The 9 Best Marine Chartplotters

Updated September 13, 2017 by Sam Kraft

9 Best Marine Chartplotters
Best High-End
Best Mid-Range
Best Inexpensive
We spent 45 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top choices for this wiki. The marine chartplotter is to the avid boater as the North Star is to the lost hiker – a critical navigation tool in unfamiliar territory. Popular among maritime enthusiasts of all types, these devices can be used to chart a complex course across a lake at night, identify underwater structure for fishing, map out intricate coastline details and avoid collisions. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best marine chartplotter on Amazon.

9. Lowrance Mark-4

It’s not excessively elaborate, but the Lowrance Mark-4 doesn't need to be – its simple features should satisfy the needs of nearly any level of boater. Its four-inch grayscale LCD screen and highly accurate GPS antenna make depth and temperature measurement a snap.
  • high quality for great price
  • user-friendly swivel bracket
  • issues reading screen in sun
Brand Lowrance Mark-4
Model pending
Weight pending
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

8. Garmin GPSMAP 78sc

The Garmin GPSMAP 78sc is a quality waterproof handheld that floats, making it the ideal tool for those participating in active boating or watersports. You can even upload additional maps using its built-in microSD card slot, allowing you to pursue more activities.
  • three-axis electronic compass
  • wirelessly share tracks and routes
  • tough to see details on small screen
Brand Garmin
Model 010-00864-02
Weight 12 ounces
Rating 3.6 / 5.0

7. Humminbird Helix G2

Get the most out of your time on the water with the Humminbird Helix G2, a combo unit with down imaging, sonar and a brilliant five-inch color display. As a fish finder, it generates super-accurate temperature, speed and terrain readings, making it an angler’s fantasy.
  • built-in unimap cartography
  • convenient gimbal mounting system
  • batteries not included
Brand Humminbird
Model 409620-1
Weight 3.7 pounds
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

6. Garmin GPSMAP 541s

From inland freshwater lakes to the salty waves of the sea, the Garmin GPSMAP 541s is equipped to keep you on track. Its dual-frequency transducer clearly maps out depth contours and underwater structures, all of which is easy to read on its ultra-bright color screen.
  • gps receiver for satellite tracking
  • xm weather and radio compatible
  • problems with backlight
Brand Garmin GPSMAP 541s
Model pending
Weight pending
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

5. Lowrance Elite-4

High-definition mapping capabilities, advanced hybrid dual imaging technology and an affordable price make the Lowrance Elite-4 an incredible value. With outstanding sonar coverage in waters up to 1,000 feet deep, you’ll be one confident captain with this model on deck.
  • extremely detailed imaging
  • optional map chart upgrades
  • lightweight and simple to use
Brand Lowrance
Model 000-11216-001
Weight 3.7 pounds
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

4. Garmin GPSMAP 547xs

Reliable and packed with features, the Garmin GPSMAP 547xs connects wirelessly with your smartphone or tablet, giving you access to an array of marine-specific apps. A lightning-fast GPS receiver can refresh your position up to ten times per second.
  • sonar offers pinpoint precision
  • can be flat or swivel-mounted
  • creates up to 5000 waypoints
Brand Garmin
Model 010-01093-01
Weight 5.8 pounds
Rating 4.4 / 5.0

3. Garmin GPSMAP 4208

If you’re in the market for a highly sophisticated chartplotter, the Garmin GPSMAP 4208 is a marvel of state-of-the-art technology, innovative design and even live video capabilities. It’s pricey, but you’ll have trouble finding a more complete option.
  • worldwide basemap with images
  • proven and durable
  • waterproof and submersible
Brand Garmin GPSMAP 4208
Model pending
Weight pending
Rating 4.6 / 5.0

2. Simrad GO7 XSE

With a fully customizable interface and the widest available range of cartography options, the knowledge and functionality at your fingertips with the Simrad GO7 XSE is mind-blowing. And if that’s not enough, it even comes with lifetime tech support.
  • highly effective fish finder
  • adjustable views on split screens
  • wireless internet and bluetooth
Brand Simrad
Weight 7.8 pounds
Rating 4.7 / 5.0

1. Garmin echoMAP CHIRP

Passionate fishermen, power-boaters and watersport fans rejoice – the Garmin echoMAP CHIRP is the chartplotter you’ve been daydreaming about. Easy to use with powerful CHIRP sonar, it even features software that lets you create your own maps.
  • four display size options
  • rapid gps position updates
  • simple to install
Brand Garmin
Model 010-01567-01
Weight 5.2 pounds
Rating 4.9 / 5.0

Navigation, Charting, And Other Vital Functions

It would be easy to compare a marine chartplotter to the GPS devices you see attached to the dashboard of your Uber driver’s vehicle or the handheld devices some hikers utilize, but in reality, most chartplotters are even more complex than those snazzy tools. This is because, as a nautical instrument, marine chartplotters must be able to process more information and offer more functionality than your typical on-land navigation equipment.

