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Old 22-03-2010, 18:40   #1
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pirate Looking for Advice on Handheld GPS Units

Hello All,

I was just looking for a little advice from some of you tech savvy readers.

I'm looking for a reasonably priced handheld gps unit for marine use. Mapping software is a must, with some basic chartplotting tools. Also expandable memory for more geographical maps, and others like garmin's blue water charts.

Anyone have any GPS units they really like? Or have any recommendations?

I'd really appreciate any advice you have,


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Old 22-03-2010, 18:52   #2
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iPhone. Waterproof case. iNavX. If you already have the phone the rest is almost free.

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Old 22-03-2010, 21:46   #3
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I have a Garmin GPSmaps 76Cx that I keep for a backup, and it will fit your needs.
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Old 23-03-2010, 04:13   #4

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The big problem with an iPhone (for everyone except citydwellers) is that if you are coming on watch and the iPhone battery isn't can't just swap in a new one. With a real GPS, you just grab a fresh set of AA cells. With a real cell phone, you just grab your spare battery.

Apple has chosen to shun the "off the grid" market, by sealing the battery and omitting the external antenna connection. (Which makes a huge difference in cell phones outside of cities and highways.)
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Old 23-03-2010, 04:28   #5
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Originally Posted by hellosailor View Post
Apple has chosen to shun the "off the grid" market
Kinda harsh. Just clip on one of those external battery packs. No big deal. Personally, rarely do I need to look at it long, maybe in a strange long narrow channel. I can plug the iPhone in to power in the cockpit if I need to. I like taking it to the bunk with me where I can check on the crew work (?) without even turning over.
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Old 23-03-2010, 04:35   #6
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One thing I really recommend is getting a unit that allows you to buy the maps on a card you simply drop into the GPS. Downloading CDs to the computer and then making sure you get all the right ones uploaded to the GPS is a real pain.

Don't try to save money by buying a B&W screen unit. On a screen that small you really need the contrast of colors to read the map well.

My Iphone just died in the middle of my last cruise. I don't think they hold up to salt air as well as marine gps units.
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Old 23-03-2010, 04:43   #7
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Originally Posted by nautical62 View Post
My Iphone just died in the middle of my last cruise. I don't think they hold up to salt air as well as marine gps units.
Certainly true. A Garmin et al GPS is no doubt tougher. The iPhone is fragile. But my Garmin died in a simple fall to the cockpit sole. Dead. Gone.

Used only my iPhone recently on the famous Baja Bash from Puerto Vallarta to Northern California. Worked great.

It's probably the way of the future. It's very slick. Downloading of great charts is quick, easy, cheap and they automatically backup on iTunes. Very geeky. The interface makes Garmins very good one look like punchcards.
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Old 23-03-2010, 05:03   #8
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The iPhone is not suitable for reasons previously stated as a handheld marine GPS navigating tool. It's handy, does neat things, but is neither robust, marinized or can support extended on time without recharging. I love the gadget, but it's not cut out for the job.

I would look for a designated marine handheld GPS such as a Garmin.
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Old 23-03-2010, 05:31   #9

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My personal opinion is to use a phone. Need it waterproof? Put it in a baggy or other case. None of the handheld devices/GPS/etc can handle a bad fall - there are lots of examples of all types of electronics making it...and plenty of failures too.

The big difference to me is powering and availability. My phone is always charged and ready for use. It's with me and I've worked out all the issues (technical and habit) to make sure it's always available. Add a new device and now you have something else to power, charge, get AC or DC chargers, lose the charger, etc. Then when you find a time that you really need it most - it's a time when you don't have it with you.

