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Marine navigation is not an easy task for commercial vehicles or fishing boats.

One needs to have the expertise and knowledge of navigation in all types of water bodies.

To help fishermen and ship captains and crew, one can find several navigation tools and equipment.

These tools are often digital in nature and mostly infallible.

Today’s crews depend on these tools for knowing the position of the vessel, to know the speed and direction and also to know about underwater hazards and obstructions which can be dangerous for ships and boats.

Two of the most important types of equipment which is usually used interchangeably are GPS and Chartplotter.

Both devices have their own pros and cons, so let us dive in and take a closer look at GPS vs Chartplotter.


Chartplotters are electronic navigation tools which show a craft’s exact position through charts and maps.

They are really helpful in knowing what is below the water level and what exact location the craft is at. A Chartplotter uses GPS in order to show the ship’s location, without GPS, a Chartplotter won’t work by itself.

It will show the speed of the vessel, the time it will take to reach the destination and what is the distance between the destination and the vessel. All these data points are given in real time, so as to keep the data relative to the changing surroundings.

Chartplotters are really helpful in assisting one to avoid hazards like reef and shallow rocks.

All this data can be stored and one can also preload routes before starting out on any voyage. The routes can be edited at any time and represent the charting on a screen through visual representation.

Chartplotters also show the waypoints in the numbered form and the boat’s position is shown with respect to those numbered points.

Functions of Chartplotters

  1. Navigation: this is the main functions of this navigation equipment as one can enter the destination in the form of coordinates. Chartplotter using these coordinates can give speed, bearing and heading details of the boat. The speed provides the estimated time it would take to reach the destination; the heading tells the current direction of the vessel, and the bearing tells which direction one needs to follow to reach the destination.
  2. Routes: Chartplotter also can give the exact route details one need to follow to reach the destination in time. The route is given in the form of the waypoint to waypoint directions.
  3. Tracks: this equipment collects information along the entire route and stores them so that one follows the same route and track on the return journey. The recording function is useful in tumultuous waters with a lot of obstructions as one can follow the same track to avoid those obstructions.

Charts used in Chartplotter

Without a chart, there is no meaning to a Chartplotter. The charts represented are analogous to the paper maps. There are two types of charts involved, they are:

  1. Raster charts: these are an electronic version of paper charts, and they come with detailed information and take up a lot of memory.
  2. Vector charts: these charts are basically a mathematical representation of all the elements, and they give a layered view of the objects present.

Benefits of using a Chartplotter

  1. Chartplotters are great to record one’s route for future help. So the chances of getting lost are reduced to the minimum.
  2. Chartplotters are also great for knowing about the obstructions and anything which may be difficult for the vessel to know about without using this device.


A global positioning system (GPS) is a tool that is used extensively for navigation and routing.

GPS today is used in marine navigations for finding the best routes and measure speed of the vessel. GPS is also used for marine operations like search and rescue, fishing and voyaging etc.

The geopositioning by GPS is done by satellites and receivers. Receivers of GPS system calculates its distance from at least three satellites orbiting the earth, it shows the exact location by trilateration. This is how the ships and fishing boats get to know of their exact location.

Functions of GPS

  1. Location: GPS helps the officers and fishermen in finding out the exact location of the vessel and boats in open waters as wells as in ports and harbors. The exact location of the ship helps in determining the speed with which the vessel is moving and how long it will take to reach the destination. The exact location of ships helps in maneuvering through crowded ports which can lead to accidents.
  2. Underwater survey: this application of GPS is used by the oceanographers to survey the underwater activities. The GPS data helps in placing the buoy and mapping the waypoints of the buoys. It also helps in locating the underwater hazards which can pose a danger to the ships and boats.
  3. Fishing: GPS have a huge impact on the fishing scene as it has made finding and locating fishes easy. Almost every other commercial fishing fleet makes use of GPS to find the densely populated locations of the fishes and also keep track of fish movements and migrations during different seasons.
  4. Maritime management: Chartplotter is helpful in managing the largest ports around the world, where GPS technology helps in operating the container logistics. They help in transferring and placing the containers all the while keeping a track record from the entry to the exit from the port. This has reduced the number of misplaced, lost and misdirected containers which has substantially reduced the operating costs.

Types of GPS devices

There are basically two types of devices which are used for positioning:

  • Handheld devices: there are two things that make them highly effective, firstly they are accurate and secondly, they are really cheap. Being handheld, it is easy to carry around and take with wherever one is going. When used on a ship or a boat they come with a mounting bracket so that it gets easier to use when the vessel hits the rough water. One of the drawbacks of a handheld device is that they are small in size and due to this the controls are really small and can be difficult to use at times.
  • Computer connected GPS: GPS navigation system when connected to a computer, becomes highly useful as computers are more efficient and faster than other devices. Computers can be connected to anything like sensors, chart plotters, and GPS marine navigation system which makes them cost and time efficient. The biggest advantage of using the computer for GPS navigation is that one can plan and navigate at the same time using several software and programs. The computer connected GPS can also be used to create a 3D display, which makes navigation easy and safe. The computers are always kept below deck because it does not easily see the screens in bright light also other than just computers, today, laptops are also used for connecting GPS.

Benefits of GPS

  • GPS systems are precise when it comes to their positioning capabilities, which helps the boaters and fishers navigate through the confusing routes without any difficulty.
  • GPS systems are fast and accurate when it comes to giving the positions, speed, and bearing of the vessel. This makes the navigation time cost efficient as one can choose the right route to reach the destination.
  • Helps in buoy positioning, sweeping and dredging operations.
  • GPS is highly effective in port management and maintaining the logistics of the containers.
  • Helps in the overall safety of the vessels.

Comparing GPS and Chartplotter

Straight of the bat we should tell you that Chartplotters contain GPS units.  The main difference is that Chartplotters present GPS data in a an easy to understand visual manner (think google maps), while GPS data by itself is just latitude and longitude.

A GPS is a big system which is composed of satellites of the earth, which is transmitting positional locations to the receiver which helps in calculating the exact location using the satellite positions, whereas Chartplotters are just a simple system which shows maps and plot objects on that map.

A GPS is all about the exact location one is in using latitudes and longitudes as its parameter and it cannot plot the location of the object on a map, this work is done by the chart plotter which plots it on the map and stores it in the memory. Chartplotters are now advanced enough to not just tell the location, but also tell the distance between two places and also the easiest route between them.

GPS only devices are only used by the expert navigators who have expertise and knowledge about reading longitudes and latitudes and using them can know their exact location. However, Chartplotters can be used by even those who have less or no knowledge of navigation. The Chartplotter is embedded with the GPS systems and then the location is plotted on a regular map which is easy to read by anybody.

GPS embedded Chartplotters are used by big vessels and ships to have an eagle view of the entire surroundings and can also tell where one will be after some time.

In short, GPS is to know the exact location of the ship or vessel, whereas the Chartplotters is a necessity for knowing the location on the map so as to make the navigation easy.