If you’re after a sports watch, it doesn’t get much better than a Garmin. Whatever you’re into, you can bet there’s a Garmin that will track it. But as good as they are, these devices are not faultless. Here’s what to do if your Garmin is not finding or not connecting to GPS.
Any half decent sportswatch these days will come with a built-in GPS chip. Some of these also have support for Galileo, Glonass and other satellite constellations.
GPS ensures that all your running stats are accurate. It uses lots of battery and finding a signal can sometimes be hard. However, the results are definitely worth it.
The functionality works by connecting to a series of GPS satellites. The watch gets the signals and calculates how far away it is from these satellites. Then it uses this information to work out its exact location on the ground.
Previously, sports watches with built-in GPS were few and far between. Luckily that has changed. You still get a few with no built-in GPS, but most of these will pack something called Connected GPS. This is a fancy way of saying the device has the ability to piggyback on the satellite signal from your smartphone. Not ideal as it means you have to carry your phone with you when exercising outdoors.
Using GPS has many benefits. It means the watch on your wrist doesn’t rely on steps to estimate distance travelled but on the global-positioning-system. Hence, the accuracy is much improved and this is important to any half-decent runner, cyclists and those into other outdoor pursuits. It means that you know in real-time exactly how your training is going.
There are many other benefits to using GPS on land, at sea and in the air. In activity and sports anyone who needs to keep track of where they are utilises this type of functionality. Whether it is for finding their baring on a map or knowing how fast they are going. In addition to more standard sports, such devices are also popular with those into skiing, hunters and hikers, just to name a few.
GPS is the most popular option
There is more than one satellite-positioning-system. GPS is the most popular option and the most widely available one. The three letters stand for Global Positioning System.
GPS was put in place by the US Department of Defense (USDOD), hence it is owned by the US Government. However, the system is free to use for everyone. A few satellites were originally put into orbit for military use in 1973, and this was expanded to 31 satellites which have been operational since 1993 and made available to the public a year after.
Every single one of these satellites circles the Earth twice per day. Each has a precise orbit and transmits its position in real-time. This allows devices like sports watches to connect to them to figure out their location on Earth.
To work out your latitude and longitude, a device needs to be connected to at least 3 satellites. To calculate your altitude, as well, you will need to be connected to 4 satellites. This might seem like a lot, but in most cases a watch will connect to 8 or more satellites circling above. It depends on where you are, the time of day and other factors.
In addition to GPS, there are other similar positioning systems that are in use. Most Garmin watches with built-in GPS also have the ability to tap into GLONASS, GALILEO and some into BeiDou.
GLONASS is a Russian space-based system that was put in place in 1976. It has 24 satellites also enabling global coverage.
You might be wondering which is better – GPS or GLONASS. The first has 7 more satellites, and accuracy of 3.5-7.8m. The accuracy of GLONASS is 5-10 meters. Hence, GPS outweighs the Russian system in terms of accuracy, strength of signal and ease of connection.
This is why smartwatches rarely use GLONASS alone. But they are used in conjunction with GPS as GLONASS presents a great backup option when your GPS signal drops.
Other positioning systems
The list of satellite positioning systems does not end there. There’s the above mentioned BeiDou that comes from China. It has more than 30 satellites.
A recent addition is Galileo. This is the European Union (EU) counterpart that was created by the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2016. One of its aims is to make European nations less reliant on other systems.
Over the next few years Galileo will increase its number of satellites from the existing 26 to the full operational capacity of 30 satellites. All of these are (will be) flying 26,000 kilometers above the earth. Interestingly, Galileo has a greater accuracy than GPS (less than one metre).
Finally, also worth a mention is QZSS (Quasi-Zenith Satellite System). This is the Japanese version that is being developed to enhance the US operated GPS in the Asia-Oceania regions. However, its focus is mostly on Japan.
GPS should be usable everywhere outdoors. But you won’t have much luck if you try and utilise the functionality indoors, in caves or underwater.
While, theoretically, GPS should work everywhere outside – sports watch owners know this is not always the case. Most of us have spent a long time waiting for the GPS indicator light to turn from red to green. Far too much time!
