handheld marine vhf radio

6 Best Marine VHF Radios For Boats 2018

A Marine VHF Radio is an important safety tool but is usually under rated by users unless there is a crisis looming. The term VHF means Very High Frequency and there are many frequencies and channels for certain scenarios.

The best handheld VHF marine radio is the Standard Horizon HX870 with its impressive waterproofing and GPS functionality. The best fixed mount VHF marine radio is the Standard Horizon GX1700W that has 12 built-in channels for GPS functionality and the 3 inch display for excellent usability.

Marine VHF radios are an essential for trips out to sea and have multiple uses such as rescue services, ship to shore communication, contacting the harbor and more.

Best Marine VHF Radios

Marine VHF RadioTypeDisplay Size
Standard Horizon GX1700WFixed Mount3.0 Inch
Uniden UM380Fixed Mount3.0 Inch
ICOM IC-M506 21Fixed Mount3.4 Inch
Standard Horizon HX870Handheld2.3 Inch
BaoFeng BF-F8HPHandheld1.0 Inch
Uniden MHS75Handheld2.0 Inch

The choice of marine VHF radios are endless but regardless of which one you go for, its important that you have one on board. The fact that this device can save your life within an emergency should be enough for you to buy one.

The marine VHF technology is getting better and better each year, which results in better value for the money spent on a marine VHF radio. We strongly recommend that you read our VHF buying guide to get a full insight into the world of VHF radios.

For serious boaters that want to add value to their boat, a fixed VHF radio is the best buy. If you are moving around from boat to boat, the handheld VHF radio would be the correct device to use instead. Regardless, below is a list of the best marine VHF radios for your boat with a mix of fixed and handheld radios.

Standard Horizon GX1700W Fixed Mount VHF Radio

The Standard Horizon GX1700W has built in 12 channel GPS functionality for displaying the boats position in latitude and longitude and more. The large 3 inch display allows easier reading on information unlike many of the other VHF radios.

Being a premium VHF radio that is the most expensive within this article, why is it so popular? For starters, the built in GPS works out of the box and is one of the best safety features for emergencies to give exact coordinates. This VHF marine radio also has a high level waterproofing rating that is backed up by a 3 year warranty.

Navigating to a waypoint is an important part of boating and the GX1700 is able to save up to 100 waypoints. Using the navigation system, you are able to use the compass to show nearby vessels, SOG, COG, BRG and DST to each way point.

Although it is on the pricey side, the GX1700W provides too many features to note, which makes it good value for money. If you are not on a budget as such, the GX1700W is the best fixed mount VHF marine radio for the money.

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Uniden UM380 Fixed Marine VHF Radio

The Uniden UM380 comes in the choice of white or black with an orange backlit display for feedback of GPS data and radio features. The fixed mount marine VHF radio is a compact unit that outputs 25 watts in power.

The waterproof VHF Radio is rated up to JIS4/CFR46 level and is one of the best VHF radios for boats. The S.A.M.E weather alert provides a specific area message to alert you of any severe weather that you will be approaching.

In case of an emergency, there are dedicated distress buttons that allows you to click one button to call for help. The high performance transceiver will ensure perfect communication to prevent interference during the distressing time.

This fixed mount marine VHF radio is able to transmit frequencies at 1 to 2 miles and receive at 20+ miles. Overall, it is an excellent radio and the choice of color allows you to get the right finish if you are to fix it to your boat.

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ICOM IC-M506 21 Fixed VHF Unit

The ICOM IC-M506 is for people looking at the ultimate VHF radio with all the features you can think of. From a built in foghorn to vessel traffic, this VHF radio features it. The large 3.4 inch LCD display provides a clear reading of GPS data, airs, DSC and radio menus.

The most impressive feature is the integrated AIS receiver that displays real time AIS vessel traffic. There are not many marine VHF radios that will be able to replicate this type of advanced functionality.

