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Selecting the best fish finder for small boats is actually tougher than you might think.
Every brand is constantly pushing innovation to keep sonars portable, versatile, and user-friendly. There are a lot of good options for all budgets.
To make things simple, we’ll clarify a small boat. And that’s any boat less than 16 feet.
I’ve managed to shortlist 5 contenders from a heap of worthy competitors – many from the same brand.
I looked for portability, compact size, easy installation, user-friendly display, and intuitive navigation.
Price was a consideration, but I looked for features. People value particular features differently.
For example, A slightly better screen resolution might be worth an extra hundred dollars for some; for others no.
Let’s check out the list below. If you have a small boat, your next fish finder for your small boat is listed below.
Best Fish Finders for Small Boats
Last update on 2023-03-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
1. Garmin Striker Plus 9SV – Editor’s Choice
I love the 9-inch display on the Garmin. For me, even though the boat might be small, there’s no substitute for screen space.
The CHIRP sonar delivers perfect images leaving less to interpretation. The near-photographic images give you more time to fish, as you spend far less time trying to ascertain what you’re looking at.
Side and down scan delivery top-shelf versatility. However, it’s a top-shelf fish finder, and you’ll pay for it.
The screen size allows for excellent split-screen viewing, with each view given more than sufficient display space irrespective of its compact size.
Mounting is flexible and easy. Depending on your boat’s construction material and method, mounting the sonars can be tricky. Professional installation is a good idea.
The GPS lets you record waypoints. You can create unique routes while keeping an eye on the boat’s speed.
The Garmin doesn’t have a chart plotting function and doesn’t use chart plotting software.
Some anglers will find this to be a serious oversight at this high price. For others, the removal of a level of complication is a plus.
Buttons and function navigation is intuitive and relatively easy. For those new to fish finders, there will be a learning curve.
Mastering the basics won’t take long. However, it will take a little practice to maximize its potential.
This is an ideal model for a dedicated angler looking to upgrade.
- Brilliant display
- Down and Side Scanning
- Intuitive navigation
- Very expensive
- No navigation software
2. Humminbird HELIX 5 CHIRP SI GPS G2 – Best Overall Fish Finder
The Helix 5 is a very popular model for small boat owners. Combining CHIRP and 2D, anglers have the best of both worlds.
The dual-beam allows for a broader scan or more detail. You can use the two in combination and get the best view of the conditions.
You get both wide coverage and serious detail at the same time.
With down imaging and side imaging, the view underneath and beside the boat is unsurpassed.
The images are incredible. You’ll get an insight into the subsurface you’re fishing as you’d never imagined.
Photo-grade clarity removes the need for interpretation. Not only can you see the weeds and grass, but you can also identify the species.
When you can see what the fish see, you’ll catch more fish.
Built-In Basemap is now enhanced. Mapping details include buoys, day markers, hazards, and even points of interest for the tourists.
The icon system will take a little to learn if you’re new to it, and some referencing might be required, but it’s intuitive and easy to learn.
The great thing about Basemap is that you can motor off in a place with which you are unfamiliar, confident you can navigate safely, and find the best fishing.
Supplied with all the gear you need to plug and play, the Hummingbird is affordable, comprehensive, and will suit beginners to the most discerning anglers looking for the best underwater insights available.
- Awesome screen resolution
- Easy to install
- Easy to master
- Basemap is ideal for the freshwater anglers
- Suitable for a wide range of anglers and applications
- Down and side-scanning
- Smaller boats might find it a touch too big
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3. Lowrance HOOK2 Fish Finder – Best on a Tight Budget
A lot of anglers want a sounder that works, and they don’t want to spend a lot of money.
The bottom line with fish finders is that you need to be able to identify boat speeds, depths, and fish-holding cover and structure.
The Lowrance does this admirably for its price, and while it’s basic and anything but feature-filled, you’ll find a heck of a lot more fish with it than without it.
