How to Choose a Kayak GPS

Kayaking is super fun, but sometimes it’s hard to find your way. Monitoring your location offers guidance and keeps you on track. It sounds simple, but it could even save your life.

So what factors should you consider when choosing a kayak GPS?

Read on to find out:

1. Battery Life

A GPS device with a dead battery is of no use to you. One of the worst things that can happen is getting lost at sea with no idea how to get back.

Different kayak GPS devices use different kinds of batteries. The common ones are standard AA/AAA batteries and Li-ion and NiMH rechargeable batteries.

Battery life varies from one device to another. Some can go for 12 hours while others will go for 24 hours or more.

You need to have this in mind when getting a kayak GPS. Manufacturers include the battery life in their product description. But you should also look at what other users are saying in the reviews section.

If a device uses disposable batteries, it is wise to bring spare ones, especially on longer trips.

2. Waterproof Rating

A device’s water rating shows how it will handle being splashed or submerged in water.

This makes sense because you will be using your GPS in water. Even though you are an expert, you should always prepare for immersion.

If a kayak GPS is water-resistant, it can tolerate splashes but it won’t handle being submerged. You want a waterproof device that will continue to function properly should it fall into the water.

Get a Kayak GPS with a high water rating such as IPX7.

3. Display Size

Just like a smartphone, the display size of a kayak GPS is measured diagonally.

The size you choose will be determined by where you expect your GPS to be. If you plan on wearing it on your wrist, a smaller display may be right for you. But if you want to mount it on the boat, a slightly bigger screen would be ideal. You should be able to see the information without straining.

Know that in most cases, a smaller display means fewer features. And a big display may mean dealing with a bulky device.

Additionally, the screen should be readable in the sun or at night.

4. More Kayak GPS Features

a. Compatibility

The main purpose of a kayak GPS is to track your location. So it’s obvious that it should be compatible with top satellite navigation systems.

The one you probably know is the GPS which is an American system. It uses 31 satellites for accurate readings. GLONASS, the Russian system is also great and uses 24 satellites. And then there is Galileo, the European system.

Having a device that works with all three would be perfect since they can be used at the same time. But GPS and GLONASS together will give you outstanding accuracy.

There’s another technology known as WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System). It is an air navigation aid that improves the accuracy of GPS readings. Most devices are equipped with the technology.

b. Mapping

Some GPS devices come with maps pre-loaded. Others don’t; so you will have to download them.  

You need maps on the device since that is the whole point of getting it in the first place.

Even though you buy a kayak GPS with preloaded maps, you may still want to download more detailed ones like shaded relief maps. And not just that. Some advanced maps are great for kayaking. With others featuring coast guard locations for safety reasons.

So it is good to have a device that allows you to download additional maps.

This brings us to the next point.

c. Sufficient Memory

It is one factor that you can’t afford to ignore. More memory means you can store more maps and waypoints. An SD card slot would be even better to let you expand the device’s memory.

d. Ease of Use

A kayak GPS should make your life easier, not harder. The last thing you want is the frustration that comes with not knowing where to look for what. Every function should be as simple to use as possible.

Kayak GPS Q&A

Q: How Do You Setup GPS in a Kayak?

A: A handheld GPS doesn’t require any setup. If it is not handheld, you will have to mount it on your kayak. Depending on your boat and the device, the process can be a little complicated and take more time.

Q: How Do You Measure Speed in a Kayak?

A: Most GPS devices will do this for you so you don’t have to deal with the math. Doing it manually—using a map and a timer—may not give you accurate results. So let the device do all the work.

Q: Where to Install GPS Puck on a Kayak

A: Your GPS antenna should be as close to the location of the transducer as possible. This is in the case of a GPS that doubles as a fish finder. Its purpose is to show the direction that your kayak is pointing.

Q: How to Power GPS on a Fishing Kayak

A: When going off the grid for your kayak fishing trip, you may want to bring a solar charger along. If your device runs out of juice, you can recharge it using a USB.

Q: Can I Use My Phone Instead of a Kayak GPS?

A: Yes, you can. But it is not advisable.

First, your phone has many other functions. If you are going to spend a lot of time in the water, it will likely run out of charge. And then what will you use? A kayak GPS battery will last longer. You can also bring extra batteries for the replaceable ones.

Most smartphones are not waterproof. If something happens and it gets submerged, it will be pretty much dead.

Many of the modern GPS devices have all the functions you will need including a barometer and compass. A phone will probably require an internet connection for these features. Besides, it can lose signal when you get to remote areas.

For some people, reading a phone in the sun is almost impossible. And that is not something you want to be struggling with when kayaking.

Q: What Is the Difference Between a GPS and a Fish Finder?

A: Although some devices double as both, these two are different. A GPS device helps you track your location using satellite signals. A fish finder helps you locate fish by use of sonar technology. Many kayak GPS devices come with both functions.


Every avid kayak should have a good old GPS device. Don’t rely on your smartphone because it can fail you when you need it the most. While choosing a kayak GPS, use the factors discussed here to make an informed decision. 

Do you have any questions about kayak GPS? Feel free to ask us below. Happy kayaking!

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