Best Handheld VHF Marine Radio of 2018

Why do I need a handheld VHF marine radio? Weather conditions are very unpredictable. Despite sunny forecasts, unforeseen changes in the atmosphere can ruin your most pleasurable fishing or boating trip. The next thing you know you’re stuck on the water braving strong winds and angry waves. While we all hope this does not happen, what if it did? what are your chances of surviving? They are a lot higher if you have a VHF marine radio. 

Safety tools like handheld VHF marine radios are needed by every boater going out to sea. While they are not required on recreation boats under 65.6 ft. they should be aboard every boat especially considering how inexpensively you can purchase one.

Just like you wouldn’t go rock climbing without bringing safety gears and harness, you wouldn’t want to explore the waters without a marine radio. In this post, we will be helping you have a stress-free day out in the sea by choosing the perfect handheld VHF marine radio for your needs.

Handheld VHF marine radios offer convenience of a portability and easy of use. They usually have adjustable power ranging up to 6 watts and work well on short distances. Since the antenna is built in, the effective radio range isn't as long as a 25 watt fixed marine radio with external mounted antenna. You can also find all more information on marine radios on our main page.

The best handheld VHF marine radios will have: large display (up to 2 1/2 - 3"), long battery life (1800mAh capacity), submersible (look for IPX8 - submersible waterproof rating of 4.92 feet for 30 minutes), floating, clear voice audio, DSC and even GPS receiver.

Many of today's newer handheld marine radios have just as many features as the fixed mount radios including DSC, GPS, noise canceling, waterproofing and many more. The newest models with the most features are more expensive however you will be able to find a hand held marine radio that fits your needs and budget. There are several things to look for when selecting a handheld marine radio many of which depend upon where and when you will be using the radio as well as your budget.

In our opinion the Best Handheld Marine Radio is the Standard Horizon HX870, the Cobra MRHH350, and Uniden MHS75 are solid runner ups!

We put together a list of some of the best selling radios on the market. Click on each radio to read detailed review. We have also put together some of the features you should consider when looking to purchase a handheld VHF Marine Radio.


BEST OVERAL

Standard Horizon HX870

Standard Horizon HX870 marine radio review
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    6 Watts Of Power
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    Internal GPS
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    Floats
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    Save 200 Waypoints
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    Water Activated Strobe
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    Man Overboard Funtion
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    IPX 8 Waterproof Rating
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    Easy To Use Menu
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    Oversize Display
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    1800mAh Li-Ion battery
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    11.36 oz
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    3yr Waterproof Warranty

BEST VALUE

Cobra MRHH350 VHF Radio

Read about marine radios
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    6 Watts of Power
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    All NOAA Channels
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    16 Hour Battery Life
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    Floats
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    Illuminated Keys
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    Intuitive Operation
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    IPX 7 Waterproof Rating
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    Large LCD Display
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    External Speaker Jack
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    1000mAh LiOn Polymer
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    9.59 oz
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    3yr Warranty

BEST BUDGET

Uniden MHS75 VHF Radio

Uniden MHS75 Portable Marine Radio
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    5 Watts Of Power
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    All NOAA Channels
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    12 Hour Battery
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    Large LCD Screen
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    Flexible Antenna
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    Small Size
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    IPX 8 Waterproof Rating
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    Rapid Clip On DC Charger
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    Memory Channel Scan
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    1040mAh Li-Ion battery
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    10.2 oz
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    3yr Limited Warranty

Still Not Sure Which Marine Radio Is Right? Use Our Table Of Contents To Learn More

What Is A Handheld VHF Marine Radio?  

Handheld VHF marine radios are key safety equipment needed by every seagoing vessel. It’s also the primary way boat operators, harbormasters, coast guards, and bridge tenders communicate with each other. Aside from allowing sea-to-harbor calls, it can also send distress signals and receive weather broadcasts whenever they’re available.