Other impressive features include last voice call recording, active noise cancelling, NMEA connectivity, 25 watt two way hail horn, built in horns and advanced waterproofing levels.

This is another premium fixed mount marine VHF radio that is for those looking to spend more in order to get more bang for their buck. The sheer length of the specification sheet is highly impressive and this would be the ultimate gadget on the majority of boats.

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Standard Horizon HX870 Floating Handheld VHF

The most popular handheld marine VHF radio is by Standard Horizon with their HX870 model, which is full of excellent features. It is also 100% waterproof with a JIS8 certification that confirms its both water resistant and submersible.

The HX870 has built-in GPS that simply tracks your real time coordinates to detect your position. This benefits you as not only can you call for help via the radio but you can also send your location to a rescue team nearby.

Another standout feature is the large 2.3 inch display which can be operated via the intuitive menu system buttons. Near the button is also a strobe light and this can be activated manually but it will flash if it detects the radio itself is in the water.

Overall, it is the best handheld VHF marine radio you can buy and although it is more expensive than the alternatives, it is completely worth it for the additional features.

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BaoFeng BF-F8HP Handheld VHF Radio

The BF-F8HP model is the third generation of the handheld marine VHF radio produced by BaoFeng, which has twice as much power, stronger radio shell, larger battery and an improved antenna than the previous generation.

Even compared against the much larger brands, the BaoFeng is one of the best hand held dual band VHF radios available for the money.

One of the most important factors when buying a VHF Radio that is handheld is the battery life. The BF-F8HP has three power settings and three battery packs that can provide up to 24 hours of battery life.

The range you can expect from the BaoFeng is around 25 miles whilst using this radio on multiple terrains. You can however upgrade this VHF marine radio with a performance aftermarket antenna to increase the performance.

One major drawback of the BaoFeng radio is that it is not waterproof but this is reflected in the low cost of the device. To overcome this issue, you can simply use a dry bag to keep it dry and when needed, you simply take it out of the waterproof dry bag.

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Uniden MHS75 Handheld Submersible VHF

The Uniden MHS75 is a handheld marine VHF radio that can be submerged in water for up to 5 and a half minutes. The power ratings are switchable from 1, 2.5 and 5 watts of transmitting power.

For a handheld radio, the display screen is larger than the majority of competitors, which means information can be easily read. The N.O.A.A. Weather Channels with Weather Alerts are is part of the functionality of the Uniden MHS75.

The battery length is only 12 hours, which is half of the BaoFeng model, however this VHF is fully waterproof. However, the Clip-On DC charger provides fast charging when mated with any 12 volt DC outlets.

The MHS75 has been designed to be a durable as possible and can even float on top of the water. From sprays of water to tidal waves, there is nothing this VHF cannot take. To build your confidence even further, Uniden offer a three year warranty.

If you are in and out of the water a lot and require the best waterproof VHF radio, the Uniden MHS75 is the one for you.

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VHF Marine Radio Buying Guide

Shopping for a VHF marine radio can be a daunting task especially if its your first time. Confusion usually originates when selecting from the many brands and features.

Just choosing one model is difficult because you have to go through several features where some can be quite confusing especially if you are a beginner.

That is why we have developed the best vhf radio buyer’s guide to help you select the right brand and model.

What to Consider Before Buying a VHF Radio?

As said earlier, beginners usually have a hard time when it comes to selecting the best marine vhf radio. Why? The market is full of brands and models from reputable companies and fake ones too. Navigating through these murky waters calls for brains. That is why we have listed factors you need to consider before buying your first marine VHF radio.

VHF Digital Selective Calling

As a boat owner, what you need to know is that this service is offered to all mariners by the US Coast Guard as part of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System. The service is designed to allow mariners the ability of sending automatically formatted distress alerts to the US Coast Guard or any other rescue authority around the world.

