Best Kayak GPS

The best way to enjoy a kayak is to venture around so far that you’re almost lost. That’s what true adventures are all about. But, you don’t want to get too lost.

You always need to be able to find your way back to your starting point. And this can be quite tricky if you don’t have a GPS, you can easily misjudge your location.

But, what’s the good in taking a GPS unit on your kayak trip if it’s not sufficiently waterproof. It could get damaged before you even need it.

Lucky for you, we’ve been checking out some of the best waterproof GPS units on the market today. After much deliberation, we were able to handpick our top 5 favorites, and our reviews on them will be coming up very shortly.

But if you don’t really know what to look out for, choosing which one to buy can be tricky. This is why we’ve also put together a handy buying guide for you. It makes for a great little checklist.

Then we’re going to top that off with a section where we answer some of your most frequently asked questions.

Let’s get straight to it.

OUR TOP PICK

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Now, this is a GPS unit that was built with the needs of kayakers and other water sports enthusiasts in mind!

It comes from the top brand in GPS technology, Garmin, and is loaded with great features.

But what makes it such a good GPS unit for kayaking is that not only is it very highly waterproof, with a rating of IPX7, but if it were to fall into water, rather than sink to the bottom, this beauty is buoyant and will float, so you can easily grab it before it has the chance to get seriously damaged.

But beyond that, it’s also a great GPS unit anyway. And this is thanks in part to it’s high sensitivity GPS receiver, which will get your signal picked up no matter where you are, even in deep canyons.

And, in the highly unlikely event that there’s ever an issue with the GPS, there’s also some very handy built-in features from the more old fashioned and traditional means of navigation.

Specifically, an altimeter, a barometer, and a 3-axis compass. Perfect for keeping an eye on changing weather conditions.

It features a preloaded worldwide shaded relief basemap, and it will display your maps, and other data, on it’s large 2.6 inch full color display. And there’s also a very intuitive control panel positioned just above the screen.

And if you decide you wish to add more detailed apps to the device, you can do so by way of the water resistant microSD card slot.

Moreover, this device also supports BirdsEye Satellite Imagery that lets you download satellite images rather than mere maps.

There’s also 1.7 MB of built-in memory, allowing you to save your routes and waypoints for easier tracking and finding your way back to your starting point.

And once you’ve found a good fishing point say, you can share the location of it by sending the location to a compatible device. And you can hook it to Garmin connect.

It requires two AA batteries to function, and it will last for up to 20 hours straight on a full charge. More than long enough.

Pros

  • Water resistant, buoyant and will float
  • Features a high sensitivity GPS receiver
  • There’s an altimeter, barometer, & compass
  • Features a large 2.6 inch full color display
  • there’s also a very intuitive control panel 
  • Two AA batteries last for up to 20 hours

Cons

  • Marine charts do not come preloaded and have to be purchased separately

EDITORS CHOICE

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This is an excellent piece of kit for kayaking. If it wasn’t for the relatively hefty price tag, we would have made it our number one pick. 

First off, we love the sheer size of the screen. With a full color display that’s 9 inches wide, you can see exactly where you are and what your surroundings are like. And you can still read the screen even in direct sunlight.

And of course, we love the fact that it comes preloaded with US coastal maps - no need to download them separately, or to invest in an SD card.

But what makes it really great for kayaking is how much more information you get compared to a generic handheld GPS unit.

You can also bring up the water depth, thanks to the included transducer, and also the water temperature for example. And it will give you your kayaking speed as well. Not bad hey?

Simrad Cruise boasts that theirs is THE most intuitive and easy to use chartplotter on the market. And I think it is, it’s super easy to navigate through all the menus.

Sure it does cost hundreds of dollars more than a regular handheld GPS unit, but then again, with most other GPS units you’ll end up paying separate additional costs for coastal maps.

It’s also available in smaller sizes which drops the overall cost down quite significantly.

It’s a bestseller with the leading online retailers and comes backed by a lengthy 2-year warranty.

Pros

  • Large 9-inch full color anti-glare screen
  • It comes preloaded with US coastal maps
  • Very intuitive and easy to use chartplotter
  • Even tells you water depth and temperature
  • Comes backed by a lengthy 2-year warranty

Cons

  • Premium product at a premium price
  • You may have to also invest in a boat battery
  • Water resistance is not mentioned in the product description, so it may be best to keep the unit in transparent plastic

BEST VALUE

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When you’re kayaking, the last thing you want is for your handheld GPS to slip out of your wet hands and fall into the water. Which is one of the reasons we included this particular GPS unit in our shortlist.

You can buy it with a special backpack tether, together with a durable nylon harness wrap. This way you don’t have to worry about losing your GPS to the ocean floor.

It has a great screen - nice and large at 2.2 inches and in full color, with a clear, 240 by 320 pixel resolution. And it’s an anti-glare screen too, which means that you can still see it clearly even under direct sunlight. 

And not only does it connect to regular GPS satellites, but it’s also hooked up to another global satellite navigation system called Glonass. With both these signals to assist you, there is no way you could get lost.

It comes with a selection of Topo Active maps with cycling and hiking trails, but for kayaking, we recommend that if you were to go for this GPS unit, that you also invest in the advanced Topo maps SD card to see bodies of water.

It has a water resistance rating of IPX7, which means that it can easily hold up against the rain or a few splashes of water.

However it cannot be submerged in water for an extended period of time, so if it does fall in the water, be sure to pick it back up straight away. But with the backpack tether you shouldn’t really need to.

It’s powered by 2 AA batteries, but as to how long the battery life is depends very much on whether you use alkaline, lithium, or rechargeable batteries. But most will last a full 24 hours.