Unlike a mobile phone (also usually not waterproof) which has a limited on-water range, a VHF radio is more reliable in terms of receiving and sending messages when you’re on the water. There are many kinds of marine radios (fixed mount, long range, commercial, etc.) but when it comes to portability and emergency use – handheld marine radios are the best option.  Probably, the only cons of owning a handheld radio are its short battery life and power output which means you need to recharge the device regularly. For this reason, handheld VHFs are more suitable for small vessels. Bigger ships also use handheld but only as emergency back-ups.

Key Features Of A Handheld VHF Marine Radio:

  • GPS - One of the most important features for marine radios, GPS enables you to broadcast your location, allowing for easy rescue or retrieval during times of emergency
  • Lithium-ion Batteries - New generation VHF radios run on lithium-ion batteries. These batteries are most preferred because they have a longer shelf life and are able to hold a charge for more than 10 hours of use
  • Automatic Weather Alerts - Weather alerts like that of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) helps you prepare for different weather conditions. Make sure you’re purchasing a unit that has automatic weather alerts that will switch to forecast channels whenever an alarm is issued
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    Waterproof, Floating, & Durable - You never know when the next storm is coming so make sure to invest in a weatherproof VHF marine radio that floats, is waterproof, and durable
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    Dual or Tri-Watch - This allows you to monitor two or three channels at the same time. With this feature, you won’t miss out on discussions, news, or other announcements from other channels.
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    Noise Canceling - Look for a device that has noise canceling technology to ensure background noises like wind or engine can’t ruin your transmissions

How Powerful Does My Handheld Marine Radio Need To Be?

Unlike fixed mount marine radios that can have up to 25 watts of power handheld marine radios can only contain a maximum of 6 watts. This is mostly due to their size and lack of a tall antenna like a fixed mount radio. Many people go with the more power is better and get the maximum amount of power that that can in their handheld VHF marine radio and to be honest that is not a bad idea if you typically go on on long trips far from shore with little to no other boat traffic near. Your handheld radio can be your only lifeline if your boat sinks or your fixed mount radio malfunctions and you need to communicate with the shore or Coast Guard.

On the other hand if most of your trips are short excursions you are always in site of the shore and you have a lot of boat traffic near you then a less expensive hand held radio may be a great choice.

Does My Handheld VHF Marine Radio Need To Float?

This is one feature that I feel strongly about; having spent a lot of time on boats both in freshwater and saltwater I have come to find that sooner or later almost everything on a boat will fall into the water. Your radio is a vital piece of equipment as we talked about above and for the few extra dollars you will spend on a floating handheld VHF marine radio is more than worth it in pretty much any scenario you envision where you would need the radio. In addition we would recommend a waterproof rating of IPX7 (waterproof up to 3 feet under water) as this will ensure the radio will function should you have to abandon your ship and be stuck in the water for a period of time.

Does Battery Life Matter For My Handheld VHF Marine Radio?

Again, here this is more personal preference and how often and far your boat trips are; if your trips are shorter and you are in a heavy traffic area then a radio with a battery that is not long lasting is not a huge problem additionally if you have a charger on board or extra batteries then a shorter battery life is not a big deal.

Does It Matter What Kind Of Display My Handheld Marine Radio Has?

You will definitely want to make sure that your radio has as backlight display so you can see it at night although almost all marine radios made today contain them. The next choice is LCD (like a watch) which is easy to read but cannot show detailed images or Dot Matrix which is not as clear but does allow for more complex images to be shown on screen. We would recommend a Dot Matrix display if you are buying a radio with GPS and will be using the screen to help you navigate.

Our Final Thoughts:

There are many other handheld marine radios to choose from but we feel that the below three are great buys depening upon the features you are looking for and the price you are willing to pay.

Owning a VHF marine radio can save your life, so make sure you have one on board for your next sea trip. I hope the information above has helped you choose the best handheld VHF radio for your current needs.

You can read more individual reviews below.


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Want to know what is the best handheld marine radio?
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Want to know what is the best handheld marine radio?
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We reviewed the highest rated handheld marine radios and picked a few that really stand out. Take a look at what are the must have features and which ones are recommended by professionals.
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