Best GPS For Kayaking

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Your most fun outdoor adventure can quickly turn into your worst nightmare if you end up getting lost, and when you’re out on the water, being lost can be even more dangerous if you’re away from civilization.

And wouldn’t you want to retrace your favorite routes or find that awesome fishing spot you visited?

At a Glance: Top Rated Kayak GPS Units

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That’s where having a GPS navigation system with you can help. But what features do you really need? And which would be the best GPS for kayaking? To help you out, we’ve put together some useful information to help you choose the best one for your lifestyle.

Why Use A GPS?

GPS, which stands for Global Positioning System, is a satellite based system owned by the US Government, that was first developed for locating submarines and for providing a satellite navigation system for military operations.

A GPS can help you pinpoint your location, show you the direction that you’re heading, guide you to a specific location, as well as being able to show you how fast you’re travelling. A GPS device receives signals from the satellites and provides you with a precise location, using coordinates.

GPS navigation systems are popular with people in a range of sports and activities, as they can used for different purposes, such as for driving, kayaking, hiking, fishing, golfing and many others.

If you’re out on an adventure, a GPS will let you find your way back by tracking your route, so that you’re able to see where you’ve been and can return to that same trail on another day.

If you’re golfing, for example, you’ll be able to use GPS to calculate distances accurately, and if you’re fishing, a GPS will let you find your way back to specific fishing holes time and time again, so you shouldn’t ever lose your favorite spots, as the device can track your routes and record the spots as waypoints.

Can’t I Just Use A Smartphone?

While a lot of smartphones will have GPS built in, you may find that the GPS will only work if you’re connected to wifi or a cellular network.

With GPS devices, the signal is received directly from the satellites, so there’s no requirement for any other signals or network connections; making it a continuous signal that’s free to use all over the world.

Smartphones also generally don’t store maps, which means they will usually rely on wifi signals to relay the coordinates onto a map. With most GPS devices having the capacity to store maps, the coordinates can then be directly shown on your stored maps with no need for any other connectivity.

Many smartphones will have assisted GPS, which means they rely on data being sent between cellular and wifi networks to give you an accurate location. While this can be handy in some circumstances - such as traveling through a city, trying to find an address - it may not work so well if you find yourself off the beaten track, away from civilization (and cellular towers).

Another downside with smartphones is that because they’re ‘smart’, they have a lot going on at any one time, meaning this can have a negative effect on the life of the battery on a single charge.

If you have a phone, you’ll know all about it and that the batteries on a smartphone probably won’t last as long on a day trip as the batteries on a dedicated GPS device would.

So this is another reason why you might be better with a GPS device than a smartphone if it’s for navigation purposes.

Kayak GPS Units: These Aren’t Fish Finders Are They?

The simple answer is, no; a GPS is not a fish finder. Each device uses different technology for different purposes, with the GPS being more adept at mapping the land and the fish finder faring better at mapping the underwater landscape.

Where a GPS uses satellites to transmit information, a fish finder uses sonar technology. This allows it to detect objects and landscape under the water, by way of analysing data from pulses of energy that bounce off each underwater object and are then transmitted back to the screen on the fish finder.

It is the sonar technology that allows you to see fish, with some models giving you a more precise image of the type or size of fish that may be swimming nearby. A fish finder will also let you see the various depths and temperature of the water.

Although a GPS won’t locate the fish for you, it can still be a useful tool for fishing, as it will allow you to mark specific spots as waypoints. So, when you find a particularly lucrative fishing hole you know you’ll always be able to find it again.

Top GPS Features To Look Out For

A GPS is a great accessory fro any kayaker. Features to look out for include:

Water Resistance

Being resistant to water is probably one of the most important features to have on a GPS if you’re taking it kayaking, as it can easily get splashed from your paddle or the rain, or even fall overboard if it’s not securely attached to something.

You may find that some GPS devices are waterproof, which means they should be fully functional even after being submerged in the water but you’ll probably find that there are more that are water resistant and not waterproof.

You will often find that the water resistance level is rated using the IP code system, so the higher the IP rating, the more water resistant it is. For kayaking you will probably want a device with a rating of at least IPX7, which would protect against some water submersion.

