Best VHF Marine Radio Reviews of 2017 – Buying Guide and Professional Advice


Now that you have your dream boat, you need to have a VHF Marine Radio before you can go out safely into the ocean. A VHF radio (Very High Frequency) is the single most important communication device you need to buy and always have on you or your boat. A few miles offshore it might be the only way for you to communicate and send messages. Be sure to check your radio before going out!

Best two way marine radio review

Why VHF marine radio and not just a cell phone?

The cell phones are designed to operate using cell towers that are placed on land. Most of the time, the location of the cell tower placement will be more inland to maximize land coverage. That means that a typical coverage of 25-45 miles might be actually half that number due to a tower placement. Another disadvantage of cell phone is that even if you do have some cell reception, you will be calling the Coast Guard alone and your GPS location may not be that accurate. If you a have a marine VHF radio and tune to channel 16, other boats in the area will be listening to you and know your location. The Coast Guard urges every boater to use their VHF-FM radio to make distress calls.

What are the features of a modern VHF radio?

  • Up to 60 nautical miles range
  • Submersible/Waterproof
  • Hailer
  • AIS
  • Dedicated DSC receiver (more about it below)
  • GPS receiver
  • Extended battery life
  • Weather Alerts (NOAA Weather Radios)

Things to consider when buying a marine radio

There are many different types of Marine Radios as well as many different price points. Below is a description of the main features and differences between the different types of two way marine radios. This should help you decide which marine radio is best for you.

Do I need a Fixed Mount or Handheld radio?

The two major types of marine radios are hand held and fixed mount radios.

Fixed mount radios, as you might expect, are mounted on a boat, require power source from a boat as well as an external antenna. They are capable of transmitting up to 25 watts, which is the legal limit of a VHF radio. This set up will give you the most transmitting power.

Handheld radios are great for smaller boats and if you plan on being close to shore. There is no need for an external antenna and people love the portability of them. The power will be limited to about 5 watts and approximately 5 mile distance (depending on weather conditions and line of sight). Besides the decrease of power, most other features that you find on fixed mount marine radios can also be found on handheld radios.

A lot of boaters prefer to have a back up type of setup - having a hand held radio and a fixed mount marine radio. Remember, anything may happen and it is better to take extra precautions to be safe.

What is the Range of VHF Radio?

As we mentioned before, fixed mount marine radios are capable of transmitting up to 25 watts of power. Handheld marine radios will have on average 3 to 6 watts of power capability.

There are many different factors that influence actual marine radio usable range, but the most significant factor is antenna. VHF marine radios use radio frequency range between 156.0 and 174 Mhz. These frequencies are most effective in line of sight. Typically, standing in the cockpit of a boat, the distance to the horizon for an average adult is about three miles. The higher the antenna placement, the further distance to the horizon is, thus increasing usable range of your marine radio.

What antenna type do I need?

When choosing an antenna for your radio, you should look into its dB rating. A higher “gain” means a more focused area of transmissions and is recommend for more stable powerboats on calm seas. A lower “gain” is better for sailboats.

The antenna length is typically anywhere from 2-8 ft. Sail boats tend to have 3’5’ antennas, while power boats opt for 8ft.

The higher end marine antennas are made out of fiberglass, while lower quality antennas use nylon ferrules.

What is DSC function?

Digital selective calling or (DSC), allows mariners to instantly send an automatically formatted distress alert to the Coast Guard or other rescue authority with a push of a button. By law, all fixed mount marine radios are required to have this feature. You will need to apply for MMSI number ($25 application fee), Maritime Mobile Service Identity. The unique ID is linked to a vessel, not a radio. You need to enter the 9 digit code when you program your radio.

DSC also uses your GPS location when transmitting a signal. Most higher end marine radios will have GPS built in. If not, you should invest in a GPS device and connect it to your marine radio to take full advantage of the DSC feature.

Unfortunately, recent statistics shows that almost 90% of DSC compatible radios aren't programmed. We urge you to set it up for your own safety.

Best hand held marine radio

Distress button on Icom IC-M93D

What is the price range of VHF radios?

Typically, you will see price ranges anywhere between $59 and $299, with some high-end models selling for over $500. What can you expect to get for $59? Lower transmit power, no DSC and poor battery life. As something you may have to rely for for safety, we do not recommend those.

The top rated two way marine radios usually come from manufacturers such as Cobra, Icom and Standard Horizon, and include important features such as built in GPS, submersible, waterproof, 10 NOAA Weather channels, noise cancelling, illuminated keys, burp speaker draining, radio check and longer manufacturer warranty (3 years).

