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GPS for kayakers


A rough guide to GPS, if all you want to know is: 

– where you are

– where you have been

– where you may wish to go next

– what speed you are doing

– be compatible with PC software      ....sorry Macs

Kayakers use them for different things

Many just leave them on during a paddle and then download the track so you have a log of the trip.  This can be particularly useful in understanding how the actual trip went compared to your trip plan!

Some just use them as a speedometer during a trip.  As well as showing speed/direction etc. they are useful for judging just how much wind & the tide are affecting you. 

Adding places of interest (waypoints) during a trip so you can find that great lunch spot again. 

On longer crossings - you can plan your route on the PC first and upload to the GPS.  Then you can see if you are on track.  NB: This works better if you have a mapping GPS. 

Some have maps in them.  There are GPS's that will tell you the arrival time at your final destination. Others will just tell you how long it will take to get to the next waypoint.  You can have 500+ waypoints. You can enter the waypoints from a map, though using a PC is quicker, and let it point the way to each waypoint. 

If a journey is over several routes I simply link them together and remove them at the end of each day. Sounds complicated but is very easy, especially with Memory Map software, which is recommended.  Use it to actually to plot your route as you go.  Mark new waypoints as you travel and then load the journey back into a computer to print out later. 

GPS basics

It is not a compass!  It must 'see' at least three satellites to work.  This means it will not work well or at all in woodland and can get confused in amongst buildings.  In simple terms it knows where you are now providing it has clear line of sight to the satellites!

It will not work indoors, unless you are by a window.  It will also not work in some cars as they have a metallised windscreen, blocking the signals.

It will tell you the Longitude/Latitude or Grid Ref of where you are to 5 digits!  Normal OS are just given as 3 digit accuracy e.g. 987355 for Eastings and Northings.  A GPS will tell you you are at 98722 35565. This is vital to know when entering in waypoints.

Remember, if you stop it will tell you where North was when you were moving last. If you move it slightly it will change the heading details.

Not all have electronic compasses so if you want to work out which way is North then walk or paddle a few steps to trigger an update.

They rely on batteries!  Carry a spare set at all times and keep them handy. 

Despite manufacturers claims, few GPSs are waterproof and rarely do they float.  A plastic case can help protect it but beware in sunny weather where condensation turns to vapour and is forced past the seals. 

It is an additional tool to support traditional map and chart work and not a replacement.  Do not rely on it, make sure you know how to read a map/chart first