A GPS for the Sacramento-SJR delta

I’m thinking about a multi-day camping trip in the delta. From what I’ve seen on Google maps and nav. charts it seems like it’s possible to make lots of wrong turns, so although I intend to rely on chart-and-compass navigation, I’d like to have some sort of GPS device as a backup if I get really lost.

Since I’m unemployed my budget is very limited, and I’m going to look at old or obsolete gear that I can get cheap. I’ve never used a GPS device of any sort, and so it’s hard to figure out what’s going to help me when, for instance, I’m in one of two sloughs that are next to each other.

So–will any GPS handheld device do the job? If I can find a marine GPS cheap, is it likely to have an accurate chart of the delta? Since I’m used to doing without new technology I have no previous experience to draw on, and I’m not sure what to look for.

Are you already skilled with map
and compass?

plotting map coordinates only
If you know how to plot given coordinates,(either in UTM or Lat-Long), then any working gps should do the trick fine with a map that has coressponding grids marked out on it. For many years I used my gps units solely in this manner, basically as a verification/correction tool to my map & compass navigation. This is a more time consuming method and in rough water could be a safety issue compared to a modern unit with maps/charts loaded into it. For low budget use, as stated, go for the best deal you can find and work on your skills with map, compass & gps. This way you’ll not end up dependent on the gps as so many people do. From experience I’d highly recommend any working Garmin unit, as IME they generally have the best user interface.

All the best, t.george

The cheapest you will probably find
that you can use to keep from getting lost is the little yellow Garmin Etrex.

Just keep it turned on the whole time you are doing your compass and chart navigation. Then if you end up lost just do a track back, and follow the “bread crumb” trail.

I recently gave one away.

We use the Garmin Map 76Cx with Garmin Blue Chart “G2” mini SD card, which is phenominal. it has the chart of whereever we are, and I can zoom right into 50 feet if I want to, but you’ll never get this set up for “Cheap”

Jack L

Bluecharts vs Topo
Garmin sells BlueCharts as maps for their GP units. These are marine maps which are accurate in areas where ships go, but not accurate elsewhere. So if you were to take the ship channel from Sac down, they would be accurate.

For kayaking, I find that topo maps are more of what we need. But, in areas where the rivers run naturally, they won’t be that accurate, as rivers change their channels over time. But in the Delta, I think most of the sides of the rivers are dykes, so the accuracy should be fine.

As said above, you may be able to do this with a non-mapo version of a GPS (so one that gives you latitude longitude) and a printed chart or topo map. You can plot positions on the printed chart/map by looking at the latitude/longitude. You can use landmarks (ridges, etc.) to double check your location.

Fish-n-Map Company has a version of their mixed map/chart for the Delta that may be useful. Costs about $10 and is printed on waterproof paper.

Some thoughts
Twisty, muliple channels CAN make things confusing, but I just looked at air photos of that area and the twisty channels are extremely large, distinct, and widely spaced compared to similar places where I often go around here. Judging from those photos, I don’t think you even need a GPS, so if money is tight, skip it. I’d supplement whatever maps you have with air photos printed off the internet. From what I can see, it should be quite easy to keep track of your location on the photos, but if you don’t keep track and need to verify your location at any time, it should be easy via photo comparison as long as you have a rough idea where you are and orient an air photo of that area using your compass. Then you can compare the layout of your surroundings to what’s on the photo.

If you get a GPS, you really don’t need one with a built-in map. You’ll do fine as long as your paper map has coordinates that you can use. If it doesn’t, find a map online that does, and use that to “rough in” some grid lines to use as a reference on your own maps. As big as those channels are, you won’t need to plot GPS coordinates with much precision. A rough estimate of your GPS coordinates, just eyeballing the proportions between labelled grid lines on your map, will be all it takes to figure out which channel you are on, and where you are along its length.

a few things to think about…
The delta can become foggy,(and we’re talking tule fog thick enough to pour), the delta is big, currents in the delta can radically effect travel speeds. So if one considers limited visibility, either caused by weather or darkness, a gps would be very nice to have as a way to plot your location onto a map. My best advice is ANY working unit along with maps is good to have for the delta.

That’s all, t.george

I love gps and use it all the time - but
1. There is a learning curve that should not be underestimated.

2. You really need to understand how to navigate by map and compass to understand and use gps competently.

3. If the area you are going into is truly remote you need to be able to navigate successfully without the gps and use the gps mostly as a very nice and useful time saver. Otherwise you are asking for trouble if the gps fails for some reason.

4. Don’t go into places with a gps unless you are confident you can get out when the gps fails.

5. Consider this -http://www.npr.org/2011/07/26/137646147/the-gps-a-fatally-misleading-travel-companion