Welcome to the Panbo Marine Technology Forums.

Best small, maybe p...
Clear all

Best small, maybe portable, GPS/plotter for sailboat helm?

5 Posts
5 Users
Ben Ellison
Estimable Member Admin
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 173
Topic starter  

Hi all, these questions come from Doug Day, who inadvertently posted them as comments to a Panbo feature that's not really about GPS chart plotters. Let's please try to help him out:

Dear Panbo Forum,
Having lost my relatively dependable Garmin due to antenna failure and encountering, even from Garmin directly, the realization that 12 years is a really long time in GPS land, I’m interested in what you think is good for my S&S sloop, VALENCIA, 1958. I single-hand a lot, must have the GPS at the helm, best if it is not vulnerable to salt and spray, etc. But I’m open to the device being able to be taken aboard another boat. Something more dependable than a cell tower based system, but perhaps more versatile and portable than just a new hard-wired system on the boat. Thanks.

Dear Panbo Forum (Part II)
While I’m at it, let me raise the bigger question I have as most of my systems are falling apart at the same time. (Auto pilot needs new seal, refrigeration I tore out, all new batteries need a dependable meter to tell me where I am and if the bilge pumps are hard-wired incorrectly, etc. etc.
I’m about to Start Over with the rat’s nest that is my electrical panel, remove dead and redundant systems and clean it up so I have a fighting chance. I look at the article with envy that shows how satisfying it is to put a new, modern system of coordinated digital brains in a new console, but realize that on my meager budget that’s not going to happen; so, what I want to know is: faced with needing a new GPS system immediately and my willingness to redo the Rat’s Nest of an electrical panel, what do I put in there instead? Or, should I simply use the dependable old panel and remove dead or redundant stuff? Thanks. 1958 Olin Stephens sloop, VALENCIA.

Ben Stein
Estimable Member Admin
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 157


You mention the notion of a limited budget but I'm not sure what you have in mind.  I am a big fan of what Raymarine is producing for $850 with the Axiom 7".  This is a full featured MFD with a 7" display, WiFi, Bluetooth, built-in GPS, NMEA-2000, Ethernet, etc.  For another $50 you can buy it with Navionics Nav+ cartography bundled in.  It's not especially portable, though on a trunion mount it wouldn't take much to remove it if that's what you wanted.   

Another direction (and a little cheaper) would be something like a Garmin EchoMap Plus 74cv.  This is a non-touch screen unit with a transom mount transducer included (not really the right transducer for your boat...) It's a little cheaper at about $700 with BlueCharts included and you have the option to go down to a 6" unit for about $450.  

As for the panel, I'm not sure we have enough information to really make an informed reccomendation but I would say this... It's always good to clean up the unused and simplify what's there so it's servicable and easily diagnosed in the event of a failure.  If this hasn't been done in the 60 years your boat has been around I bet there's a lot to be tackled.  Also, (and realizing I don't know your boat too well) most 60-year-old boats were built with very different expectations of the size and complexity of the electrical system than today's.  Many older boats have sub-panels and random fuses burried everywhere.  If you've got that going on getting everything cleaned up nicely can yield big plusses and in many cases clean up issues like voltage drop from the iterative fixes made over the years.  



Steve Mitchell
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 108

I personally like the B&G Vulcan 5 - I have one that I bought to be portable-ish and usable on a dinghy or other small boat. They were on sale at the time for $450 or something super low, and come with a normal mount plus a pole mount, which is great for temporary mounting. 

It is super small, doesn't take a lot of power, but still has many of the features of the bigger Vulcan line, and has a nice bright screen. 

I stuck a 12V outlet plug on the power end so I can plug it in pretty much anywhere around the boat, on the dinghy, etc. and I tied up the included NMEA 2000 cable since I don't use it while in standalone mode.

It looks like they might not sell it or even make it anymore, even though it is only a year or two old, but I bet you could find some used ones on eBay. 


Martin T
New Member
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 2

I agree with above comments regarding a B&G Vulcan 5/7 or an Axiom 7. Great affordable small GPS:es with a lot of great functions in a compact format, and also with possibility to use any maps from C-MAP, Navionics and more (cheaper to find good prices on map upgrades in the future.

Besides on campaign from time to time if one looks around, they also have some bundles with included maps for not much more than base unit.

Dan Corcoran
Trusted Member
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 48

It depends if your helm is covered or not. If not covered go for a larger display the tiny text on even a 7" display is very hard to read with rain beading on the display.  

Also be sure to get a MFD with hybrid controls, e.g. wheel or other control in addition to touch screen. In a bouncing sailboat it can be hard to touch the screen where you intended in stormy weather.

Tim Quigley reacted