed a GPS for my Florida trip, a Garmin GPSMAP 76 Waterproof Handheld and it performed well. I've given it back to the owner, with many thanks. Now I'm thinking about getting a GPS of my own for the sailboat.

There are so many to choose from and it's driving me nuts. I'm torn in two different directions. On one hand, I'd like a full color model complete with extensive navigational charts. The big problem with that is the cost. It's possible to spend more on electronic charts than the cost of the GPS unit itself. On the other end of the spectrum is something as simple as the Garmin eTrex H Handheld GPS Navigator, about as basic as one can get.

The eTrek is of little use without a chart. However, even if I got a top end model with all the electronic charts, I'd still want to have paper charts on-board. Electronics fail. For the sailing I've been doing, most navigation is by chart, compass, and binoculars. However, for times like when fog rolls in unexpectedly, having GPS capability is really nice to have.

What I really need to know is if the charting features are really worth it? Should I do without and save up for a top model? Maybe I should get a cheapo and have it right off? Is it worth buying a cheap one now and saving it as backup when I get a better one later?

I'm asking around to see what other people think. What's worked for you? Comments are welcome.



  1. In the beginning I used a Magellan handheld.Found that the batteries were always failing at a critical moment. With the hand held I still used paper...
    Upgraded to a Garmin chart plotter, connected to ships batteries. Much better ! Still used paper too.
    The main thing with the chart plotter was that it had track back feature. Thus if we went into an area by reading the water, we always had capability to trace our route back out. Came in handy when bad weather would blow up suddenly.
    Now I have a Garmin hand held which also holds charts. Nice but still would not go without paper.
    Down here, one can pick up chart books at nautical flea markets for cheap, like $15 !
    They may not be new, yet that really don't matter as 99% of the material is from surveys from long ago anyway.

  2. Thanks Spud! I wouldn't even know where the nearest nautical flea market is. Locally, I've been getting used charts from friends and sea kayakers. Will keep an eye out for the backtrack feature.

  3. I prefer Garmin. Their functions are much more intuitive. For a hand held, I wouldn't worry too much about chart capability. Hard to use them on that tiny screen. Track back is nice though. If you can swing it, go for a permanently installed unit on the boat. I've had gray scale and color, no real preference either way. My old Garmin (220 I think) served me well for many years of offshore fishing, and guided me home in many a fog. It was gray scale, with map. Never really used the map, just the nav page and track.

    Currently have a Garmin color chart plotter on the work boat. Again, rarely use the chart. Just plug in the coordinates and go. Then I use the track to return to the same spot (usually making multiple runs to stock fish in a specific grid) My 2 cents worth...

  4. Thanks for the input guys. Always useful to get information from guys who've spent time on the water.