Handheld GPS for Marine

 It comes as no surprise that a range of GPS devices specifically for fishing, sailing, canoeing and boating is available. Basic GPS technology can track exact coordinates in large ocean spaces and assist all boaters regardless of experience in finding the best fishing spots or guiding fishers and boaters back to shore.  Some units can even map underwater terrain. Marine GPS units come in three main categories handheld, portable and fixed mount. This article focuses on handheld GPS devices specifically for marine activities.

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Garmin GPSMAP 78sc

Garmin Montana 680 & 680T

Garmin 72H Waterproof Handheld GPS

Garmin Quatix NMEA Marine GPS Sport Watch

Garmin GPSMAP 78sc
Magellan Explorist 710
Garmin Quatix NMEA Marine GPS


This device is the top pick for handheld Marine device.  It is also the number one best seller in Amazon Marine GPS units and chartplotters. Not only does this device float is also has high sensitivity GPS

Awesome tool for sail racing .  Combines many GPS features in a small package e.g. waypoints, routes and downloading tracks.  It is waterproof to at least 15 meters but it is not a dive watch.

The least expensive Garmin Marine GPS. The difference between this and the 78 is the 72H does not show maps.  Very responsive to the high sensitive receivers,  waterproof and floats.  Has all  the usual  marine GPS functions plus others like shows cycles of the moon and the best times to fish

Awesome tool for sail racing . Combines many GPS features in a small package e.g. waypoints, routes and downloading tracks. It is waterproof to at least 15 meters but it is not a dive watch.


2.6"  color TFT display, 160 x 240 pixels.  Not touchscrren

2.6"  screen

2.7" 120 x 160 pixel grayscale display

2.6" screen


7.7 ounces

10.2 ounces

7.7 ounces

2.9 ounces

Battery Life

20 hours  2 AA batteries

16 hours (lithium); 22 hours (AA )

18 hours,  2AA batteries

Lithium battery

High Sensitivity

GLONASS capable. Garmin Hotfix, auto routing

Yes WAAS-enabled GPS receiver

High sensitivity GPS with fast connection

GPS sateliite receiver

Barometric Altimeter






IPX-7 rated and it floats

Water resistant

IPX-7 waterproof and it floats

Waterproof to 50 meters

Electronic Compass

​Tri-axial tilt-compensated electronic compass.  The unit does not need to be level while navigating.  However the  the calibration process is more complicated thana two-axis electronic compass

​3-axis tilt-compensated electronic  compass

Features a compass rose, waypoint bearing pointer, and data boxes. 


Built in Blue Chart, US/Bahamas coastal charts with the 78sc model. MicroSD card slot for loading additional maps.  Supports Birdseye satellite imagery and compatible with custom maps

5 megapixel, autofocus; auto geo-tagging

Does not show maps

5 megapixel, autofocus; auto geo-tagging

Wireless Sharing

Waypoints, routes, tracks and geocaches.  Detailed analysis of  activities and tracks using Garmin Connect™. This has an activity table and viewing activities on a map using Google™ Earth. Explore routes uploaded by millions of Garmin Connect users and share your experiences on Twitter® and Facebook®. 

Dual Portrait & Landscape

NMEA 0183 compatible. To transfer data to or from your device, GPS 72H connects to your computer via USB.

Compatible with GNT 10 NMEA Transceiver. Stream NMEA 2000 data wirelessly, wind speed & direction, depth etc. Automatic wireless MOB activation 


Lightweight easy to use, waterproof and floats.  Instantly records waymaps and picks up satellite signals quickly . Has a man overboard feature which records a waypoint. It can utilize Garmin custom maps and BirdsEye aerial imagery,  advanced track navigation,and wireless data transfer. Portable hand held GPS device great for boaties particularly with the floating feature.

Supports BirdsEye satellite imagery, Garmin Custom Maps and photo navigation

High sensitivity receiver, very fast receiving and excellent satellite lock time.  It can detect location within moments with high accuracy. It is robust, waterproof and floats.  It has built-in celestial data, which includes tide information, sunrise/sunset times and a hunting and fishing calendar.  Good functionality at a very favorable price

Garmin marine autopilot remote control capabilities. Advanced sail racing tools. Great as an on board GPS device


The basecamp software take a little time to get used to and download speeds are slow.  The screen is a little on the small side.  The buttons are above the screen and take some getting used to. 

​A must have for sailing but not as waterproof as claimed.  Requires frequent charging

​This device is a workhorse which does the job.  It does not show maps.  The back light does not turn off at will.

​A must have for sailing but not as waterproof as claimed.  Requires frequent charging

 Customer Rating


Full Review

What to look for in a Handheld GPS Devices for Marine Activities

1. Fast and Accurate Satellite Reception

Look for a device which is is equipped with GPS and GLONASS, WAAS-enabled receiver, fast receiving and the best reception.   In order to function a Marine GPS unit requires at least 12 satellites but the more satellites it can use then the more accurate the device will be.  The highest quality GPS unit will use all 24 satellites,  this comes at a price.

2. How large is the screen

The larger the screen the easier to read map coordinates.  Some GPS units can also read the layout under water.

3. Is the unit waterproof

Manufacturers will claim the unit is waterproof, however most units are water resistant for light rain.  Obviously chance of getting a GPS unit wet in a marine environment is high so look for a GPS unit which is fully water resistant.

4. What are the mapping capabilites

Base mapping provide basic position, routes, and waypoints. This type of mapping is typically used for hiking, hunting, basic biking and cars.

Advanced mapping uses detailed maps which can include advanced features like under water layout,  fish locators and weather information.

5. Does the unit have antennae or an antennae port

Look for a unit that comes with an external antenna or an antenna port offering better reception and faster, more accurate mapping.  The reception of GPS units with built-in internal antennas is not as good. 

6. Are there added safety features

Added safety features equal added peace of mind.  Some marine GPS units come with man overboard alarms, collision alarms and low battery alarms

7. What is the battery life

You don't want to run out of battery power in the middle of the ocean.  Look for GPS units with good battery life and easy battery change.