Chartplotter vs GPS – Which One Do You Need In 2023

Chartplotter vs GPS – In navigation technology, two important systems stand out: Chartplotter and GPS. These amazing technologies make it easier to explore new land and sea areas. This guide talks about Chartplotters and GPS systems. It explains how they are different and what they can do in our adventures. This guide helps you understand navigation systems. It will help you make informed decisions for exploration. Come along as we navigate the digital seas, exploring Chartplotter and GPS systems.

Quick Answer:

A GPS tells you where you are, but it doesn’t show this on a map. A chartplotter, yet, takes your location from the GPS and displays it on a map for you.

Difference between Chartplotter and GPS

Navigation technology has gotten much better. It used to be just a compass and map, but now it’s advanced digital systems. Satellites and computers make GPS and Chartplotters useful for sailors, hikers, and explorers.

Chartplotter vs GPS – Which One Do You Need?

What is a Chartplotter?

A Chartplotter is a specialized device used primarily in marine navigation. Users can view their real-time location on a digital map by using GPS data and electronic charts. Boaters and fishermen love Marine GPS Chartplotters. They have route planning and integrate with sonar and radar. These devices also include waypoints.

Here is an example of information you can get from your chart plotter: Dallas Bank in Puget Sound.

Here is an example of information you can get from your chart plotter

What Does a Chartplotter Do?

A chartplotter is a specialized device used predominantly in marine navigation. The goal is to make a mapping tool that combines GPS data and electronic charts for sailors. Here’s a closer look at what a chartplotter does:

  • Mapping and Navigation: A chartplotter shows detailed maps of water bodies. It displays underwater topography, coastlines, and navigational routes. It also helps mariners plot courses and navigate safely by showing potential obstacles.
  • Real-Time Positioning: A chartplotter connects with GPS to show where you are and lets you adjust your route.
  • Integration with Other Devices: New chartplotters can link up with other marine devices such as fish finders, radars, and AIS. This enhances their functionality and situational awareness.
  • Customization and User Interaction: Chartplotters have easy-to-use interfaces. Mariners can personalize navigation by modifying maps, adding points, and using displayed info.

What is a GPS?

Garmin GPS fish finder

A GPS or global positioning system is a system that uses satellites to show where you are and what time it is. The military first used GPS. Now, it’s used in transportation, agriculture, and recreation. It is widely used for navigation in cars, smartphones, and outdoor recreational devices.

What Does a GPS Do?

GPS is a system that uses satellites to give exact location and time details. The system works anywhere on Earth, as long as there is a clear view of at least four GPS satellites. Here’s a detailed overview of what a GPS does:

what does a gps do?
  • Location Tracking: GPS is used to find your exact location by using signals from different satellites.
  • Navigation and Routing: GPS systems help people find their way by giving directions, suggesting routes, and helping plan trips.
  • Speed and Direction Calculation: GPS devices give useful travel information like speed and direction.
  • Global Coverage: GPS uses satellites to give global coverage, so users can find their location anywhere.
  • Integration with Various Applications: GPS is used in various industries, such as aviation, agriculture, emergency services, and marine navigation. It works well with different devices and applications.

Comparing Chartplotter and GPS Systems – Functions

Choosing a chartplotter

A common comparison is between a chartplotter and a fish finder. Chartplotters help with navigation, while fish finders find fish using sonar technology. Some advanced units combine both functionalities, offering a versatile solution for anglers.

Primary FunctionProvides real-time location information (latitude, longitude, altitude).Takes GPS data and displays the location on a navigational map.GPS tells you you’re at 40.748817, -73.985428 (coordinates for Times Square, NY). Chartplotter shows this location on a map.
VisualizationDoes not display location on a map.Displays real-time location on a map.GPS gives coordinates; Chartplotter shows a dot on Times Square on a map.
UsageVersatile, used in various applications such as hiking, driving, aviation, etc.Specialized for marine navigation.GPS used in a car’s navigation system; Chartplotter used on a fishing boat.
Additional FeaturesBasic location data and may include speed and direction.Route planning, sonar integration, tide data, connectivity with marine equipment.GPS in a smartphone showing speed; Chartplotter on a yacht showing nearby reefs on a map.
User InteractionUsers receive raw location data.Users can interactively plan routes and mark waypoints on maps.User sees they are moving NE on a GPS watch; User plots a course around an island on a Chartplotter.
Application AreasLand, air, and sea.Predominantly sea.GPS for hiking in the mountains; Chartplotter for navigating a sailboat.

