While it can be fun to strike off into unknown waters just to see where they take you, this isn’t the safest way to travel.
If you are looking for a product to help you navigate and stay aware of your surroundings, a marine GPS chartplotter is the way to go.
These devices provide a real time look at your surroundings, can help you plot a course to a new destination, and even stay in contact with other people.
These are highly intuitive and user-friendly devices, and they are something you can count on.
Marine GPS chartplotters offer a lot of similar features, but there can be quite a number of differences between models as well.
Things like display size, built in base maps, connectivity, map details provided, and even the user interface will be different.
Every person will have their own preferences for these things, so we’ve done some of the heavy lifting for you.
To help you choose the best chartplotter for your needs, we have evaluated 17 products over 23 hours and considered 541 consumer reviews to compile this buying guide.
Following our last update, we recommend the Garmin GPSMAP 78sc marine GPS and chartplotter for its ease of use, convenience, and reliability.
Marine GPS Chartplotter Comparative Table
|Garmin GPSMAP 78sc Marine GPS and Chartplotter|| ||9.5/10||See price on Amazon|
|Garmin GPSMAP 1242xsv|| ||9.7/10||See price on Amazon|
|Garmin GPSMAP 78S Marine GPS Navigator and Worldwide Chartplotter|| ||9.1/10||See price on Amazon|
Our Pick for The Best Marine GPS Chartplotter
The Best Overall
When it comes to marine GPS units, it will be hard to find many models that are superior to this Garmin GPSMAP 78sc marine GPS and chartplotter. It has almost every feature you could possibly ask for, and with its affordable price and lightweight design, it is great for every purpose and income level.
Garmin GPSMAP 78sc Marine GPS and Chartplotter Video Review
What We Think of The Garmin GPSMAP 78sc Marine GPS and Chartplotter
As our top pick, you can expect that this Garmin GPSMAP 78sc chartplotter is going to be a pretty great product. Really, the only downside that we have noted is the lack of WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity. However, many boaters would find these features unnecessary anyway, so we didn’t allow that to hold this product back from first place in the ranking.
With a 2.6” screen and a total weight of only half a pound, this GPS is the perfect handheld unit for essentially any activity. Both topographic maps and street maps can be added to this device with an SD card, and since US coastal charts are already preloaded, you have access to all of the information you need without any setup required. These maps include shorelines, depth contours, navaids, harbors, marinas, and more.
Whether you want to use this GPS for boating or hiking or any other water-based activities, I think you will love it as much as I do. It is a small handheld unit, so it’s easy to pack with all of your items and lightweight to carry. The map details are great, and I love that I don’t need a subscription or internet access to actually make use of all of the features. I would choose this model again.
With the purchase of an additional accessory, you can use this GPS chartplotter to connect to your boat’s autopilot system to take the responsibility off of your shoulders. The 1740 MB memory is quite respectable, and since this model is waterproof and buoyant, you’ll never have to replace it if you drop it over the side of your boat. With a highly affordable price, there’s really no reason not to buy this GPS.
Garmin GPSMAP 78sc Marine GPS and Chartplotter Specifications
- Dimensions: 2.6” x 1.2” x 6”
- Weight: 0.5 lbs
- Display Size: 2.6”
- Memory: 1740 MB
- Connectivity: USB only
Garmin GPSMAP 78sc Marine GPS and Chartplotter Pros and Cons
- Can connect to your boat’s autopilot system with the purchase of an accessory
- Topographic maps and street maps can be added with an SD card for use while hiking
- Completely waterproof and buoyant
- Comes with preloaded US coastal charts: Map detail includes shorelines, depth contours, navaids, harbors, marinas, and more
- No WiFi or Bluetooth connectivity
Our Final Opinion about the Garmin GPSMAP 78sc Marine GPS and Chartplotter
Quality 5.0 out of 5.0 stars Effectiveness 5.0 out of 5.0 stars Design 5.0 out of 5.0 stars Price 5.0 out of 5.0 stars
Overall, the Garmin GPSMAP 78sc marine GPS and chartplotter is a wonderful device that can be useful for every water-based activity. It is reliable and completely waterproof, so you’ll never be caught stranded. Its affordability and solid design makes it a standout product inn our eyes.
