Monday, August 4, 2014

Garmin, Kayakers would like this feature, please.

On both the Inside Passage and the AGAP trip I used a Garmin GPS. In fact I used the same Garmin GPS, A Dakota 20. I am a big fan of GPS - despite the fact that I teach map and compass classes, I think they are two tools that work great together. Most of the time I use GPS as a check for map and compass work. But before I explain what features I don't see from Garmin, Let me explain how I use a GPS.

I don't leave it on all the time. I know Geckopaddler does, and he creates great maps of all his paddles, but for me I would rather do that on paper. I guess I am old school in that way. Ages ago I pined for Garmin to make a simple tracking device. waterproof, two buttons. Long battery life. Mount it on your boat, bike, or pack, turn it on, activate it, and with no other interaction tracks your movements in three dimensions. When you get home, download it onto your computer and do with it whatever you want. It has no screen and no interaction other than that it is on and tracking. I imagine it looking something like a spot connect only smaller. A lot of people want to know the data from their run/ride/paddle, but that just isn't me. If I really wanted to do that, I could do it with a Garmin Fenix.

I also don't generally load maps on my GPS. Repeat after me, you don't need to load maps on your GPS for it to be functional. All I need a GPS to tell me is my distance to a known location, and the direction to that location. If I know the distance and direction to where my car is parked, I know where I am. There are two times I have loaded maps on my GPS, when I was using it as a bike computer for my commute to work, I wanted roads on my basemap. When I did the Inside passage I loaded topo maps onto my Dakota. Let me just say they won't replace my charts and topo maps - though I do see digital taking over for this. It is only a matter of time until my iPad or something like it is inside my chart case. I do like the idea of having access to satellite images on my handheld, but honestly, I want them to be live, as in, I want to see the top of my own head in real time - or close to it. But that is a discussion for another time.

So if I don't have my GPS on all the time, and I don't want maps installed, what is it I want? I want my GPS to be able to tell me the distance to two different way points at the same time. Here is why. The one time I leave my GPS on all the time is when I am doing an open water crossing. Here is a quick story. A handful of years ago I was paddling the South and North Core banks - Off the coast of North Carolina with a friend. We were in the position of having to make a final crossing - about 2 miles - to get back to the mainland and our car at the put-in. Unfortunately we got stuck at a tiny pile of mud - some would call it an island - before being able to make our crossing. We were stuck there by a series of squalls moving through the area. We waited out through one of them, and then realized we had a break long enough to make it across. My friend had a waypoint where the car was, and he told his GPSmap 60 csx to "goto" that waypoint. I made a waypoint where we were, and told my old etrex legend to "goto" that waypoint, even though it was right where we were. Here is why. As we paddled across the channel my friends way point would tell us how far we had to go, and mine would tell us how far we had come. So at any given moment we knew which way offered safety closer. I want to be able to do this same GPS trick with one GPS unit. It could be as simple as on the trip computer screen, a Distance to field, and a Distance from field.

The other benefit of using this trick is that your compass bearing information gives you important knowledge about the path you are paddling. If you are paddling towards a point your bearing should stay the same (a heading is where your facing, a bearing is where you want to go) But if your bearing is changing that is because your kayak is being pushed left or right, while you are paddling forward. This is very hard to determine without a navigational aid - it can be done, but you need to be super aware, and paying attention to landmarks, and in an open water crossing with large waves, limited visibility, and a high level of stress, it is almost impossible.

So Garmin, it would be great if you could help us out with this. A simple add to the features of your GPS's.


  1. You want a Trackstick simple GPS tracking device for upload....
    you can find them all over eBay easily that say "used once" by some guy tracking his wife's car......
    perfect to just see where you have been and time etc back at home without the bells and whistles of a full GPS

  2. thanks Rob, I will look into this.