How to connect your USB GPS handheld device to ArcGIS Desktop

ArcGIS Desktop suite can offer multiple ways of getting the information from your GPS Receiver and putting it on a map: you can download your waypoints, tracks and load them to ArcMap using Event layers, tables or by using custom applications to streamline the process. The easiest way is just to connect your GPS device to your laptop or desktop PC and access it using the GPS Toolbar in ArcMap.

However it is not that easy: ArcGIS still uses the COM-port to connect to the GPS receiver and from time to time we receive questions like: “How can I connect to my USB Garmin portable GPS receiver from ArcMap?”

First of all, ArcGIS needs a COM port connection to communicate with your GPS device and today new laptops do not even have a serial port. The problem can be solved by emulating a COM-port connection and linking your USB connection to this Virtual COM using a third-party software.

Some GPS device manufacturers provide drivers to map the USB connection to a virtual COM port that then can be used. Bluetooth devices also can be configured to use a virtual COM port.

So it is always a good idea to check the manufacturer’s website and download the latest set of drivers for your device. In this example we’re using a Garmin device, so we can visit their support webpage and get a latest driver pack for USB GPS receivers.

The next step is to get a the third-party software to emulate the USB port as the virtual COM-port. Few tools are available online but there is one which is particularly recommended by the GIS community – the GpsGate

After you install this software you can attach your GPS device and let the program detect it automatically or you may set the input manually: if you’re using a Garmin GPS device use the Garmin USB option

Then you have to set the output and specify a virtual COM-port, which will be used in ArcGIS to get the data from your GPS

After the GPS is connected and the USB port refers to a virtual COM you may use the GPS toolbar in ArcMap to connect your device and work with it in ArcMap.

Open ArcMap and bring the GPS toolbar to display.

Open the Connection Setup Wizard and select the communication port (a pre-defined virtual COM).

Click Test Connection to verify that is had been established.

Click Open Connection to connect to your GPS via the virtual COM-port.

Open the GPS Position window to view the connection status and current coordinates.

Please note, as the ArcGIS supports only the NMEA protocol you have to make sure that it is selected as a default data transfer protocol for your GPS device (check the device settings). ArcGIS appears to not get any data from the device when it requires a so-called cold start. So if your GPS receiver was moved far away from the last measured point, let it perform the start, download the required information and calculate your position before connecting the device to your ArcGIS machine.

This entry was posted in General and tagged , , on by .

About Ivan E.

Russia-born geographer with a degree in Cartography and GIS with a 18-year Esri-related experience. Had been working for Esri Russia (CIS) then moved to Australia to join Esri Australia as support trainer in the Professional services dept. Area of expertise: ArcGIS Desktop software, 3D modelling (CityEngine), cartography, remote sensing

15 thoughts on “How to connect your USB GPS handheld device to ArcGIS Desktop

  1. Allison

    It would be great if this worked. How can Arc do complex analysis, but can’t recognize a 2 digit com port!

  2. Iain Stuart

    As a workaround I save my Garmin tracks in gpx format and import them through the Import gpx tool found in ArchPhoto.

      1. Charles Costello

        Ivan, the link you refer to is no longer alive. I am trying to use Garmin Montana to connect to ArcMap 10.3 geodata base to create accurate field data points in my seagrass research. Is there a newer way to connect these??

  3. Iain Stuart

    I have used a Trimble Nomad to record archaeological sites on an old mining area. I post processed them through the Trimble Software (Terra Sync) to add differential data to them and as the software offered the option to save as shapefiles I did and simply uploaded them into ArcGIS 10.

  4. James Hatton

    This is a very easy thing to write in to the base code for ArcGIS. I used to have to do this kind of work around when tuning cars via laptop and using a USB to COM port emulator, speaking of which those of you who have not had any luck finding a suitable emulator or one with drivers that won’t crash your latest 64Bit machines then do a search for Performance car tuning and USB emulators in Google, Thousands of hits and solutions at your finger tips 😉 Aside from that I dare say that there are reasons behind why this has not been updated.

  5. gps specials

    Really, there are only two to three companies that are truly competing within that particular market; however, when
    it comes to hand held GPS devices, that is another story all together.
    Earlier I mentioned the “Media” option on the Maylong FD-220.
    Regardless of whether used for commercial fishing or fishing as a hobby, this
    device is certainly valuable.

  6. fred w smith

    FIRST step: What cable do I need?
    On the back of my garmin nuvi 260w the plug is similar to but NOT same as phone charging plug.
    What do I need?


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