Connecting GPS to your Mac

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GPS Connection Types

GPS Devices

There are two general device types for GPS:

  1. Onboard GPS – A GPS enabled device, stand alone, or part of a Multi-Function Display or possibly another equipment type such as an AIS transceiver installed on your boat.
  2. Portable GPS – Dedicated GPS device, includes simple wired antennas to full function hand held devices with maps/charts and a display.

This article will consider only portable GPS for connection to your Mac. The onboard one is a larger topic to be covered in a separate article.

Of the portable variety let’s discuss by type:

Handheld multi-function.

These are GPS devices designed primarily for stand alone use. That is they have displays for maps and charts, input keys to control the device, and are typically intended for excursion sporting (hunting, hiking, off-roading, etc). Some Garmin products have specific Marine function and nautical charts.

This Amazon search will show a ton of examples.

Some of these will have USB connections for a PC interface; however, that connection may not communicate to anything other than proprietary apps or to transfer tracks and routes.  Most will not work for MacENCx64.

Others will have bluetooth support for connecting to PC and some of them ~may~ work. 

You can check user manuals to determine if the intended device can communicate (USB or Bluetooth) using the NMEA 0183 standard. If yes, then it will work. If they don’t specify then you should assume it will not.

Wired (USB) GPS Antenna.

There are a few USB GPS devices out there that have come and gone over the years, one still out there for sale on Amazon is the GlobalSat BU 535.

There are not a lot left on the market (in Amazon or broadly on the internet).

All of the USB options are very inexpensive (some might say, “cheap”). The challenge with those are the drivers. USB to Serial drivers for macOS have had issues over the years. The current driver for GlobalSat (and others with the same popular chipset) works with Catalina but are broken in Big Sur. All of them come as kernel extensions which Apple really doesn’t like and why they are actively pushing them out.

For that reason, we are running away from wired GPS and recommending wireless going forward.

Dedicated Bluetooth GPS.

Here is the Amazon search that will give you examples of these.

These do not have the display function nor many hardware keys. They are portable single purpose receivers. 

Most of these will work. Again, check and verify in documentation if they support NMEA 0183.

Our favorite and fully tested with MacENCx64 is the Garmin Glo 2

Neither the cheapest nor most expensive, it is rugged, fully functional, proven to work reliably, and has exceptional battery life. It can also be tethered to a USB charge port (a back up battery, wall socket, or into your Mac) to extend time online. It will transmit GPS data while charging.

How to connect (Garmin Glo example)

These steps should be done with MacENCx64 not running yet.

  1. Unpack and charge the device.
  2. Turn on the GPS, it should go into pairing mode.
  3. On your Mac, go to System Preferences => Bluetooth
  4. Your Mac will scan for new and existing devices. Look for the Garmin Glo and connect.
  5. The devices should now show a connected message under the Garmin Glo 2.

Here are the steps to configure MacENCx64 now that your device is connected to your Mac:

  1. Start MacENCx64
  2. From the Menu bar, select GPS => Connect (or [Command] [G]).
  3. In the GPS window, press the [Settings] button.
  4. In the slide out panel, Select Type = Garmin
  5. Then select Port to be the Garmin port in the list. There may be more than one (with suffixes such as COM5, COM7, etc.). Choose COM5 or the lowest com number. 
  6. Then select Rate=4800
  7. To test if your port setting is correct and the device is transmitting, press [Monitor] and then on the pop out drawer press [Start].
  8. The mini-monitor will display status on the selected port. You should see fast moving green and possibly yellow text rows rapidly scrolling. 

Eventually the device will get a fix and GPS data will center your location on the chart display.

Pressing [Satellites] will display the active pings by strength and location.

The above example shows the general steps for connections of this type. Other devices will be similar. For GPS that is not Garmin, select the vendor from the list or choose OTHER.

For Port, the device should have listed ports similar in type but differently named to select.

For Rate, start with 4800. You can try faster rates but only if the connection cannot be made at 4800. 

Hope this helps and…

Happy Sailing!

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