Pros

  • It comes with a handy backpack tether
  • Has a large, full color, anti-glare screen
  • Also features Glonass navigation system
  • Has a great level of water resistance, IPX7
  • Runs off 2 AA batteries for up to 24 hours

Cons

  • For kayaking you will also need the advanced Topo maps SD card

RUNNER UP

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But, really. Exactly how useful is a handheld GPS unit when you are in a kayak? You barely have enough room to stash your wallet and keys let alone your tech.

That’s why we included this product in our shortlist. Rather than having to rummage around in a bag of gear, you can bring up GPS maps right on your wrist.

Super convenient. Besides  if you were to stop paddling for too long you could end up moving in an unintended direction thanks to the pull of the current.

Of course, with  it being on your wrist, that’s pretty close to the water. However, you don’t have to worry about the watch getting a bit wet.

This watch is designed to be worn by surfers, and as such it has incredibly impressive water resistance. In fact, it has been constructed to the U.S. military standard 810 for thermal, shock and water resistance.

And not only does it link up to traditional GPS, but it also connects to 2 other navigation satellite systems besides, namely Glonass and Galileo, to keep an even better track of where you are.

But, GPS is not the only feature to help you to ascertain exactly where you are. This watch also features an altimeter, a barometer, and a 3-axis compass, in the highly unlikely event of a glitch with the GPS.

And, this watch also has other great features that you just won’t find on other GPS watches. It also gives you tide data and keeps the wearer up to date on ocean conditions.

And you don’t have to panic about the battery running out half way through your trip, because it also offers solar charging.

And that’s not all, it also happens to be a smartwatch and a fitness tracker to boot!

Amazon occasionally has deals on this particular product, simply click on “Check Price” to see if there’s a deal now. When this article was written, you could save a whopping $100.

Pros

  • Not handheld, wear it on your wrist
  • Very impressive water resistance
  • Also features Glonass and Galileo
  • Provides information on the tides
  • It has solar charging capabilities

Cons

  • Premium product at a premium price

RUNNER UP

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Now, this is a great pick for the most budget conscious among you…

It has been awarded the title of Amazon’s Choice in the category of “handheld GPS”. Such a title is only given to products that are both of excellent quality and are also available at a good price.

It comes from one of the top brands in the industry, namely Garmin. And, not only does it feature a high-sensitivity GPS receiver, but it also features Glonass support as well, so you have not one but two satellite navigation systems at hand to help guide your way.

It comes preloaded with a worldwide basemap, and your location is clearly displayed on the large 2.2 inch monochrome display.

And we love how you can use it to store various waypoints along a route. That way you can get estimates on the time and distance between these waypoints, so you know how long each part of the journey ought to take.

We are also pleased to report that it has an excellent level of water resistance, coming in at IPX7, so you don’t have to worry about the machine holding up if there’s a splash of water in the kayak.

It runs off two AA batteries which you can pick up just about anywhere. And once the batteries are in place, they will power the GPS unit for up to a whopping 20 hours at a time. 

Amazon occasionally has deals on this particular product, simply click on “Check Price” to see if there’s a deal now. When this article was written, you could pick up this GPS unit for under $100.

Pros

  • It’s the winner of the Amazon’s Choice 
  • One of Garmin’s more affordable options
  • Also features Glonass navigation system
  • Excellent level of water resistance, IPX7
  • Runs off 2 AA batteries for up to 20 hours

Cons

  • The maps are in black and white rather than in color

Best Kayak GPS Buying Guide

As promised, here’s your buying guide. It will walk you through all the key points to consider before you buy, and makes for a handy little checklist.

Best kayak gps

IP Rating

Water and dust resistance is measured by a product’s IP rating. IP stands for ingress progression. The first figure describes a product’s dust resistance, while the second number describes its water resistance. The higher the numbers the greater the level of resistance. 

You will need your kayak GPS to have an IP rating of at least IP56 at the bare minimum, preferably higher.

Clear Display

You will need a clear, easy to read display when you bring up any maps. We would argue that black and white maps can be just as easy to read as those in color, but you can go for a colored display if you prefer.

Some people would argue that a bigger display can be easier to read, but there’s a lot to be said for having GPS on your wristwatch compared to having to hold the unit in your hands.

Glonass and/or Galileo As Well As GPS

GPS is not the only satellite navigation system you can take advantage of, there’s also Glonass and Galileo as well. Having these in place also gives you a better chance of finding your precise location.

Battery Life

For those who like to kayak for a good many hours at a time, the last thing you want is for the battery to run out when you have lost track of where you are, which is so easily done. So, to that end, we would recommend that you go for a GPS unit with a decent battery life.

Brand

Garmin is still very much the leading brand when it comes to GPS units, and this is why Garmin appears a whopping 4 times in our shortlist of 5 GPS units.

Value For Money

If one GPS unit is cheaper than another, this does not necessarily translate to better value for money. More expensive GPS units often have many more useful features than their cheaper alternatives, and some that can come in particularly handy for kayaking.

It’s important to note at this point that GPS units can vary quite considerably in price. You can get some for under $50 and others that cost upwards of $600. This is why it’s so important that you check prices as you go along.

Best Kayak GPS - FAQ's

Which Garmin Is Best For Kayaking?

We would argue that the best Garmin GPS unit for kayaking is our number one pick, the Garmin GPSMAP 78S Marine GPS Navigator and WorldWide Chartplotter.

This is because not only is it highly waterproof, but it is buoyant and will float rather than sink, so you don’t have to worry about it falling in the water as you kayak.

What Are The Best Kayaking Apps?

Our favorite app for tracking kayaking routes has to be Strava.

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