A Guide To Choosing A Handheld VHF Radio


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Standard Horizon - HX890 VHF Radios

This is an essential guide to help you choose a hand-held VHF for any kind of marine or on-the-water use.

There are several features that you should look for when you consider buying a VHF radio for sailing. First, the VHF radio should be water-proof. Second, it is highly preferred that the VHF radio floats. Third, the radio should have reasonable battery life. Fourth, it should have a reasonable range. The rest is various features that can vary from radio to radio.

Water Resistance

The best rating system we currently have available is the International Protection (IP) Code System (International Protection Marking). The water-proof rating that you should be looking for is IPX8, as this rating means that the radio can be submerged in water below 1 meter (metre) in depth. IPX7 is good as well, but it is rated to only 1 meter (metre) of depth in water. To simplify the understanding of water-proof ratings and learn more about this topic, we have written extensively about it in a guide to understand waterproof ratings.

Floating

As water activities can get pretty unforgiving for electronic devices, it is essential that the device is water-proof, but the ability to float is a good option. At some point, it is inevitable that your radio might be unintentionally knocked into the water. Look for a VHF radio that either floats, or buy some kind of additional attachment to allow it to float.

Battery Life

In terms of safety and security, battery life is important as you may require extended use of the radio in case of emergencies. Be aware of the VHF radio's battery life when a) it is on stand-by, and b) when it is in active use -- dependent on which Watt output setting you use.

Transmission Range

The VHF radio range is dependent on the power (Watt) output setting. The general rule of thumb, for hand-held VHF radios, is that 1 Watt is approximately 1 nautical mile of range (example: a 5 Watt VHF radio will have an approximate 5 nautical mile range when set to the 5 Watt setting). Most hand-held VHF radios are between 1 Watts and 6 Watts.

Another important factor that will enhance range is the antenna type. Radios will either have a stubby (short, rigid) antenna or a whip (long, flexible) antenna. Stubby antennas may seem more convenient because they are smaller and make the radio easier to store, but stubby antennas can reduce your range by up to 30% over a whip antenna. Most whip antennas are screwed on, so they can be removed for easier storage.

Best Handheld VHF Radios

Given the factors mentioned above, below is a list of some of the best hand-held VHF radios available on the market (all of them having a whip antenna).

Standard Horizon

Standard Horizon is one of the marine industry's leaders in VHF radio equipment, not surprising as they have been around for over 50 years. Regarding hand-held VHF radios, the HX890 model is their flagship product, given the extensive features included. This model replaces the well-received previous model: HX870

 
Water Resistance IPX8 IPX8 IPX8
Floating Yes
  • with a water-activated emergency "white" strobe light
No Yes
  • with a water-activated emergency "red" strobe light
Battery Life 11 hours
  • ~1.8 Ah Li-ion battery
17 hours
  • ~2.5 Ah Li-ion battery
11 hours
  • ~1.8 Ah Li-ion battery
Transmission Range 3 modes:
  • 6 Watt (high)
  • 2 Watt (medium)
  • 1 Watt (low)
2 modes:
  • 5 Watt (high)
  • 1 Watt (low)
2 modes:
  • 5 Watt (high)
  • 1 Watt (low)
Additional Features
  • Global Positioning System (GPS)
  • Digital Selective Calling (DSC)
  • group monitor function utilizing DSC group position call
  • Man Overboard (MOB) feature
  • waypoint and route navigation
  • dual/triple watch scanning operation
  • NOAA weather channels with weather alert
  • FM broadcast radio receiver
  • rugged exterior conforms to military standard: MIL-STD-810F
  • 3-year waterproof warranty
  • dual/triple watch scanning operation
  • NOAA weather channels with weather alert
  • 3-year waterproof warranty
  • dual/triple watch scanning operation
  • NOAA weather channels
  • 3-year waterproof warranty

Icom

Icom is another popular brand in the marine industry for VHF radio equipment.

 

M73

M36
Water Resistance IPX7 IPX8 IPX7
Floating Yes No Yes
Battery Life 9 hours
  • ~1.6 Ah Li-ion battery
16 hours
  • ~2.0 Ah Li-ion battery
8 hours
  • ~1.0 Ah Li-ion battery
Transmission Range 2 modes:
  • 5 Watt (high)
  • 1 Watt (low)
3 modes:
  • 6 Watt (high)
  • 3 Watt (medium)
  • 1 Watt (low)
2 modes:
  • 6 Watt (high)
  • 1 Watt (low)
Additional Features
  • Global Positioning System (GPS)
  • Digital Selective Calling (DSC)
  • Man Overboard (MOB) feature
  • dual/triple watch scanning operation
  • NOAA weather channels with weather alert
  • rugged exterior conforms to military standard: MIL-STD-810F
  • 3-year warranty
  • dual/triple watch scanning operation
  • NOAA weather channels with weather alert
  • 3-year warranty
  • dual/triple watch scanning operation
  • NOAA weather channels with weather alert
  • 3-year warranty

If you enjoyed this guide then take a look at our other sailing guides


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