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Best GPS Combo for inshore fishing on smaller craft / flat boats

Hello Capt. Paul,

I'm looking to outfit an 18 foot aluminum boat that gets used for a lot of different purposes with a decent GPS chart plotter and depth finder combo. I'll be using it for hunting and fishing in the Shell Beach and Hopedale area and wanted to know if you had any recommendations for a good all purpose unit with a budget maximum of $500. I know you get what you pay for, but is there anything in this price range that has good reliability and the ability to ad maps that do not come standard with most units? GPS is the first priority and using it as a depth finder second. What maps or cards would you consider essential for safety sake and for finding fish? I've been looking at some Lowrance and Garmin models but welcome any recommendations to steer me in the right direction. Thanks very much
What is the best GPS for your use.
~ Captain Paul's response ~

Both of the brands you mentioned can perform as you describe, as would a Humminbird, IF they have the proper accessory mapping software.

To avoid “sticker shock” most of the units come only with a base map. This is what the name implies, a basic map of the entire U.S. This type of mapping gets you in the water with the GPS, but you soon see that the base map does not offer as much detail of the Louisiana marshes. It is then that you will have to come up with $200 to $300 more to have a unit that will serve your needs. So whatever unit you decide on, remember that you may have to purchase an accessory mapping for the unit.

That means that a fixed mounted unit, with a color screen of about 5 to 7 inches with the mapping software will be over your 150 gallon limit.

But to get on with your question, it is a tough question to answer. It is almost like you picking out a dress for your wife or mother. Yes the dress will cover the necessary parts, but how does it fit, where will it be used and how long do you intend to keep the outfit. You can see what I mean!

There are several units that should suit your needs WHEN LOADED with the proper accessory mapping software.

A hand held unit with an accessory or two can accommodate your needs, but the screen will be smaller than a fixed mounted unit and it would not have the depth finder option.

I would be hard pressed to recommend a specific unit. There are a lot of considerations that would affect your choice. Foremost would be the cost of the unit or rather the dollar amount you want to or can spend. Again, remember that the accessory mapping is another cost.

So, in order to at least give you a starting point, let me express some of my findings about different GPS types and styles.

Most manufacturers have a web site that comprehensively covers their line of receivers as well as the mapping software that is available.

I suggest that you begin by looking at each of these sites for an understanding of what is being offered in today’s market. There are others, but I would START with the largest companies that sell hand held GPS receivers to the consumer market.

Garmin, Lowrance, and Humminbird have a very impressive line of units. These units are available for your perusal on the same web site. Check them out at Garmin @ , Lowrance @ , and

Yes, It know there are others and you may want to consider them also, but start with these brands to get an idea of what is available from the top three brands. I don’t recommend considering a discontinued or “Legacy” product as there will usually be a shortage of accessories, including mapping software for these older units.

These current generation units when loaded with the OPTIONAL mapping software, offer a very versatile package that will more than accommodate your needs.

In addition you will have to determine the features that you want in the unit.

I can, however, offer you some pointers that may help YOU decide which one will be best for you.

A gray scale screen (not color) will be less expensive than a color one. Most units with a grey scale are older units as it is now less expensive to produce a color screen.

A smaller screen will be less expensive than a larger one.

A screen that has screen touch-controlled functions will be a great deal more expensive than a button or menu controlled unit.

Those units with a “Touch Screen” command area usually more expensive than button model.

Some units can utilize auto type road maps. This mapping software when used in specific units can provide an ON THE ROAD routing. This type of road and street routing can guide you to various street addresses and locations throughout the U.S. Those units that have the ability to do an ON ROAD routing generally cost more than other units that only have a “AS THE CROW FLIES” type of routing.

Some units cannot accept any other mapping than what is already loaded into the receiver. These units have a preloaded “base” map that the manufacturer believes will suit your needs. It cannot be supplemented with any other mapping. These types are less expensive than those that CAN accept additional mapping.

Some units require that a data memory card loaded with the maps you designed with your software, or that you purchased pre loaded data cards with maps. These memory cards are inserted into the receiver in order to view those maps on the unit’s screen.

Some of the units can use an over the counter Secure Digital (SD) or Media Memory Cart (MMC) or Micro SD cards and some can ONLY use their own proprietary memory card that requires their own card reader/writer. Be sure to first consider those units that use standard type memory cards. Secure Digital (SD) and Micro SD cards area the present standard.

Some of the units CANNOT accept electronic connections. They are less expensive than those that can accept such downloads.

When considering your choices, be sure to take in to account the SUPPORT that the manufacturer offers for his units. A Support Section that offers a person to speak to about a problem is a very big “plus” when it comes to getting help on a specific problem. Speaking in English to a PERSON and not a machine is really a big plus in the type of support that the various companies offer.

Access the various web sites and view all of the choices you may have, then visit a stocking dealer and “feel” the unit in your hand. Sometimes the buttons on the unit are not quite right for a person with small or large hands or someone who is left handed. Check out the unit, the size of the screens and the general appearance and how it operates.

As for the mapping part of your question, my experience leads me to prefer maps that are based on USGS Topographical maps. Yes, I know you are looking at a marine unit, but many can accommodate topo type mapping.
Some units can accommodate aerial photo maps, such as Garmin’s Bird Eye and Standard Mappings photo maps for Lowrance units. Naturally those units that accommodate both Marine type NOAA charts, topographical type and aerial photo maps would be desirable.

Go to a stocking dealer and actually view the unit for a hands on appreciation of the use and features of your short list of units. Be sure to actually “see” what mapping is availing for the unit, viewing it in the unit of your choice.

You may be able to save some money by selecting a unit with depth / fish finder features for shallow water. You would not need one that sounds the bottom of 2000+ feet salt water. That type required a more powerful and expensive unit than one designed for 100 feet.

Narrow down your choices and then get back with me. I would be happy to discuss your options with you.

~ Captain Paul ~
i have a garmin 540s. spent less than 500 a year ago(probably can find it cheaper now). Has enough detail to get me to all my spots in hopedale, pt a la hache, lafitte.
   Andrew K.
I'd suggest reading the reviews of these guys, at least for me it's easy to understand them, they kind of 'speak my language'.
I like that they point out the pros and cons of each item. By following their advice I bought a Humminbird 409640-1. Very satisfied! If this doesn't work for you, what I also do, is checking on amazon products by review rate, usually item with higher rating are better (not always), sometimes being informed is much efficient, because you take a decision wisely.
Good luck!