The first Garmin portable GPS navigator to become a popular piece of marine electronics aboard boats was the Garmin 48. State of the art in its day, this unit was primitive by today’s marine GPS handheld standards.
It simply supplied latitude and longitude plus calculated speeds, course to steer, and estimated times of arrival. It was not always very accurate either with only basic GPS reception that was subject to the vagaries of Selective Availability.
Thankfully today, with SA turned off and the addition of WAAS receive capability—all the Garmin portable GPS units we’ve tested have high levels of position accuracy.
The original non-mapping Garmin 60 was waterproof and featured a WAAS-enabled GPS receiver. It could store up to 500 waypoints and 50 routes. Data was displayed on a 4-level gray scale LCD screen.
A later release featured mapping capability. The Garmin 60CS added a color screen, storage for 1000 waypoints, and 56MB of internal memory. This unit displays information on a 256-color TFT screen. It also featured a built-in barometric altimeter and an electronic compass.
The latest incarnation of this series is the Garmin 60CSx. It adds a microSD card slot and a high-sensitivity receiver.
This new series consists of five models from the most basic to a camera, sensor, and map equipped portable. The top unit in this series for the mariner is the Garmin 62s, which comes standard with a base map but needs additional cartography to excel as a marine navigator.
The Garmin 72 was the first in this marine-friendly series of handheld GPS units. The latest version of this unit is the Garmin 72H featuring a high-sensitivity receiver.
An upgraded follow-on was the Garmin 76. It featured mapping capability with 8 MB of internal storage. This unit was also waterproof, stored up to 1000 waypoints, and used a 4-level gray scale display screen.
The Garmin 76Cx followed with a high-sensitivity receiver, microSD card slot, and a color display screen. The most sophisticated unit in this series is the Garmin 76CSx. This one adds a barometric altimeter and an electronic compass.
The New 78-series
Garmin has just released the new 78-series handheld GPS lineup. The basic Garmin 78 features a shaded-relief base map, high-sensitivity GPS sensor, and microSD™ card slot for additional storage capacity. Next up is the 78s, this one adds an internal electronic compass and barometric altimeter. The flagship model is the Garmin 78sc. In addition to all the previously mentioned features it adds preloaded U.S. coastal cartography.
Garmin eTrex Series
The lightest and most compact handhelds in the Garmin portable GPS lineup are the eTrex series. The least expensive base model is the Garmin eTrex. It uses a 4-level gray scale display and can store up to 500 waypoints. The eTrex H adds a high-sensitivity receiver.
An upgrade to the Garmin eTrex Legend H gets you a higher resolution screen, storage for up to 1000 waypoints, and 24MB of internal storage for charts.
The most advanced unit in this line is the Garmin eTrex Vista HCx. It features a high-resoution color screen, microSD card slot, barometric altimeter, and an electronic compass. Garmin also markets the eTrex Summit and eTrex Venture.
Two recent additions to the eTrex lineup include the Garmin eTrex 20 which fits the current array of eTrex units as a mid-level unit. Notching up one level you will find the more sophisticated Garmin eTrex 30.
Colorado and Oregon Series
The newest units in the Garmin portable GPS lineup are the Colorado and Oregon series. You’ll find the biggest screens ever in these units and all the latest features including high-sensitivity GPS sensors, wireless data transfer, and preloaded charts.
The Garmin Colorado 400c features preloaded Bluechart cartography, a pair of soft keys, and the Rock ‘n Roller™ controller.
The touchscreen operated Garmin Oregon 400c has a clean button-free look, easy operation, and preloaded Bluechart cartography.
Newer Oregon series units are bred for the trail but when you add a microSD™ card with BlueChart cartography even the Garmin Oregon 450 becomes a powerful marine navigator.
At the top of the Oregon lineup sits the digital camera equipped Garmin Oregon 550.
The majority of Garmin’s handheld GPS units can be loaded with optional chart and tide data. You can see our review of the Garmin MapSource CD here to see how this works.