So, you want to get away from it all while you are kayaking. I get it, but you also need to find your way back home. This article will review the best kayak GPS to help you find your way.
If you are paddling on a large lake or an unfamiliar river, you need to know where you are at or maybe you want to find last week’s fishing spot. Fortunately, a GPS or Global Positioning System is specifically made for these situations.
Also, kayak-specific GPS devices have incredible mapping, waterproofing, portability, durability, and other features to help you navigate when you are on the water.
Best Kayak GPS Reviews
But what is the best GPS for your next kayak adventure? This article will explore several devices, review their features, pros, and cons, and answer some of the most common questions about kayaking GPS systems.
So, let’s get to it.
#1 Garmin eTrex 22x, Handheld GPS Navigator
- Explore confidently with the reliable handheld GPS
- 2.2" sunlight-readable color display with 240 x 320 display pixels for improved...
- Preloaded with Topo Active maps with routable roads and trails for cycling and hiking
- Support for GPS and GLONASS satellite systems allows for tracking in more challenging...
- 8 GB of internal memory for map downloads plus a micro SD card slot.Battery life: up...
- 2.2-inch, 240 x 320, 65K color readable display. Readable in sunlight
- 8 GB internal memory with a microSD card slot for loading additional maps
- GPS and GLONASS satellite-ready
The Garmin eTrex 22x Handheld GPS Navigator is a compact, lightweight GPS device with a 2.2-inch color display and 8 GB of internal memory. It has a microSD card slot with numerous map options for download, including TOPO 24K and HuntView.
Kayakers will be interested in this device’s ability to load BirdsEye Satellite Imagery maps, Garmin’s proprietary water mapping system. It offers underwater contours, depth maps, fisheye views, and tide information.
At four inches long and 2 inches wide, this GPS is small enough to be carried in a life jacket pocket or secured in a day hatch. It would be an excellent kayak GPS for casual day trips on Sit-On-Top, Sit-Inside, and inflatable kayaks.
A 240 x 320-pixel screen
Can save 200 routes, 10,000 points, with automatic routing available
Support for GPS and GLONASS systems
Water-resistant (IPX7) but not waterproof
Software and maps may have long downloading times
The Garmin eTrex 22x would be the perfect day-trip GPS for kayakers. The unit offers GPS and GLONASS satellite mapping access — a powerful combination for its size, not too large or complex.
It’s BirdsEye Satellite Imagery (subscription required) is also a must-have for kayakers. Portable enough to fit inside a life jacket pocket, it’s one of the best handheld GPS for kayaking.
#2 Garmin Striker 4
- Clear Vu scanning Sonar shows you more of what is in the water around your boat; This...
- The power of simple offers a keyed interface with dedicated buttons; The device is...
- Waypoint map: Use the way point map to easily view, mark and navigate to locations...
- Chirp Sonar sends a continuous sweep of frequencies which provides a wider range of...
- Built in flasher: View your sonar data in the classic flasher format; Ideal for ice...
- A 3.5-inch color fishfinder with CHIRP technology transducer
- Built-in GPS with route and waypoint marking abilities
- 77/200 kHz CHIRP transducer and speedometer
Do you want to know the position of your kayak and that elusive largemouth bass? The Garmin Striker 4 is the best GPS for kayak fishing.
This GPS device and Fishfinder has a 77/200 kHz Compressed High-Intensity Radar Pulse (CHIRP) transducer, which radiates Sonar (sound navigation ranging) waves underneath your craft and displays them when they return.
The fish finder has a 3.5-inch screen that displays your boat position, water depth, and underwater conditions. It has a vertical or horizontal side-by-side display.
The Garmin Striker 4’s GPS allows you to mark waypoints on the water and track routes to and from fishing locations or the shore. It has speed, heading, bearing, and arrival time display features.
Sealed rechargeable battery with charger
Maximum depth of 1600 feet freshwater, 750 feet saltwater
GPS speedometer with waypoint map features
Tilt and swivel mount included
Color screen with 200 W (RMS) transmission power
Additional Mounting Brackets needed for kayaks
The screen is not designed to withstand higher waves
The Garmin Striker 4 GPS Fishfinder can map depths of over a thousand feet in freshwater and hundreds of feet in saltwater. If you’re out on your fishing kayak, this would be one of the best kayak GPS devices for angling– if you aren’t already focused on the CHIRP fish-finding screen.
