Marine chartplotters – Buying guide, Reviews & Comparison
If you’ve been searching for the best marine chartplotter but you haven’t found a model that best meets your expectations, you’re in the right place. We’ve gone through dozens of reliability studies and customer reviews and have come up to the conclusion that the Lowrance HDS-9 GEN3 is the one you should bear in mind. The model boasts anything from an internal GPS antenna to a built-in CHIRP and Structure Scan Sonar, so you can safely rely on its services when you need it the most. The dual beam transducer is included in the package and will allow you to fish both in shallow and deep waters. What’s more, the Lowrance unit features built-in coastal and inland charts for American waters. Should the Lowrance HDS-9 GEN3 be unavailable, perhaps you should give the Garmin GPSMAP 536s a shot as it appears to be the second best choice.
Our top choices
A marine chartplotter is a great tool to have, especially if you like to discover new places to fish. With GPS capabilities you don’t have to worry about getting lost, and having charts at your fingertips is always an advantage. Now that you know what to look for you can find the best marine chartplotters showcased below.
Lowrance HDS-9 GEN3
Lowrance chartplotters and fish finders have been known to take the game to a whole new level as the company seems to be focused on developing new technologies that can give a helping hand to anglers out there. When it comes to ease of use, this unit is a clear winner as it will help you get the most out of your fishing trip without being bothered by various technicalities.
Since it is equipped with a 9-inch touchscreen, this model can offer you the freedom to choose the way you can use it. As such, you may either enjoy the multi-touch or the full key pad operation, depending on your personal preferences as well as the water conditions that you might do your angling in.
The neat thing about this unit is that it combines Structure Scan HD sonar imaging with CHIRP sonar technology, so you can get all the information you might need in regards to the bottom structures and the areas around you.
Another detail that you are likely to appreciate about this product is its screen as it is backlit and can shine brightly both during the day and at night. The display is an improvement for older generations of chartplotters in this series.Buy from Amazon.com
Garmin GPSMAP 536s
This 5-inch chartplotter came up second on our list, and that’s because it is not as cutting-edge as others. Compared to some Lowrance models that cost over one thousand dollars, this particular device has been outfitted with a somewhat smaller screen and requires a bit of more work on the part of the person using it. As such, it does not boast a touchscreen, so you’ll have to rely on using the buttons placed on the side of the chartplotter.
The neat thing about the GPSMAP 536s, however, consists of the fact that it has been NMEA 2000-certified, which means that it works perfectly with other Garmin devices in this category. It’s both radio and weather compatible.
A dual-frequency transducer is included in the deal, so you needn’t worry about spending a penny more. Therefore, as is the case with other products we have analyzed, this particular one meets the needs of anglers by allowing them to use it both as a chartplotter, a GPS, and a fish finder.
The user feedback about the built-in maps of this unit is somewhat confusing as some say that they have helped them a lot whereas others claim that they are useless.Buy from Amazon.com
If size is an issue but you still want to receive plenty of accurate data the GPSMAP 78S from Garmin might be just what you are looking for. Its compact size allows it to fit easily in a tackle box or even in your pocket when you are out on the water. It comes with a durable construction and IPX rating of 7 so it can even survive being dropped in the water. To make it easy to retrieve Garmin designed the GPSMAP 78S to float.
The small display may only measure 2.6 inches but since it is divided in two you can easily view the GPS map and marine chart at the same time without losing any of the necessary data. The 160 x 240 pixel resolution helps images to appear crisp and clear, and since the color screen is transflective even bright sunlight won’t cause a glare. With a global basemap preloaded you can get started exploring waterways right out of the box, and the SD card slot makes it easy to add more as go. You can even connect the GPSMAP 78S to your laptop or computer so you can save and share data with fellow anglers.Buy from Amazon.com
With the Mark-4 you get a fishfinder and chartplotter in one convenient device, and at an affordable price. It also comes with a dual beam transducer so you can start looking for the next great place to fish. The CHIRP sonar ensures that you know exactly what is in the water, and you also have the advantage of Down imaging technology so you can easily identify bait and game fish. The transom mount also makes the transducer easy to attach.