Icom M506 is currently on sale for $480 and has received NMEA Best VHF Radio Product award for the past 3 years (2014-2016)

Are all 2-way marine radios waterproof?

You might think that most of marine radio are waterproof. That’s is not the case with a lot of cheaper radios, which are usually rated “splash resistant”.

There are two most commonly used rating system on the market - JIS and IP.

JIS scale (stands for Japan Industrial Standard) measures water resistance with rating ranging from 0 to 8.

  • JIS-0— no special protection.
  • JIS-8 - equipment is usable for continuous submersion in water under specified pressure.

IP Code (International Protection Rating) - has two digits. The first digit refers to resistance to solid, while the second digit resistance to liquids.

  • IPX0 - no protection.
  • IPX8 - equipment is suitable for continuous immersion in water.
submersible marine two way radio

Floating Handheld VHF Radio with GPS receiver

The best two way marine radios will have IPX7/IPX8 and JIS8 /JIS8 submersible rating (1 meter depth of water for 30 minutes). We also recommend radio that can float and flash when dropped into the water.

What are the most famous manufacturers of VHF Marine Radios?

Today there are four manufacturers that dominate the VHF marine radio market: ICOM, Standard Horizon (Yaesu brand), Uniden and Cobra Electronics. Most of the radios are engineered in Japan, who is a leader in marine electronics today.

Our favorite ones and most advanced radios are built by Icom and Standard Horizon, who offer a variety of handheld marine radios and fixed mounted marine radios.

Top 10 Best  Marine VHF Radios on the market today:


Best Handheld VHF Marine Radio of 2017

Let's take a look at the best VHF  handheld radios on the market today. For more reviews, please visit our HANDHELD RADIOS page. We have also included additional details and features to look for when deciding on what handheld marine VHF Radio is right for you.

  • check
    How Poerful Does My Handheld Marine Radio Need To Be?
  • check
    Does My Handheld VHF Marine Radio Need To Float?
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    Does Battery Life Matter For My Handheld VHF Marine Radio?
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    Does It Matter What Kind Of Display My Handheld Marine Radio Has?

Learn more about these on our HANDHELD MARINE RADIO PAGE.

Standard Horizon HX870 marine radio

The Standard Horizon HX870 is a 6 watt floating VHF Marine radio with internal GPS. The Radio also meets ITU-R M493 Class D DSC and has a noise canceling function. This is a higher end Marine Radio that caters to serious boaters who want not only a radio but also a GPS function.

But what do actual users say about this radio? Are they actually happy with their purchase? Let’s find out the pros, cons and what reviewers are saying about this radio. Below are the most common pros and cons that people have stated in their reviews on Amazon.

Some of the features include:
  • Floating with 6 Watts of Power
  • Internal GPS
  • Separate Receiver for CH70
  • Noise-canceling For both Transmitting and Receiving Audio
  • Integrated  66 Channel WAAS GPS Receiver
  • USB Support
  • Strobe Function
  • Submersible
  • Waypoint navigation
  • MOB Function
  • Dimensions - 9.5 x 3.5 x 7.5 in.

  • 4.4 out of 5 Stars
  • 112 Total Customer reviews
  • 71% of Customers Rated the Radio 5 Stars
  • Large Display
  • High End Marine Radio For Serious Boaters
  • Reliable
  • Waterproof
  • White LED Illumination is not great
  • Rather Large
  • Higher Cost
Read about marine radios

Uniden MHS75 VHF radio

The Uniden MHS75 is a submersible 5-watt VHF Marine Radio and contains many other features and accessories such as a rapid clip-on DC charger and lithium-Ion Battery. The Uniden is also submersible up to 5 feet for 30 minutes making it very durable and well suited to rough boating conditions. This is a great choice for boaters looking for a very rugged yet reasonably priced Marine Radio from a company that has been building radios for over 50 years.

Some of the features include:
  • All USA, International, and Canada Channels
  • All NOAA weather channels and weather alerts
  • JSI8 Waterproof Level Submersible to 5ft for 30 minutes
  • Instant Channel 16/9 Triple Watch
  • Dual, Triple, Quad Watch Operation
  • Memory Channel Scan
  • Clip-On DC Charger
  • 1 / 2.5 / 5 Watt Switchable
  • Back Lit Easy to Read LCD Display
  • Floats
  • Limited 3 Year Warranty
  • Dimensions - 5.9 x 3.2 x 6.1 in.

