The best GPS fitness tracker is more than just a fancy step counter for health conscious outdoorsy types. They’re a whole load more useful than you can imagine for us sailors, paddleboarders, rowers, kayakers and swimmers.

waterproof fitness tracker

If you are looking for a new way to monitor your health and wellbeing whilst enjoying being on and around water, then have a look at our top 6 choices for the best GPS fitness trackers, watches and bands.

Not just for step counting or fitness fanatics, these are everyday personal health assistants that go everywhere with you. Including a wild swim in the sea if you want. Having a fitness band or smart watch with built-in satellite positioning allows you to go off the beaten path, without needing to carry your phone for distance and route tracking.

A fitness tracker can monitor your heart rate, your oxygen saturations levels, your stress levels, how much and the quality of your sleep, they offer guided meditation and an array of other health options.

Fitness trackers can also be used for contactless payments, music streaming, receiving/sending messages and calendar alarms too. The top-end models we have selected also have capacity to send location alerts if you are in difficulty.

As a qualified British Cycling Coach, I have some background in sports fitness tracking the old fashioned way, so I was a sceptic of being monitored by a fitness tracker at first, until one day I made myself a New Year’s resolution to shed some weight and better regulate my sleep routine for solo and short handed sailing.

I bought a couple of self help books (see further reading links below) and then strapped my first budget option GPS fitness tracker to my wrist and set off to go cycling, walking, sailing, rowing and the odd bit of swimming and gym work. It was pretty good for all of that and was quite a motivational tool. I also wore the band to track my sleep, and this is where it got really interesting.

I quickly learned that the little black hectoring band I had on my wrist was so much more than just a pedometer with attitude.

fitbit charge 4 best GPS fitness trackers

6 of the best GPS fitness trackers with waterproofing for sailors, paddleboarders, kayakers and swimmers

garmin Vivoactive 4 best GPS fitness trackers

Garmin Vivoactive 4

The Garmin Vivoactive comes in two sizes to fit larger or smaller wrists which is a nice option to have. From 40mm for the smaller to 45mm for the larger watch smart watch body. It has a range of colour options, from black and grey in both sizes to

a pink and white band options in the smaller size only. It looks smart and is suitable for daily wear as a wrist watch with a long battery life.

This model offers emergency assistance, so once you have added an emergency contact into the device you can hold down the buttons in order and it will trigger an urgency call for you.

The specifications of the Vivoactive are many! It has bells and whistles. Some of the marine activities this fitness tracker can support and detect are stand-up paddleboarding, rowing and pool swimming.

It also has a built-in electronic compass, like the kind you might find on a smart phone, and visible workout moves can be shown on screen to show you how to perform a particular exercise.

Made from stainless steel with a silicon band, it oozes quality and is a premium purchase option. A big thumbs up from us for this near top-end GPS fitness tracker

  • Waterproof – Yes 5ATM
  • Battery life – Smart watch mode: up to 8 days, GPS mode with music: up to 6 hours (average 4 to 5 days)
  • Built in GPS – Yes
  • No. of sport modes – 20
  • Smart alarm – No – only basic vibration alerts
  • Contactless payments – Yes
  • Heart rate monitor – Yes ,with advanced elements
  • Music streaming – Yes, plus storage for 500 tracks on device
  • Sleep monitoring – Advanced analysis
  • Compatible with – Apple and Android

Pros: excellent health focus, looks smart for daily wear, as a premium high-end product you are unlikely to “grow” out of this fitness tracker, optical pulse monitor works underwater

Cons: with real world use it’s likely you will need to charge this 2 or 3 times per week, as a larger-sized watch, it may be bulky for sleeping

Rating 4.5 / 5

Price from £209.99 to £279.99

Buy Garmin Vivoactive 4 at Garmin UK

Buy Garmin Vivoactive 4 at Best Buy

Buy Garmin Vivoactive 4s at Garmin UK

Buy Garmin Vivoactive 4s at Best Buy

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Fitbit charge 5 best GPS fitness trackers

Fitbit Charge 5

The Charge series of fitness trackers has been one of Fitbit’s flagship band style models for some time now. The Charge 5 replaces the Charge 4 with some additional heart rate and stress monitoring functions and a slimmer body. I have owned a charge 4 and a charge 5. Both are excellent.

The Fitbit charge 5 has a sleek smooth finish that lacks the physical button on the side of the previous charge 4. Whilst Charge 5 now offers some additional functions, such as ECG and EDA (electrodermal) scanning which is a method of monitoring latent stress.

Without doubt one of the more useful functions for offshore sailing and indeed daily waking has been the smart alarm, which monitors heart rate during sleeping and chooses the optimal time of the sleep cycle to buzz the alarm and wake you up.

This means waking seems effortless, more natural and you wake feeling less groggy, especially when needing to wake for a watch rota. It comes in the box with two strap sizes for different sized wrists.

