Mounting a portable GPS unit in a small boat.

Project date: 2001

Here is the scenario. You have a small, basic hand-held GPS unit, perhaps one you take hunting or hiking, that you want to mount in the boat; but not permanently. This also means you don't want to drill any holes in the boat. How can this be done.

The first thing on the list is to find a suitable RAM-Mount for your GPS. Check their web page at They have a really nice mount finder there, and you should be able to find a suitable Ram Mount for your GPS. Typically you have to purchase two items; first, a "1" ball base mount, RAM-B-xxx, where xxx is the style of the mount. The second item is the holder which is a plastic housing for the GPS itself and permanently mounts to the Ram-B mount. The descriptions on the RAM webpage are pretty clear so you should have no problem.
If you have a popular GPS unit, the GPS holder to the left will be a custom-made housing wherin the GPS unit snaps in as shown on the left.
On the right is the mounting base you have to purchase separately. The one shown here; a RAM-B-138U is only one of several configurations available. Other configurations typically differ by the base mounting style, and you can obtain rail-mount, suction-cup mount, longer arms, and other styles to fit your application. The one shown here (RAM-B-138U) has a screw-down base, and is the one I used. These mounts are very well made, and their price reflects that.

Time out: in the beginning of the article indicated no-drilling. Well there is a solution to that. RAM also sells an adhesive disk; RAM-202PSA-x, where x = the style. The adhesive disk is used in leiu of drilling holes - the disk is double-sided, and you simply stick the mount to the fiberglass helm and you are done.

An alternative adhesive, and the one I used, is 3M's "VHB" double-sided tape. VHB stands for Very High Bond, and it is unlike any double-sided tape you have ever used. For most applications, it is a permanent solution; so much so that you may have difficulty in removing it. The trick though is to wait 24 hours before putting any pressure on the mount. If you mount the base according to 3M's instructions, I'll guarantee it will stay put. VHB can be hard to find; but I have occasionally found it in small quantities of a few feet in blister packs at Radio Shack, Menards (similar to lowes) and even Target if you can believe that. As of 2010 I was able to buy a blister 4 pack of 3" VHB strips from Radio Shack as shown; Part Number: 64-2361. If you have to purchase the tape in standard rolls, its too expensive for this type of project.

Note that there are a lot of different tapes on the market, even 3M brand, but if the tape doesn't say VHB on it, its not the high bonding tape. If it isn't the real stuff, it may not hold as well.



One advantage of using a RAM mount is that it is completely removeable, as the mount will pop-off the lower ball when you loosen the thumbscrew, as well as sliding the GPS unit itself out of the upper holder.

Some GPS manufacturers also provide their own mounting systems, so don't discount that source. However, while the manufacturer's mount may be less expensive, it is certain to be less durable as well.

I cannot leave you without a true story. I used to tow a 22ft Cuddy Cabin boat with a Dodge RAM pickup; the boat I show here with the GPS mount. The truck was a newer model, with virtually everything in the dash electronic - including the speedometer. Even though the speedometer readout on the truck had an analog gauge, it was actually a digital instrument. At any rate, we were towing the boat some 100 miles to put it into the In-And-Out facility when the speedometer quit working. I simply pulled off to the side of the road, went into the boat, and removed the GPS unit off it's mount; returned to the truck; put the GPS on the dash, then used it as a speedometer... You sometimes have to be resourceful.




Ram Mounts
3M VHB tape

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