Can a Car GPS be Used on a Boat?

Many people frequently use their car GPS for navigation purposes, making it really easy to travel long distances without being familiar with the terrain.

Similarly, people are curious about whether it’s possible to use their GPS on a boat, which is an entirely different story.

The short answer is that it’s possible but not detailed enough to provide relevant maritime navigational information.

Let’s explore this in more detail.

Can You Use Your Car GPS on a Boat

It is certainly possible to use a car GPS while traveling on a boat, but the information is quite limited since it doesn’t factor in underwater hazards and traffic separation schemes, which are quite important.

When talking about a car GPS, I am not referring to the use of Google maps in our phones but the actual Sat-Nav system that is pre-installed in your car.

This is what most people are curious to find out, and there are some similarities between a car’s Sat-Nav and the maritime electronic navigation systems that most boats employ, including Chart Plotters and ECDIS.

The main technology used is the GPS system, which reveals your location to the nearest 10 meters or so, and feeds that into the navigation system you are using.

Cars typically use that location data from the GPS and feed it into an electronic map with roads and addresses to guide you to your destination.

Older GPS systems provide you with your location data, which must then be manually plotted on a map to have an idea of where to go next.

If you use it in this particular way, your car GPS can certainly help you navigate waters towards a specific location that you can find on a map.

GPS Systems Used in Boats

The two main types of GPS systems employed in boats are the regular and integrated GPS, which serve different purposes.

The regular GPS gives you your positional data, which can tell you where you’re going and at what speed you’re traveling.

It is an older system that isn’t very useful and therefore used in older vessels that have not yet been modernized.

In today’s age, it is actually a hindrance since you need to further interpret the data you get to achieve navigational clarity by plotting on a map.

Integrated GPS systems are the modern approach to navigation and use the same technology as a regular GPS aside from the fact that it is significantly upgraded.

The upgraded version automatically plots the positional data on an electronic chart, giving accurate and precise information on where to go.

As mentioned before, some of the integrated GPS systems typically used in modern vessels include Chart Plotters, which can be effectively used from your mobile app.

Differences Between The GPS Systems in Cars And Boats

Since GPS systems pinpoint your location and give you information about your surroundings, they are effectively used in both cars and boats.

Satellites are used to reveal your position, which is received by ground stations that feed the data to receivers, which is the same for cars and boats.

However, the key difference in the GPS system for cars and boats is the display option, which is how the information is portrayed to the user.

The GPS system in cars allows you to see your car’s position on a road or street and displays other obstructions in the way, which can be navigated around.

This is shown digitally on a screen, making it clear which route to take once you’ve put in a specific address or location you need to get to.

In boats, the vessel is shown on a digital nautical chart, which pinpoints the exact location of the boat and the many obstructions along the way.

Since it is specific to movement in waters, the obstacles are things like navigational hazards and water depths so that it’s easier for you to journey across difficult waters.

If boat GPS systems were inefficient at displaying maritime obstacles, it would be useless because you wouldn’t be able to rely on your screen for movement.

Ways to Use Your Car GPS on a Boat

Using your car GPS in a boat is quite restricted because you will simply appear on a vast expanse of water without any details of obstacles in your path.

However, you can use the positional data to determine your exact location and use the menu setting to find options for the latitude and longitude coordinates, which will display your location based on how north, south, east, or west you are.

By manually plotting your latitude and longitude coordinates on a nautical chart, you can easily find out which direction you need to go.

It’s not a difficult process because all nautical charts display the latitude and longitude coordinates on the edges, making it simple to plot your position on the chart and figure out where you need to go from there.

By referring to the map, you can locate any obstacles along the way that will allow you to navigate through treacherous waters effectively without colliding with foreign objects.

You can also track your speed in this way by plotting a second position on the chart and comparing the distance between the two points.

For example, if you’ve traveled 50 kilometers north in one hour, your speed will be 50 kilometers per hour.

By doing this several times at different intervals, you can also find your average speed, which is how navigation was carried out a few decades ago.

Are There Any GPS Systems That Are Compatible With Cars And Boats?

The most commonly used GPS system in today’s world is within our cell phones, which you can use effectively on cars and boats.

You can use Google maps on your phone to get accurate information about roads, streets, and avenues in your location, allowing you to easily get to your destination while navigating obstacles along the way.

You can access maps explicitly designed for traversing across waters by downloading the nautical charting app on your phone.

There are many chart plotting apps available to be downloaded for free from app stores, making it easy for you to prepare for your next boating journey.

A really good option to opt for is Navionics, which gives you all the information you need to reach your destination smoothly.

The Benefits of Using GPS Systems

GPS systems have been of paramount importance to our civilization because they’ve made it very simple and easy to navigate our world.

You no longer need to rely on complicated maps to reach your destinations and can even find information on changing conditions involving traffic, construction work, and other obstructions along the way.

GPS systems can be used on land and water, making it exceptionally easy for people to reach new locations and explore new territories.

Marine-based GPS systems can be used when taking a leisurely boat ride or traversing treacherous waters for fishing, making it an invaluable technology for marine enthusiasts.

You can expect to find many kinds of marine-based GPS systems with levels of detail that cater to an individual’s needs.

From basic GPS units to apps designed exclusively for experts, you can expect to meet all of your navigation needs.

Car GPS systems aren’t compatible with boats because they are not waterproof and may get damaged in the moist and salty ocean air.

Marine-based GPS units are durable, waterproof, and very detailed, allowing people to navigate using many variables and data based on their individual needs.

You can expect to download all kinds of water maps that deal with water depth and topography, making them highly useful for fishermen and avid boaters.

Car-based GPS systems have pre-programmed map data that you can use to traverse difficult plains and get information on all kinds of obstacles on your path, making them exceptional for use by travelers and explorers.

Although many types of GPS systems can be used on land and in water, none of them are car-specific units.

This is normal because car manufacturers design GPS systems to be relevant to the user’s needs, typically involving outdoor excursions, traveling, and pedestrian use.

Marine-specific GPS systems offer navigational tools that help people access information relating to aquatic obstacles, which means they’re tailored specifically for use by boaters.

Although you can use a car’s GPS unit in water if you’re trapped in a sticky situation, you should find the relevant navigational guide for your particular needs.

There is some carryover between both types of GPS units due to the similar technology, but at the end of the day, they are both designed for a specific purpose and should be used for that.

Final Verdict

Car GPS systems can certainly be used on a boat and provide positional data to help you reach your destination, but they are limited because they do not have relevant marine information that could be useful to boaters.

If you’re carrying a nautical chart with you and your marine-based GPS unit isn’t working, you can use your positional data to find your location on a map and determine where you need to go by identifying important markers along the way.

However, it is recommended that you stick to the most relevant GPS units for your particular purpose to make your journeys easier and hassle-free.