The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a radionavigation system that is based on satellite technology, providing geolocation and time information to a GPS receiver anywhere on the earth or near it as long as there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites. The system has become widely embraced and is being rapidly adopted in electronic systems of all types and uses.
While popular adaptations are in cellphone technology, emerging autonomous vehicles, disaster management, relief (emergency) services, geotagging, fleet tracking, telematics, surveying, sports and robotics, there is also increasing application in navigation and marine circles.
Marine? Yes, marine. A fish finder or sounder is a serious fisherman’s best friend. This intelligent instrument is used locate fish underwater through the detection of reflected pulses of sound energy (sonar). A modern version of this essential device uses graphical displays a fisherman can read to locate fish, the waterbed, and underwater debris. It is a tight electronic integration of the fishfinder system, compass, marine radar, and GPS navigation systems. You’re probably wondering if you can afford it, with such array of technology and functionality. We show you in this article, the best marine GPS system for even a shoestring budget. Angle on!
The major fish finder manufacturers are fully invested in making their line of products available to all segments of the market, regardless of budget. Your preferred size of display unit is a key factor when you want a sounder. Do you want a full-size display unit that can be mounted permanently, or do you prefer something suitable for your small vessel weekend expedition (as in ice fishing) where portability is non-negotiable?
Fishfinders today, complete with the latest GPS apparatus, can give you an almost photographic image of the bottom of water letting you identify individual fish and the structures they are taking refuge in. They are portable, and can play well with your smartphone – all these available at a price that won’t make you balk. They are quite easy to get too on sites such as Marine Services, General Marine and Baymarine works, where you get everything from Marine VHF radios to GPS units.
Below is a round-up of our top 8 budget marine GPS systems.
Core – WiFi-enabled fish finders are more common now. They integrate neatly with mobile devices too. The Dragonfly-4PRO is a compact bundle that suits a kayak fishing setup.
GPS/Sonar – Along with typical tracking and way-pointing functions, there is 72-channel GPS to enjoy. Packed with features such as a transom-mount transducer to fire 2-channel CHIRP sonar and a wide-range DownVision function to return detailed underwater pictures, the Dragonfly-4PRO is worth a second look. Detail is exposed through the focused conical beam from the fish targeting channel.
Depth – 600 feet of deep water is what the Dragonfly-4PRO affords you along with high-speed bottom-tracking ability.
Display – If you love your smartphone screen, you’ll likely love the Dragonfly-4PRO’s screen with its optically-bonded LCD tech. It is weather-resistant with anti-fogging properties (though it still picks up a lot of screen glare), probably your go-to unit if you need to stream sonar data to your mobile or tablet. You can also create custom bottom charts with this really lightweight unit that is available for under $300.
Mount – Funny ball-and-socket mount that only helps to keep the overall weight under. This could be way better.
Core – Packs plenty of function in a small package. Can be the main unit on a small boat or kayak setup, or as the bow unit running the trolling motor on bigger vessels. Offers CHIRP along with down-scanning sonar functions. The Lowrance DownScan Overlay technology combines DownScan images with CHIRP sonar readouts. Preset page layouts and a recording and review function that allows rewinding of sonar history, all with Lowrance warranty.
GPS/Sonar – Accurate built-in GPS with a map populated with more than 3,000 US lakes and rivers and up to 1,000 feet of coastline. The unit is able to run Navionics and other chart upgrades from a microSD card.
Software – Advanced Signal Processing function works like an autofocus that prevents you from always having to push buttons to get best settings.
Display – Crisp and colourful, sonar readouts can be viewed on the Hook-4 with its tri-split screen function. Still too much information on a 4-inch screen. The large digit display mode comes to the rescue though. One-thumb page scrolling and button operation.
Mount – The mount has no swivel function, but this unit is easy to install and remove. It comes with transom and trolling motor mounts too. Limited back tilt angle and transducer mount depends on only two screws.
Core – Garmin’s fish finder products are a collector’s item. The EchoMAP CHIRP 43cvgives you a chance to jump on the wagon of exclusivity. Built on a core of Garmin’s CV20 transducer, it affords you CHIRP and CHIRP ClearVu signals for photorealistic images that the Garmin name is associated with.
There are three different frequencies in each mode to guarantee best resolutions in any conditions and per purpose.
Depth – The EchoMAP CHIRP 43cv definitely blows the fish out of water with a superb depth range of 2,300 feet in freshwater and 1,100 feet in saltwater. Water temperature log and graph, a bottom lock mode that shows the scan from bottom to surface, recording and rewinding, and the ability to interface with your personal computer are some of the functions the EchoMAP CHIRP 43cv proudly flaunts.
GPS/Sonar – The GPS here is one of the most accurate in its class, and you can share saved data with other Garmin products.
Software – There is a highlight the QuickDraw function that lets you create personalised HD maps directly on the screen. Whatever you draw is shareable using the Garmin Connect social software. This is in tandem with preloaded LakeVu HD maps of more than 17,000 US lakes, rivers and reservoirs with a microSD slot that lets you upload more.
Display – The EchoMAP CHIRP 43cv’s display sits at 4.3 inches despite the unit fitting perfectly in your hand. Good resolution and fairly ergonomic control buttons (though small and unspaced) are present.
Mount – The mount has no swivel function, but this unit is easy to install and remove. It comes with transom and trolling motor mounts too.
Core – Extremely portable, sleek appearance for a 2.55-inch pocket-sized sounder. Rechargeable via USB cable cable from a vehicle or boat cigarette lighter, continuous use nets you around 5.5 hours of battery life. Perfect for kayak and ice-fishing. Battery life is however limited to 6 months.