Environmental factors – make sure you are in a clear area
GPS needs a clear signal to connect properly. So try and avoid densely wooded spots as the tall trees might impede with the signal. In such areas, you might be able to find a signal, but don’t be surprised if it keeps dropping. Even a dense group of people can cause a deterioration of GPS.
Garmin also suggests to avoid being in the middle of a city when utilising GPS. That’s easier said than done as many of us run or cycle in urban areas. What you can do here is try and avoid areas with tall buildings when initially connecting to GPS. If you’ve been patiently waiting for 5-10 minutes with no luck, walk to a different area. Sometimes it can help if you stand still while GPS is connecting.
What you’ll probably find in urban areas is degraded GPS performance. Running or cycling through a city you are bound to be in close vicinity to tall buildings at times. Therefore the signal may drop and reconnect soon after. This is considered normal.
An unobstructed view of the entire sky is what you’re ideally after. Particularly when you are initially establishing a connection. So try and find a place where you can see as much sky as possible.
But don’t worry if it’s a cloudy or rainy day. This in no way effects the watch’s ability to acquire a GPS signal.
Wait a little while when connection is established
Your watch has connected with GPS. Wait a few seconds. When it initially connects, this means it has the bare minimum number of satellites it needs to speak to. But waiting a bit more lets the device find a signal with additional satellites before you start moving. This helps, because if one satellite connection drops it will have another one to rely on.
Enable a secondary satellite connection
On some watches you can enable a secondary satellite constellation such as GLONASS or GALILEO. This can help you get a quicker satellite fix and fill in gaps where the connection drops. One thing to note – enabling both options is more battery heavy so will reduct the running time of your device, as compared to only using GPS.
The exact way of tweaking this setting depends on the device that you own. If we use the Fenix 6 as an example, you will need to go to:
- Choose Activities & Apps
- Select the activity in question (for example Run)
- Select activity settings
- Choose GPS
- Then decide on the option that you want. Select OFF to switch off GPS, select GPS Only, GPS + GLONASS or GPS + GALILEO. Ultra Trac is an option that records track points and sensor data less often.
For older devices such as the Forerunner 935 the procedure is very similar. You’ll need to open the Menu>choose Activities & Apps>Choose the activity to customise>Choose settings>Choose GPS.
On the Vivoactive and Venu you’ll need to select the Settings icon>Activites & Apps>Select activity>Select settings>Choose GPS. So once again, the steps are very similar.
Sync your device with Garmin Connect
If the above doesn’t work and you are still left waiting for ages for a GPS signal, there’s another option. Sync your watch or fitness tracker with Garmin Connect or Garmin Express.
This will ensure that your wearable has the latest software on-board as this may contain updated information on available satellite locations. This data can be out of date if the device has not been used for a month or if you have travelled more than 200 miles from your last satellite connection.
Using GPS and other satellite systems will ensure your position is tracked more accurately. But it is not 100% perfect.
GPS drift is a term of the difference between your actual position and the calculated GPS position. It will always be there to a larger or smaller extent, depending on factors mentioned above.
Garmin says the GPS location accuracy of its wearables is around 3 meters, 95% of the time. This can add up over a long run or cycle. The good news is that large discrepancies rarely happen and Garmin watches and fitness trackers are considered to be amongst the best when it comes to GPS accuracy. Take the steps mentioned above to minimise the chance of a large GPS drift happening.
Turn on auto-pause
To improve accuracy, Garmin also suggests turning on the auto-pause setting – if your device has one. This is because recording GPS while stopping is said to be one of the biggest contributors to inaccurate distance calculations. The auto-pause setting helps get rid of this problem and reduce the amount of additional distance recorded.
Enable Every Second Recording
Some Garmin devices allow you to choose between Smart Recording or Every Second Recording. For accuracy, it is better to use the second option. It is more battery intensive but will offer more detailed tracking info. Smart Recording is the option to go for if you want to preserve battery life and memory. Where available, these can be tweaked in Settings>System>Data Recording menu.
Like this article? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter and never miss out!