Old phone re-purpose as GPS?

  • Creator
  • #17447
    Stephen Tarrant

    So, I just upgraded my phone, and the thought occurred to me that I might be able to re-purpose the old one (it’s old and not worth much to sell, but works fine) as a kayak GPS and emergency phone.

    Has anyone done this or have any thoughts or advice?

Viewing 6 replies - 1 through 6 (of 6 total)
  • Author
  • #17513
    Kevin Amos

    If you have a cellphone but are not subscribed to any service, you can still dial 9-1-1 in an emergency and receive basic wireless 9-1-1 service.


    Nick Heath

    I, too, understand this to be correct but cannot verify.  Any cellular ph is capable of a 911 call even if it is not under any company service agreement (or the $ ran out on a prepaid phone) and/or has no SIM.

    “I have read that it may even be usable as an “emergency” phone—apparently cell providers have to let you dial 9-1-1 over any network in range, even if you are not subscribed or have a sim card. **can anyone verify if this “emergency” use is true?**”

    Peter Kearney

    Try the free version of GAIA – worldwide topo maps and GPS tracking.

    And of course, Navionics for charts but now you have to pay for North America.

    The biggest issue I have with old phones is battery life.

    Cheers, Peter

    Kevin Amos

    Your old phone is essentially the same as a tablet. You can do anything except make calls over wifi. When you are not on wifi you can use it like in airplane mode. Here are some apps you might find useful.

    – Maps.me for gps is very good but a bit quirky to get use too.
    – Pocket for saving webpages for offline. Ie tide tables
    – A PDF reader you may have a preference already.
    – A Notes App. I like OneNote. I use this for packing & camp recipes
    – Google Play Music for storing your old music
    – TripIT for trip planning. I use this for my kayak trips planning.
    – Google Hangouts to make calls over wifi to landlines.
    – Your camera will still work to take photos.

    Have fun and it will be interesting to see what people are using.

    Stephen Tarrant

    Hi Allan,


    So, the technical details so far:


    -The old handset is a Galaxy S5 Active, which is a “ruggedized” “sport” model that is pretty tough (I’ve dropped it many times, has chunks out of the built-in armour, but never cracked the screen or broke open).

    – It also supposedly has pretty good waterproofing, though I have never really tested it.

    -I have downloaded a free Android app called “Polaris GPS Navigation”.    It lets me download maps (street, topos, marine…) that live in the phone and can be used offline.     **does anyone have any experience with this app?   Or suggestions for other GPS apps?**

    -The plan is to use it without a data plan or sim card.    I can do all my app and map downloading over my house wireless.    The GPS function of the phone appears to work fine without a data plan.     I have read that it may even be usable as an “emergency” phone—apparently cell providers have to let you dial 9-1-1 over any network in range, even if you are not subscribed or have a sim card.   **can anyone verify if this “emergency” use is true?**

    –I have ordered a bright armoured case designed for this model, and a waterproof floating phone bag with a lanyard ($20 for both on Amazon…)     The idea is to set up the GPS tracker app, put it in the bag, attach the thing to my PFD.   Then I can refer to  the map, note my speed, location, heading, etc as I paddle, and later download the logs of my track on the water.

    –There are “extended batteries” setups available for many phones that come with a replacement back for the phone, that adds ½” or so to the phone thickness, and a bigger-than-original replacement battery.     Still looking for the one for my S5 “active” model.    Between a bigger battery and some “power saving” settings in the phone, I hope to get a long  battery life.



    Allan Edwin

    It’s a cool idea Stephen. Better to upcycle technology than toss it where possible. Off the top of my head:


    – Cases and accessories can be got for cheap, depending on how popular that particular handset was. You’ll want to hurry though.

    – Cheaper than buying a new GPS outright.

    – Larger screen and touch capacity.

    – More apps available.

    – Cellular voice and data capable if you choose to go with a pay as you go plan and are in range.


    – Much less rugged than a dedicated GPS unit.

    – Battery capacity and power management options are much more hands on and depend on the OS.

    – GPS antenna probably less sensitive.

    – Application options depend greatly on handset OS: iOS vs Android. I think there’s more options in Google Play.

    – Data storage capacity depends on handset: you’re better off with Android handset that supports Micro-SD expansion for additional map data.

    I’m a tech guy so this seems like a fun project. If you’re not a tech person, you may (understandably) lose patience with the process.


Viewing 6 replies - 1 through 6 (of 6 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.