It is engineered to start and receive distress, urgency, safety and routine authority radio telephone calls to and from vessels or shore stations. Thanks to this service, boat owners don’t have to be near a radio loud speaker. The feature acts like a dial and bell of a telephone. It enables the making of direct dial and ring to other mariners quickly.

What you need to know as a shopper is that this feature has been around since 1999 in all radios. It is actually required by law to have this feature as an operating mode. Not only will mariners be able to send out automated distress signals from their boat to a shore rescue station around the world but they will send their identity within the VHF range. This helps to lock in their current position enabling quicker rescue if needed.

VHF Automatic Weather Alerts

Nothing spells trouble than a rough sea. To be safe, it is important to be updated regularly regarding weather. That is why you need the best marine vhf radio. Thanks to technology, VHF radios can receive automatic weather alerts from renowned agencies like the NOAA.

This is an agency that enriches life through science. Not only do they provide weather forecasts, they provide severe storm warnings and climate monitoring to coastal restoration, fisheries management and fellow mariners. Its scientists use cutting edge research and high tech equipment to provide you with reliable information that allows faster decision making when at sea.

To ensure safety when fishing, you need a receiver that incorporates the Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) system. This is mandatory. What you need to know is that radios with SAME technology usually alert for emergencies anywhere within the coverage range of the NWR transmitter.

That is why you are required to program the receiver with your country, marine area or independent city. Avoid programming the radio for louder or clearer station not designated as a SAME channel. Why? Your radio will not receive alerts that will provide early warning about any incoming disaster early enough for you to make the best decision.

Marine Radio User interface

Let’s face it; no one wants a radio that is difficult to operate. Everyone wants a model that comes with an easy to use and easy to understand user interface. What does this mean? It simply means that users are looking for radios that don’t have complicated controls. So what do you need to look out for?

The first feature you need to look out for is soft keys. Always select models that come with three or four multiple use keys to help you accomplish different tasks. The soft keys should enable you to switch between software key functions. This allows you control over the unit with ease.

Another user interface feature to look out for is up and down keys. They are important in that they allow you to select different menu functions on the available display.

Without these, it can be quite difficult to move from one channel to another in rapid succession. Majority of radios are incorporated with these feature to allow easier selection. Furthermore, a special button that allows selection of emergency channel 16 is available.

There are models that come with rotary knobs in place of keys such as up and down. They offer convenience when it comes to changing a function for example channels, volume, squelch and other features. When selecting between soft keys and knobs, it all depends with your personal preferences.

VHF Dot Matrix Display

Today, majority of radios are designed with a display. This is done to offer a glimpse at the settings and the ability of interacting with the many functions. Unlike smartphones that have a graphical user interface, the best boat vhf radio is fitted with a dot matrix display.

Instead of icons, users have to get used to numbers available in seven segments. This means the display is able to show seven individual elements in form of rectangular numerals. One thing you need to understand about VHF radios is that they come in handy during emergencies only and that is why they are not decked out with features similar to those found in smartphones.

The dot matrix display shows the battery life indicator, volume level, latitude, longitude, time, location and channel number among other useful information. These functions have been made simpler to allow users make the most out of any situation. Thanks to the monochrome pattern of dark and light elements, users are able to select functions quickly. Furthermore, it allows one to read different settings with ease.

Active Noise Reduction Technology

One thing you need to know is that noise pollution from a wide range of electronic and mechanical equipment has been found to result in stress, difficulty in communication and impaired hearing. This affects one’s health as well as productivity. That is why modern VHF radios are fitted with active noise reduction technology. The technology comes with unique cutting edge features that are compact and cost effective. They help to deliver more than 10db noise reduction across the audio spectrum.

The technology works when the noise cancellation speaker emits a sound wave which has the same amplitude but with an inverted phase to the original sound. These results in the waves combining to form a single wave through a process called interference. The new wave cancels out the noise providing clarity to the listener. Today, digital signal processing chips are used which are fused with adaptive algorithms designed to analyze waves.