Our Upgrade Pick for a Marine GPS Chartplotter
The Advanced Pick
The Garmin GPSMAP 1242xsv is a chartplotter/sonar combo that is nearly unbeatable in value. With a number of user-friendly features, great scanning capabilities, reliable wireless connectivity, and one of the largest display screens out there, there’s really nothing missing from this product.
Garmin GPSMAP 1242xsv Video Review
What We Think of The Garmin GPSMAP 1242xsv
This Garmin chartplotter is very likely the most advanced model on the market. If nothing else, it’s price tag certainly tells us that. While it won’t be affordable for everybody, those with the budget to purchase it will not be let down in any way. It can accept two SD cards at once, so it’s memory can be as large as you need it to be, and with a 12” screen, you’ll always be able to keep the important things in view.
Although this model is quite large, it weighs only 5.2 lbs, so it is easy to manage and install. With WiFi connectivity, you’ll be able to sync your device and stay up to date with new map releases and system updates. The display is designed for multi-screen viewing at once, and the user-friendly keypad even has keys that you can program to help you access your most important information quickly.
I could not imagine a better chartplotter than this Garmin model. Its performance is way beyond what I expected, even for the price, so I definitely don’t regret saving up for this model. The WiFi connectivity is so convenient, and I love how quickly it can sync. This device makes me feel a lot safer and better informed while I’m out on the water, so I wouldn’t replace it for anything.
This device includes a transducer for Garmin CHIRP sonar, CHIRP ClearVü and CHIRP SideVü, so you will always have the best monitoring experience possible. Both U.S. LakeVü HD maps and Blue Chart g2 charts come preloaded on this model, so it will be ready for navigation as soon as you take it out of the box. No matter what adventures you have planned, you can hit the water with confidence.
Garmin GPSMAP 1242xsv Specifications
- Dimensions: 14.1” x 2.7” x 8.9”
- Weight: 5.2 lbs
- Display Size: 12”
- Memory: 2 SD cards of your choice
- Connectivity: WiFi
Garmin GPSMAP 1242xsv Pros and Cons
- Includes transducer for Garmin CHIRP sonar, CHIRP ClearVü and CHIRP SideVü for optimal monitoring
- High quality display with multi-screen viewing simultaneously
- User-programmable keys
- Has U.S. LakeVü HD maps and Blue Chart g2 charts preloaded
- Incredibly expensive
Our Final Opinion About the Garmin GPSMAP 1242xsv
Quality 5.0 out of 5.0 stars Effectiveness 5.0 out of 5.0 stars Design 5.0 out of 5.0 stars Price 1.0 out of 5.0 stars
Overall, the Garmin GPSMAP 1242xsv is a pretty exclusive not for the light of budget. Although its price tag is exorbitantly high, its quality is well matched. It has some of the best sonar technology available, and with a customizable keypad and large display, you’ll be boating with more information at your fingertips than you could ever need.
Our Budget Pick for a Marine GPS Chartplotter
The Budget Pick
While it may be tempting to spend a lot of money on a really advanced piece of technology, sometimes that is just beyond your means or actual requirements of a device. If you’re looking for an affordable product that still packs a lot of value, you’ll want to choose the Garmin GPSMAP 78S marine GPS navigator and worldwide chartplotter.
This 0.5 lb chartplotter by Garmin is one of the most affordable models you can find on the market. Luckily for you, it doesn’t also come with a deterioration in quality compared to the higher end products. It’s screen resolution leaves something to be desired and it doesn’t offer and complex interface features or connectivity, but it is still a well-rounded navigator perfect for most purposes.
Its 2.6” screen can be navigated with various buttons, and while the button/cursor setup isn’t the easiest system for exploring the maps, it will allow you to find your way around with enough patience. This model is completely buoyant and waterproof, so losing it over the side of the boat does not need to incite panic. It is a small handheld unit that will be perfect for any type of boating or other activity.
I have been using this model for short boating trips so far, just to learn the area around a new marina. It has been really helpful, and I love that I won’t lose this device if I accidentally drop it overboard. Obviously, with a small screen, the resolution isn’t great, but it’s enough for me to keep an eye on the water depth and maintain my heading properly.