To put it simply, the purpose of a marine chartplotter is to show you where you are and help you navigate to where you’re going. When you first look at its screen, you will see your boat's position displayed on a chart, indicating your precise location. If the size and structure of the body of water you’re on is rather small and uncomplicated, you can simply plug in a destination and a route will appear digitally on the screen for you to follow. On a large body of water with plenty of structure and complicated destinations, you can enter waypoints to build a custom route.

The chartplotter uses GPS or GNSS data to measure bearing, speed, and heading to assist with navigation. That’s great and all, but a regular handheld GPS can handle that too, right? Touché. However, the chartplotter becomes truly impressive when you get into its tracking and route navigation capabilities. The system will detect underwater details like reefs, sand banks, and other hazards, then adjust your route to avoid them. If it appears you will run into an obstruction that you can’t bypass, it will execute reverse route navigation to help you out of that sticky situation.

Its ability to generate detailed electronic charts is another area the chartplotter stands out from other navigational tools. At a basic level, you’re using this as an instrument to reproduce paper nautical charts, which commercial ships have long relied heavily upon for a variety of critical data points. A marine chartplotter will produce two types of charts: a raster chart, which is essentially a scanned version of a paper chart; and a vector chart, which is composed of lines, points, and polygons using information pulled from a database. Vector charts are more dynamic, use less memory, and are more user-friendly than raster charts.

Many models are integrated with a fish finder, which is a useful instrument for anglers that detects sound waves underwater and uses the signals to project a picture onto the screen. Fish finders provide valuable information to help identify where fish are located, such as depth, water temperature, underwater structure, and even visual icons or sound alerts to indicate the presence of fish.

Key Factors In Selecting A Chartplotter

When you begin the selection process, consider a few important questions to help narrow down your search right off the bat. What type of screen size and processing speed will you require? Where do you plan to place your unit, and will it be mounted? Do you plan to integrate your chartplotter with any other devices? Do you need a fish finder? How much are you willing to spend?

In this case, speed and size matter. If you’re a fisherman who operates a small boat, a simple chartplotter with a small screen for basic charts and measuring boat speed will probably suffice. If you plan on commandeering a large watercraft, in which case you’ll likely view your device from a greater distance as you manage multiple interfaces, a large model with a faster operating speed that allows for split-screen and zoom functionality may be the way to go.

Make sure to select a chartplotter that’s compatible with the physical design of your boat. Most models can be bracket-mounted, which is easy and gives you the flexibility to remove the unit when you’re done boating. Remember to place it somewhere that provides an unencumbered view of the screen as you navigate. Preferably, this location will protect the device from inclement weather.

It’s easy to get lost in all of the technical intricacies of these gadgets, but don’t let that cause you to overlook durability and longevity. If you’re making a significant monetary investment, you want to make sure your chartplotter is built with a quality, long-lasting design. Water resistance is key, as well, especially if you’ll be using your unit in a small, open boat that will leave it open to splashing waves and precipitation.

If the information on the screen of your device confuses you more than it educates you, it’s basically useless. Look for a unit with high marks for its user interface, as even today’s less expensive options should be user-friendly at a minimum.

The Technology Powering Today’s Devices

The marvels of modern technology never cease to amaze, and it’s no different when it comes to innovations in the maritime world. As a primary nautical navigation tool, the chartplotter relies on a wide range of sophisticated systems, from GPS and GNSS to sonar and radar.

If you plan on integrating different components of your nautical communications system, you’ll need to make sure your devices meet the connectivity requirements for your situation. Check with the National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA) to review the latest standards, which pertain to how you can connect your chartplotter to a marine VHF radio, marine autopilot, steering systems, fire control systems, an AIS system, and a variety of other tools.

An automatic identification system (AIS) and a vessel traffic service (VTS) are often used in tandem with a chartplotter for collision avoidance and vessel traffic control in busy waterways. For watercrafts of all sizes, this integration helps contribute to safety and efficiency at sea.

Owners of chartplotters who enjoy fish-finding capabilities will want to ensure their unit includes a quality transducer. As the heart and soul of a fish finder, the transducer interprets sound waves to read what’s beneath the surface of the water. As the depth of the water you’re fishing increases, the level of power you’ll require from your transducer increases as well. For those of you who prefer to receive audible alerts when your transducer detects fish, you should make sure a sounder is included in the package, as well.

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Last updated on September 13, 2017 by Sam Kraft

Sam is a marketing/communications professional and freelance writer who resides in Chicago, IL and is perpetually celebrating the Cubs’ 2016 World Series victory.

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