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GearTools & Tech

Which GPS unit do you recommend for sailing?

I've recently taken up sailing, and a GPS unit would sure come in handy during those fogs in the San Francisco Bay. But I'm bewildered by the variety of GPS units offered, with prices ranging from less than $100 to more than $500. What features will keep me from a watery grave and what's just nice to have? Jeff Fremont, California

A: A GPS unit is indeed a handy device to have when sailing. As you indicate, it can help you keep on track when fog or weather obscure the view of key landmarks. But they’re also useful in the unfortunate event of a sailor overboard and to mark the location of things such as crab pots and new or uncharted hazards.

Garmin’s GPSMAP 60


There are plenty to choose from, that much is certain. I’d suggest one in the middle price range—$200 to $400—to ensure it has the features you need. One excellent unit is the new Magellan eXplorist XL North America ($399; It has a big, full-color display with built-in North American maps, plus the ability to add much more with SD cards. It tracks thousand of waypoints and five routes (again, add more with SD cards), and has an extremely accurate electronic compass. So it’s an excellent over-water navigational tool.

Garmin’s GPSMAP 60 ($320; is another good choice. It has similar features to the Magellan, but without the color screen. It’s waterproof, comes pre-loaded with North American mapping software, and can take a wide range of additional maps. A color screen and expandable memory are available for a higher price in Garmin’s 60-Series line.

Both of these units can be mounted to a cradle for security. Or, you can buy a wrist-mounted unit, such as the Garmin Forerunner 205 ($268; Designed for hikers and bikers, it works well over water, too. You give up some screen size and readability, but you have tracking right with you all of the time.

For the bigger units, you might also consider an external antenna. Both Garmin and Magellan make antennas for their own GPS devices—the price is typically around $50. That will ensure you always have the best possible reception, something that could come in most handy.

The votes are in: Check out the winners of Outside's 2006 Gear of the Year awards, including the year's hottest GPS unit.

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Filed To: GPS Devices
Lead Photo: courtesy, Garmin