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How to Choose the "Best Fish Finder" for a Small Boat

Step up your Fishing Game with some cool tech!

Small Boat: Fish Finder Guide

by | Last updated: Feb 24, 2024

Choosing the right chartplotter/fishfinder is a crucial step toward getting you an edge on your next fishing adventure.

In this guide, I’ll walk you through the key factors to consider when searching for the perfect setup for your boat. 

Whether you’re an intermediate boater or new to the world of fishing electronics, this guide will help you make an informed decision.


What we’ll cover:

Understanding Your Needs: Type of fishing you do, waters you navigate & features you want.


► Screen Size & Budget: Plus, Resolution & Mounting Location

► Transducers: Types & Compatibility

► Sonar Power & Frequency: Shallow or Deep, Salt or Fresh.

► CHIRP vs. Broadband: Why are they different?

► Side-View and Down-View Imaging: Why they matter, especially in shallower water.

► Mapping & GPS Features: Preloaded maps, waypoints, routes, live tracking, and integration.

► Ease of Use and Durability: Can you use it & will it last

► Real-World Insights: What do other people say?


With these considerations in mind, you’ll be all set to make the right choice. 

Now, let’s dive into the details and help you select the perfect chartplotter/fishfinder for your boat.




Screen Size & Budget


When choosing a fishfinder, Screen Size will likely be one of the first things you will consider along with the biggy, Budget. You want a screen that is big enough to see easily in all conditions, but not so big that it takes up too much space. A good rule of thumb is to try a start with at least a 7” display.

And, then there is the display resolution. Higher-resolution screens provide clearer, more defined images, which can be helpful for spotting fish and underwater features. Choose the highest-resolution display that fits within your budget.


Let’s start here:


  • Set your Budget, then add some. Fishfinders can range in price from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. Budget is key here. Start with that.
  • How much space do you have on your console? Fishfinders come in a variety of sizes, so choose one that will fit comfortably on your console.
  • What are the lighting conditions like where you fish? If you fish in bright sunlight, you’ll want a display with high brightness and contrast.
  • What kind of fish are you trying to find? If you’re fishing for small fish, higher resolution is better.


Here’s a tip:  Not sure how big of a screen you need? Hit your local marine electronics store and check out different fishfinders in person. Get a feel for the different sizes and resolutions, and start dialing in what you like.

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll be well on your way to making a solid choice.




Picking the Right Transducer


Now, let’s dive into a crucial piece of your fishfinder setup: The transducer is responsible for sending out sonar waves and bringing underwater images to life on your screen.

Compatability: Choosing the right one is like finding the perfect fishing buddy—it’s got to be compatible with your fishfinder and suited for your fishing type. The transducer that is.

Most fishfinders come bundled with transducers these days, so compatibility is usually a breeze. Still, it’s worth exploring other options to fine-tune your setup for peak performance. Manufacturers often offer a variety of choices to cater to different needs.

Now, when it comes to mounting options, transom-mount transducers are the most common choice for most folks. They’re the ones that get attached to the back of your boat (the transom), and they’re known for their straightforward installation.

There are few other types to consider as well, such as through-hull and in-hull transducers. Your choice should align with your boat’s design and your fishing needs.

A little bit on beam angle. The beam angle of a transducer determines the coverage area beneath your boat. Wider beam angles cover a larger area but may sacrifice detail, while narrower beams provide finer detail but cover less area.

Your choice here will depend on your fishing style and what kind of details you’re after.

By carefully selecting a transducer that matches with your fishfinder and fishing style, you’ll ensure that you have the foundation for a solid system for finding fish.


Garmin | Sonar Guide:




Power and Frequency


Have you ever wondered how a fishfinder works? 


One of the most important factors is the power and frequency of the transducer itself.

Power is like a flashlight beneath the water. It determines how deep the fishfinder can see and how much detail it can display. For small boats fishing in shallow water, a fishfinder with 200-600 watts of power is sufficient.

But for deeper water or offshore fishing, you’ll need a fishfinder with more power.

Frequency is also important. Lower frequencies penetrate deeper but offer less detail, while higher frequencies provide finer detail but are only suitable for shallower waters.


So, how do you choose the right power and frequency for your fishfinder?

It depends on where you typically fish and how deep you typically go. If you’re mostly fishing in shallow water less than 200’, a fishfinder with 200-600 watts of power and a frequency range of 200-1200kHz would be the target.

But if you’re fishing in deeper water or offshore, you’ll need a fishfinder with more power of 1kW and a lower frequency range of 50-200kHz.


Here’s a quick tip: Still not sure what kind of fish finder to get? Ask your local fishing guide or tackle shop for some recommendations. 




Broadband or CHIRP


Which type of fishfinder is right for you: CHIRP or broadband?


CHIRP (Compressed High-Intensity Radar Pulse) fishfinders are the more advanced option, offering better target separation and detail than broadband fishfinders.

This is because CHIRP fishfinders send out a continuous range of frequencies into the water, which provides a clearer picture of the underwater environment.

This is especially helpful when you’re trying to identify fish and underwater structures precisely.

Broadband fishfinders are still a good option for many anglers, though. They’re reliable and affordable, and they can still provide valuable fishfinding capabilities.


So, which type of fishfinder should you choose? Most fishfinders in this range nowadays are CHIRP capable, and the cost differences between CHIRP and broadband fishfinders are minimal. 

I think, CHIRP is the better choice.

Garmin: Benefits of CHIRP Sonar ►




Side-View and Down-View Imaging


Have you ever wished you could see what’s going on below and to the sides of your boat?

That’s where side-view and down-view imaging come in. These technologies give you a picture-like view of the underwater world, making it easier to spot fish and navigate through structures.


