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How to lose your faith in Garmin GPS … Mexico Maps … GPS … and reality!

I am a little peeved at my GPS system.  You will see why.  I have two Garmin units worth close to a thousand dollars when new.  Both failed in the same way on the trip from La Paz to La Cruz.  The failure was something we all talk about in Mexico but I had never had happen before.  It led to an interesting set of pictures and a truly hair- raising night of sailing a couple of days ago.

We crossed the Sea of Cortez to mainland Mexico with almost no problems.  But when we entered Chacala which is a very, very nice little bay/harbor, the GPS units both showed us a very interesting picture.  We had purposely crossed with times set to get us to the mainland during daylight hours so what you see had no real time effect other than disbelief and dark spirited humor.

Here is our location after anchoring at about 10 am in the morning .  The image is from my Garmin GPS Map model 545.


We used a smaller Garmin GPSMap 76C X as an anchor drift alarm.  I will try to pull the nice pic of the anchor drift pattern as we ‘sit’ on the dirt .8 NM inland of our actual position.


You will note that I am zoomed in to 20 feet.  The area around the boat marker is brown/tan because according to the GPS drift alert we are behind the parking lot with all the buses.  But, hey at least we set the anchor well.  The blue part of the map … or as we sailors call it … the ocean is .8 NM to the west.  At least, it is on the GPS.

I was not happy.  Both used BlueChart G2 map chips … they are not accurate.  I believe there is no excuse for this, as even the most basic piece of technology can now access better info than apparently my expensive GPS charters can do.

Let me say this again!  I am not a happy customer.

My point.  Below is a picture from my iPad 1 … of our location.   It uses cell towers to calculate your position and displays it in real time on Google Earth.  It is not a specialized navigation suite.  It cost $150 used.


To say that this shook my confidence in the accuracy of our GPS system and its back up is putting it mildly.  I am an avid Garmin fan … maybe was is a better word.

It gets better.  With my mind all astir about where I really was, we headed off that evening about 6 pm for La Cruz which is about 46 nautical miles away.  Again, I like heading into new harbors in the daylight.  So, I have bottom imaging sonar.  Additionally, I have a decent radar unit and two GPS units–so off I go.

I get to about 15 miles north of La Cruz and start using the unit– in earnest–because we have a series of navigation problems ahead.  Several (according to my GPS) buoys, some rocks, two islands, and some submerged rocks.

As we approach the navigational aids, I cannot reconcile them with what the unit says should be there … there are two yellow markers where none are shown on the GPS Map 545.  Where there is supposed to be a beacon .. there is none.  We decide to swing way outside the easy route because we cannot confirm what the plotter is telling us with our eyeballs and end up adding 15 miles to the 45 mile route in the dark.

I finally make my way past obstacles shown on the GPS , all the time remembering that earlier in the day it had been off by .8 NM (that is a really big off-by).  We make a 90 degree turn in the dark past two islands and head for La Cruz, Mexico.  Guess what.    La Cruz is not on the map ….!

That’s right!  Not only is the marina not shown– the harbor, the city, a name …. Nada … that is Spanish for nothing at all!  Google Earth shows La Cruz,  because I checked when I got there.  But with out cell towers at sea … I am limited to my Garmin and my common sense … which are now definitely in conflict.  It is two in the morning … We planned on being there about 5 am .. it will now be 7 am .. and. thank God because with daylight I can at least see the coastline.

I decide … not by choice, but because it was not time to sit around in the dark …. to dead-reckon to where I know La Cruz is supposed to be.  It is in a crook of land as you enter Banderas Bay in Mexico.  It is just north by 8 miles or so from Puerto Vallarta.  It has to be there.  When Carolyn got up for coffee …. she was not pleased to hear those words in that way.  “Has to be there?”

Dead-reckoning was within half a mile of the harbor entrance.  Beginners luck.

Puerto Vallarta is covered in exceeding detail.  But not La Cruz.

I am not a happy sailor right now … I am looking at the rest of my GPS info for the rest of our trip south and considering another solution.  We have paper maps … not great in the dark … we have an iPad so Navionics is a possibility but I don’t think it will work on and iPad 1 because it takes IOS 6.

I would scratch my head, but I am too busy pulling my hair out!

A couple of thoughts.  The Mexican Navy has new charts of most of Mexico.  Perhaps a company that sells GPS location-technology might want to talk to them about Mexico.  It’s a concept!

The chips, I am presently using, appear to be the newest …

In fairness, and because Lady Spitirus said I was ranting, I decided to make sure I did indeed have the newest maps.  I did the whole Garmin thing, load software, create account, find cable and plugin the GPSMap76x C.  Nothing.  Loaded the shiny software disk from Garmin.  It asked for an upgrade.  Loaded it.  Ok … what is supposed to happen after the hour online I just spent and will never get back.  Finally added my devices serial number by hand … Oh …. NO MAP UPGRADES AVAILABLE FOR THIS DEVICE!

Having been fair …. I am now back on a rant.  Tomorrow I will post a iPad cell tower location pic.  I already looked at it … it even shows the slip in the Marina … in La Cruz where Spiritus is now tied up.  Then I will post after it the shot of the face of my Garmin GPSMap 545.  I already looked at it too.  I can’t find La Paz.  It does show me sitting somewhere in Mexico north of Puerto Vallerta.  I think I may keep this up as I sail the coast of Mexico … side by side product comparison of accuracy and features .  Will compare  more than $1000 GPS system and back up to the $150 used iPad (you need to understand I am not an Apple fanboy, so this hurts).

They say the very best advertising is word of mouth and that a picture is worth a thousand words.  Stay tuned.

As you can clearly see, we have arrived somewhere in Mexico.  It is some number of feet deep.  And, once again we appear to be aground.  The only reason you do not see an anchor alarm is we are actually sitting in Marina La Cruz.


