with permission from Garmin International
To the first-time buyer, selecting a
handheld GPS unit can be a daunting task. Knowing your navigational
needs in advance will make your shopping easier, and your next boating
trip more enjoyable.
The most important question you should
ask yourself when purchasing a handheld GPS receiver is how do I intend
to use it? Will it be your primary means of navigation, or a backup to a
fixed-mount chartplotter? Besides using it on your boat, do you plan to
use it while driving, fishing, hiking, or hunting? All GPS units can
show your position and basic navigation information, but each model
offers a different combination of features. The following checklist from
leading GPS manufacturer Garmin International will help you narrow down
the feature set that will benefit you most:
- are you more interested in an ultra-compact unit, or are you willing
to sacrifice size for a larger display screen? These days, units like
the Garmin Geko series are as small as a modern flip-phone. Other
handhelds, like the GPSMAP 76 series, have larger, easier-to-read
display screens, but aren't quite as compact.
- Where do you intend to use your GPS? Virtually every unit offers
different optional mounting accessories, so take a moment to consider
the ideal position for your handheld. In a marine environment, it's a
good idea to have your unit secured near you while piloting your boat.
If you intend to use the unit under a solid roof (or sometimes, a Bimini
top), you may want to consider purchasing a unit with an optional
external antenna for better reception.
- All handhelds show your position and basic navigation information, but
many boaters want a unit that also has mapping capabilities. These units
come equipped with a standard basemap that typically shows lakes,
rivers, shorelines, major cities, and highways. Additionally, users can
download detailed map data from optional CD-ROMs, like Garmin's
BlueChart or Recreational Lakes. This additional data offers highly
detailed marine navigational data, boat ramps, marinas, underwater
structure, contour lines, and more. If you intend to use your new unit
in the car or on the trail, Garmin also offers street and topographic
data on CD-ROM. The Garmin GPSMAP 76 and higher-end eTrex models are two
product lines that offer mapping capabilities.
- Many Garmin units offer unique features that can be helpful to
boaters, including sunrise/sunset tables and fishing and hunting charts.
Some units also feature internal electronic compasses and barometric
altimeters, which can give you precise altitude readings and help you
define weather patterns. Battery life is also an issue for many boaters,
and it's a good idea to always carry a spare set aboard your boat. An
optional 12-volt cigarette lighter cable can power most units as well.
If you're accident-prone and worried about losing your new unit
overboard, you may want to consider the GPSMAP 76 series - those units
Ease of Use
- No matter how many bells and whistles your new GPS receiver has,
they're next to worthless unless you can access them easily and
efficiently. It's important that your handheld GPS is not only advanced
and accurate, but user-friendly as well. Look for units and menus that
are intuitive and easy to navigate. Garmin's menu-driven operation makes
learning how to use your new GPS receiver simple.
Integrated Radio Capabilities
- Garmin's Rino 110 and 120 offer exclusive FRS and GMRS radio
capabilities integrated with GPS. With a range of two to five miles
(depending on frequency), these units are perfect for ship-to-shore or
nearby boat-to-boat communication. What's more, Rino users can transmit
their GPS position over FRS channels to other Rino users in the area and
also see where their companions are located on the unit's display. Users
can then navigate to that position using the Rino's GPS feature.
A boat demo drive is also a must before
purchasing any new craft. On the sea trial, you'll only have a short
period of time to predict how a boat will perform during a lifetime's
worth of conditions, so make it count. If you can, take her out on a
breezy day and go out in the open ocean. This is the only real way to
find out if she's a wet boat. Run into the seas, downswell and cross
swell to see how the boat handles. See how she performs at trolling
speeds, and what kind of wake she throws. Bring some gear and friend
along for the boat test, and make sure the tank is at least half full.
This will help you see how the vessel performs under real conditions.
One final note of advice. To make your
GPS experience as productive and enjoyable as possible, be sure to read
the quick-start guide and instruction manual that comes with your new
unit. It's also important to spend some time on the water familiarizing
yourself with your new GPS receiver. Also, don't forget that a GPS unit
is no substitute for good seamanship. Know your position at all times,
have (and be able to use) a backup navigation system on board, and don't
take any unnecessary risks when navigating.
With a little homework before your
purchase - and a little practice afterwards on the boat, you'll quickly
become proficient at using GPS to make your boating excursions more
enjoyable, more productive, and safer.
The American Boating Association
PO Box 690
New Market, MD 21774