#3 Garmin Striker Plus 4 With Dual-Beam Transducer
- Includes dual-beam transducer with Garmin Chirp traditional sonar for crystal-clear...
- Built-in Garmin quickdraw contours mapping software lets you create and store maps...
- Built-in GPS lets you mark waypoints, create routes and view boat’s speed
- Bright, Sunlight-readable 4.3” display and intuitive user interface
- Rugged design for every fishing environment. Frequencies supported: Traditional:...
- Dual-Beam Transducer with CHIRP Sonar
- Quickdraw Contours mapping software
- 4.3-inch sunlight-readable display screen
The Garmin Striker Plus 4 is a fish finder with quite a memory, making it one of the best GPS for kayak fishing. It has a comprehensive contouring system that can store millions of square footage of contour mapping at 1-foot intervals. It also has a rather handy 4.3-inch screen comfortably visible on a stand.
The GPS on this device can store different waypoints and routes to and from your destination, making it easier to locate your favorite fishing spot. You can also monitor your kayak’s speed with this device if you don’t want to overshoot your target area.
The CHIRP Sonar allows you to map different fishing areas. Mounted on a sturdy Sit-On-Top kayak, this would be the best kayak GPS as an accompanying navigational fishing tool.
Contouring software included
Multiple frequencies are supported, including 50/77/83/200 kHz
GPS speedometer with waypoint map features
The screen display is visible in sunlight
GPS abilities for creating waypoints, routes, and motoring kayak speed
Display numbers may be small
Mount may need additional support
The Garmin Striker Plus 4 is an excellent weekend angler’s kayak GPS. It appears to be the best GPS for kayaking on casual fishing trips — but with enough features for catching the big one.
#4 Garmin GPSMAP 78sc Waterproof Marine GPS
- Marine-friendly handheld with high-sensitivity GPS receiver and 2.6-inch color TFT...
- Perfect for boating/watersports--waterproof to IPX7 standards; floats in water
- Built-in BlueChart g2 U.S./Bahamas coastal charts with shorelines, depth contours,...
- Built-in 3-axis tilt-compensated electronic compass and barometric altimeter for...
- Share your waypoints, tracks, routes and geocaches wirelessly with other compatible...
- Marine GPS with 2.6-inch Thin Film Transistor (TFT) screen
- Out-of-the-box Bluechart g2 software with contour maps or harbors, marinas, and shores
- Waterproof to the IPX7 standard and floats in water
If you’re going kayaking, you’ve got to get your feet wet, or your GPS, as the case may be. It turns out that the Garmin GPSMAP 78sc Waterproof Marine GPS and Chartplotter can handle just that. It’s the best waterproof GPS on the list.
With pre-loaded Bluechart g2 software and a 2.6-inch TFT screen, this GPS device is waterproof and is designed to float.
The unit comes with a wrist strap and a 3-axis compass that compensates for tilting, meaning that this GPS is meant for a little more activity than most.
Kayakers will especially like its barometric altimeter, a tool that can help you determine altitude and potential weather conditions.
Like many other GPS devices, the GPSMAP 78sc allows you to geocache, track, and set different waypoints and routes. You can also share this information with users of the same model device.
Bluechart g2 software includes pre-loaded charts of maritime locations and contours
You can share waypoints, routes, tracks, and geocaches with other GPSMAP 78sc users
GPS speedometer with waypoint map features
WAAS technology in its GPS and HotFix Satellite Prediction
As an IPX7 device, it is waterproof and can float in water
USB and power ports can leak, may not be resistant to sustained saltwater exposure
Chart downloads may be out-of-date
This GPS and Chartplotter device would be useful for active kayakers, and its route-sharing abilities especially favor those who kayak in groups. Hand-held by design, this glove-friendly design is one of the best kayaking GPS systems. It is definitely ready for active rowing, touring, and fishing trips.
