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 Best VHF Radios page.
The best handheld VHF marine radios will have:
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.
We put together a list of some of the best handheld VHF radios on the market and what are some of the pros and cons of each one.
VHF Radio Name
If you are looking for a powerful floating handheld VHF radio that includes a 66-channel WAAS GPS receiver, huge 2.3" display and long battery life - the Standard Horizon HX870 is the perfect choice. You will love the ability to store up to 200 waypoints and up to 20 routes to help you navigate. There is even a compass on this radio. The menu is simple to use and the communication on this handheld radio is crystal clear thanks to the noise cancelling technology. And of course: all USA/Canada/International channels, weather alert as well as DSC calling are part of the package. Charging only takes 3 hours and the 1850mAh can be swapped for a 5xAAA battery tray. Read full review.
Cobra MRHH350 is a reliable, compact handheld VHF radio that gives you a lot of features for the money. Just like the HX870, the floating body design will keep this radio afloat if it gets dropped overboard. The selectable power output will let you use the full 6 Watts of transmitting power or conserve battery life by using the 1 Watt option. In the battery saving mode, you will have up to 16 hours of battery life. Noise cancelling will keep the communication clear and block out unnecessary background noises. Read full review.
The Uniden MHS75 is a great VHF radio with all the basic functions: all USA/Canada and International channels, NOAA alerts and triple watch. It's waterproof as well as submersible and covered by Uniden's 3 year waterproof warranty. Use it either as a back up to a powerful fixed mount radio or take it with you on your next fishing trip. Read full review.
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 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:
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.