If you go for (or have) a unit with a rating of 6 or less, it's probably a good idea to look at obtaining a waterproof case!

Size Matters: Keep It Small and Lightweight

When you’re in a kayak you’re limited to space and weight so having a lightweight, portable GPS device - that will easily fit in with the rest of your gear - can be a good idea. Some devices can be worn on your wrist, which could be an option if you’re limited for space or don’t want to mount one to your yak.

Plenty Of Memory

GPS devices usually have some type of memory or the ability to insert a memory card to increase the storage capacity. The larger the memory on the device, the more waypoints, trails and maps you should be able to store.

Some devices will have both built-in memory and the option for adding a memory card, often a microSD card.

Many GPS navigation systems will be able to store waypoints and tracks, with some also able to store routes. The difference between routes and tracks is that routes are paths that already exist and tracks are a path that you or somebody else has traveled along previously.

Long Battery Life

When you’re heading out on a day or multi-day excursion, the last thing you will want is for your GPS battery to die when you’re in the middle of nowhere. So, consider a device that has a long battery life and think about how you will charge it when you’re out and about.

You may find that some devices feature lithium-ion batteries, like the ones you would find on phones and other small gadgets. These are lightweight and can be recharged, usually just like your phone.

Devices with other batteries, such as AA, are often less expensive and you might find that it may be easier to use a device with these types of batteries if you’re going to be away from electricity for a significant length of time, as you can simply take a couple of spare batteries with you on a longer trip.

Good, Detailed Maps

Most GPS navigation devices should come with some maps already installed and with the ability for you to load on more maps and update existing ones.

Some devices may have more advanced mapping software than others, such as with water routes or topographical maps. You might find that some GPS systems come with maps with shaded relief, which will allow you to see the lay of the land, such as mountains, valleys, canyons and other aspects.


Some GPS devices will also be compatible with GLONASS, which is the Russian satellite navigation system, which uses 24 satellites compared to the US’s 31 for GPS.

Having a device that can use both systems can give you a more precise location and provide you with more accurate map.

Best GPS For Kayaks

1: Garmin eTrex 20x

This Garmin eTrex device features a 2.2 inch color display screen with a 240 by 320 pixel resolution that is designed to be clear and easy to read, even in bright sunlight. It has 3.7 GB of memory built in, as well as the capacity to take a microSD card for additional memory.

Another feature of this GPS is that it comes preloaded with a convenient worldwide basemap that has shaded relief, so you can identify mountains or canyons to give you a better understanding of the landscape.

In addition to this, it also has the capacity to save up to 10,000 waypoints and 200 tracks. Plus, you can even save up to 50 routes, to allow for easier navigation of pre-defined trails.

Measuring 4 by 2.1 by 1.3 inches and weighing 4.96 ounces, this could be a good pocket sized device for a day on the water. The device is also compatible with GLONASS for improved accuracy and has a battery life of up to 25 hours.

2: Garmin GPSMAP 78sc

This device is designed for water enthusiasts. It’s a waterproof GPS with a rating of IPX7 and it even floats on water, so you can easily rescue it if it goes overboard.

This handheld GPS measures 2.6 by 1.2 by 6 inches, weighs 7.7 ounces and benefits from a 2.6 inch LCD color screen. It features a built in BlueChart, detailing the US and Bahamas coastal charts, with depth contours, shorelines, harbors, plus more.

This device has a 20 hour battery life and benefits from having an electronic compass, as well as a barometric altimeter, so you can keep an eye on the weather and your direction.

It also has a built in microSD memory card slot for extra storage options and you can even wirelessly share your waypoints and routes with other compatible devices, meaning you can conveniently send your newly discovered water trails to your friends so they can explore them on their own.

3: Garmin Montana 600

This device is packed with lots of features for a fun day out. It has a large dual orientation 4 inch LCD color display touchscreen, which is glove friendly and designed to be readable in bright sunlight.

It has a worldwide basemap built in, with shaded relief, as well as built-in US Topo maps, plus you can log up to 10,000 points and 200 tracks. Weighing just over 10 ounces and measuring 1.4 by 5.7 by 2.9 inches, this system shouldn’t take up too much room on your kayak and will easily fit in a pocket or pouch.