One of the most appealing functions is its simplicity. Unencumbered by multiple screens and functions, anglers can focus on the critical information, spending more time fishing than scrolling through images and data.
Menus are easy to read and easy to understand. This is a dream interface for the less technologically inclined.
A push of a button can take you directly to the function you need. You won’t get lost on the way or lose the function in a mess of complex applications.
At first, you may find the display a little small at 4 inches. However, I’m certain that after a short time, you’ll be very used to the size and it will be very functional.
The beam won’t deliver the most comprehensive underwater insights. And many will argue that the Low2 is a little underpowered.
I don’t think these are fair criticisms. It’s important to remember that you’re paying not much more than 100 dollars (depending on the supplier).
You can’t expect the greatest and the best.
What you can expect and is delivered is enough functionality for the average angler to find fish habitat and find fish.
At 3 pounds, it’s a little heavier than you might expect.
This is a very handy sounder for the average weekend angler looking to increase their weekend success and take something home for dinner.
- Highly affordable
- Very easy to use
- Easy to install
- Simple button operation
- Finds fish and the places they live
- Basic functionality
- A little underpowered
4. LUCKY Portable Fish Finder Handheld – Best Compact Portable Fish Finder
This is a great budget option, and the whole kit and kaboodle will fit easily in a modest-sized pocket.
Weighing in at 400 Grams and sporting a 2.4-inch LCD, this is a fish finder for anglers who require the most portable and compact unit above all else.
Importantly, its size, basic operation, and minimalist functionality decrease the price, making this little number an option for every angling budget.
With a USB cable provided, a full charge lasts approximately 5 hours. Bring a small portable charger, and you can fish all day.
The LUCKY is great for ice fishing, small boat, and kayak fishing. It’s also an ideal unit for bank fishing.
The transducer can be mounted to your boat or kayak, but it can also be cast.
This makes it a particularly versatile unit for anglers engaging in a wide range of fishing applications.
It has a depth capability of 328 feet. The beam angle is 45 degrees in 200Khz. The waterproof design allows for mishaps, which is particularly handy for kayak anglers.
The Luck will appeal to a huge number of anglers. It’s perfect for the boat, but ideal for many applications.
Those anglers with a more advanced fish finder mounted in their boat may like the Lucky as a backup.
- The most portable
- Easy to use
- Great display despite the small size
- Highly versatile
- Very durable
- Limited fish on one charge
- Limited depth
5. Humminbird PIRANHAMAX 4 DI – Best Compact Mountable
There are plenty of anglers who will appreciate the compact size and shape of the Piranhamax.
Its narrow width tilt and swivel angle give anglers plenty of options for mounting it perfectly to suit how you use your boat.
The 4.3-inch LCD is a pretty small screen, but once you see the picture quality resolution, you’ll forget about the display size.
The Dual Beam Down Imaging unit provides a beautiful picture of the underwater world you’re fishing.
The flush-mount transducer is easy to install, whatever your boat type. Accuracy is a feature of the Piranhamax.
It will appeal to anglers who appreciate sharper images as opposed to wider scans.
With only 4 buttons, it’s difficult to go wrong or get lost navigating between functions. With a little practice, you’ll be doing it in the dark without looking.
This is a particularly affordable unit that offers the benefits of a dual-beam for less than $150.
If you’re not in the market for expensive features such as side imaging, wireless, GPS, and all the other bells and whistles, the Piranhamax should be high on your shortlist.
There’s great functionality in simplicity, and this is a very simple and high-quality unit. Finding fish is pretty easy with the Piranhamax.
Catching them is entirely up to you.
- Versatile mounting options
- Great screen resolution
- Dual Beam
- Easy navigation and operation
- No side scanning
How to Choose the Best Fish Finder for a Small Boat
The screen display is where I’ll try and push my budget and the available space in my boat.
I like a big, sharp display where I can split my screen into two or three different views, each with lots of screen space.