The 4.3 inch screen displays the sonar images in monochrome, and thanks to the high resolution capabilities you will be able to clearly see bottom contours, underwater objects and any fish in the area. It will also display the depth, along with the boat speed. You will appreciate the GPS technology when you are out on the water, and the internal antenna helps to ensure accurate positioning. The Mark-4 also comes preloaded with U.S. maps that include over 3,000 lakes and rivers, along with the coastlines. Lowrance also gives you the option of upgrading the maps when you are ready, including ones that show some local hot spots.Buy from Amazon.com for ($119.98)
If your budget allows it, you can check out less affordable variants as the Furuno 7-inch one. The neat thing about this unit is that it is both a chartplotter and a fish finder. Other than that, it specs do not greatly differ from the ones of other high-end models we’ve analyzed. Yet the model does come with a large 7-inch LCD that is backlit and bright enough to be readable even in direct sunlight.
The mapping system of the Furuno alternative is a basemap, but the model has a SD card port which can be utilized for loading extra maps.
The Furuno is a dependable fish finder that is waterproof, durable and compact, as attested by some of the reviews we’ve gone through. To make installation a breeze, the manufacturers have made the GPS antenna of this variety internal.
The memory of the Furuno allows users to set up to 30,000 waypoints and up to 1,000 routes.
This model is capable of discovering and displaying fish of which the length is between 4 inches and 6 feet.Buy from Amazon.com for ($769.95)
For years Garmin has been one of the leading manufacturers of GPS units for vehicles, so it only makes sense that they would be able to design a high quality marine chartplotter. This sturdy device comes with GPS and chartplotting capabilities so you can use it in your vehicle and on your boat. Find the best route to get to the marina and then use the GPSMAP 640 to plot a course to your favorite hot spot. Since it only weighs a little over a pound it is also convenient and easy to carry.
It comes with a 5.2 inch diagonal color display that is easy to see at a distance. The diagonal design of the screen allows it to hold more information without overcrowding, even when you are looking at the map and the marine chart side by side. You will also love the touch screen functionality that makes navigating the menu quick and easy. For additional help, the GPSMAP 640 also comes with a handy instructional manual. To ensure that this marine chartplotter will last for years it even comes with a protective cover.Buy from Amazon.com
Choosing the best chartplotter
When you are looking for a marine GPS chartplotter one of the first aspects to consider is your budget. These convenient devices can range dramatically in price, according to size and included features. Setting a spending limit will not only narrow down your possible choices, it will also help you decide which features are necessary and which ones are nice to have.
Size and display
Most marine GPS chartplotter reviews agree that the size does matter, especially when it comes to the screen. There are compact models available that are great for use in tight spaces, but it is important to remember that this also means that the unit comes with a small screen. In most cases you want to find a marine GPS and chartplotter with the largest display that fits your budget. Larger screens are not only easier to read at a distance, they can also display more information. In most cases you want the screen to measure at least 5 inches unless you are planning on staying hunched over the device instead of fishing.
Along with a larger screen you also want to pay attention to the pixel count, which will determine the resolution. Higher pixel counts ensure a crisp, bright picture that is generally easy to read. While a greater screen resolution will raise the price of the device it is possible to find affordably priced GPS/chartplotters that come with 480 x 480 pixels. This ensures that you can clearly see the maps and charts, along with any fish that are detected by the transducer. If you can afford it you might also want to consider an LED display with backlighting so you can easily see it in low light.
Since you will be on or near the water most of the time with the marine chartplotter it is important to make sure that it comes with a durable construction. In general most models are constructed from plastic which is relatively lightweight and can survive an occasional tumble. When you are looking at the various marine plotters for sale it is important to look for the IPX or JIS ratings. This refers to the International Protection Code and the Japanese Industry Standard which rate water resistance. Since both use the same basic standards either rating will provide you with the information you need to know.