#5 Humminbird Helix 5 CHIRP GPS G2 Fish Finder
- 5-Inch Color WVGA Display
- CHIRP Dual Beam PLUS Sonar. Power Output RMS : 500 Watts. Power Draw : 615 mA
- Precision Internal GPS Chart plotting with built-in Anima cartography
- Micro SD card slot for optional maps or for saving waypoints
- Target Separation - 2.5 Inches
- Color Wide Video Graphics Array (WVGA) screen, 5 inches
- Compatible with Humminbird Lakemaster Maps and Navionics contour cartography
- CHIRP Digital Sonar for visuals of individual fish and underwater environments
If you are into kayak fishing, this appears to be a fish finder for the fish-minded. The Humminbird Helix 5 CHIRP GPS G2 Fish Finder has a large 5-inch WVGA screen with a depth finder and contour map. It also has a Single Micro SD memory card slot that can be used when plotting different waypoints and routes.
In addition to these features, the unit has several CHIRP Frequencies, including Low (28 – 75 kHz), Medium (75 – 155 kHz), and High (130 – 250 kHz). Its Sonar can also reach 1,500 feet with a traditional transducer.
Its two-mode Switchfire option allows you to choose between Max Mode and Clear Mode — returning depth readings in two ways. The Humminbird Helix 5 is one of the best GPS for kayaking during relaxing fishing trips, with refreshments in tow.
Narrow and Wide Beam Dual Plus Sonar
Real-time contour mapping option with eight hours of mapping time
Standard Transducer depth range of 1500 feet
Large 800 X 480 pixel, 5-inch screen
No radar or 5-port Ethernet switch compatibility
Mount and clips may need more support
The Humminbird Helix 5 would be the best kayak GPS for fishing when mounted next to a comfortable kayak seat. It has plenty of mapping features and a large 5-inch screen. If you are fishing in marshes, lakes, ponds, or slow rivers, this GPS and fish finding unit may be the exact device you need.
#6 Garmin Striker 4cv
- Includes transducer for built in Garmin CHIRP traditional sonar plus CHIRP ClearVü...
- Built in Garmin Quickdraw Contours mapping software lets you create and store maps...
- Built in GPS lets you mark waypoints, create routes and view boat’s speed
- Bright, sunlight readable 4.3” display and intuitive user interface
- Rugged design for every fishing environment.Transmit power:300 W (RMS)
- 4.3-inch screen GPS device with fish finder, transducer, and trolling motor mount
- Built-in CHIRP traditional Sonar, as well as Garmin ClearVu scanning Sonar
- Contour mapping software (Quickdraw) comes as default device software
The fine details are always crucial to kayak fishing. Fortunately, the Garmin Striker 4cv with transducer may be just what you need. With two CHIRP options (traditional and ClearVu scanning), you can search the areas under your kayak more precisely.
The ClearVu sonar, for example, allows you to search areas with a higher frequency (up to 800 kHz). The default Quickdraw Contours software can map an area of (more than) hundreds of thousands of acres with contour intervals one foot apart.
Make sure you bring the right paddle — because this would be the best GPS for kayaking on large bodies of water.
Reasonably large, 4+ inch screen with large clearly-defined buttons
The split-Screen feature has a map that allows for waypoint marking, route mapping, and boat speed display
Quickdraw Contours software allows for mapping of up to 2 million acres at 1-foot contour intervals
ClearVu Scanning Sonar has higher frequency range (260/455/800 kHz), allowing for greater detail
Large transducer; may have fitting issues.
Power cable length may be too short for some users.
The Garmin Striker 4cv’s GPS capabilities come secondary to its fish-finding abilities. But if you are into kayak fishing, this kayaking GPS has almost all you could ask for.
This is especially true of its ClearVu Scanning Sonar, giving you incredibly detailed pictures right back to the display screen. This would be a potent tool for fishing from a flatwater kayak in bays, harbors, lakes, ponds, and rivers.
#7 Garmin Striker Plus 7sv Fishfinder/GPS Combo
- Includes transducer for built-in Garmin CHIRP traditional sonar plus CHIRP ClearVü...
- Built-in Quickdraw Contours mapping software lets you create and store maps with 1’...
- Built-in Wi-Fi for access to ActiveCaptain app so you can receive smart...
- Built-in GPS lets you mark waypoints, create routes and view boat’s speed. Transmit...