Advantages of Each System

Chartplotters are excellent for displaying detailed marine charts. They also work seamlessly with other marine equipment. They also have special features for boating and fishing. However, GPS systems are versatile, accurate, and useful for many different people.

Uses of Chartplotter and GPS

Chartplotters are essential for navigation and fishing. They have depth contours, fish finders, and tide data. GPS systems are vital for navigating unfamiliar terrain on land or water. They provide accurate positioning and route planning.

Types of Boaters using GPS and Chartplotters

From casual kayakers to professional fishermen, various boaters rely on GPS and Chartplotters. These devices are made for boaters. They have features for different types of boats and activities.

Using GPS for Tracking

GPS systems are widely used for tracking vehicles, assets, and individuals. GPS provides real-time location data. This data is valuable for fleet management, asset protection, and personal safety.

Automating Charts and Routes With GPS

GPS technology automates charts and routes, making route planning and navigation more efficient. Mariners and explorers find this feature helpful. It lowers the chance of getting lost and makes things safer.

Using GPS for Safety

GPS systems are very important for safety. Emergency services, search and rescue, and safety apps rely on them for accurate location data. The reliability of GPS technology is a lifeline for those in distress.

Chartplotter Features

Connectivity with Other Devices

Modern Chartplotters can connect with devices like sonar, radar, and autopilot systems. This integration enhances the functionality of the Chartplotter, providing a comprehensive navigational experience.

Available Charts and Mapping

Chartplotters have various charts and maps for different regions and water bodies. Users can update and personalize the charts, so the navigation data stays accurate and current.

Positioning and Antenna Technology

Advanced positioning and antenna technology in Chartplotters ensure accurate and reliable location data. This precision is vital for navigating challenging marine environments and avoiding obstacles.

User-Friendly Interfaces

Chartplotters have user-friendly interfaces that make it easy for boaters to access features and data. These interfaces are easy to use and make navigating a breeze, enhancing the user experience.

Overlaying Charts with Other Data

Chartplotters let users combine charts with weather, tide, and sonar data for easy viewing. This feature helps people make better decisions by showing them a complete view of the ocean.

GPS Features

Automation and Navigation Capabilities

GPS systems have advanced automation and navigation. They let you plan routes, set waypoints, and get real-time location data. These features are essential for navigating unfamiliar terrain and ensuring safe travel.

Waypoints and Markers

GPS systems allow users to set waypoints and markers, which helps with planning and navigation. Users can mark points of interest, hazards, and destinations, enhancing their navigational experience.

Advanced Positioning Technology

GPS systems utilize advanced positioning technology, providing accurate and reliable location data. Accurate measurements are crucial for driving and hiking to ensure safety and efficiency.

Wireless Technologies

GPS systems can connect to smartphones, tablets, and other devices using wireless technologies. The GPS system works better because of the connectivity. It can share location data, routes, and other information.

Alarms and Alerts

GPS systems have alarms and alerts that notify users of hazards, route changes, and arrival. These alerts enhance safety and ensure a smooth navigational experience.

Choosing a Chartplotter and GPS

Start with Your Needs

When choosing a Chartplotter or GPS system, start by assessing your needs. When choosing a device, think about what you will use it for, the features you need, and your budget.

Research Available Models

Once you have identified your needs, research the available models. Compare features, read reviews, and consider the reputation of the brand. This research will help you make an informed decision.

Other Considerations

When selecting a Chartplotter or GPS, think about the screen size, ease of use, connectivity, updates, and support.

Installation and Set-up

Consider the installation and set-up of the device. Ensure that the device can be easily installed on your boat or vehicle and that the set-up process is straightforward.

Cost and Maintenance

Evaluate the cost and maintenance of the device. Consider not only the initial purchase price but also the cost of updates, accessories, and potential repairs.

Troubleshooting Chartplotter and GPS

Checking Antennas and Hardware

Troubleshooting Chartplotters and GPS systems often involves checking antennas and hardware. Ensure that all components are connected correctly and functioning properly.

Testing Connectivity

Testing connectivity is crucial for troubleshooting. Verify that the device is connecting to satellites or other devices as required.

Knowing Your Chartplotter or GPS Model

Knowing the specific model of your Chartplotter or GPS system is essential for troubleshooting. Refer to the user manual and manufacturer’s website for guidance and support.

Updating Software and Firmware

Ensuring that your Chartplotter or GPS system is running the latest software and firmware is crucial. Regular updates improve the device’s performance and reliability. They also add new features and fix bugs. If you encounter issues, checking for available updates should be one of your first troubleshooting steps.