One of the coolest things about this model is that it can also be used on land. There is a microSD slot that allows you to add topographical maps for use on hikes and other land-based activities. With a 1724 MB memory, you have a decent amount of storage space as well. With the ability to wirelessly share waypoints, tracks, routes, and geocaches with other users, you can always stay up to date with new information.
- Dimensions: 1.2” x 2.6” x 6”
- Weight: 0.5 lbs
- Display Size: 2.6”
- Memory: 1724 MB
- Connectivity: USB only
- Has a microSD slot for optional mapping
- Is completely waterproof and buoyant
- Handheld for use during various adventures
- Can wirelessly share waypoints, tracks, routes, and geocaches with other users
- Screen resolution is not the best
- No connectivity or advanced interface
Quality 4.0 out of 5.0 stars Effectiveness 5.0 out of 5.0 stars Design 4.0 out of 5.0 stars Price 5.0 out of 5.0 stars
All in all, the Garmin GPSMAP 78S marine GPS navigator and worldwide chartplotter is the best device to choose if you’re shopping on a budget and don’t mind a simpler design style. This unit can keep you up to date on your environment in the water, and can even be adapted for use on solid ground.
Alternative Products to Consider
Garmin GPSMAP 86SC Floating Handheld GPS Review
The Glare-Proof Pick
If you’ve ever tried to use a smartphone in sunlight, you know how much it can obscure your view. If you’re looking for a reliable way to navigate in all weather, even on the sunniest days, you should choose the glare-proof Garmin GPSMAP 86SC floating handheld GPS.
What We Think of the Garmin GPSMAP 86SC Floating Handheld GPS
Garmin is well known brand for a reason. This 86SC GPS chartplotter is no exception to the quality we’ve come to expect of their products. This model weighs only 0.6 lbs, so it will feel essentially weightless while in your hand or pocket. It has a 3” screen to make its display a bit easier to read than the smaller versions, and the user-friendly button operation means non-techy people can use it happily.
The button operation isn’t the ideal option, but for a small device it gets the job done. The display screen is also glare-proof, so you’ll never have trouble reading the maps or other information during particularly sunny days. Since this model is buoyant and completely waterproof, you don’t have the risk of potentially losing it if it goes overboard. You’ll simply have to pull it up and dry it off.
I am pretty happy with the choice I made. This handheld GPS is very reliable, and I love that it can connect to my autopilot system and even stream boat data from other users. It gives me a lot of peace of mind when I’m out on the water. I’m a pretty clumsy person, so the fact that it is waterproof and will float makes me feel better about the risk of losing it overboard occasionally.
One very cool thing about this product is that it can function as a remote control for compatible products, as long as you purchase an adapter of sorts. One thing that tends to bother some users is that this chartplotter will automatically turn on when it is plugged in to charge, so if that is going to become annoying to you, it may be best to choose a different option or find a workaround.
Garmin GPSMAP 86SC Floating Handheld GPS Specifications
- Dimensions: 1.7” x 2.6” x 7”
- Weight: 0.6 lbs
- Display Size: 3”
- Connectivity: WiFi
Garmin GPSMAP 86SC Floating Handheld GPS Pros and Cons
- Glare-proof display for easy viewing in sunny weather
- Completely waterproof and buoyant
- Can function as a remote control for compatible products
- User-friendly button operation
- Turns on automatically when plugged in to charge
- Button navigation on the screen isn’t ideal
Our Final Opinion About the Garmin GPSMAP 86SC Floating Handheld GPS
Quality 5.0 out of 5.0 stars Effectiveness 5.0 out of 5.0 stars Design 4.0 out of 5.0 stars Price 4.0 out of 5.0 stars
All in all, the Garmin GPSMAP 86SC floating handheld GPS is the best way to navigate on open waters on sunny days. With a glare-proof display screen, nonslip rubber casing, and infallible buoyancy, this is the perfect handheld unit for any water-based activities all year round.
Simrad Cruise 7 GPS Chartplotter Review
The User-Friendly Pick
If you’re in the market for a GPS chartplotter that is easy to setup, easy to use, and easy to customize, you’ve found your ideal match. The Simrad Cruise 7 GPS chartplotter comes with everything you need to get out on the water and navigate with confidence, hassle-free.