- Bright, sunlight-readable 7” display and intuitive user interface
- Large 7-inch GPS device with 800 X 480-pixel screen
- Dual Frequency (50/200 kHz) and Dual-Beam (77/200 kHz) sonar abilities
- ClearVu and SideVu (260/455/800 kHz) scanning sonar available
There are no ambiguities to this fish finder and GPS Combo — it is for some serious kayak fishing. The Garmin Striker Plus 7sv has a large, 7-inch screen with split-screen GPS, depth, contour mapping, and fish-finding capabilities.
The device has sonar scanning abilities at high-frequency rates up to 800 kHz — allowing for much greater detail in floor and profile visuals (ClearVu and SideVu). Its Dual-Beam Sonar can fluctuate between frequencies that allow for scanning wider areas or narrower, more detailed views.
The GPS is integrated into this device, and the default software (Quickdraw Contours) allows you to scan and map vast areas below the water. This is the best GPS for kayaking long, intense fishing trips — so make sure your dry bag is packed full of tackle.
Nice large, widescreen with split-screen fish finder, depth, and location features
A-Scope real-time fish viewing capabilities
Water rating of IPx7 (water resistant for most incidental water damage like splashes or rain)
Quickdraw Contours software allows for mapping of up to 2 million acres at 1-foot intervals
Large size (9.3 x 5.5 x 2.3 inches) makes this device mountable but not normally hand-portable
A relatively higher weight (1.7 pounds)
This fish finder and GPS combo would serve as one of the best GPS for kayak fishing, given the kayak is large enough and is on relatively stable waters. At its large size, it is comfortable enough to view from afar.
Its GPS capabilities also would have no problem serving as a navigational guide. Therefore, the Garmin Striker Plus 7sv is worth a closer look.
What Is A GPS?
A GPS usually refers to a GPS device, receiver, or a portable device that uses the Global Positioning System (GPS). GPS devices are geo-positioning units that operate with the GPS network, 24 radio navigation satellites owned by the United States Government.
These satellites can determine the latitude and longitude of those with GPS devices and provide accurate times based on atomic clock readings. If you carry a GPS device, you can see these positional and time readings on the receiver screen.
The Wide Area Augmentation System, or WAAS, is ground and space-based satellite system designed to support the original GPS network. Consisting of satellites throughout North America and Hawaii, WAAS provides better positional accuracy when working with GPS — within 1 meter laterally and 1.5 meters vertically.
GPS is just one Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) available worldwide. Other systems include the Russian GLONASS, the Chinese BeiDou (BDS), and the EU’s Galileo. Some devices combine GPS and GLONASS satellite information for more accurate position readings.
GPS devices are used in geocaching, an outdoor activity in which participants use GPS coordinates to find geocaches purposely hidden in remote locations.
How to Choose the Best Kayak GPS
GPS screen sizes are measured diagonally from corner to corner, much like other electronic devices. If you’re an all-purpose kayaker, you will want to choose a kayaking GPS with a screen size that is neither too large nor too small.
Though there are GPS devices with 2 to 3-inch screens, you might do better with a device whose screen is between 4 and 5 inches. This way, you can reference your location quickly without sitting down with the device or squint.
Choose a GPS with a display readable in sunlight (and some GPS screens are specifically made for this). A Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) is not as high-quality as a Thin Film Transistor (TFT) screen, but the TFT screen needs more power and is also more expensive to operate — something to consider.
Most GPS manufacturers have customer support hotlines or networks that you can contact if you face problems with your device. Look for companies with a proven track record of following up with great support and service.
If your device has a warranty, take advantage of it — and always ask about the reliability of these customer support networks.
If you’re an experienced kayaker and you haven’t capsized yet, well, then you aren’t really an experienced kayaker. But seriously, kayaking is an activity where you and your belongings frequently get wet or submerged in water.
The Ingress Protection Code, or IP Code, measures electronic devices’ resistance to outside conditions. This code consists of the first two letters (IP), then a solid particle protection rating number or letter (0 to 6, or the letter X), and a liquid protection rating number or letter (0 to 8, or the letter X). The higher the numbers, the more resistant the device is to solid or liquid particles.
For example, a GPS with an IP Code of IPX7 has no data regarding solid particle protection (X) but is resistant to water depths of up to 1 meter for 30 minutes (7).
