• We apologize for the somewhat convoluted sign-up process. Due to ever-more sophisticated attacks by chatbots, we had to increase our filtering in order to weed out AI while letting humans through. It's a nuisance, but a necessary one in order to keep the level of discourse on the forums authentic and useful. From the actual humans using WCP, thanks for your understanding!

Smartwatch for paddling?


May 6, 2007
Anyone have one?

I’ve been considering a smartwatch and looking at different options from the Apple Watch Series 8 through Fitbit’s new Sense 2, and think I’ve settled on a Garmin product as they are more focused on accuracy than wizbang “do it all, but not as well” ability of other smartwatches. There is a dizzying array of models available, but it seems the quatix 7 or fenix 7 are the best options for paddlers.

I mostly want to get one for tracking on-water speed accurately; I’ve been taking some forward stroke clinics and would like to see how I’m improving (my iPhone is not accurate enough to note minor changes in speed in real time). I’d also like to record tracks, distance paddled, speed along those tracks, heart rate (my family has a history of irregular heartbeats/racing so I’d like to have data to see if I’m experiencing anything concerning), managing stress, etc. There are some neat third party apps for the Garmin’s specifically for kayaking that seem handy, with cadence tracking and stroke counting abilities. The ability to install charts and tide tables is nice (though as a backup to paper maps), as are the sleep tracking functions and other typical benefits of a smartwatch (such as the ability to even tell time!!!).

The quatix and fenix seem pretty similar, with the quatix targeting boaters with the ability to connect to a boat’s chart plotter and electronics, which might be handy if I ever get a boat boat, but those features aren’t super relevant for paddlers except maybe the virtual starting line for racing. Not that I intend to race, but it might be fun to challenge myself to see how I can improve. There’s not a huge difference in price between the two (they’re both expensive), so I thought I’d see if anyone had thoughts or experience with either option, or have other recommendations.

If you are going to be on the water, "waterproof" rises to the surface of importance. Also, there is "wet" and there is "saltwater wet". Because of that, I'd think you'd be looking at the Ultra model instead of the Series 8. Also, I'm guessing you have young eyes. When you combine small font, direct sunlight, and polarized glasses, for me, even an iPad screen becomes darn near invisible.

It seems like everything except the heart rate stuff is already possible with 10-year-old Garmin devices. Even my old Vista will give me speed and tracks and distances. For $50 or so you could buy a used GPS and have all that.

I wear a Fitbit to bed at night - when at home. That's because I'm outside in a hammock and I want to know the time when I get up. It's also interesting to see my sleep profile (REM, Light Sleep, Deep Sleep, Time awake numbers). But I don't need it when adventuring because it requires yet another device - a smartphone - to get those reports. The maw of a rabbit hole opens wide.

If you are concerned about a real medical condition, I'd investigate the watch's error rate and accuracy when wet.

Also, I believe it needs watch-to-skin contact. So if you are wearing a dry suit with wrist gaskets, that watch is going to be under the gasket. Once I wore a regular watch under my drysuit gasket and the watch crown started a rip that required the gasket be replaced.

And there are marketing claims. My bathroom scale says it can measure my weight AND my percent body fat. Even though I measure about the same time every morning, my body fat percentage can change up to 4% in a day. Of course, I'm sure the weight poundage must be off too :)

So go to an apple store or cellphone store that sells apple devices and ask to look the watch outside while wearing polarized glasses, and see how well you can read that screen. Have a friend jostle you around while your trying to read it (it won't always be flat water).

I have my Garmin on the deck in front of my spray skirt pull loop. I can see the screen, I can read the trip data that I have set to show speed, estimated time of arrival, distance, and sunset time - as well as a compass arrow pointing to the destination. Very visible and it floats.

Just Say'n.
A thought on using a WRIST watch for accurate speed measuring while paddling: wouldn't the elliptical movements of your hand effect the measuring?