Some cheap marine plotters have a rating of 4, which is basically considered “splashproof”. This means that the device can get a couple of drops of water on it without short circuiting, but it can’t survive being out on a boat. If your budget is tight you want the marine chartplotter to have a rating of at least 5 to 6, which means it can withstand occasional splashes and sprays of water but it cannot be submerged. If you often fish in rainy weather or on rough water you will probably want to spend the extra money on a unit with a 7 or 8 rating. A “7” means that it can withstand up to 30 minutes in the water, while an “8” means that you have nothing to worry about. If you have to it is worth it to forego some features in order to afford a chartplotter with a higher rating. You will be glad you did the first time it accidentally falls in the water.
When you are deciding on power you also need to consider the transducer. The power is typically listed in watts and it plays a role in determining depth capacity and accuracy. In most cases if you are fishing in water 200 feet deep or less you will be fine with a marine chartplotter that puts out 100 to 300 watts. Some chartplotters do come with a transducer and the wattage will help determine how deep the sonar beam can penetrate. The size of the transducer crystal will also play a role since it can magnify the power.
It is not uncommon for anglers to forget about the connectors, at least until one breaks out on the water. Connectors constructed from plastic are prone to breaking, and are probably not the best choice if you plan on frequently unplugging the unit. Most chartplotters do come with metal connectors which are designed to last a little longer.
Other types of connections to consider include ports for an antenna. This can be especially important if the device also comes with GPS capabilities. An internal antenna is convenient, but reception is not always the best and it often takes longer for information to be transmitted. An external antenna will provide you with a stable signal so you can quickly receive weather updates and mapping information. A port for an USB cord or SD card slot should also be considered, especially if you want to save and share data or connect to a computer.
Garmin 010-01524-01 echoMA
This Garmin variety might just as well be the best marine chartplotter, considering the amount of appreciation it has acquired over time. It’s simple to use and easy to install and features one of the most capable screen displays in the industry today.
Garmin has been building marine electronics for quite a while now, and so the company is well-known for developing top-notch products. This is the exact case of the Garmin 010-01524-01, as it does what it is supposed to do and does it well.
The model has a built-in 5 Hz GPS antenna that makes updating and setting waypoints as easy as pie. Additionally, the chartplotter manages to combine the capabilities of a DownVü scanning sonar and the ones of a traditional HD-ID sonar.
The pack contains the actual chartplotter, a quick-release mount, a flush mount, the GT21-™ transducer, a transom mount, a power cable, user documentation, and hardware.
This Garmin variety has been granted only positive ratings, which brings us to the conclusion that it might be worth considering if you still have not made up your mind.
Lowrance Elite-4m HD
Both the design and the price of this item suggest that it is destined for the people who are not willing to break their entire budget over buying an expensive marine chartplotter. All things considered, if you’re a beginner and have little to no experience in choosing fish finders, this one might be the best alternative to consider. In fact, it has gathered just positive reviews, so it’s definitely worth the money. The Lowrance Elite-4m is a tad older model that features a 4.3-inch backlit display and a built-in GPS antenna, complete with Navionics Gold cartography. The unit has a detailed US map that includes over 3,000 coastal contours, lakes and rivers.
As is the case with other products in the line, the Lowrance model is water resistant.
Let’s see what buyers had to say about this variety. Some characterize it as being a great budget chartplotter, while others state that it’s worth the 5-star rating they’ve given it. An Amazon customer claims that the screen resolution is exceptional.
How does a marine chartplotter work?
If you are wondering what is a marine chartplotter or how does it work, you are not alone. These devices are designed to show charts or maps of the water. This is helpful if you are on unfamiliar water or looking for something specific like a fishing hot spot, sunken wreck or great diving spot. Your boat will appear on the display and you simply steer it to follow the course mapped out on the chart. This should also answer another common question, “what does a marine chartplotter do”?
