GPS Navigation

A GPS can tell you where you are

"...your GPS can tell you where you are, where you want to be, where you don't want to be, and where you've been."

GPS navigation has revolutionized the art of getting from point A to point B. Whether you travel by car, by boat, or on foot, a good GPS is a BIG help. That said, even if you use a GPS, you should still have back-up navigation skills. GPSs aren't always reliable. Yours could fail you just when you need it most, so be able to navigate without it.

Plus, there's a learning curve involved when it comes to using a GPS. You'll need to put in some time, but if you're fairly computer savvy, that learning curve isn't so steep.

GPS Basics

A GPS is nothing more than a radio receiver and a computer combined. Actually, the proper name for the instrument you use to navigate with is a "Global Positioning System receiver."

The receiver picks up radio signals from the Global Positioning System constellation of 24 satellites constantly orbiting the earth. The receiver then simultaneously uses signals from 3 or 4 of these satellites to triangulate your position on earth. Further, the GPS receiver can track the direction and speed of your movement. The GPS's computer part takes the raw data and lets you do all sorts of useful things with it. Among other things, your GPS can tell you where you are, where you want to be, where you don't want to be, and where you've been.

To work, your receiver needs a clear view of the sky. It won't work in tunnels, in caves, in some canyons or valleys, deep inside buildings, or underwater.

What's the best GPS for you?

People often ask me what type of GPS to buy. The answer depends on what you want to use a GPS for. Do you want to use GPS navigation in the car only, in a boat only, on foot only, or a combination of these? The best automotive GPS system won't likely be the best marine GPS or the best GPS for wilderness trekking. The information you want from an automotive GPS is different than what you want from a marine GPS system. And the requirements for a wilderness GPS are different still.

That said, a good handheld GPS on to which you can load maps will work in all three of these situations. But given an unlimited budget (hey, wouldn't that be nice?) I'd buy three GPSs--one for the car, one for the boat, and one trekking through the wilderness.

Let's now look specifically at some different types of GPS navigation systems:

Marine GPS

Car GPS System

Hand held GPS

Each type of GPS usage calls for different information. For example, the Marine GPS shows a nautical chart, a car GPS shows highways, and a hand-held often shows topo maps. Some hand-held GPSs, however, will often do double duty and show all of these.

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