Kayakers should generally look for GPS units with ratings of IPX7 or higher. But why stop there? Some kayak GPS are floatable, too — a benefit for anyone on (or in) the water.
Handheld Or Mounted
GPS devices can be Handheld or Mounted. There are a few pros and cons to each:
Hand-held – Pros
- Are great for particularly active users, are carryable
- Can be placed in hatch or day hatch storage
- Are easier to reference during trips
Hand-held – Cons
- Are not as stable for fishing or touring
- Can easily be lost overboard if put in unstable places
- May get displaced or splashed upon easily
Mounted – Pros
- Are not easily shaken or lost, stay on deck easily
- Can be used as fish finders
- Leaves your hands free for paddling
Mounted – Cons
- Are harder to see from afar
- May still get knocked over and harder to retrieve
- Are exposed to splashing and the elements
There are a few ways to mount a GPS to your kayak (and they don’t involve drilling holes in your kayak!). First, you could use a suction mount, often made of fiber polymers with aluminum arms or tripod legs for support.
Secondly, you could use a combination of silicone-based caulk to adhere the mount to the deck — and then tie the actual GPS to the deck rigging with a strong cord. This way, if you accidentally knock over the mount, you won’t lose your GPS!
Finally, you use kayak rails with a mounting fixture to keep your GPS close by. You may also want to tie your GPS with a cord to the deck rigging somehow to keep it from falling in the deep.
Many kayak GPS devices run on traditional alkaline batteries (AA, AAA, C, and D) and have a battery life of around 24 hours or more of continuous use. Most smaller portable GPS units will run on AA or AAA batteries.
For fishfinder/GPS combinations, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are common. Some of these can last longer, around 35 hours.
A GPS may also come with a Fishfinder, a depth-measuring and mapping device used to scout fish. These combination devices are usually larger, mountable, and come with some marine mapping software.
The transducer is the device that sends out ultrasonic signals underwater and receives their echo. This device is usually fitted to the kayak’s bottom (hull), though there are also dedicated mountable arms for them.
Depending on your GPS device, it may come with software that offers contour mapping. This is especially common in Fishfinders, where underwater contours can be drawn acres at a time.
Some GPS devices also have altimeters, which measure barometric pressure and can help measure altitude or changing weather conditions. This may be useful for mapping or kayaking in the mountains.
Internal storage in GPS devices can range from 1 to over 4 GB of memory. This memory is useful for marking waypoints, setting routes, and holding different nautical maps.
Some GPS devices have SD memory card slots that can add 8 to 16 GB of memory. You can also download additional marine maps and software into these devices if traveling unfamiliar territory.
Why Do You Need A Kayak GPS?
A kayaking GPS is a dedicated device for geo-positioning purposes. It is specifically made to locate exact coordinates and help set destination or “home base” points and routes.
As it operates off a satellite information network designed for finding your location, it can get extremely accurate readings. This can come in handy if you need to find a rendezvous point or a tried-and-true fishing spot (a Fishfinder can also help find the latter).
Can’t I Use My Phone?
Of course, you could use your phone — that is, if you are really willing to risk losing it overboard. But your cell phone isn’t designed to be splash-proof, set routes, or remember many specific routes or points in the water; Kayak GPS devices are.
Your phone also does not come equipped with depth maps or local area maps – GPS devices often do. Finally, your cell phone relies on commercial cellular networks — networks that are great around many people but only go so far when you are in remote places.
A GPS device runs off a GPS network — designed to handle precise coordinates in entire hemispheres. That and cell phones are not designed as fish-finding devices, as some kayak GPS devices are.
If you want to track where you are during your kayaking tours, a kayak GPS is designed to do this precisely. It is durable and water-resistant and an amazingly accurate location device.
Kayak GPS units built with fish finders can make a powerful combination — mapping out depths and underwater locations with reliable precision. If you are kayaking for any reason, you will want to check out a kayak GPS.
Choose an easy-to-use device that fits your specific activity needs — so that you can spend a lot more time with your eyes on nature.
Steve Morrow owns Paddle About, an outdoor recreation and travel blog. Steve loves to travel, kayak, paddle board, camp, hike, and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.