What We Think of The Simrad Cruise 7 GPS Chartplotter
This Simrad Cruise chartplotter is a great model for people looking for a device that is easy to use. It is optimized with the user experience in mind, so you should always have an enjoyable experience while using it. This is a fairly large unit with a 7” display, so you’ll have no difficulty reading the maps or switching between screens for boat information and the details of your surroundings.
The keypad interface is one of our favorite designs, because it allows you to easily work with the screen and find all of the information you are looking for. The screen can also be tilted to help you see it better from different angles and to adjust to the position of the sun. The 2-year warranty will offer a lot of peace in mind, and you can be confident in the quality of the product as a whole.
I’m one of those people that is fairly hard to please when it comes to boating equipment, because I like having things just so. This chartplotter is actually pretty great, and from me, that says a lot. The 7” screen offers some great quality map viewing, and the keypad is really easy to figure out. I invested some extra money in better coastal charts which I think is necessary, but I’m very happy overall.
This device will come preloaded with US coastal maps. While they are a bit outdated and not always perfectly accurate, they still allow you to get out on the water with a good idea of where you’re going and how to get there. The CHIRP sonar transducer provides automatic depth tracking, so you won’t even have the hassle of programming or fine tuning it like with other models.
Simrad Cruise 7 GPS Chartplotter Specifications
- Dimensions: 10.8” x 9.1” x 8.6”
- Weight: 4.6 lbs
- Display Size: 7”
- Connectivity: None
- Warranty: 2 years
Simrad Cruise 7 GPS Chartplotter Pros and Cons
- Keypad interface is easy to use
- Comes preloaded with US coastal maps
- CHIRP sonar transducer provides automatic depth tracking with no fine-tuning required
- Large screen is easy to read and can be tilted
- Preloaded charts aren’t always the most accurate
Our Final Opinion About the Simrad Cruise 7 GPS Chartplotter
Quality 5.0 out of 5.0 stars Effectiveness 4.0 out of 5.0 stars Design 5.0 out of 5.0 stars Price 4.0 out of 5.0 stars
Overall, the Simrad Cruise 7 GPS chartplotter is one of the best products on the market for user experience. With a large display, reasonable price, and multi-screen viewing, there’s nothing stopping you from sailing off on wild adventures with ease.
Garmin GPSMAP 86sci Floating Handheld GPS Review
The Best Handheld Pick
The Garmin GPSMAP 86sci floating handheld GPS is truly the best handheld model on the market. With great navigation capabilities, a user-friendly button interface, and satellite communication capabilities, there is honestly nothing this GPS chartplotter can’t do to keep you safe and on course.
Garmin GPSMAP 86sci Floating Handheld GPS Video Review
What We Think of the Garmin GPSMAP 86sci Floating Handheld GPS
If you’re interested in a handheld chartplotter for you water-based adventures, the best of the best is definitely this Garmin model. It weighs only 1.5 lbs, but is packed with all of the tools and information you’ll need to stay safe and informed while on the water. The 3” display screen is slightly larger than most handheld models, and it has easy to use buttons to help you navigate to different screens.
This is one of the rarer handheld models that offers WiFi connectivity, and it even has satellite communication capabilities. This allows you to send and receive messages when you don’t have cell service, and can ensure you never lose your connection to people on the shore. This model can also stream boat data from other users, so you can stay connected that way as well.
This is a great chartplotter. I’ve had a couple Garmin products before, so I was already a fan of the company, and this model has just improved my opinion of them even more. I had an issue with the compass calibration once, but after I let the battery die and restarted it, it’s been working great ever since. The screen is a great size for my purposes and the buttons make it really easy to use on the water.
Preloaded bluechart G3 coastal charts ensure you don’t have to setup this device before use. You’ll have immediate access to all of your local shorelines and depth tracking. This model is entirely waterproof and buoyant, so it will float and remain functional if you ever drop it in the water. The glare-proof screen ensures you always have great visibility for navigating, even on the brightest days.
