Are you searching for the best marine VHF radio?
If you spend anytime on big water it is a necessity to have a dependable, quality marine VHF radio to ensure you are safe. I have used multiple over the years and not all VHF radios are created equal. I have reviewed the top models available today and after reading this article you will know my recommendations.
Check the quick list below for links to customer reviews and prices for my best marine VHF radio picks, or read on for the full review:
- Standard Horizon HX870 Floating 6W Handheld VHF
- Standard Horizon Standard HX300 Handheld VHF Marine Radio
- Cobra Floating VHF Long Range Marine Radio
- Uniden UM415 Advanced Fixed Mount VHF Marine Radio
- Standard Horizon GX1700B Standard Explorer GPS VHF Marine Radio
Boating is a relaxing yet challenging sport and has become a popular hobby in recent years. Whether you are fishing the big waters or sailing your marine adventure can turn unsafe if you don’t invest in your boat when equipping it with necessary electronics for survival and a high quality VHF marine radio is at the top of that list.
What’s a Marine VHF Radio?
Very High-Frequency Radios (VHF) are a two-way communication tool used to provide communication among boats, harbors, and marinas. They are one of the most important safety tools for sailors and can be used for FM radio broadcasting, mobile-radio system communication, and long-range data communication.
The VHF has radio waves from 30 to 300 MHz, with a maximum range of 100 kilometers (although this figure might differ and we’ll explain why later), and is designed to operate through specific frequencies.
Stronger Coverage than Your Mobile Phone
I know you might be wondering why go through the hassle of using VHF radios instead of our normal cell phones where you can call for help with a touch of your screen. The VHF Radios have the ability to raise the alarm quickly, and effectively and most importantly can be heard by everyone simultaneously.
Once the rescue in on its way to you, the radio can help lifeboats and helicopters pinpoint your exact location a lot faster than the location of your phone, not to mention that your phone can also easily lose coverage and network while sailing a little bit further from the shore.
Digital Selective Calling (DSC)
Besides the fact that every VHF has certain frequencies for mayday calls in the region, there are also national channels that are consistent throughout the world like channel 16 (the international distress channel).
However, recently, VHF radios have been equipped with the Digital Selective Calling property which enables you to contact other boats using a similar device at a press of a button. All you need to do is register the DSC radio and receive in return a Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) number and then you can easily send and receive calls and information digitally.
Types of VHF Radios
There are two types of marine VHF radios to choose from. Depending on your needs and usage scenarios, you’ll be able to determine the category that best fits your needs.
These highly sophisticated devices are perfect for smaller boats. They are sometimes considered as a primary communication device, and can also be used as a backup device for the fix mount radio. Another advantage of the handheld VHF is its mobility. They can easily be used for boats that don’t have their own battery source since they’ve got their own battery banks. They are waterproof, light and user-friendly.
The Handheld VHF transmit power is around 5W and some options come with a DSC, Bluetooth, a large range of channels, and weather alerts capacity.
Fixed VHF Radios
It’s large, has great performance and an astonishing transmission power of around 25W. the fixed VHF has an external antenna that provides better performance than the handheld device. Nearly all of the fixed radios also have Digital Selective Calling and Automatic weather alerts, which notify you when a weather warning signal is detected.
Factors that affect VHF Radio Communications
One of the most common questions asked by sailors and buyers is “how far will I be able to communicate with the VHF radio?” unfortunately, there’s no definite answer to that vital question. There are, however, many factors which may or may not tamper with transmission range and learning about them before choosing the right VHF for you is always a smart move:
Nearly all VHFs provide a transmission power of 25 watts and usually have a switch which allows transmitters output power to be as low as 1 watt for shorter communication range.
In short, the more power you’ll send to the antenna the more distance your signal will reach.
The first thing you should be looking for in VHF radios is the height of the antenna. The higher your antenna is, the further you’ll be able to communicate.
Fun fact: the lower the frequency produced from the VHF the longer the wavelength will be. Since the VHF radios have a low frequency and better penetrating abilities it’s why it has become one of the popular choices when it comes to marine radios today.
Best Marine VHF Radios
Keeping a clear line of communication when on the water is required. Having a poor quality VHF radio, or worse, no radio can leave you stranded with no way of getting help. Whether you are looking for a handheld or a fixed mount marine VHF radio I have you covered. I have reviewed the top models available based on performance, quality of construction, and durability.
