Your GPS Unit doesn't always have to be the neat toy you show off but don't know how to use. These pointers will help you move from a show-off to a know-it-all:
1. Mark your car/boat ramp! As soon as you leave your vehicle or as soon as your vehicle hits water, mark and name the spot. Even if you know where it is in your head, things sure look a lot different when the sun starts to set, and it gets dark, or fog rolls in.
2. Always have a hand held unit in addition to the one installed on your boat, and know how to use at least one of them confidently. Keep your hand-held unit attached to someone or something so it doesn't fly off the boat while traveling. Make sure it is a unit that floats and is water resistant, if not waterproof. Also, make sure you remember to calibrate the compass and that the unit has all the correct settings turned on for a day on the water.
3. Always bring enough spare batteries for your hand-held unit, and don't store them all in one place. It hurts when, at the worst possible time, you remember you left the entire 8-pack in the console, back in the truck.
4. Always bring maps and a compass in addition to your GPS units. Mark your location on the map along the way, even if both GPS units are working. Plan as if Murphy's Law always applies to you.
5. Stop using the "Man Overboard" feature as a quick way to mark a spot! You'll never remember what all those marks were for by the time you get off the water. Learn the correct way to use both of your GPS units.
6. Don't look too long at your GPS while driving the boat. Rocks and holes have a life of their own and seemingly relocate right under your boat when you are not watching. Be safe so you and everyone around you goes home in one piece.
7. Trust your GPS first! Sometimes, it seems as though the GPS just can't be right. You know you came from X direction, right? Many "green" GPS users have a hard time with this until they've done enough circles. It'll come after a while.
8. Wash the dirt, sand and saltwater off both units when you return home. Then, dry them with a soft cloth to keep corrosion away. If you're not going to use your hand-held unit for a couple of weeks or months, remove the batteries. Remember, your GPS unit will save your life one day. It deserves proper care and attention.
9. When buying a GPS, register the unit with the manufacturer. You know how you are with equipment and toys. Most GPS manufacturers provide software updates on their web site for registered owners. These updates usually contain things users wish the units did or had, so the manufacturer adds these functions for free. Those comments and suggestions you send to the company really do work! Also, registering your unit starts the warranty period, so if the unit dies suddenly within the sale or warranty period (and it wasn't something you did to it), you can get a new unit for the cost of shipping, or sometimes for nothing. So save the box it came in until the warranty period closes so you have it in case you have to send it back.
10. Finally, read the darn manual!!! Don't read the whole thing in one sitting and then think it will be easy to remember. You know better. Take it one chapter at a time.
Many GPS Marine mounted and hand-held units usually have a very similar control panel if they are from the same manufacturer. To help you learn how to use your mounted GPS, learn how to use a marine hand-held unit on land first. When fishing is slow, pick up some survey flags, go to the local park and plant the flags in the space of an acre.
Then use this practice area to learn not only how to plot the flags as points but how to use the flags to learn how to set up a route.
This will make the boat version of your GPS much easier to understand when fishing picks up again.
Remember, a GPS unit can be an expensive toy but it can save your life on the water. Be smart and treat your unit and yourself with respect.
Plan safety measures as if you are already in trouble. Taking the attitude that "No, that won't happen to me" is what gets friends lost, or worse, gone for good. Please don't be the "big one" all your fishing buddies have lost. Be safe. Happy Fishing.