But what do actual users say about this radio? Are they actually happy with their purchase? Let’s find out the pros, cons and what reviewers are saying about this radio. Below are the most common pros and cons that people have stated in their reviews on Amazon.

    • 4.1 out of 5 Stars
    • Over 500 positive reviews
    • 61% of Customers Rated the Radio 5 Stars
    • Large Easy to Read Display
    • Very reasonably priced
    • Reliable
    • Long Range
    • Prime Shipping Eligible
  • Battery performance is not great
  • Sound is muffled after being submersed in water
Read about marine radios

The Cobra MRHH 350 FLT Floating VHF Radio is one of the best value marine VHF Radios currently available to boaters. The 350 FLT has high power, is waterproof and floats. These features make it one of the best overall values currently available. The compact design of this radio also makes it very easy to store and saves space on your vessel. The Cobra has all NOAA weather channels ensuring that you can track storms when your on the water. The Cobra even has a "Burp" feature that vibrates helping to remove water from the speaker grill and reduce distortion. There are better more expensive radios and cheaper radios with less features for those of you looking for more feature laden or reasonable alternatives. The Cobra is the best value as you get many high end features at reasonable price tag from a known manufacturer.

Some of the features include:
  • 6 Watt VHF Select between 1, 3, and 6 Watts for short and long range communication
  • All NOAA weather channels
  • USA/International/Canada Channels
  • Submersible to 3.3 ft. for 30 minutes
  • Button Key Lock
  • Channel Scan/Memory Scan
  • Matrix Display
  • AA Battery Compatible
  • Instant Channel 16/9
  • Tri-Watch
  • Floats
  • 120v/12v Charger Included
  • Noise Canceling Microphone
  • Reasonably Priced
  • Limited 3 Year Warranty
  • Dimensions - 2 x 2 x 2 inches

But what do actual users say about this radio? Are they actually happy with their purchase? Let’s find out the pros, cons and what reviewers are saying about this radio. Below are the most common pros and cons that people have stated in their reviews on Amazon.

  • 4 out of 5 Stars
  • 95 Total Customer reviews
  • 59% of Customers Rated the Radio 5 Stars
  • Large Easy to Read Display
  • Excellent Unit For the Price
  • Reliable
  • Range was not along as expected
  • Batteries Are Proprietary And Expensive
  • Less Than 100 Reviews Currently
Read about marine radios

Best Fixed Mount VHF Marine Radio 2017

Let's take a look at the best VHF  fixed mount radios on the market today. For more reviews, please visit our FIXED MOUNT RADIOS page.

Standard Horizon GX2200 marine radio

The Standard Horizon GX2200 is packed with high-end VHF radio features: 2 integrated AIS receivers, integrated 66 Channel GPS receiver and full AIS/GPS matrix display. If you are someone who is constantly boating in high traffic areas, the AIS feature is a must. The 30 Watt PA/Loud hailer is useful for communicating with other vessels and is preprogrammed . The model is a little larger than your typical radio, yet you will enjoy the bigger display and the layout of the front panel. You can also get optional RAM3 Mic for it as well and the external speaker.

Some of the features include:
  • AIS (Automatic Identification System) receiver
  • 66 Channel WAAS GPS antenna
  • Programmable collision avoidance alarms
  • Class D DSC
  • 30 Watt PA/Loud Hailer (preprogrammed fog signals and listen back functions)
  • ClearVoice noise cancelling
  • GPS Compass
  • User customizable keys for easy operation
  • Backlit display and keys
  • Optional connection for RAM3+ second station remote microphone
  • Submersible IPX7 front panel
  • 3 Year warranty

But what do actual users say about this radio? Are they actually happy with their purchase? Let’s find out the pros, cons and what reviewers are saying about this radio. Below are the most common pros and cons that people have stated in their reviews on Amazon.

  • 4.9 out of 5 Stars
  • 26 Total Customer reviews
  • 96% of Customers Rated the Radio 5 Stars
  • Large Easy to Read Display
  • High end features
  • Easy installation
  • Does not broadcast AIS
  • External RAM3 remote controller is not included with this package
Read about marine radios

Fixed mount two way marine radio Uniden UM380

The Uniden UM380 Fixed Mount Class D VHF marine radio has several necessary features. This is a great buy for the budget minded consumer however; the radio lacks enough features to please seasoned captains who routinely take their boat on long voyages.

