Want to understand how the best GPS watch can help at sea? Here at Yachting World, we'll walk you through important features for determining your location.
Terminology like GPS is common in most sailor’s vocabulary. But when was the last time you thought about the magnitude of this technology at sea? Well, it’s even more incredible that the software that determines your location on Earth by receiving signals can be worn on your wrist. Although not a new bit of kit, the best GPS watch for navigating open water is essential for any shipmate.
Best GPS watch at a glance
Best GPS watch for sailors – Garmin Vivoactive 4
Best GPS watch for tracking health – Fitbit Charge 5
Best smart GPS watch – Apple Watch Series 7
How can you use a GPS watch at sea?
At the moment, GPS watch technology hasn’t overridden the need to invest in the best satellite messenger and tracker for heading off the beaten path or a marine GPS tracking device to help you accurately locate your yacht, catamaran or even a jet ski in real-time. So this begs the question, how can you use a GPS watch at sea?
For a start, each GPS watch has a small number of auto-tracking sports and a larger number of elective-tracked sports. Most often these types of watches are used for sports and fitness purposes, meaning that you can track a walk, run or jog. You can even turn this function on when you’re cleaning the deck to see how many steps you get in! If you go for a dedicated GPS watch like the Quatix 7, then you’ll get mapping on screen and tracking ability for a MOB situation.
Best marine specific smart watch
• Facia sizes: Size: 47mm / 51mm
• Display: 1.4-inch sunlight-readable color AMOLED display with touchscreen and sapphire glass
• Battery Life: Up to 16 days in smartwatch powersave mode and up to 36 hours in GPS mode.
• Health and Fitness Tracking: Advanced health monitoring, heart rate monitoring, Pulse Ox, sleep tracking, and body battery.
• Navigation: Marine features including GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo support, barometer, altimeter, and compass.
• Sports Modes: Preloaded with various sports profiles including rowing, paddleboarding, and swimming.
• Smartphone Integration: Smart notifications, Garmin Pay for contactless payments, and compatibility with both Android and iOS devices.
• Marine Features: Boat data, sail racing assistance, anchor alarm, fishing calendar, tides, and more.
• Water Resistance: Up to 100 meters.
Reasons to buy: It has a large easy-to-read face, incredible versatility for an array of lifestyle activity, health, wellbeing and boat interactivity as well as being customisable to suit individual needs. Includes a dedicated MOB button.
Reasons to avoid: The battery life isn’t as good as the Quatix 6, it has bright facia which can be distracting, and the touchscreen is pointless without the additional kit it interfaces with.
Debating on upgrading to the Garmin Quatix 7? The next-gen sailing smartwatch includes improvements to strengthen integration with onboard electronics. For instance, the touchscreen model on this watch can be used to control MFD displays, Fusion audio systems and Garmin autopilots.
But if you’re a Quatix 6 user, here are the major changes for the Quatix 7 over the Quatix 6. The main difference is the display it’s bigger and brighter and touchscreen.
If you found darkness or difficulty seeing the Quatix 6 screen, this has been addressed with a much brighter lit-up option. Whilst this might appease a large number of wearers, it can be harsh for some especially if you’re a frequent night sailor like me. The obvious compromise to this is that the battery life takes a hit if you want an always on display. To eek out the battery life, then you’ll need to switch the display to on demand motion controlled.
The Quatix 7 has integrated more functionality into the Garmin app on the phone, so it’s easier to make changes to the user functionality of various apps within the watch, rather than having to fiddle about doing them on screen as with the earlier Quatix watches.
The Quatix 7 is undoubtedly one of the best watches for sailors and boaters currently on the market. I love mine and feel undressed without it.
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Garmin Vivoactive 4
Best GPS watch for sailors
Specifications: 5ATM waterproofing | contactless payment function | battery life up to eight days
Reasons to buy: Along with an excellent health focus and a smart design for daily wear, it also features an optical pulse monitor that works underwater.
Reasons to avoid: It’s likely that you will need to charge it two or three times per week which is not ideal for long voyages. As a larger-sized watch, it may also be bulky which will catch on equipment.
The Garmin Vivoactive 4 has a range of specifications that are fantastic both in and out of the water. It has a built-in electronic compass, similar to the type you might find on a smartphone. The model also offers emergency assistance, so once you have added an emergency contact to the device, you can hold down the buttons and it will trigger a call for you.