How to use a marine chartplotter?
Thankfully most chartplotters are designed to be incredibly easy to use. Simply turn it on and wait a couple of seconds for the GPS positioning satellites to lock onto your signal. Once your device has been located you will see your position marked on the chart and you simply follow the course shown. Most screens will continuously display your longitude and latitude so you can easily tell if you start to drift off course. If you are wondering how to set your course that is also pretty easy.
Simply enter your destination and let the chartplotter do its work. Some models come with touch screens so you just have to tap the display, while others use directional arrows to move the cursor where you want to go. Once the destination has been entered the chartplotter will find the best course for you. To get back to the marina simply choose it as your destination.
Who makes the best marine chartplotters?
It’s hard to decide which marine chartplotter is the best, especially when some of the manufacturers are top names like Garmin and Lowrance. These companies are responsible for some of the best units, especially when it comes to combining functionality and ease of use. Another manufacturer to consider if you are looking to replace an old unit or buy your first one is Furuno, as many of these chartplotters have great water resistance ratings. Raymarine is another recognizable name, and many of their devices are also priced with the budget conscious consumer in mind. Simrad is also gaining notice for its marine chartplotters, especially for accuracy and durability.
There are other manufacturers of chartplotters that are worth considering and if you want to find the best one for you it might be worth it to do a little research on your own.
Even though I’ve read all about it on the internet, I can’t seem to figure out how to use a marine chartplotter. Can you give me some tips?
It all depends on the model you have chosen. We can give you some general pointers; however, we can’t tell you exactly how the unit you’ve purchased needs to function or how you’re supposed to utilize it as its interface might differ from the models we have come across. If what you plan to do is navigate in close-quarters, it might be a good idea to zoom in as much as your device allows you to. This practice can help you avoid getting deceived by the info displayed. If you’re on your boat and intend to engage in some long-distance navigation on open water, you should pay attention and try to set up a waypoint or at least select it so that you’re safely guided toward it. Despite their reliability, marine chartplotters stand no chance when compared to a good old compass, as it can get you out of a tricky situation if the battery has run out or if you have no means of powering up your device.
How does a marine chartplotter work?
The simplest way of answering your question is to tell you that chartplotters can tell you the exact position of your boat on the chart displayed on the screen. This way, you’ll be able to determine your location without finding it hard to understand the data. Any chartplotter comes with one map or the other, depending on the area you live in or plan to do your boat fishing in. In a nutshell, a chartplotter works much like a GPS navigational unit that you might have in your car. The difference between the two is that the chartplotter can also display charts on the screen. As we were saying before, this makes it easier for you to tell where you are.
Should I get a new or a used marine chartplotter?
Most marine chartplotters tend to cost a pretty penny, especially if you go online and check for prices for new devices. That’s why many anglers are wary of such an expense. Despite the fact that manufacturers have a set of tricks when it comes to attracting potential buyers, every second-hand purchase is risky. On the one hand, you can’t be sure that the prior owner of the device has treated it with care. What’s more, if you’re going to buy an older model, you might have to at least consider doing a bit of research to see whether or not it’s compatible with the maps and charts you can download for free online. It’s difficult to check for faults when buying a used marine chartplotter, so we recommend getting a new one.
I’ve done a bit of research on my own and I keep noticing that Garmin seems to make the best marine chartplotters. Unfortunately, most of the units I’m considering are way too expensive for my finances. Do you think I should save some money and get one or choose a cheaper model?
By all means, you should try to devote a part of your budget on a monthly basis so that you’re able to get a high-quality chartplotter manufactured by a trusted brand. Whether you choose Garmin or some other company in those lines, the fact of the matter is that you’ll be able to benefit from the brand’s return policies and other perks. Cheaper models will always be available, but it might be a good idea to stay away from them as they might break down and force you to spend more money in the long run to replace them.