Some of the features include:
  • All NOAA weather channels
  • USA/International/Canada Channels
  • Submersible to 3.3 ft for 30 minutes
  • Rugged and Durable Construction
  • Channel Scan/Memory Scan
  • NMEA Input/ Output
  • Reasonably Priced
  • Limited 3 Year Warranty
  • Dimensions - 11 x 9 x 4 inches

But what do actual users say about this radio? Are they actually happy with their purchase? Let’s find out the pros, cons and what reviewers are saying about this radio. Below are the most common pros and cons that people have stated in their reviews on Amazon.

  • 4.4 out of 5 Stars
  • 332 Total Customer reviews
  • 69% of Customers Rated the Radio 5 Stars
  • Large Easy to Read Display
  • Excellent Unit For the Price
  • Reliable
  • Range was not as long as expected
  • Some customers felt it was not as durable as it should be
Read about marine radios

ICOM IC-M324G marine radio

Icom IC-M324G is a compact VHF radio with top notch performance and almost all necessary features included in the package. Model M324G has a built in GPS receiver , that will allow you to see current position and time as well as make DSC calls. For people how care about connectivity options, this model has MNEA 0183 interface. The large high definition dot-matrix display makes it easy to read information and the rotary selection/keypad will not take long to get accustomed to. This is really a great value radio!

Some of the features include:
  • 25 Watts output power
  • Built in GPS Receiver
  • Intuitive User Interface
  • Submersible IPX7 protection
  • AquaQuake water draining system
  • NMEA 0183 interface
  • Dot-Matrix Display
  • Compatible with MA-500TF AIS transponder
  • Reasonably Priced
  • 3 Year Waterproof Warranty

But what do actual users say about this radio? Are they actually happy with their purchase? Let’s find out the pros, cons and what reviewers are saying about this radio. Below are the most common pros and cons that people have stated in their reviews on Amazon.

  • 4.8 out of 5 Stars
  • 10 Total Customer reviews
  • 86% of Customers Rated the Radio 5 Stars
  • Large Easy to Read Display
  • Excellent Unit For the Price
  • Built in GPS
  • Flush mount clips are not included
Read about marine radios

And a few other high rated marine VHF radios that you should consider:

Standard Horizon GX1700W marine radio

The Standard Horizon GX1700W GPS VHF Marine Radio is a higher end fixed mount radio with many features. The features include a 12 channel GPS, DSC calling, navigation, and a compact size of only 3.5in. depth making installation in tight places very easy. Over 100 waypoints can also be stored in the radio. This is an ideal radio for the serious boater who wants a high end radio with plenty of features in a small package. Please note that this radio does need an antenna; which is sold separately.

Some of the features include:
  • Integrated 12 Channel WAAS GPS receiver
  • 25 Watts
  • GPS antenna built-in to the front panel allows reception when bracket or flush mounted
  • Ultra thin and compact rear case design (3.5” depth)
  • Meets ITU-R M493-13 Class D DSC (Digital Selective Calling)
  • Automatically poll the GPS position of up to 4 ships using DSC
  • Programmable Scan, Priority Scan, and Dual Watch
  • Submersible JIS-8 1.5M (4.92Ft) for 30 minutes
  • Oversized display with customizable channel names
  • Capable of connecting to a Second Station RAM3+ Remote Access Microphone
  • Intercom between radio and Second Station RAM3+ Remote Access Microphone
  • 3 Year Waterproof Warranty
  • Dimensions - 9 inches, 4 inches, 9 inches

But what do actual users say about this radio? Are they actually happy with their purchase? Let’s find out the pros, cons and what reviewers are saying about this radio. Below are the most common pros and cons that people have stated in their reviews on Amazon.

  • 4.3 out of 5 Stars
  • 77 Total Customer reviews
  • 81% of Customers Rated the Radio 5 Stars
  • Large Easy to Read Display that is bright
  • DSS with GPS built in is great
  • Very well made
  • Some people have experienced issues with the radio not working after getting wet
  • Without the separate antenna the radio has zero range
Read about marine radios

Icom IC-M506 Marine radio

Just like the Standard Horizon GX2200, this is a full featured VHF two way marine radio with integrated AIS receiver and NMEA 2000 connectivity. Large 3.4" LCD display is great for viewing AIS vessel traffic information, GPS and radio menus. The radio has the NMEA 2000 and NMEA 0183 network connectivity. Voice communications are top notch with the help of active noise cancelling and you also have the ability to record last 2 minutes of incoming communications.

