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Boating Electronics: Do I Need GPS?

An experienced skipper thinks that no matter which fishfinder you choose, it should really have GPS and 2-D sonar.

Fishfinder mounted on helm

One morning I headed my boat downstream on a short 4-mile run to my fishing destination. About a mile into the trip, the fog rolled in so heavy I could no longer see. No amount of training, no spotlight, or any device I had on my trailer-sized boat could assist in increasing my visibility. Literally, I couldn't see the bank, the water in front of me, or more important, any oncoming boats or water hazards.

I stopped my boat and immediately turned my fishfinder on GPS mode. This allowed me to see exactly where I was, where navigable markers were located, what the water depth was, and how close to the bank my boat was traveling. I was able to maneuver to a safe location until the fog dissipated. I then continued to my destination at a safe speed while appreciating today's modern technology.

An essential part of any boat is electronics, which are used in locating fish, determining GPS coordinates, and numerous other applications. In today's market, boaters are overwhelmed with many brands and types of fishfinders.

Boating and fishing have embraced 21st-century technology, turning the art of finding fish into modern-day science. These powerful tools allow the resources to check depth, structure, fish locations, speed, and temperature. Humminbird, Lowrance, Raymarine, and Garmin are the main producers of fishing electronics, and all have their pros and cons. Prices range from as little as $150.

The biggest mistake is to purchase a fishfinder without GPS. GPS stands for Global Positioning System and receives signals from government satellites to determine your exact location. GPS not only allows you to track your course and create mapping of favorite fishing spots, structure, and water hazards, it could also save your life.

Most GPS units come with pre-installed maps. To obtain more detailed and updated GPS data, however, invest in a Lakemaster or Navionics SD card. Also, GPS gives latitude/longitude coordinates that can be added to your float plan or pinpoint your location in case of an emergency. Venturing out too far in the sea or large bodies of water can spell disaster if you get lost and can't find your way back to shore. GPS tracking adds an extra layer of security by tracking your route and recalling the location of your boat.

GPS offers endless possibilities for recreational and angling boaters. Modern GPS technology has the ability to network with radar, sonar, trolling motor, and autopilot systems. GPS will give you more confidence to explore and make the most of your time on the water.

I use a Humminbird Onix with side imaging. This is the top-of-line unit that comes with GPS, 2-D CHIRP sonar, down imaging, and side imaging. The capability to uncover structure and cover with these units is incredible. Whichever unit you choose, make sure it has GPS and 2-D sonar.

A fishfinder is an essential part of any boat and an excellent investment. The higher-end models can be expensive, but the added benefits outweigh the additional cost, provide additional safety features, and maintain value. 

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Ed Sherman

Contributor, BoatUS Magazine

Ed Sherman is an avid boater and the author of "The Twelve Volt Bible for Boats," "The Power Boater’s Guide to Electrical Systems," and "Advanced Marine Electrics and Electronics Troubleshooting." He's the former vice president and education director of ABYC.