But, you could probably tell that with a glance if you are an experienced sailor.

The image below is from the used iPad 1.  Note it even shows the slip and dock we are currently tied up to.


13 responses

  1. Peter Mirrasoul

    Russ, What you have experienced is neither new nor an isolated Garmin issue. Save for the new Mexican Navy charts (~2008-2011), most are taken from old US Navy charts (circa. 1890) or more recent Mexican Navy (1972-76). Not too surprisingly the charted coastline, some islands and other geographical landmarks may not be accurately represented on the digital representations or the paper versions from wence they originated. There are some Mexican charts that contain position datum from the World Geodetic System 1984 (WGS-84).

    The program promoted by m/v Oso Negro in La Paz, designed to overlay Google Earth maps (as you have suggested) is a workable strategy of placing the land masses in their proper GPS locations. I attempted to follow Oso Negro’s tutorials for generating this system without luck. Most GPS chartplotters come with a disclaimer regarding their reliability for navigation. Now you know why.

    One last comment in passing, your Garmin GPSMap 76CSx has not been supported by Garmin for several years. If it’s any consolation, I suspect any chart updates would continue to contain the errors you have been experiencing.

    I hope you’re enjoying your cruise, in spite of the stories that make all cruises memorable. Continue to rely upon all the data available to you and do not rely too much upon any one. Deduced or dead reckoning, your own eyesight, fathometer and radar data can all be useful when in doubt about your chartplotter. It’s good hearing about your adventures!
    s/v Citla

    March 1, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    • Thanks for the comments. The GPSMap 76C x was purchased on the way south in 2012 with the Baja hahah …. so the fact that it is no longer supported is a surprise.

      We are having a ball … even with the more adventurous nights of sailing. I always count more on my senses than the gadgets … but still …. when they work and have good data … they are wonderful.

      March 2, 2014 at 1:17 pm

  2. Neil

    Try a program called “Tallon”. It allows use of Google Earth off line

    March 2, 2014 at 9:27 am

    • Will look that up … and Thank You.

      March 2, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    • JoLinda Garnier

      where or how can I find Tallon ?

      March 17, 2014 at 11:30 am

  3. Peter Mirrasoul

    Reading subsequent feedback from the southbound_group, I think all the bases have been covered. You can now move from ‘rant’ to chalking it up to experience. Enjoy and fair winds to you and your crew.

    March 2, 2014 at 10:51 am

    • Had moved from rant to just a posting for information till I tried to update the software and chips. That is an hour I will never get back.

      I think that our responsibilities to sail responsibility and carefully do not relieve a company like Garmin of its responsibilities to provide accurate charts. Or, in the alternative, if they feel that is just too costly to use new charts and data sets, then they should say so and remove Garmin from the lost of products that sailors outside US waters can depend on.

      And, I also believe it is to some extend our responsibility to let others know (even if we keep having to repeat the message) that a particular product is not up to snuff. It make keep others from wasting their money when another simpler device is superior. With that in mind I need to go post some more pics on this topic.

      But, I do thank you for reading and taking the time to respond thoughtfully

      March 2, 2014 at 1:34 pm

  4. Bernard Robinson

    We’ve had the same problems – and our Garmin chip stopped any details – depth, curves, nav aids, etc., when we go south of Manzanillo on the way to Z-town. Quite a surprise. I contacted Garmin – was told they do not support that chip anymore and only solution was to buy new GPS – which is using the same outdated charts. So much for using the latest technology. B * B robinson – MV Worth Waiting 4 – Tenecitita, heading north.

    March 2, 2014 at 11:20 am

    • Thanks Bernard,

      So much for hoping there might be a work around or a new version of the charts.

      Well that is money I won’t be spending. Yeah, I can hear the promotional advertising marketers … if you hate our product buy the new version … Will this issue follow us if we go to the south Pacific … haven’t even looked to see what charts Garmin has for Polynesia.

      March 2, 2014 at 1:28 pm

      • Peter Mirrasoul


        Another free download you might want to consider is GE2KAP. This is supposed to allows you to download Google Earth maps onto your computer for overlay on your chartplotter. I’ve just begun to examine this software and cannot vouch for its ease of use or utility, but it may be worth your time to take a look.

        Also, to reiterate, while Garmin is far from a service oriented company, I believe most of the issues you’ve experienced are due to the out of date charts all the major ‘recreational’ GPS chartplotter companys rely upon to produce their products. I’m not aware of any which have incorporated the latest Mexican Navy surveys into their product line. Nor do I believe there are any that have done any serious interpolation of the existing chart data to satellite overviews (such as Google Earth). I suspect all are potentially suspect with regard to accuracy in areas that do not receive commercial traffic.

        If you find an affordable recreational chartplotter with world wide accuracy, I’d be anxious to learn of its existance.

        Fair winds and good sailing!

        March 3, 2014 at 2:38 pm

      • Will look t that product. Today, bought more paper charts to increase redundancy and accuracy of boats navigation system.

        I guess it really is time to learn how to use the sextant I have in the locker. Was saving that for the South Pacific. Sigh

        March 3, 2014 at 8:58 pm

  5. Subject: MarinePlotter 3.1.3, Contact: David

    You take a look at the free MarinePlotter program that uses an GPS NMEA output receiver (less that $50) and can be used on virtually any Windows based computer. It records GoogleMaps satellite image tiles for use offline. The program is available at

    June 27, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    • I will do so. Thank you. Was looking at perhaps updating our iPad (we have the original) and getting Navionics which will not run on an iPad 1. I should have remembered this program from our time in La Paz … was under the impression that it took a bit of tweaking toget it working?

      June 29, 2014 at 8:22 pm

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