Finding Structure: Side-view imaging is particularly valuable when you’re navigating through underwater structures such as reefs, rock piles, or submerged trees.

It helps you visualize the layout and potential spots to check out later. Down-view imaging, on the other hand, assists in pinpointing fish and structures directly below your boat.


Shallow Water Advantage: Side-view and down-view imaging are also great for fishing in shallow water or along coastlines. They give you a real-time view of what’s going on below the surface, so you can easily spot fish and adjust your strategy accordingly.


Interpreting Data: Side-view and down-view imaging can be a bit tricky to interpret at first, but it’s worth learning how to do so.

Once you know how to distinguish fish from other underwater objects, you’ll be able to use these technologies to your advantage and catch more fish.


System Compatibility: Before you buy a chartplotter/fishfinder with side-view and down-view imaging, make sure your chosen system is compatible with these features. Some units may require additional transducers or software upgrades.


Tips for Beginners: If you’re new to side-view and down-view imaging, here are a few tips:


  • Invest some time in learning how to interpret the data. There are many resources available online and in fishing magazines.
  • Practice using these features in different environments. The more you use them, the better you’ll become at interpreting the data.
  • Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see results immediately. It takes time to learn how to use side-view and down-view imaging effectively.
  • Once you master side-view and down-view imaging, you’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to find fish and catch more.




The Balance of Mapping & GPS Features


When putting together your wish list, you will also want to consider the Mapping & GPS features that are important and ones you can live without.


Here are a few to keep in mind:


Preloaded maps: These maps can save you time and effort by providing detailed information about waterways, coastlines, and depth contours. Make sure the preloaded maps cover the areas where you plan to fish most often.

Some units come with pre-loaded charts, that included navigation and fishing charts while others come with just a base map and require you to purchase charts separately as needed.


Waypoint charting: This feature allows you to mark specific locations on your GPS chartplotter. This is great for keeping track of your favorite fishing spots, productive reefs, and navigational hazards.


Route planning: If you like to plan your fishing trips in advance, route planning is a must-have feature. It enables you to create routes with multiple waypoints, helping you chart a course to your destinations.


Live tracking: Some advanced chartplotter/fishfinders offer live tracking features, allowing you to monitor your route and fishing activity in real-time.

This can be helpful for assessing the effectiveness of your fishing grounds and adjusting your strategy accordingly.


Integration: Consider whether the GPS chartplotter/fishfinder can integrate with other electronics on your boat, such as radar or VHF radio.

This allows you to view all of your data on one screen, streamlining your fishing experience and enhancing safety.

Think about whether you will have more than one unit on your boat, and whether they will need to be networked together for seamless communication and data sharing. 


Ease of use: Look for a chartplotter/fishfinder with user-friendly menus and controls. You should be able to quickly access and navigate GPS features, especially when you’re on the water.


Map updates: Waterway conditions can change, so it’s important to have access to up-to-date maps. Make sure the Chartplotter/fishfinder you choose offers regular map updates.


How Garmin Builds Maps ►


A Few More Tips:

  • Think about how you’ll use the GPS. Are you a casual angler who just needs basic navigation features? Or do you need a more advanced system with features like waypoint charting,  route planning, and networking?
  • Consider your budget. GPS chartplotter/fishfinders can range in price from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. Yes, I know the budget thing comes up a lot.
  • Read reviews. Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, read reviews from other anglers to get their feedback on different GPS chartplotter/fishfinders. This can help you make an informed decision about which system is right for you.



Ease of Use and Durability


And finally, ease of use and durability would be two factors not to leave off the list. After all, you need a device that’s easy to operate, even when you’re on rough waters. And, of course, you want a fishfinder that can withstand the elements.


Ease of Use:

This means an easy-to-use interface with.


  • Clear menus: The menus should be easy to navigate, even if you’re not a tech whiz.
  • Easily readable display: The display should be bright and easy to read in all lighting conditions.
  • Straightforward navigation: The buttons and controls should be easy to press and understand.


If possible, try out a few different models before you buy to see which one feels the most comfortable to use.




Fishfinders need to be tough enough to withstand the elements, including water, salt, sun, and physical impacts. Look for a unit with a waterproof and shock-resistant design. 

The good news is that most are.  But stick with at least an “IPX7 Rating”.

This means: Withstands incidental exposure to water of up to 1 meter for up to 30 minutes


In addition to ease of use and durability, here are a few other little things to keep in mind:


  • Warranty: Choose a fishfinder with a solid warranty. This will give you peace of mind in case of any problems.
  • User reviews: Read user reviews and seek recommendations from fellow boaters to get a better idea of the real-world performance and longevity of different models.


With all of these factors in mind, you’ll should be well on your way to choosing the perfect fishfinder for your boat.






Selecting the right chart plotter/fishfinder for your boat can significantly change your fishing experience. Whether you’re an intermediate boater or new to the world of fishing electronics, hopefully, this guide has provided you with some insights to make an informed decision.


Your choice of fishfinder is an investment. Theres lots of water out there, waiting for you to explore. Spending some time determining your perfect setup will not only tip the scales in your favor locating the fish but also ensure that each fishing trip is filled with excitement and tons of great memories. And… that’s what it’s all about!


Now, go out there and create some memorable fishing adventures, and make the most of every moment on the water.

Rodney L.

Rodney L.

NavGuy | Lead Writer

Charter Boat Captain, Avid Cruiser, Boat Builder & Marine Electronics Pro:

With over a decade of experience in the marine electronics industry and over 30 years of cruising the Bahamas on boats of all kinds, Rodney is well-positioned to help boaters of all levels sift through the many choices we have today in marine electronics.


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