Garmin GPSMAP 86sci Floating Handheld GPS Specifications
- Dimensions: 1.7” x 2.8” x 7”
- Weight: 1.5 lbs
- Display Size: 3”
- Connectivity: WiFi
Garmin GPSMAP 86sci Floating Handheld GPS Pros and Cons
- Has satellite communication capabilities
- Can stream boat data from other users
- Buoyant, waterproof, and has a glare-proof screen
- Has preloaded bluechart G3 coastal charts
- Connectivity is an occasionally issue
Our Final Opinion About the Garmin GPSMAP 86sci Floating Handheld GPS
Quality 5.0 out of 5.0 stars Effectiveness 5.0 out of 5.0 stars Design 5.0 out of 5.0 stars Price 4.0 out of 5.0 stars
Overall, the Garmin GPSMAP 86sci floating handheld GPS is the best option for people looking for a reliable, nearly damage-proof handheld GPS that can let them stay connected to their boat, other boats on the water, and people on shore. Plus, its price is quite fair for the quality you receive.
Raymarine Axiom 9 MFD Chartplotter Review
The Smart Pick
If you’ve been hunting for a chartplotter that is connected and versatile, the Raymarine Axiom 9 MFD chartplotter is ideal for you. It has one of the largest displays on the market, great connectivity, and superior user interface features. What else can you ask for?
What We Think of The Raymarine Axiom 9 MFD Chartplotter
This Raymarine chartplotter is perhaps one of the most advanced models on the market when it comes to technology. If you are someone who enjoys being connected and having devices that make your life easier, this model is right up your alley. With both Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity enabled, you can connect your smartphone however you wish to give you controls at your fingertips.
This is one of the largest chartplotters with a display screen measuring 9” along the diagonal, and it is powered by high quality technology that will give you a great viewing experience and ensure that all the information you need is visible at once. You can even personalize the interface to cater the main screen to your needs. If there is information you don’t need, you can replace it with something more useful.
I’m not even sure where to start to be honest with you. There are so many great things about this chartplotter, and my only complaint really is that it cost so much. But considering the quality and features, it makes sense. The display has great resolution, the maps are easy to read and have been very accurate so far, and the touchscreen interface makes it so easy to look at different things.
This model is completely waterproof, so weather you are travelling in rough waters or during some rainfall, you can be sure that your navigational aid will not fail you. The touchscreen display makes it very easy to switch between screens and navigate the various maps installed. The large display and smart technologies built into this Axiom 9 make it ideal for pretty much anyone.
Raymarine Axiom 9 MFD Chartplotter Specifications
- Dimensions: 9.7” x 6.2” x 3”
- Weight: 9.1 lbs
- Display Size: 9”
- Connectivity: Bluetooth and WiFi
Raymarine Axiom 9 MFD Chartplotter Pros and Cons
- Touchscreen LCD display is incredibly user-friendly
- Interface can be personalized for your preferences
- Fully waterproof
- Quite large and expensive
Our Final Opinion About the Raymarine Axiom 9 MFD Chartplotter
Quality 5.0 out of 5.0 stars Effectiveness 5.0 out of 5.0 stars Design 5.0 out of 5.0 stars Price 3.0 out of 5.0 stars
Overall, the Raymarine Axiom 9 MFD chartplotter is a fairly flawless piece of equipment. Its customizable touchscreen display offers you the best viewing experience for the environment around you, your boat specs, and more. With two options for connectivity, you’ll have all the information you need at your fingertips.
Why Should You Trust Us?
All the recommendations we make on The Good Choice are the result of many hours of research, comparisons, analysis of consumer reviews and, if necessary, expert feedbacks. The products we recommend here are the ones that will best perform their daily tasks, passing all security, reliability and efficiency tests while having an appealing price-quality ratio for everyone.
What are our criteria for judging the products reviewed and selected by The Good Choice?
- Quality: Does the product have a solid construction? Will it be reliable over time? Does it have a good warranty?
- Efficiency: Is the product efficient in its task or do you need to give it some help? Is it for example powerful, fast, quiet?
- Usability: Is the product easy to handle, easy to use and maintain?
- Price: Is the price of the product and/or accessories and/or spare parts reasonable compared to the rest of the market?
In addition to these main criteria, we then establish a list of specific criteria for each product category, detailed a little further down in this article.
