Everything you need to know about GPS marine navigation

Marine GPS systems have evolved since they first came on the market, and you don’t have to be an ocean expert to use one. Every year, the technology of GPS marine navigation systems keeps getting better and better, giving them many more features and much more power!

But does all this technology make them a more practical navigational tool when they’re in the middle of the ocean facing the sun, salt, and spray?

Before you spend your hard-earned money on the next best GPS marine navigation system, it’s best to understand what they are, what they do, and why you might need one.

What are GPS marine navigation systems?

GPS stands for Global Positioning System and a marine GPS is specifically designed for the marine environment. These devices are highly recommended due to the increased safety they provide to open water boaters. In fact, sailing courses now include the use of GPS systems within their training courses.

The most basic GPS maritime navigation systems are usually handheld, then you can connect chartplotter devices and computers to a GPS.

They use satellites to determine the speed and direction of the ship, which is then displayed on the instrument screen. With a plotter device, it also allows the boat’s heading to be electronically plotted.

If you are in the ocean and are in difficulty or in distress, you can use GPS to pinpoint your boat’s position to rescuers so they know where to go. This may not be an option available on older models, but current ones will most likely have this feature.

GPS maritime navigation systems generally have built-in alarms that sound if you drift off course or if the anchor is dragging. These alarms are usually not very loud and since the ocean can be loud in rough water, you may want to find a unit that can connect to an external alarm on the boat.

So, let’s take a look at the different types of devices available to you in more detail.

Portable Device: Although these are the cheapest devices, they are usually just as accurate. As it is portable, it can be used in other situations, such as hiking or in the car. It can be a bit difficult to use the device’s often small buttons, especially if you’re in rough water, although most portable units come with a mounting bracket. Sometimes the signal can get weak on these devices, so it may be a good idea to buy one that allows the use of an external antenna.

ยท Chartplotters – Compared to handheld devices, chartplotters are a huge improvement. This type of marine GPS navigation displays the information superimposed on nautical charts. This will be the main navigation tool and while it is not a complete replacement for paper charts, it does have a large screen and the buttons are much larger than handheld devices. The chartplotter needs to be mounted on a fixed surface and they usually all come with external antennas, so placement shouldn’t be an issue. The screen sizes vary between 5 and 10 inches and you will have to pay more if you want a color screen. Most chartplotters are integrated with the GPS receiver, which means that both are included in one unit.

Computer connected to GPS: A computer can be used with different types of GPS: sensor, plotter or standard GPS receiver. Computers are generally only used below deck, as screens are difficult to see in direct sunlight. An advantage of using GPS marine navigation with a computer is that planning and navigation are done in one unit. The computer is more powerful than a plotter and this means that there are more software options and 3D viewing applications can also be run. There are even computers and laptops specially designed for the marine environment!

These are your top three options if you are considering buying a GPS marine navigation device, but they will come down to your budget and also the features that you personally want. Don’t overpay for features you don’t think you’ll need.

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