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Garmin inReach Explorer Activation & Learning


Where the paddle takes me
Mar 2, 2019
Port Alberni, BC
I have finally activated my Garmin inReach Explorer, which I have owned for 8 years, but never activated. It's an older device but should serve the purpose. I'm planning a trip around Nootka in mid-August. Looking for a way to create a route and campsites...is there a way to link a BC Marine Trail map and campsites to my Explorer or do I need to go in a drop way points with notes.

If anyone has any words of wisdom for a newbie I'd be grateful. Youtube video suggestions as well. Going to take it on our upcoming Alaskan cruise next week to test things out. Also a great opportunity to do some recon for my Comox to Skagway in June 2025.

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I'm not sure if it's the same with the Explorer, I have the SE, which I think was just a stripped down version. I use the Earthmate app on my phone, which can be Bluetooth synched to the Garmin.

Maybe there's a way to do it on a PC, I'd prefer that, honestly.
Like CPS I only have the Inreach SE but have done the import to my GPSMap 78. It does look like it will be possible on the InReach Explorer: <YouTube video>. There are a few steps to get the desired sites out of the Marine Trails map (they have good help pages) and then go through the Garmin app on the PC or Mac that you then sync to the InReach.
The Explorer is pretty much just the SE+ but with built-in maps. However, the maps are not very detailed. I would be using another source for charts and maps. That's why I got the SE+ instead of the extra money for the Explorer. I'm not saying the Explorer was a "bad buy" because you always have a built-in reference map. It's just that I already had a plethora of other sources.

Check this out for a more scientific explanation of what I'm posting below: https://tinyurl.com/2masrrc5

The following is important if you are taking Lat/Long from a printed source and putting it in your device - rather than marking waypoints as you go along. It is not so important for hikers, because they can usually have more visual clues to work with; but it may be important for paddlers who have open water and a landing site a quarter mile away.

Many printed Charts/Maps use the North America Datum from a survey in 1927. They have a notation NAD27 (often near a declination number)

When GPS came along it used, by default, the WGS84 (World Geodetic System) datum. Though your GPS is usually set to WGS84, under settings (units) or preferences you can change the device to use NAD27.

This NAD27 vs WGS84 mismatch gets you into trouble if your source material for coordinates is based on NAD27 and you put it into a GPS that is set to WGS84 (or vice versa). The result will be, when the GPS says you are at your destination, you will NOT be at the location you expect to be on the map/chart. You could be off by 100 yards or much more. So if you are looking for a campsite or landing passage in the fog, that error is significant.

When I see printed Lat/Long numbers in a book, I email the author and ask if they were based on WGS (readings off a GPS - set to WGS84) or taken off a chart that was based NAD27. Better sources tell you what datum was used for the lat/long info.

These days, more and more sources use WGS84. So it will become a non-issue. But you should still check if a precision point is required.

If you look at almost any USGS map in print, you'll see the NAD27 notation. For example, my "Sea Trails Marine Maps" for the San Juans are based on NAD27 and the compass rose is shown with a Magnetic Declination of 18°. It is now 15.5° in that area.

Here's an exercise:
1. Set your GPS device to WGS84. If you've never changed it, it will be set to that by default.
2. Use a USGS or chart source (Like Sea Trails Marine Maps), or coordinates in a book (confirm they were based on NAD27) to get coordinates to an easily accessible spot.
3. Put those coordinates in your GPS.
4. Go to the indicated "ground zero" - you are here - location according to your GPS.
5. Are you at the spot you thought you'd be?

Here's an exercise without leaving your armchair:
1. Using any source, put the coordinates of a known point in your GPS - say Pirate's Cove or Arbutus Point
2. Now change the Datum setting (usually in the Units menu) of the GPS to NAD27.
3. Look at the new coordinates for that point (the GPS will convert WGS84 to NAD27).
4. Using an online calculator, get the distance between the original and new coordinates.
4a. That's how far you'd be off if your source and your datum setting didn't match
5. Remember to put your GPS units back to WGS84
5a. Or keep it on NAD27 if all your source points are based on that.

To beat the horse (sorry horse), this is only an issue when the source coordinates (usually in print) are based on a different datum than what the GPS was set for when you entered them. If you arrive at a launch point, mark the spot (say, the north end of SaltSpring Island launch area), you will come back to that same spot when you seek that waypoint. If you don't mark the spot, after a week out, you may come back to the north launch point and paddle passed it because it looks different at high tide. You might tell the rest of your team that you enjoyed paddling so much, you didn't want to return just yet. You enjoy just paddling around the north end looking at houses.

Finally - how much error is it really? In researching the links for this post, the error distances I read were "... hundreds of yards ...". When I put in a waypoint, it's because I want to be THERE, not 100's of yards away. So just make sure the datum for your source coordinates matches the datum setting in your GPS when you put them in - unless 100 yards is close enough.

I did the above-mentioned exercise for the North Beach on Orcas. I got the WGS84 coordinates from Google Earth (N48° 42' 50.79". W122° 54' 23.07"), and converted that to NAD27 (N42° 42' 51.41", W 122° 42' 18.42") using an online calculator. Another online calculator gave me the difference between those two coordinates as .06 miles or about 105 yards.

So if I had taken the coordinate off the Sea Trails Map (NAD27) and put it in my GPS (set to WGS84), when I arrived at that way point, I'd be 100 yards from where I thought I'd be and have a, "Who moved the car?" moment.
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