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Hand-Raised GPS

Tiny but useful—and inexpensive.

Originally Published in March 2009.

DeLorme handheld with topo maps for hunting or hiking.

It's hard to recall the days when a GPS mounted on the console was the mark of a big, well-equipped offshore boat and money to burn. These days, anglers right down to the kayak set won't leave the ramp without a GPS aboard. For many in the smallest boats, those position locators are likely to be handhelds about the size of a cell phone, now available for under one hundred bucks in the basic non-charting (but still very useful) versions.

The handheld does not replace the big-screen charting GPS; the larger the screen, the easier it is to see where you are and where you want to go. But they can serve very well on smaller craft where there's not room for a console-mount system. And if you like to slip in some backcountry hiking and hunting between fishing trips, the handheld is a huge asset in those endeavors.

Garmin color chartplotter.

What's more, it's useful when you go fishing with a friend who does not have your numbers and can't be trusted to have them, if you get my drift. You run the boat on your handheld and you don't have to enter your numbers in his system.

A handheld is a good backup, too. Marine electronics are far more dependable than in the past, but they occasionally die when you need them most, as in crossing the Gulf Stream to The Bahamas. With the extra unit in your pocket, you know you've got a system ready to go, complete with its own dedicated power; even a lightning strike won't take out your backup.

Do a bit of shopping for charting models and you soon find the Lowrance iFinder H20 C, which offers a micro-SD card slot to accept a wide variety of charts including the highly detailed Navionics maps you see on the big screens. This unit runs on two AA batteries, sells for just $249.95; (The maps are considerably more, however.) The Garmin GPSMap 76Cx offers 128 MB of internal memory plus a slot for Garmin's Blue Chart micro SD cards to give full charting capabilities. It's waterproof and it floats. Price is $349.99; And Magellan's Triton 1500 includes touch-screen technology, an LED flashlight and voice recorder, as well as the usual navigation functions. Price is around $400; All offer the same “you-are-here” position location on the chart as larger units, lay down tracks, save up to 1,000 routes, and also provide some of the bells and whistles like infinite tide tables that make an angler's life so much easier.

If you're more into hunting, hiking and backcountry fishing, a handier GPS might be something like the new Earthmate PN-40 ($399.95) which is marketed by DeLorme, the same folks who provide the widely used Topo USA software. This unit can download fully detailed topo maps, which makes it great for the woods, and you can plan your trips on your home computer, then load them into the GPS before you head out. For $29.95, you get a year of free downloads from the company—maps, aerial views and lots more, making this a uniquely useful backwoods position locator. It runs on AA batteries or an optional lithium rechargeable. Add Street Atlas USA software for $40 and you've got a highway navigation system, too. Visit for more information.

When you begin shopping for a handheld, decide up front whether you're likely to spend more than a day away from AC power at a time. If you are, opt for AA battery power; you can carry extras and replace them as needed. If you go back to the house every night, you'll find the long life and ease of use of a permanent lithium rechargeable preferable. You pay a bit more for these up front, but it's great never to have to make a run to the store for more batteries, and most lithium-powered handhelds will last through several days of intermittent use before needing a recharge.


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