A large, high-definition, touch screen display is a prized feature for many anglers. However, it also has a huge impact on the price.
Large screens are great, but it’s often impractical and very often unaffordable.
By and large, many small boat anglers will suffice with the 5-inch display of the Hummingbird. For kayakers, you’re often resigned to the smallest of screens.
Power and Source
Fish finders are powered by either lithium-ion batteries or 12-volt batteries. The smaller portable units are lithium iron and have variable run times and variable charging times.
Anything around 5 hours fishing on one charge is reasonable, so long as you carry a backup charger.
For 12-volt batteries, your fish finder will last so long as the battery is charged. A 12-volt boat battery is often recharged by the motor.
For some small boats, however, a 12-volt battery is installed to run the fish finder and perhaps some other small electricals.
Run times will vary significantly depending on the quality of the battery and the power draw.
When we talk about frequencies, we’re referring to the transducer. Transducers operate at a frequency of 200, 192, 83, or 50 kHz. Higher frequencies are best for shallow water, whereas 50 kHz is best for deep water.
Most transducers have dual frequencies for greater coverage and resolution. Cheaper versions will have a single frequency.
The transducer is just as critical as the fish finder unit. It’s the transducer that determines the quality of the image.
Most fish finders will require mounting both the fish finder and the transducer. Different models will have varying mounting recommendations.
Most anglers will be cluey enough to mount the fish finder. Mount the fish finder for easy operation and viewing.
Mounting the transducer can be a little trickier, especially if you’re putting holes in your boat (avoid). There are plenty of mounting options to avoid the sin of holing your boat.
Many kayaks will come with special holes already molded into the kayak for mounting transducers.
Size and Portability
With a small boat or kayak, size and portability are critical. Firstly, there’s usually not much space to work with, so you want to keep things compact.
There’s a trade-off, however. The smaller you go, the less screen space you have, and a big screen can make things much easier.
If budget isn’t an issue, go with the largest unit that will comfortably fit in your boat. You’ll appreciate the larger buttons and screen.
For small watercraft, portability is very important. The main reason is that you will probably want to disconnect the fish-finder from the boat after each session.
The largest screen on this list is 9 inches and weighs just over 2 pounds. This is highly portable. The LUCKY is the ultimate in portability – it fits in your pocket.
Water Resistance and Durability
For those using kayaks, water resistance and even waterproofing to a modest depth are prudent. Tipping in a kayak is part and parcel of kayak fishing.
For those in small boats, chances are you won’t sink or tip. However, most small boats are very exposed to splashing and rain.
Most units are designed to take this. Always check the level of water resistance on the specifications.
There are different levels of protection, and it’s best to get the best protection you can afford.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is GPS and Navigation Necessary on Fish Finders?
GPS and navigation can be excellent features on a fish finder. The benefits of full nautical maps for a place you’re unfamiliar with can’t be overstated.
GPS is also brilliant for marking the locations of a particular structure, great fishing, and great fishing habitat.
While these are outstanding benefits, they are by no means essential. Any fish finder with these functions will add substantially to the cost.
Simple fish finders, without this functionality, will still be able to locate fish. And you’ll save a heap of cash too.
Where Should I Put my Fish Finder on my Boat?
In a small boat, you might be limited by appropriate mounting locations.
However, the benefits of a small boat mean that most things are within reach from where you’re fishing.
The ideal location for a fish finder is where you can see it and operate it from the place you are fishing or the place you’re helming.
Can you use a GPS on a Boat?
Yes. Many fish finders come with GPS functionality. It’s usually absent on the cheaper versions but starts becoming standard on the lower mid-priced units.
Is a Fish Finder on a Kayak Worth It?
Yes. A fish finder is just as effective on a kayak as it is on a boat. Keep in mind you might be restricted to a small unit, as space is a premium on kayaks.
There are plenty of fish finders designed specifically for kayaks.