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Sail Confidently With the Best Depth Finders
Last updated: 17 Jan 2023
Whether you are looking to reel in fish or just spend some relaxing time on the water, a depth finder is one gadget you should have in your boat. And if you are looking for the top depth finders in 2023, this guide is just for you.
Depth finders also called echo finders, are simply devices used to determine the depth of a water body just below the surface. They work by measuring the time taken for sound to be reflected or echoed back from the bottom – since the speed of sound in water is constant and known, the longer it takes for the echo to be reflected, the deeper it is to the bottom.
But not all depth finders are made equal – between the different brands, designs, and price points, the options can easily get overwhelming. And some depth finders are dedicated while others aren’t.
To save you the shopping hassle, we have compiled a list of depth finders that stand out from the rest.
The LUCKY depth finder comes as a wired depth finder with a digital handheld unit that connects via a 7.4 m cable to its 200 kHz 45° wide-angle transducer. It measures up to 100m depths, comes with a fish alarm, and displays profiles and locations of fish, plants, and debris. It is very portable and comes with extra accessories including a float, neck strap, and mounting bracket, and also costs $41.
This depth finder finds depth and some more – it is also a fish finder. It is a great buy for water sports enthusiasts and anglers who want a handy depth finder to use in shallow to medium-depth water.
The HawkEye DT1B depth finder includes a digital gage that’s small enough to fit into most gage openings and comes with two interchangeable bezels to fit your boat’s accent. It features a multi-mount transducer engineered to give accurate depth readings to up to 600 feet below the surface and at up to 60 mph and includes a transom mount and in-hull mount among other installation accessories for mounting ease. The digital gage is user-friendly with a polarized backlit display to maximize visibility, features a 3-stage alarm system, and runs on algorithmic software for maximum accuracy. It goes for around $87.
This dedicated depth finder is great at the only thing it does – finding depth. It is easy to install, fits both slow and fast boats, and is exceptionally user-friendly.
The Humminbird HDR650 depth finder features an in-dash digital gage with intuitive controls, a waterproof seal, and three customizable bezels for different boat dashboard accents. The transom-mounted sonar transducer measures up to 600 feet below the surface and at up to 70 mph and also includes all its mounting accessories. The whole unit costs around $110.
This depth finder is designed to blend right in with your boat’s dashboard or instrument panel. It is exceptionally versatile for different boat profiles, is easy to install, and won’t interfere with your boat’s performance.
The RICANK depth finder shares some features with the LUCKY depth finder including its digital gage that gives a fish and contour profile, 25-foot connection cable, handheld design, and intuitive controls. Its transducer can be used with the included float or fixed to the boat and gives accurate readings at up to 100 feet below the surface with its wide-angle 45° sonar beam. The gage also comes with great battery life, giving a 5-hour running time on its batteries, and other accessories are included for the most functionality.
This depth finder is the ideal tool for the angler or water sports enthusiast on a budget. It packs a depth and fish finder into one and is exceptionally versatile in different environments.
Knowing the depth below the water surface can help you navigate your boat safely and avoid obstacles as you move. Enter depth finders – the way they use sonar or sound to determine depth has not changed much. However, depth finders are slowly being replaced by multi-purpose units targeted toward different boating needs, and finding a dedicated depth finder can be a little hard.
Earlier on in this guide, we gave you an outline of the best depth finders on the market but you may still be in a fix as to which to choose. We’re still here to help. In the rest of this buying guide, we will take a look at some of the deciding factors we considered and which you should too so that you can zero in on the perfect depth finder for your boat. We will also take a look at some must-have qualities for depth finders before you make a purchase.
For newbies, the difference between depth finders and fish finders can get confusing. Many platforms even use them interchangeably, only fueling the misconception that they are the same. In reality, they are not. Well, not completely. Depth finders are devices used solely to determine the depth of the bottom from the surface. Fish finders, on the other hand, are designed with anglers in mind to find fish below the surface. Many fish finders may include a ‘depth finder’ feature but the reverse is not usually the case. As depth finders are dedicated, they use lower frequency sound waves and measure the depth to a far greater range than fish finders.
What Factors Should I Consider Before Buying a Depth Finder?
Intended purpose and water profile
What exactly are your intentions on the water? Do you want a depth finder to use when sailing, kayaking, fishing, or when on your boat leisurely? Your intended purpose will determine the type of depth finder you get or whether you get one at all.
Where you’ll be using your boat will also determine the depth finder you buy. Sailing in the ocean will require a depth finder that can detect o much lower depths than another you’ll be using while on a lake.
The gauge or display unit of the depth finder must be very user-friendly and come with intuitive controls. Many times, dedicated depth finders will come with displays in black and white. Fish finders, on the other hand, emphasize being able to see fish and the bottom profile, and will often with colored digital displays.
The gauge on the depth finder should also be easily integrated into your boat panel. It should fit into standard boat dashboards or cup holders and should blend with its accent. To ensure this, many depth finders include extra gauge bezels in common boat dashboard colors that are easily interchanged.
What Are the Different Types of Transducers?
The transducer on the depth finder is where all the action happens. Depth finder transducers can be categorized based on how they are mounted and their frequency ranges. However, as depth finders typically work in a tight frequency range (between 15-50 kHz) we will only consider transducers based on how they are mounted.
Thru-hull transducers are screwed into a hole drilled in the hull of your boat. They offer the most secure fit and minimum drag through the water, but their performance may be affected when the boat moves at high speed.
In-hull transducers send the sound signal through the hull of the boat and are mounted inside the boat. They offer the most minimal effects on the boat’s performance but are only suited to thin boats made from materials like fiberglass that won’t absorb the sound.
Transom transducers are mounted on the stern of the boat. They are the easiest to install and are suited to smaller boats.
How the gauge connects to the transducer is another important factor to consider. Most depth finders will come with a wired connection that uses a plug and port. However, some high-end depth finders may feature wireless connectivity that may even be integrated with your mobile device or GPS for added functionality.
People Also Asked
Q: Do depth finders make noise?
A: Low-frequency depth finders that produce sound waves between 15-20 kHz can be heard as this falls within the 20 Hz-20 kHz audible range. Any sound above 20 kHz, however, cannot be heard.
Q: Can I use a fish finder as a depth finder?
A: Many fish finders can be used as a depth finder, but to a limited range. Average fish finders have a depth range of about 100m (320 feet) below the surface, thanks to their high-frequency wide-angle sound beams. Depth finders, on the other hand, can detect depths as low as 600 feet and more.
Q: How much do depth finders cost?
A: Depending on the type and design, basic depth finders will typically sit between $20-$200. In general, dedicated depth finders are more expensive than depth finders which are also fish finders.
SAIL Magazine Review Team reports on best-selling products in sailing and boating. The SAIL Magazine editorial staff is not involved in the creation of this content. SAIL Magazine is reader-supported: When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.