This device benefits from having a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that can last up to 16 hours after a full charge but it can also run off of AA batteries, which can give it a 22 hour life.

Another feature of this GPS is its durability, as it benefits from being waterproof with a rating a IPX7, which could make it ideal for a trip on the water or if you’re heading out in rainy conditions. In addition to this, it also features a 3-axis digital compass and barometric altimeter, which could come in handy if you’re on a multi-day trip.

4: Garmin eTrex 10

This is a durable, lightweight GPS device that weighs 5 ounces and measures 4 by 1.3 by 2.1 inches, making it an ideal size and weight for taking with you when you have limited storage space, so it could be a good option for a kayaking trip.

Another good feature of this one is that it is waterproof and has a rating of IPX7, so could be a good choice for watersports, fishing and wet weather. This is a handheld device that has a 2.2 inch basic monochrome display screen, so it’s designed to be easy read no matter what the lighting conditions are like.

It has a long battery life, of up to 25 hours with AA batteries and is able to store up to 10,000 points, 200 tracks and up to 50 routes. It features a worldwide basemap built in but does not have the capacity to be able to add new maps to it.

For added precision and accuracy of location and tracking, this Garmin device is also compatible with the Russian navigation system, GLONASS, so can benefit from receiving data from additional satellites as well as the GPS ones.

5: Rand McNally Foris 850

This GPS device boasts having maps of more than 5 million trails and roads built in, including detailed US street maps, water features, trails within US National Parks and Forests, and more. Plus, it has spoken and visual turn by turn directions, so you can follow a route hands free.

There’s plenty of storage, including a large 8 GB of built-in memory, with enough space for saving up to 7,000 waypoints and 1,000 tracks. If you run out of room there’s also a microSD memory card slot so you can add even more waypoints.

Weighing just under 9 ounces, this GPS measures just 2.7 by 4.7 by 1.25 inches, so it should be a convenient size for packing in your pocket. It has a large 3 inch color touchscreen display and comes with an anti-glare screen protector, so that it’s easier to read in bright sunlight.

This GPS also features a 3-axis compass and an altimeter, so you should be able to track your elevation and make sure you’re heading in the right direction.

It has a durable, rugged design that could make a great kayaking gadget, as it has a water rating of IPX7, so it’s waterproof and should be able to withstand an accidental drop in the water, if you’re quick at fishing it back out again.


How To Power The GPS On Long Trips?

You can power a GPS in the same way that you might power a fish finder; by bringing a battery along.

There are also solar chargers that can work with some GPS devices with USB charging capabilities. 

Solar power can be useful if you’ll be off grid for several days.

How Do I Mount To The Kayak?

You can mount your GPS to your yak just like you would with a fish finder. Using gear tracks can be a good option that can allow you to easily install and remove the GPS.

If you have a suitable flat spot on your yak you can also install the mounting hardware that will hold the GPS while you’re on the water. 

Can I Use A GPS With A FIsh Finder?

Yes. This can allow you to find fish and navigate underwater landscapes, as well as mark your waypoints and find your way home. Some fish finders may also have GPS built in.

Do They Tell You What Speed You’re Doing?

Yes, they should be able to tell you your current speed or average speed but the GPS would need to be on for the whole time you’re paddling.

Marking waypoints for each time you stop can give you your speed between each waypoint.

Rounding Up...

Now that you’ve had a look at some of the best GPS navigation systems for kayaking, you should know what you should be looking out for when you go to purchase yours.

Just remember to keep in mind the main features that will be useful for watersports, such as being resistant to water and having a decent battery life. The other features will depend on your own personal requirements or preferences, as well as your budget.

Having a GPS when you’re kayaking can help you mark your location and find your way back to your put-in location and your vehicle, meaning you could be less likely to get lost, even when you seem to be in the middle of nowhere.

Choosing a device with the ability to load maps could also come in handy when you’re kayaking in unknown territory, so keep that mind when you make your decision.

Do you own a GPS unit? Take it with you kayaking?  Do you think we missed something? Tell us about it below.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 5 comments
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