Depth – Simply casting the unit out and reeling it back over multiple paths helps the fisherman create a map of the bottom. The signal can extend to 330 feet, farther than most can cast and far enough to drift the PRO+ along with current. Depth capability reaches 260 feet, and includes a boat mode bottom mapping function.
GPS/Sonar – Integrated GPS function running in Standard, Boat, Ice Fishing, and Onshore modes. The dual beam sonar lets the angler use a wide beam to cover large areas and a narrow beam to locate fish accurately. With a 0.5-inch target separation, this little unit eclipses the performance of many larger, more expensive fish finders.
Software – Uses a smartphone or tablet to display the sonar imaging via its Deeper software. Really simple device to use and can collect a lot of data, that is transferable to a computer. The software makes this device a utility tool for the shore fisherman.
Display – The image is sensitive to bottom conditions such as weeds and silt.
Mount – The PRO+ attaches to the side of a kayak or small boat via a small arm mount. For still fishing, the unit can be attached to a line, with room to drift on the side you are fishing from.
Core – Armed with support for multiple languages, the HELIX 5DI is definitely one of the best budget fish finders especially if down imaging technology excites you. The high-frequency sonar function is equipped to eliminates life-like views of structures under a boat.
Depth – The down-imaging function works down to 350 feet, which happens to be the full depth range of the unit.
GPS/Sonar – The GPS here is one of the most accurate in its class, and you can share saved data with other Garmin products. The real-time DualBeam PLUS sonar has 4 cone sizes for 16-, 28-, 45-, and 75-degree bottom exploration.
Display – The split screen has a SwitchFire view that shows up fish mingled with timber, rocks, or other fish-holding structure. This screen is an LED backlit 5-inch full-colour display that is easily toggled to 16-bit grayscale. A fresh user interface makes life easier in the face of function buttons hard to operate through gloves. The large-digit view might just be a consolation though.
Mount – The unit is equipped with transducer mounting gear, and the display can be dash-positioned or placed in its gimbal mount. Trademark Humminbird, the HELIX 5 mount does not swivel, which is strange. There is also no trolling motor mount for its near-$300 price.
Core – The Garmin Striker series need little introduction. Professional and weekend fishermen value it finesse. Very lightweight for its chock-full tray of features. Compact and portable unit in rugged casing to keep unit protected in transit or under adverse conditions like ice fishing.
Depth – The Striker 5cv has a bottom lock setting that can show the return from the bottom to the surface. Like the other Garmin, this is also 2,300 in freshwater and 1,100 in saltwater.
GPS/Sonar – Extremely powerful sonar unit with Garmin CHIRP and ClearVu scanning sonar technology. The CHIRP transducer emits a signal in the 77/200 kHz range, sweeping a wide frequency range rather than a single discrete frequency value. It then interprets each level of return distinctly, producing clear, definite fish arches with superior target separation. The ClearVu scanning sonar is integrated in the same transducer, revealing a wide-angle view of the underwater with near-photographic image precision.
With highly sensitive GPS, you can track your location marking fishing holes for subsequent return. For real-time view of any fish passing through the transducer beam, there is the A-scope added in.
Display – High-resolution 5-inch display that justifies its healthy price tag.
Mount – Traditional boat-mounted fish finder. Easily removed for transport, but without any support arms.
Core – A small fish finder for canoes, kayaks, and other small vessels. Breathtaking range of functions. It comes with a strong case waterproofed to IPx7 standards. Easily operated with one hand and fits ice fishing quite well.
GPS/Sonar – Equipped with Hybrid Dual Imaging transducer that produces CHIRP sonar images in broadband and down imaging modes. Data is fed to screen. The fish arches aren’t as distinct but that’s due to a small screen size.
Sounding function can read bottom up to 1,000 feet and GPS antenna is built in. While not as detailed, the basic map works well enough to find fishing holes and a recording function marks them for you.
Display – Screen comes with resolution that defies all expectations. The target resolution is good enough to see bait alongside target fish. Intuitive user interface with phone-like button system
Mount – Strong enough and swivels and tilts, but vibrates too much in rough water. An in-dash mount or ball joint mount may do better for motorised vessels. No drilling needed to mount transducer, with some kayaks already adapted for no-drill mounting.
Core – As a fish tech pioneer, Humminbird continues to innovate with the HELIX range. There is an SD card slot and a new HELIX 5 operating system that is easy to understand. The buttons are small however for often large-thumbed fishermen.
Depth – The underlying system on the transducer achieves 1,500 feet of depth, with an optional upgrade to achieve 2,500 feet.
GPS/Sonar – The SwitchFire sonar system allows you change display from simply clear to very detailed. The clear mode removes plenty of interference and noise in rough or shallow water making fish more distinct. Max mode supplies excellent detail for a 2-D fish finder. This view is dependent on CHIRP and reveals temperature gradients and currents.
Software – There are tracking and chart plotting functions and can save your tracks and routes with numerous waypoints and fishing spots. Optional software for mapping and logging are available along with PC connectivity software.
Display – High-resolution 5-inch display that is easily switched between full colour and grayscale. Backlighting improves visibility in any light condition, along with a large-digit view
Mount – Mount tilts which do not swivel.
The GPS fish finder market is growing in leaps and bounds, and sonar and GPS technologies advancing faster than your heart rate. You want the latest and greatest marine technology for the best price possible and that’s why we have provided this review of sub-$300 GPS fish finders.