Note: I use a Suunto Ambit, on my wrist, to record HR (with a chest strap), speed, tracks, etc but I accept it won't be as accurate as I may like.
I've been using an (much) older Quatix(1) for day paddling for a few years. The battery will run the watch in GPS mode for an ordinary day of paddling.
Bulky, though I think the newer models may be slimmer.
It works really well- doesn't mind being wet, and I have formatted the screen to present a few pieces of data that are readable even with a quick glance while paddling. @JKA - the speed data seems accurate enough- helpful when in current - or when I think I am...
Should be rinsed in fresh water under the tap as the buttons don't appreciate dried salt.
Excellent for giving track information after a paddle so I can process it via GPSVisualizer and save it, and email it to my companions.
A couple of times it's been useful having all those waypoints stored - foggy day: "What's the compass heading back to the launch?" sort of thing.
Interfaces well with ANT+ devices like heartrate chest strap.
The Fenix will do most of the same things, and they are a lot more common, if you are looking for a used one, though most sports watches have lived a hard life.
Battery ($40+ for something new/legitimate, unlike the cheap one I got on AliExpress) can be replaced if you can work on small things with a soldering iron.
The prices on the newer Quatix units definitely put them in the 'luxury' (a.k.a.: "You gotta be kidding!!") category for me. I bought mine as a discontinued 'demo' unit from GPS Central years ago. Worth the $100.

@JKA - A friend (who is an IT pro) has a Suunto and she complained about the requirement to use the Suunto website. Is this a problem?
@JKA - A friend (who is an IT pro) has a Suunto and she complained about the requirement to use the Suunto website. Is this a problem?

Suunto has dropped the ball, or screwed the pooch, depending on how polite you are. I'm not!

The previous iteration of their website interface, Movescount, was a bit unstable to start with but then settled down. It was good for being able to view HR, speed, elevation etc and seeing on a satellite image (Google) exactly where you'd been. I didn't extract and share data via Strava etc so it did what I wanted.

Then they changed to SuuntoLink, which is part of sports-tracker.com and it's truly awful. The maps offered are very basic and I've yet to find a way to 'upgrade', the HR info is rudimentary at best, and it's clunky to use.

If you live your life on your phone and want to share (boast) your tracks it may be of use as that offers more options. But judging by the furious on-line comments from users I'm not alone in hating it.

I think the watch is great: very simple to use, tough as a brick, the altimeter is rock solid in the hills and the battery lasts a good amount of time.

Trouble is, when it fails I don't know what to replace it with as I loath the web interface.

First World problems, I know.


Thanks, John. Aside from the part about the Suunto site not working very well, my friend implied that she was concerned about being 'tracked' by Suunto, and having her location and activity data used by them.
I've had a Garmin Forerunner 245 for 2 years and have been very satisfied. It doesn't have all be bells and whistles that some of the pricer models but it does everything I need. It definitely checks all the boxes for the key requirements you stated (tracking on-water speed accurately, record tracks, distance paddled, speed along those tracks, heart rate). I also selected it since the watch face is a bit smaller and wouldn't be as out of place on my small wrist for day to day wear.

Someone mentioned that heart rate can be challenging with a drysuit since the watch needs skin contact. Alternatively you can pair it with a chest strap then put the watch where ever you want. This way you can monitor heart rate but mount the watch on your boat or paddle for a 'heads up' view.
Great advice and conversation, everyone! You’ve certainly got me considering other options and have given me a lot to think about.

Keep the comments coming, I really appreciate it!
My wife uses her Garmin Forerunner 245 when paddling for the same reasons stated by Natasha. One thing that she has noted is that the display is fairly large compared to other watches and there is enough contrast between the numbers and the background that she can read it in direct sunlight for the most part.

I just use an inexpensive Casio dive watch. It tells time, that's it, nothing more. :)
I use the Forerunner 235. Ticks most boxes, and I love seeing how far a strong ebb pulls me off track. But I still made it to Bedwell Harbor before moving on to Moresby/Portland.
I picked up a Garmin Fenix 6X last year (Older model but still does 95% of what the newer Fenix's do at a lower cost). I find it works fine for paddling (I also use it for hiking and biking). So far it's been 100% waterproof (including saltwater). Garmin watch speed/distance measurements are based on GPS positioning and time, so movements of your arm or wrist make no difference. I've compared my Garmin with my iPhone GPS using apps like Gaia GPS, and it's within a tenth of a mile or so—close enough for me (and I suspect the Garmin is more accurate).

I have trouble reading the Fenix 6X's screen in low light...but the numbers while recording a paddle are pretty big—and I'm usually out in broad daylight so it's easy to read in those conditions. And while I never thought I'd care, I paddle regularly enough that the lap times have become really handy. I paddle for fitness and have lap times set for a half-mile...and it's interesting to see how one half-mile on a long paddle compares speed-wise with another. Heartrate monitoring is good too—but I doubt most people need that unless you're paddling daily for fitness.

