The 8 Best Marine Chartplotters

Updated April 17, 2018 by Brett Dvoretz

8 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. For avid boaters, a marine chartplotter is a critical navigation tool for unfamiliar territories. Useful for those in a wide variety of vessels, these devices can be used to chart a complex course across a lake at night, identify underwater structures for scuba diving, find shoals of fish, map out intricate coastline details, and help you avoid running aground. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best marine chartplotter on Amazon.

8. Garmin 78sc

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

7. Humminbird Helix 5 G2

Get the most out of your time on the water with the Humminbird Helix 5 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 dream.
  • sd card slot for saving waypoints
  • convenient gimbal mounting system
  • needs to be updated immediately
Brand Humminbird
Model 410220-1
Weight 3.9 pounds
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

6. Garmin 43dv

Ideal for small boats and even kayaks, the slim Garmin 43dv has a backlit keypad and an auto-dimming display that makes it easy to use in low-light conditions and helps to preserve your night vision when you are navigating open waters.
  • bright enough to see in full sun too
  • updates gps five times per second
  • good underwater target separation
Brand Garmin
Model 010-01563-01
Weight 3.8 pounds
Rating 4.2 / 5.0

5. Lowrance Hook-7

The Lowrance Hook-7 comes with detailed maps of more than 3,000 U.S. lakes and rivers, as well as coastal contours to depths of 1,000 feet. With advanced signal processing, it adjusts the settings automatically to help you see fish better with fewer manual tweaks.
  • allows you to review sonar history
  • optional high-def chart upgrades
  • instruction manual could be better
Brand Lowrance
Model 000-12664-001
Weight 5.7 pounds
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

4. Garmin 53cv

Passionate fishermen, power boaters and watersports fans rejoice – the Garmin 53cv is the model you’ve been daydreaming about. Easy to use, with powerful CHIRP sonar, it even features software that lets you create your own maps.
  • rapid gps position updates
  • crisp object representations
  • comes with a protective cover
Brand Garmin
Model 010-01798-01
Weight 5 pounds
Rating 4.4 / 5.0

3. Simrad Go7 XSE

With a customizable interface and one of the the widest ranges of cartography options available, the knowledge and functionality at your fingertips with the Simrad Go7 XSE is mind-blowing. It's fish finder is highly effective as well, so get ready to land the big one.
  • can be flush or bracket mounted
  • touchscreen control
  • bluetooth compatible
Brand Simrad
Weight 7.9 pounds
Rating 4.7 / 5.0

2. Lowrance Elite-4 HDI

The Lowrance Elite-4 HDI is one of the best budget-friendly models on the market today. Its compact size allows it to fit well in smaller boats, yet the vertically-oriented 4.3-inch screen doesn't feel too small or cluttered.
  • accurate dual-imaging technology
  • built-in antenna
  • easy to use interface
Brand Lowrance
Weight 3.7 pounds
Rating 4.6 / 5.0

1. Garmin 1040xs

The Garmin 1040xs is a full featured model that offers both GPS and sonar. Its large, high-contrast 10-inch display is easy to see, even in bright sunlight, and has enough room to comfortably view two different charts simultaneously using its split screen option.
  • compatible with auto pilot systems
  • suitable for depths up to 2000 feet
  • accepts marine radar inputs
Brand Garmin
Model 010-01184-01
Weight 9.7 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 April 17, 2018 by Brett Dvoretz

A wandering writer who spends as much time on the road as behind the computer screen, Brett can either be found hacking furiously away at the keyboard or perhaps enjoying a whiskey and coke on some exotic beach, sometimes both simultaneously, usually with a four-legged companion by his side. He hopes to one day become a modern day renaissance man.

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