  • Waterproof – Yes 5ATM
  • Battery life – 7 days
  • Built in GPS – Yes
  • No. of sport modes – 7 auto-recognised sports, includes swimming
  • Smart alarm – Yes
  • Contactless payments – Yes, though limited in UK
  • Heart rate monitor – Yes, with advanced elements
  • Music streaming – No
  • Sleep monitoring – Advanced analysis by subscription to FitBit premium
  • Compatible with – Apple and Android

Pros: a slim device that fits easily under clothes, smart wake alarm, reliable auto tracking

Cons: the lack of physical button on Charge 5 can give touchscreen fatigue, limited sports modes

Rating 4.5/5

Price £129 (Charge 5) £99 (Charge 4)

Buy Fitbit Charge 5 at JohnLewis.com

Buy Fitbit Charge 5 at Best Buy

Buy Fitbit Charge 4 at JohnLewis.com

Buy FitBit Charge 4 at Best Buy

Apple watch series 7 Best GPS fitness trackers

Apple Watch Series 7

The smart watch that started the march of change for smart watches. It’s stylish and on many people’s wrists, but is it the absolute best of the best? Well that depends on if you buy into the Apple party.

For those who do, this can be an incredibly useful tool to monitor your health, wellbeing, heart rate, heart ECG and oxygen levels. It has a wide array of sports available natively and you can supplement this with additional apps from the store.

You can go swimming both indoors and outdoors with this as well as create your own water sport activity in the open goal category. The issue you might find with this watch is that it is so useful you may not want to take it off, but you will be forced to because the battery life is less than one day.

You will have to choose between monitoring your evenings and sleep and monitoring your sporting activity in the day time with a spell everyday where you need to take it off to charge it.

  • Waterproof – Yes 5ATM
  • Battery life – 18 hours
  • Built in GPS – Yes
  • No. of sport modes – 23 autodetected, including open water swimming and open goal water sports.
  • Smart alarm – Yes, via Autosleep app from the store
  • Contactless payments – Yes
  • Heart rate monitor – Yes, advanced analysis
  • Music streaming – Yes
  • Sleep monitoring – Yes, advanced analysis, though better analysis available through companion app Pillow or Autosleep
  • Compatible with – Apple

Pros: Pairing with friends who also have Apple watches, a wide array of apps available to function as your personal assistant

Cons: Only compatible with Apple phones, woefully short battery life, mediocre sleep monitoring without additional apps

Rating 3/5

Price £369

Buy Apple Watch Series 7 at Apple.com

Buy Apple Watch Series 7 at Best Buy

 

Polar Vantage Best GPS fitness trackers

Polar Vantage M2

A well accomplished, highly specified GPS fitness tracker and sports watch from Polar that has the widest array of sports available out of all of our round up of the best GPS fitness trackers. It has guided meditation, mental health and physical health elements. Large 46mm screen shows activities clearly and with detail.

The ventilated wristband as standard is a good inclusion, as silicon bands tend to make the wrist sweat more than fabric ones. The presence of physical buttons indicate a clear intention of use in water, though it isn’t sold for diving and is intended for surface swimming only.

  • Waterproof – Yes, WR30
  • Battery life – 4 to 5 days
  • Built in GPS – Yes
  • No. of sport modes – 130 sports supported, including open water swimming, rowing, water skiing, wakeboarding and windsurfing
  • Smart alarm – No, only basic vibration alerts
  • Contactless payments – Yes
  • Heart rate monitor – Yes, with advanced elements
  • Music streaming – Yes
  • Sleep monitoring – Yes, with advanced analysis
  • Compatible with – Apple and Android

Pros: A highly specified, high-end model, masses of supported sports, really good battery life

Cons: Huge watch face might not suit some smaller wrists, not as stylish as other models of similar spec

Rating 4/5

Price £269

Buy Polar Vantage M2 at Polar.com

Buy Polar Vantage M2 at Amazon

Huawei band 4 pro

An amazingly good value GPS fitness tracker, packed full of features you might not expect in such a budget friendly package. It might not be as stylish as the other fitness trackers, but at under £50 you get a whole load of tracking goodness for your money.

This fitness tracker has GPS built-in, so there’s no need for your phone to be with you to get accurate distance and route tracking. The Huawei fitness app can be a bit of a fiddle to get working, but it works ok and syncs easily with other apps too, such as Google fit and Samsung fitness.

It’s waterproof and has a built-in accelerometer, so you can go wild swimming with confidence, knowing it will track your swim stroke and record your route. The Huawei band 4 pro offers good sleep analysis too, without the need for any additional payment to a subscription service.