Finally, part of the reason I got the Garmin Fenix were for its mapping capability. Flash forward a year and I've never used maps on the watch at all—because they're ridiculously small and difficult to use, LOL. (I do record GPS tracks for all my paddles though.) If I want a map I use my iPhone with GaiaGPS.

The upcoming Apple Watch Ultra sure looks tempting...but really, I'm pretty sure if I dropped $700-800 on one, I'd probably still only end up using it for the same basic functions I currently use my Garmin Fenix for: recording GPS tracks, monitoring current and average speed, distance...maybe lap times...and that's it.
I've been using Apple Watches and its Paddling workout since it was added to WatchOS. Its worked fine but the GPS mapping mostly just shows the general area imo.

There is a nice app called Paddle Logger, and that has much more detailed information, a GPS breadcrump trail, and some emergency notification features. iPhone and Apple Watch app. I believe it is also on Android but am not sure about Android Watches.
I was inspired by this thread to look into some different options for keeping track of my trips. Currently I use an app on my phone to record a track, but wanted something that could show real time speed. Essentially a little deck mounted speedometer.

I bought a cheap little GPS unit from amazon and will report back with findings once I get a chance to use it a few times. But it might work out ok.
I use a Garmin Forerunner 45s. It's the cheapest of the newer models but does have HR. Everything is very accurate and it rarely drops GPS. With GPS on, I can get about 10 hours of tracking. HR is accurate for canoeing but not for SUP (probably because I'm working really hard and my wrist moves to much), so I also got a chest strap for that. If you want to watch your speed, I'd suggest a cheap bike computer that you an mount to your deck. I have a XOSS that I mounted with a GoPro mount. PM for details.
jefffski, is there something you can turn on/off on the Garmin to increase the battery life? For example, if most of the time you just want the watch to be a watch, I'd imagine the battery charge would last longer than if it were GPS'ing and HeartRate reading. I mean 10 hrs isn't even a full day.

But maybe I'm mistaken. As with the Apple Watch, I was thinking these things were watches with added features. But maybe they are just GPS and biofeedback units with a small display. The "watch" component is the "extra" feature.

I hope someday the solar option and power requirements work well enough together that "charging" is no longer an issue. They've done it with wireless keyboards
I dont know the battery life specs for the garmin forerunner 45 mentioned above but the forerunner 245 offers 7 days of battery life as a normal watch / 24h battery when using the GPS. The GPS is only activated when you choose to track an activity that has GPS as part of its profile.

Garmin also makes some watch models that integrate solar charging. Not sure if that completely eliminates the. need for regular charging or just extends the battery life.
I picked up a Garmin Fenix 6X last year (Older model but still does 95% of what the newer Fenix's do at a lower cost). I find it works fine for paddling (I also use it for hiking and biking). So far it's been 100% waterproof (including saltwater). Garmin watch speed/distance measurements are based on GPS positioning and time, so movements of your arm or wrist make no difference.
I'm 'reviving' this thread, as I bought a new Garmin Quatix 7 (similar to Fenix 7) and I am having problems with it.
Speed field is set as SOG (Speed over Ground).
I took it paddling for th first time today and the speed readings were 'all over the place'. Looking at my left wrist on every paddle stroke, I was getting up to 2 knots of variation in speed. For example: Paddling at constant pace in almost flat water I got readings like 3.2 knots, 1.7 knots, 2.5 knots and 4.1 knots on successive paddle strokes. So completely useless.
I'd appreciate any hints from other modern Garmin watch users.
I don't have this problem with my old Fenix 1 and Quatix 1!

EDIT: Here's the speed chart of my 2 hr paddle this morning. The problem is obvious. (No, I can't accelerate my kayak that quickly! Or get it going at 7.1 knots on demand. :) )
speed graph.JPG
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: CPS
I wonder if you'd have better luck with the watch not on your wrist - not "waving" around. I've found the Garmin GPS in my car tracks the car's speedometer quite accurately. The car is moving but the GPS unit is ... steady.

Try mounting the watch on your deck with, minimal blockage to the sky. See if the reading stabilizes a bit.