In the end, the products we recommend are the ones we would want to buy, and the ones we would also choose for our friends and family.
Things to Know Before Buying a Marine GPS Chartplotter
Why Do I Need a Marine GPS Chartplotter?
Marine GPS chartplotters are incredibly useful devices to keep on your boat. They can help you navigate effectively through familiar and unfamiliar terrain, and plot waypoints to specific destinations. They will also display information about your travels, such as heading and current location, as well as information about the waters around you. They can identify important locations like marinas and harbors, indicate water depths and shorelines, and more. Basically, any information you could possibly need while boating can be displayed to you via a marine GPS chartplotter, so we recommend that everyone out on the water has one of these devices.
How Reliable Are Marine GPS Chartplotters?
Marine GPS chartplotters are certainly products that you can rely quite heavily on. Their advanced GPS technology, color map displays, and interactivity ensures that you will always be able to get where you’re going safely and with a course of your choosing. Nearly every chartplotter will have at least local coastal charts preloaded on the device, but many can also be used worldwide, and with the ability to stream data from other boats and instruments, you can always be aware of what is going on around you.
Can I Use a Chartplotter for Anything Other Than Chartplotting?
Yes! Some chartplotters have additional functionality in addition to their standard uses. They can be used to send and receive messages, and even act as a remote control for compatible products. For example, some Garmin chartplotters can operate Garmin autopilot products and Fusion Marine products. Not all chartplotters will be able to offer these functions, but you can certainly find models that can take care of more than one task simultaneously.
How to Properly Choose Your Marine GPS Chartplotter
There is a lot of variation when it comes to the price of marine GPS chartplotter. The more basic models can be as affordable as $280, but at the top end of the market, you could spend as much as $3100 on a single chartplotter. Obviously, a price range this large will come with a wide range in quality as well. Cheaper models will have simpler displays and less intuitive interfaces, whereas more expensive models will offer more connectivity, better displays, and more features.
- Waterproof Rating.
Since most chartplotters will be used almost entirely on boats or other watercraft, the waterproof rating of a chartplotter is incredibly important. Handheld units will pretty much always be completely waterproof, and they are almost always completely buoyant as well. In case you ever drop it in the water, you can be sure you won’t lose it or damage it. Models that attach to your boat should be waterproof as well for rain or water splashing up, but it isn’t guaranteed; some may only be water resistant.
- Display Size.
The display size can vary anywhere between 2.5” to 12”. The right size for you will depend on how much detail you’re looking to get out of the chartplotter and what kind of boat you’re using. If you are looking for a handheld model, the screen will likely not be larger than 3”. Chartplotters that can attach to your boat directly can be more versatile, and can have a display size anywhere between 5” and 12”.
- Button Control Vs Touchscreen.
There are a number of options for the user controls on a chartplotter. Simpler models will make use of standard buttons to allow you to navigate the various screens, and more sophisticated models will incorporate a keypad instead, often with a dial instead to make the device more user friendly. The most advanced chartplotters on the market will have a touchscreen display to make the user experience as streamlined as possible.
- Map Details.
Different chartplotters will have different capabilities when it comes to map/display details. They will each offer some combination of heading, water depth contours, water temperature, shoreline details, and even locations of harbors, marinas, and more. Some devices can even let you stream boat details from other users to expand the information stored.
Connectivity isn’t an overly important feature for some people, but others are quite invested in smart technologies. There are chartplotters that don’t offer any connectivity at all, and some that will simply allow you to connect a USB for various purposes. More advanced (and expensive) models will have WiFi or Bluetooth capabilities as well to give you access to everything through an app.
- Satellite Communication.
Satellite communication is one of those features that isn’t overly common in chartplotters. However, some handheld models can allow you to send and receive text messages to other boaters or people on shore. This can provide a lot of peace of mind if you’re out in dangerous conditions or traversing a new area. It can also keep you connected when you’re out of cell range and let people know where you are and when you’re heading in. Even reasonably-priced chartplotters can offer this feature, so you won’t have to spend a lot if you don’t want to.
We do our best to provide you with a comparative guide of marine GPS chartplotters allowing you to choose the best product possible. If we are missing information or new models, do not hesitate to leave a comment below or to send us a message.