For example, I live in Maine. Went out to my boat last Summer on a crystal clear day to work on it. When I came up and looked around a couple of hours later there was nothing but fog. I never would have had a handheld GPS with me when I left because I never would have thought I'd need it. But I had my phone with built in GPS and nautical chart software. Problem solved.
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Old 23-03-2010, 06:42   #10
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Garmin has discontinued loading or updating GPSs from CD. Additional areas can be added by inserting a thumbnail sized chip on the GPSMAP 76CX and later. The X means it takes a micro SD card.
Purpose-built handheld GPSs are my preference. They are tough. Above is the first I've heard of one failing after being dropped. I'm willing to bet the failure is in the battery contacts, easily repaired. I keep mine in a stainless steel Bento Box with extra alkaline AA batteries, and there is a solar charger for AAs in my ditch bag, with rechargeable AAs. The box is a perfect Farraday Cage.

I have charts on my cell phone, and am just as enamored of this new toy as anyone else. But I think a prudent mariner should rely on the right stuff. Particularly when beyond the radio horizon.

Yes, some day there will be a perpetual energy powered Dick Tracy wrist phone/TV/internet/gps/epirb, and when competition refines it to a state of utter reliablility, I will use it. We are not there yet. For the next three or four years, get a GPSmap 76CX.
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Old 27-03-2010, 09:25   #11
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I am finding this very confusing. I also want a handheld as backup to the chartplotter based unit. I have been reading the defender and West catalog and reading the forums and still cant figure out what to get. Most of the units in the West catalog are oriented to hikers (probably their bigger market). Only one is called Marine friendly, but they dont say why or how it is marine friendly. I often find that product and catalog descriptions are inadequate to make a selection.

What really is not clear is the maps. I would like to have a chart or at least the option of a chart. Some have base maps but it is not clear if they are marine oriented. If they have add in maps I find it difficult to tell what maps to get in what format at what price.

I have also considered the iphone, but am not quite clear on the concept of "assisted GPS", but it does not sound good for use at sea.

Can anyone shed light on the Garmin handheld nautical chart situation?

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Old 27-03-2010, 10:27   #12
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Hmm the I phone if you have one already you might as well do the navionics down load. It would seem an easy back up as would be a garmin 76 series and a laptop. Or paper charts. When cruising I usually have paper charts so the interface isn't important. The principal 4208 is pretty reliable I have an older garmin sitting in a static bag with a back up VHF. Way to reduntant. I like a paper chart. The iPhone is a gamble. Did that help. I have all those options but rarely use anything but the 4208.
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Old 27-03-2010, 11:42   #13
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get the Garmin Oregon 400c (c is for the marine version). I purchased one of these on sale at West Marine for only $299 recently. It has served me as my chartplotter/GPS while I have been sailing my boat from West coast to East coast Florida. I've learned to trust it, and it has never led me astray. I tried the Garmin 76 series, but you have to buy charts for it. The Oregon is touch screen easy to use, and intuitive. Battery life is impressive if you use lithium.

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Old 27-03-2010, 13:29   #14

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"but am not quite clear on the concept of "assisted GPS" (a-GPS)
There are at least four variations on what "a-GPS" means or how it has been set up, and basically it means "You dumb consumer, we don't want you to know squat about the man behind the curtain."

It can mean, and always used to mean "There's a half GPS receiver in your phone, all it does is receive signals, and you'll have to send them to the cellular carrier for computing and integration so you can't do anything without paying us an extra $10/month and being on a cellular data connection."

That was the first and is the largest meaning.

It can also mean assisted, as in "enhanced" GPS, where the phone has a full GPS set in it which is capable of being used independently, but the cellular network will assist it with more information, i.e. if you are in a parking garage or mall with no GPS signal, the cellular system will try to give you a position anyway. Or, to enhance the position (as WAAS does) outside.

It can mean your phone is or isn't locked to have the GPS function without an extra cost carrier plan. It can mean...whatever the carrier wants it to mean.

Last time I heard, AT&T meant it would enahnce the GPS function, and allow the GPS function to be used off-network as well. Of course that's subject to change at any time, and iPhones are only sold with data plans. For now.

Most cell phones also have little tell-tale stickers in them, when used in high humidity environments they will fail and the tell-tales tell the carrier "no warranty". Can't use 'em in rain or spray, you'll want a pouch or to keep it belowdecks. A real GPS won't have that problem.

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