ICOM M506 has received the NMEA Best VHF Marine Radio Product Award 3 years in a row 2014-2016.

Some of the features include:
  • Integrated AIS Receiver with Plotter, Target list and Danger list.
  • NMEA 2000 Connectivity plug-and-play plus NMEA 0183 GPS data conversion
  • Last Call Voice Recording 
  • Active Noise Cancelling
  • 25 Watt Two-Way Hailer
  • Built-in Horn (4 horn patters)
  • Built-in DSC with Class D receiver
  • IPX8 Submersible (up to 60 minutes underwater, 1m)
  • 15Watt audio output
  • Weather channels with alerts
  • AquaQuake water draining
  • 3 year waterproof factory warranty

But what do actual users say about this radio? Are they actually happy with their purchase? Let’s find out the pros, cons and what reviewers are saying about this radio. Below are the most common pros and cons that people have stated in their reviews on Amazon.

  • 5 out of 5 Stars
  • Total Customer reviews
  • 100% of Customers Rated the Radio 5 Stars
  • Large Easy to Read Display
  • AIS functionality 
  • User friendly menu
  • GPS support only over NMEA 0183 interface
Read about marine radios

If you are looking for a good budget VHF radio, COBRA MR F45-D is your perfect choice. With MSRP of less than $150, you get a powerful radio that can output up to 25 Watt of power for long -range communication as well as DSC functionality. Your communications will be crystal clear thanks to built it noise cancelling microphone. While it may not have the biggest display on the market, you do get adjustable backlight as well as Dual Watch. Weather alerts with visual and audible alarms will keep you safe in case there is a storm on the horizon. And did we mentioned that is it Submersible? Check out more specs below.

Some of the features include:
  • Dual power 1 or 25 Watts
  • 10 NOAA weather channels
  • USA/Internationa/Canada Channels
  • Submersible rated as JIS7
  • GPS input capability
  • Instant Channel 16/9
  • Noice Canceling Microphone
  • Reasonably Priced
  • Limited 3 Year Warranty

But what do actual users say about this radio? Are they actually happy with their purchase? Let’s find out the pros, cons and what reviewers are saying about this radio. Below are the most common pros and cons that people have stated in their reviews on Amazon.

  • 4.2 out of 5 Stars
  • 188 Total Customer reviews
  • 66% of Customers Rated the Radio 5 Stars
  • Large Easy to Read Display
  • Excellent Unit For the Price
  • Good power output
  • Very few users reported reliability issues, but units were replaced under warranty
Read about marine radios

Uniden UM415 Fixed Mount Class D VHF Marine Radio

Designed to compete against COBRA MR F45-D, Uniden UM415 has similar features and is another great choice for a budget fixed mount VHF radio. Dedicated DSC button makes it easy to send and receive distress calls. Adjustable 1/25 Watt power output will ensure that you will always have a strong clear signal for communications. The interface is user-friendly and doesn't take long to master. Quick command Ch 16/9 keys, decent size Dot Matrix display as well as rubber grip mic will further simplify operations of this radio. S.A.M.E. weather alerts allows you to specify the area that you would like to get notified about. Check out some more features that we highlighted for this great budget device.

Some of the features include:
  • 1/25 Watt output for short and long range communication
  • Weather scan and weather alerts
  • All USA/International/Canada Channels
  • Submersible JIS8
  • Backlid display and keys
  • DSC position send and request
  • Matrix Display
  • Memory scan
  • Instant Channel 16/9
  • Limited 3 Year Warranty

But what do actual users say about this radio? Are they actually happy with their purchase? Let’s find out the pros, cons and what reviewers are saying about this radio. Below are the most common pros and cons that people have stated in their reviews on Amazon.

  • 4.1 out of 5 Stars
  • 134 Total Customer reviews
  • 53% of Customers Rated the Radio 5 Stars
  • Compact rugged construction
  • Excellent Unit For the Price
  • Weak microphone clip
Read about marine radios

If you have bought or used these radios please feel free to leave a comment with your experience below to help others who may have questions.

 

 

Summary
 Best VHF Marine Radio Reviews  - Buying Guide and Comparison Chart
Article Name
Best VHF Marine Radio Reviews - Buying Guide and Comparison Chart
Description
There are many different types of Marine VHF Radios as well as many different price points. Below is a description of the main features and differences between the different types of two way marine radios. This should help you decide which marine VHF radio is best for you.
Author