With this technology in your VHF radio, you are assured of clarity during communication. Your sounds will be more audible than ever.

VHF Scanning Function

According to marine vhf radio reviews, it is wise to invest in a VHF radio that comes with multiple scanning functions. Selecting models that have either dual watch or Triwatch allows you to stay alert when fishing or boating. Thanks to the scanner, boat owners are able to monitor channels like Channel 16 to check for traffic every other time.

One thing you need to know is that every boat owner has a duty to respond to any distress call. If another boat owner sends out a mayday signal, other boat owners within the vicinity have to respond. For the Triwatch scanner, it helps to add VHF channel 9. This is important in areas where difficulty exists when it comes to chatter. While it monitors both Channel 16 and 9, it allows you to listen to another selected channel.

Today, VHF radios are fitted with modern microprocessors which allow the unit to scan and monitor over hundred channels per second. These channels can be stored in the unit for later retrieval. The scanning function offers a simpler way of monitoring communications especially in emergency situations.

With the tag scan features, users have the ability of selecting any number of Channels to monitor.

vhf marine radios for boats

Marine VHF Brands

When it comes to brand, it all boils down to reputation. If the company has a poor reputation, be sure their products don’t last long. Furthermore, they don’t work as advertised. Companies with a great reputation will always produce products with high end components. This assures you of durability and top notch functionality. So, how do you know which company has a good reputation and which does not.

The best way to go about this is by reading customer reviews online. Today, multiple platforms for example social media and ecommerce websites have provided users with a platform of reviewing products. The reviews are composed of experiences one has had with different products. It is common to find customers listing pros and cons related to the products. This allows readers to know if the product works as advertised or not.

As a shopper, it is important to have the right information when shopping. According to our marine vhf radio reviews, the best brands with a great reputation include Uniden, Standard Horizon, ICOM, Cobra and Lowrance. This does not mean that the listed companies are the only ones that provide quality VHF radios. Every single day new companies are formed to provide products with cutting edge technology. While it may be difficult to trust an upcoming company on the first try, take your time and you will get learn if they have a great reputation or not.

Splash Proof or Waterproof

Since you will be working out in the sea, you need to have a radio with waterproof capability. It is common for water to splash into your boat when the weather is bad. To ensure that you are armed with the only gadget that can help you seek help, it is important to look for one with waterproof capability. Experts use the International Protection Marking as a way of classifying and rating products according to their waterproof or splash proof capability. These standard aims to provide more detailed information than the use of vague terms like dustproof or waterproof.

It is common for an X to be added to one or more of the protection criteria. This does not mean that the product lacks protection but its protection has been enhanced. The best protection should be IP7 to IP9K. IP7 allows the product to be immersed up to a depth of 1m for a period of 30 minutes. IP8 protects the product when immersed more than 1 m deep but less than 3 m. While it provides protection, water may find its way inside but no harm will occur to the internal electronic components. IP9K is designed for powerful temperature water jets. It helps to protect products against close range high pressure and high temperature spray downs.

Fixed or Handheld VHF Radio?

Two types are available – handheld and fixed mount. Handheld radios are used for emergency backup as they are portable. They are designed to be compact making them advantageous over large ones. These models have become the best choice for smaller boats as they lack a battery source. As a result of their compact size, they are able to transmit with a power output of 3 to 5 watts. They have a range restricted to 5 miles. When fitted with a rechargeable Lithium ion battery, they are able to provide a longer battery life. To ensure clarity when communicating, they feature active noise cancelling technology perfect for loud environments.

Fixed mount radios are designed to provide a larger range thanks to their extra power capabilities. They are able to transmit on 25 watts which is the legal limit. To ensure better communication, they can be set up as dual stations and navigate using GPS. Furthermore, one can install a microphone. They have the DSC calling capability providing you with a way of alerting other boats, shore stations and rescue boats at the press of a button.

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