Making Sure the System is Functioning Properly

Testing and checking the system often will help you find any problems or issues early. Get to know how your device normally works, so you can quickly notice and fix any problems.

Maintenance Tips for Chartplotters and GPS

Cleaning the Unit

Regular cleaning of the unit is essential to maintain optimal functionality. Dust, dirt, and moisture can interfere with the operation of the device. Clean the screen and casing with a soft, wet cloth. Avoid using rough materials that can scratch or harm the unit.

Testing Connections and Power Cables

Regularly inspect and test all connections and power cables to ensure they are secure and functioning correctly. Loose or damaged connections can result in power loss and data transmission issues.

Updating Software

Make sure you update your Chartplotter or GPS software regularly, as we mentioned before. Regular updates will make sure your device has the newest features and runs smoothly.

Calibrating the Display

To make sure your device works right, calibrate the display. This will help the touch screen function and make the display clear and easy to read. Refer to the device’s manual for instructions on calibration.

Replacing Worn or Damaged Parts

Over time, parts of your device may wear out or become damaged. To keep your device working well for a long time, check it often and replace any broken or old parts.


Raymarine is well-known for their reliable Chartplotters and GPS systems. These systems are accurate and have innovative features. Raymarine has a solution for recreational boaters and professional mariners. It can meet your navigational needs.


Lowrance focuses on fishing electronics and provides Chartplotters and GPS units for anglers. Many fishing fans prefer Lowrance devices because they have sonar to find fish and detailed charts.


Garmin is a top company for GPS technology. They make devices for marine, automotive, aviation, and fitness. Garmin’s Chartplotters and GPS systems are famous for being precise, dependable, and user-friendly.


Simrad offers premium marine electronics with a focus on performance and innovation. Their navigation devices are designed for casual boaters and professional mariners. They have advanced features and are built to be durable.


Furuno is a Japanese company known for its high-quality marine electronics. Furuno’s Chartplotters and GPS units are reliable and durable when used on boats.

Common Chartplotter and GPS Accessories


Antennas help your Chartplotter or GPS receive signals better, making them more accurate. Choosing the right antenna can significantly improve the performance of your device.

Cables and Connectors

To make sure power and data are transmitted reliably, you need good cables and connectors. Regularly inspect and replace these components as needed to maintain optimal functionality.

Mounting Systems

You can use mounting systems to attach your Chartplotter or GPS unit to your boat or vehicle. Choose a mounting system that is sturdy, adjustable, and compatible with your device.


Transducers are vital for Chartplotters with sonar capabilities. These devices change electrical pulses to sound waves and vice versa. This helps them find objects, terrain, and fish underwater.

Chargers and Batteries

Keeping your device powered is essential. To keep your Chartplotter or GPS working, buy good chargers and batteries. Bring extras on long trips.

What is manual chart plotting?

At sea, sailors use paper charts and tools to locate their position and plan routes. This method is known as manual chart plotting. Before electronic chartplotters and GPS, sailors and mariners depended on manual chart plotting. Here’s a closer look at what manual chart plotting entails:

Tools and Equipment:

Manual chart plotting requires a set of tools, including:

  • Paper Charts: Detailed maps of specific water bodies, coastlines, and navigational features.
  • Compass: Used to determine the direction of travel.
  • Dividers and Parallel Rulers: For measuring distances and plotting courses on the chart.
  • Pencils and Erasers: For marking positions, courses, and corrections on the chart.

What is WAAS?

The Federal Aviation Administration or FAA created WAAS or Wide Area Augmentation System to make GPS more accurate, reliable, and available. WAAS allows aircraft to use GPS for the entire flight, even when landing at covered airports.

Ground stations in the west measure small signal changes from GPS satellites. The measurements are sent to master stations. The stations correct signal errors and send the corrected signals to WAAS satellites. The satellites send the corrected signals to Earth. WAAS-enabled GPS receivers use the corrections to improve accuracy.

Do I Need a Chartplotter?

Yes. A chartplotter can be a valuable asset for many boaters, enhancing navigation, safety, and overall experience on the water.


Navigating unfamiliar places is like deciphering the differences between Chartplotters and GPS systems. To make a good choice, understand the features, uses, advantages, brands, and accessories. When you’re on a boat or on land, it’s important to have the right navigation tool. It helps with safety, efficiency, and exploration.

Leave a Comment