Some of the marine activities this GPS watch can support and detect are stand-up paddleboarding, rowing and pool swimming. An added extra is that workout moves can be shown on the screen to remind you to do your daily exercises and stretch, even while you are out at sea.
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Fitbit Charge 5
Best GPS watch for tracking health
Specifications: Water-resistant up to 50m | contactless payment function | battery life of up to seven days
Reasons to buy: It has a slim device that fits easily under clothes, a smart wake alarm, and reliable auto-tracking.
Reasons to avoid: The lack of a physical button on Charge 5 can cause touchscreen fatigue. It also has limited sports modes.
The Charge series of fitness trackers is Fitbit’s flagship band-style model. The Charge 5 replaces the Charge 4 with some additional heart rate and stress monitoring functions and a slimmer body.
Without a doubt, one of the more useful functions for offshore sailing is the smart alarm, which monitors heart rate during sleeping and chooses the optimal time of the sleep cycle to buzz the alarm and wake you up.
Practical features such as ECG and EDA (electrodermal) scanning which is a method of monitoring latent stress, water-resistant up to 50m and activity tracking, make this ideal for your next adventure.
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Apple Watch Series 7
Specifications: GPS + cellular upgrade available| contactless payment function | battery life up to 18 hours
Reasons to buy: Pairing with friends who also have Apple watches, a wide array of apps available to function as your personal assistant.
Reasons to avoid: Only compatible with Apple phones, short battery life, mediocre sleep monitoring without additional apps.
For those who are into Apple technology, the Apple Watch Series 7 is an incredibly useful tool to monitor your health, wellbeing, heart rate, heart ECG and oxygen levels. But when it comes to the GPS, selecting to upgrade to the cellular model allows you to stay connected.
Please note that if you’re planning to travel abroad, it’s important to understand that there is a chance you might not be able to access the cellular function as it is regional.
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Polar Vantage M2
Best GPS watch for battery life
Specifications: Back to Start| contactless payment function | battery life of up to four to five days
Reasons to buy: A highly specified, high-end model, masses of supported sports, really good battery life.
Reasons to avoid: It has a huge watch face that might not suit some smaller wrists, not as stylish as other models of similar specifications.
Are you into racing? If the answer is yes, the Polar Vantage M2 is probably the best GPS watch for you. It’s all down to one function – the Back to Start.
Although not advisable to use in any races, the fun feature allows you to set a destination and follow the arrow for directions until you are back to the start.
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Huawei Band 4 Pro
Best budget GPS watch
Specifications: 5Atm waterproofing | battery life of up to five to seven days
Reasons to buy: It’s budget-friendly, a great starter GPS fitness tracker, and has lots of functions not seen on more expensive models.
Reasons to avoid: Not as stylish as some other models, the companion phone app can be a pain to set up.
Navigating the ocean isn’t just about understanding your coordinates, it can also be about monitoring your health and wellbeing. The Huawei Band 4 Pro brings these two worlds together thanks to the combination of the heart rate and sleep monitor with the built-in GPS. You can leave your phone at home or on the boat and you can view your GPS data on the map.
The Huawei fitness app can be a bit of a fiddle to get working, but it works okay and syncs easily with other apps too, such as Google Fit and Samsung Fitness.
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Samsung Watch 4 Classic
Recommended GPS watch
Specifications: 5ATM waterproofing | contactless payment function | battery life of up to four to five days
Reasons to buy: Looks stylish, has tactile and physical buttons, is practical in the water, and has almost every bell and whistle you could possibly want if you own a Samsung phone.
Reasons to avoid: For best use, you will need a Samsung phone, you need to be a committed fitness tracker enthusiast to invest in this.
You can navigate the Samsung Watch 4 Classic’s GPS fitness tracker by rotating the bezel to scroll through and there are an additional two physical buttons too. These are useful if you intend to go in the water.
Touch screens aren’t too clever when they’re wet, so the presence of physical buttons indicates watery intentions for this device. It supports a wide array of sporting activities which includes kayaking, indoor rowing and swimming.
Samsung have created several variants of this watch but all are able to work with a wide array of apps, including Strava and other fitness or productivity apps.
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