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Garmin Handheld GPS Review

November 24, 2019 4 min read

Garmin Handheld GPS Review

It’s been a while since we have taken a close look at the garmin hand held GPS options and there are some great new features that make them more than just a GPS. We usually like them for our ditch bags and also for backup GPS on sportfish and center console boats as well as our skiffs.  With some of the new features they can be used for a lot more than just a backup. The tricky part with choosing Garmin handhelds is that there are a lot of different part numbers and model options. For simplicity We have only included units that have IPX7 waterproof rating and float. They also have built in coastal Bluecharts. With the exception of the 276xc. It does not float and charts are not pre loaded but we felt it was worth including just because it has a 5” screen size and the ability to add Bluecharts. You can click on the links for all of the details but we figured it was easiest just to focus on the key features of each and why we like them.


Garmin GPSMAP 86sc Handheld GPS w-BlueChart g3 Coastal Mapping $449.99

Key Features And (Our Opinion):

  • Preloaded BlueChart g3 coastal charts include the best of Garmin and Navionics® data (These are the best charts Garmin offers that are also on their larger units. This makes them ideal for a backup or even as a stand alone unit because you get the same accuracy)
  • Functions as a remote control for convenient operation of your Garmin Autopilot and select FUSION® marine products (This is a complete game changer in our opinion. This allows control of your Fusion stereo from the cockpit of your sportfish or your center console and also at the sandbar. Auto pilot controls mean you can integrate it with your existing dash set up and electronics package. It’s no longer just a backup GPS!)
  • Stream boat data from compatible chartplotters and instruments to consolidate your marine system information (Just another reason to incorporate it into your existing electronics package on your boat)
  • Sync GPSMAP 86sc with the Garmin Explore™ website for cloud management of your favorite waypoints, tracks and routes. (This means if you lose your machine all of those waypoints and favorite spots are saved. Also a game changer for us. I mean, not that you would share all of your spots with someone, but you could.)
  • Pair with your compatible smartphone to receive smart notifications. (Not sure that this is especially important but if your phone is put away out of the weather at least you can see your notifications.)


Garmin GPSMAP 86sci Handheld w-inReach BlueChart g3 Coastal Charts $649.99

Same unit and features of the 86sc but with the added feature of Garmin Inreach two way text satellite communication. If you spend any time out of cell phone range this is a must have safety feature. Plus you can easily communicate with other Inreach users when out of cell phone range. This option also provides satellite weather and allows you to share your location which is a great feature. If you’re not familiar you can read more about the features and details of Inreach Here.

Garmin GPSMAP 78sc Handheld GPS $335.99

Key Features And (Our Opinion):

  • Affordability (For a cheaper unit or just a an emergency backup it’s not a bad option. Screen size is similar to the 86 series)
  • Built-in BlueChart® g2 coastal charts and a worldwide basemap with imagery (Built in coastal charts with navigation but very important to note that these are not the same charts as the new G3 that the 86 series has.
  • Up to 20 hours of battery life; battery type: 2AA (not included) NiMH or
    lithium recommended (There’s two ways of looking at this. With AA batteries it’s easy to carry extras for unlimited battery life but we like the convenience of the rechargeable lithium battery in the 86 series) 
  • It floats and is IPX7 rated (Good feature for durability)


*Garmin’s comparison of units discussed above


Garmin GPSMAP 276Cx All Terrain GPS Navigator $671.99

This is a unit to consider if you want a larger screen but still a rechargeable built in battery. Also, a lot of us do a lot more outdoors than just being on the water.  Some of the features included in this unit that work in other applications help make you feel like spending the money is a little more worthwhile. The bigger screen is good for side by sides, trucks, and travel in general. Its also a big enough screen to be a stand alone unit on a small boat. 

Key Features And (Our Opinion):


  • Supports Garmin TOPO maps, Garmin HuntView™ maps, BlueChart® g2 HD marine charts and more (While this is a great feature and maybe good for the hunters out there it’s important to note that these are only the G2 charts and not the G3 charts on the 86 series and bigger units)
  • Pairs with your compatible smartphone_ for automatic uploads, smart notifications and more (Added convenience but not really a necessity)
  • Large 5” screen (This is the best feature in our opinion. A little disjointed that the 86 series units don’t have a bigger screen.)
  • Features in-unit charging with an included lithium-ion battery pack and even has the ability to use standard AA batteries. (Like the 86 series, we like this option. Also helps justify its as a standalone unit.)
  • Supports Garmin active weather feature (Shows weather overlay but the downside it requires a Bluetooth or WiFi connection)
  • Satellite Imagery (HD imagery is definitely a good feature for zooming in on those spots that you may be navigating where the charts doesn’t give you the most detailed view)

 In summary, our favorite unit is obviously the fully loaded 86sci with all of the latest technology. We love the ability to pair with the rest of your marine and stereo system and have weather reports and messaging capabilities while traveling offshore, out island or off the grid on land adventures. Pairing with an iPhone or iPad expands it’s displaycapabilities and make the small screen not so bad. It doesn’t feel so bad spending the money when it has so many other capabilities. For added safety onboard and a ditch bag it’s really nice to be able to message someone right away instead of just having an EPIRB or PLB.

 Information and images from Garmin

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