  • Waterproof – Yes, 5Atm
  • Battery life – 5 to 7 days
  • Built in GPS – Yes
  • No. of sport modes – 11 including rowing and outdoor swimming
  • Smart alarm – No
  • Contactless payments – No
  • Heart rate monitor – Yes
  • Music streaming – No
  • Sleep monitoring – Yes, good free analysis
  • Compatible with – Apple and Android

Pros: Budget friendly, great starter GPS fitness tracker, lots of functions not seen on more expensive models

Cons: Not as stylish as some other models, the companion phone app can be a pain to set up

Rating 4/5

RRP £49.99

Buy Huawei band 4 pro at Argos.co.uk

Buy Huawei band 4 pro at Amazon

Samsung Watch 4 Classic

Available in two different watch sizes, 45mm and 41mm these come with a couple of colourway options too. Nothing overly dynamic but they are stylish enough. You navigate the screens on this GPS fitness tracker by rotating the bezel to scroll through and there’s an additional two physical buttons too.

These are highly useful if you intend to go in the water. Touch screens aren’t too clever when they’re wet, so the presence of physical buttons indicates watery intentions for this device. It supports a wide array of sporting activity which includes kayaking, indoor rowing and swimming.

Samsung have created several variants of this watch but all are able to work with a wide array of apps, including Strava and other fitness or productivity apps.

  • Waterproof – Yes, 5ATM IP68
  • Battery life – 40 hours
  • Built in GPS – Yes
  • No. of sport modes – 4 with 40 different sports activities supported
  • Smart alarm – No, only basic vibration alerts
  • Contactless payments – Yes
  • Heart rate monitor – Yes, includes ECG and SpO2
  • Music streaming – Yes, via Spotify
  • Sleep monitoring – Yes, advanced analysis
  • Compatible with – Android, particularly Samsung

Pros: Looks stylish, tactile and physical buttons, practical in the water, has almost every bell and whistle you could possibly want if you own a Samsung phone

Cons: For best use you will need a Samsung phone, you need to be a committed fitness tracker enthusiast to invest in this

Rating 4/5

Price £249 to 369

Buy Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 from Argos.co.uk

Buy Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 from JohnLewis.com

Buy Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 from Best Buy

What to look for in the best GPS fitness trackers

  • Waterproofing
    All of our choices have waterproofing but to varying degrees.
  • Contactless payments and phone compatibility
    This can be a deciding factor for some. The use of a suitable companion app is essential for all of these GPS smart watches and waterproof fitness bands.
  • Battery life
    It’s all very well using a fitness tracker as an alarm, sleep and pulse monitor at night as well as tracking your active zone minutes during the day,  but if it needs relentlessly charging every 24 hours, this might be a problem for some. We’re looking for a charge cycle of at least 2 days, ideally a week.
  • Sports tracking
    Each GPS fitness tracker has a small number of auto-tracking sports and a larger number of elective tracked sports.
  • Sleep monitoring capability of the fitness tracker has wider practicalities for sailors working a watch system. You can track the amount of sleep you’ve actually had, not what you think you’ve had. You can see how much quality sleep you’ve managed to achieve and you can take steps to improve your watch system to fully suit you and your ability to rest and recover. This is particularly important if you are functioning as part of a performance crew or short handed.
    The number one performance factor on a race boat is the crew and the decisions they make. Marginal gains go out of the window when you have tired crew who make poor decisions. Injuries are more likely to occur when we are tired.
    If you are a double handed couple on a long summer cruise, then this can also be just as important to keep everyone’s inner chimp quiet. (See link for The Chimp Paradox book recommendation at the bottom of this article-Ed)
  • Heart rate monitor is an excellent indicator of hydration and physical stress. If you see, over the duration of a multiday passage that your resting heart rate is gradually rising, then you might want to check you are hydrated enough. Dehydration places strain on the heart as the blood volume decreases. The heart has to pump harder and faster to get that thicker and more sodium dense blood around your body. You might feel a change, such as palpitations when it’s really bad but with a pulse monitoring fitness tracker you can see early indications that your resting rate is rising and take early preventative action. If you find you struggle to remember to drink, you can set your fitness tracker to silently buzz you a reminder to drink at regular intervals.
    Having a fitness tracker with ECG monitor can detect heart rhythms and alert you if it detects something out of the ordinary. Some fitness trackers also detect oxygen saturation levels and other health metrics such as body fat composition. These aren’t medical devices, but they are great for health monitoring.
  • Silent alarms and reminders
    If you’re anything like me and hate being woken up for your watch by your co-skipper or crew mates and prefer a bit of space to come to terms with life, the universe and everything at 3am on a rough night passage, then the smart wake alarm might be a mini revelation.

    Smart Wake alarm will leave you feeling quite smug as you head out for your night watch – Fitbit Charge 5 – Best GPS Fitness tracker | YBW.com

Further reading

  • Atomic Habits by James Clear – buy Atomic Habits at Audible or buy Atomic Habits at Amazon
  • Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker – buy Why We Sleep at Audible or buy Why We Sleep at Amazon
  • The Chimp Paradox by Prof Steven Peters – buy The Chimp paradox at Audible or buy The Chimp Paradox at Amazon

If you enjoyed reading this, you may also like our article about the best sailing watches on YBW.com

You can read more about night sailing, top tips and expert advice at Yachting World

Didn’t find what you’re looking for? Head to Amazon’s dedicated boating page for more marine products.

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