Standard Horizon HX870 Floating 6W Handheld VHF
This handheld VHF combines efficiency, lightweight, and easy-to-use design. It’s waterproof and has its own powerful GPS and DSC receiver. It’s -in my opinion- one of the best user-friendly radio in the market today.
- Built-in class DSC and GPS receiver
- Integrated 66 channel receiver
- Over-sized display
- Man over Board (MoB) function
- Noise canceling function for the transmit and receive audio
- Separate receiver for channel 70
- Weather channel with alerts
- 1W, 2W or 6W Transmit Power options
- GPS feature
- Large display
- Too bright white led light
- Size is a bit large, although it is light in weight
- Short battery life
Standard Horizon Standard HX300 Handheld VHF Marine Radio
This handheld VHF radio is waterproof, user-friendly, and for that, it’s considered to be one of the higher -rated radios nowadays as well as the lightest and smallest in the market.
- Floating abilities
- NOAA weather channels and alerts
- USB charging system
- Internal speaker
- Programmable Scan, Priority Scan, Dual, and Tri Watch
- 5-watt transmission power
- Water activated flashlight
- Easy to use
- Light in weight
- USB charger
- Good price for the quality
- Transmission sometimes doesn’t always connect or receives signals well
- No DSC
- Short wrist strap
Cobra Floating VHF Long Range Marine Radio
This handheld orange beast has high visibility features, is easy to hold with its compact design and has amazing features like a noise canceling mic. One of its remarkable features is that it comes with a detachable antenna, a DC power adaptor, and rechargeable batteries. You can also clearly communicate with 1,3, or 6-watt options, and have access to international coverage and 3 channel maps.
- Weather alert
- Tri-Watch, All Scan, Memory Scan
- Noise-canceling mic
- 1W, 3W, and 6W
- Floating design
- Channel memory to easily access and save the channels you used
- Reasonable price
- Charging is only through the supplied charging device with no USB charging features
- Weak speakers
- Shorter range than expected
Uniden UM415 Advanced Fixed Mount VHF Marine Radio
This is a good and affordable option for the fixed VHF radios available today. The UM415 is equipped with DSC and can transmit at 1-25 watts to different channels. It also has weather predicting tool which comes in handy when off-shore, it’s waterproof and can be submerged in over 1.5 meters water making it tough and damage resistant.
- 1-25 watt transmit power
- DSC feature
- Waterproof and water resistant
- Weather alert
- Channel scan
- GPS support
- Strong transmission
- Easy to install
- There’s a glitch and sometimes sends automatic distress signals
- Weak mic clip and easily breaks off since it’s made of plastic
- Doesn’t include a speaker in the mic handle, making communication a little bit harder
Standard Horizon GX1700B Standard Explorer GPS VHF Marine Radio
Comes with a remarkable GPS antenna, shares position data using DSC and is available at an astonishingly reasonable price. The GX1700 is one of the smallest sized fixed VHF radio which makes it perfect for small boats as well as large ones.
- 25/ 1 Watts of transmitting power
- Programmable, Priority Scan and Dual Watch
- Internal 12 Channel GPS
- Weather alert
- DSC distress call
- Noise-canceling microphone
- Great built-in GPS
- Reasonable price
- Easy to install
- Clear voice- noise reduction feature
- Display goes dim over time
- Isn’t waterproof
For more radio guides and tips read these articles:
- Best Long Range Walkie Talkie
- Best Ham Radio Transceiver
- Best CB Radio Antenna
- Best Emergency Radio
- Best Handheld CB Radio
- Best CB Radio
- Best Clock Radio
- Best Shortwave Radio
- How to Get a Ham Radio License
- Best Touch Screen Radio
Having personally used the Standard Horizon GX1700B Standard Explorer GPS VHF Marine Radio while on a boat trip – I can safely say that it’s definitely my top choice for a marine VHF radio. It had great transmission coverage and outstanding and accurate GPS feature and it did the job perfectly.
Its ultra-thin shape and size is another thing that makes it stand out besides its noise-canceling microphone feature.
The Standard Horizon has been in the market for over five decades and I believe it’s the leader when it comes to VHF radios.
Fred is the Ready Zeal owner and editor. He has been passionately pursuing all things emergency preparation since working alongside his grandfather as a boy growing up in the Midwest. When not working on the family homestead he can be found brewing coffee and reading a good book or backpacking in the wilderness. Contact Fred at [email protected]