If you’re going on the water using a craft, you need the best handheld VHF marine radio.
VHF marine radio is must-have equipment on any watercraft in these days. You need one of these radios to make sure you’re able to send distress calls while you’re out at sea. With a long-range handheld marine radio, you may be able to reach out to a ship that’s located far away from your position. A marine radio also lets you talk to marinas and harbors, so that you can dock at their stations.
Check out our recommendations and tips on finding the right marine radio for you.
Best Handheld VHF Marine Radio – Reviews
1. Uniden MHS75 Waterproof Handheld 2-Way VHF Marine Radio
This comes with Triple Watch, which means it can monitor 3 channels at once. Aside from the channel you’re currently using, this will also check channels 9 and 16 every 2 seconds. Of course, this covers all International, USA, and Canadian marine channels.
The waterproofing is also superb, so you can bring this on a boat with no worries. This may well be the best waterproof handheld vhf marine radio when it comes to dealing with the water. It’s able to last 30 minutes underwater even if it’s down to 5 feet. That’s a higher level of waterproofing than the 1-meter/30-minute standard. This also floats if you drop it in the water. What this means is that even if you’re constantly drenched, you won’t have to worry too much about the water messing up your radio.
You can also switch a lower watt setting for short-range communications to save power. You can start with 1W, and go with 2.5W or 5W for longer distances. The rechargeable battery life here can extend up to 10 hours.
- Can monitor 3 channels at once
- Single battery charge lasts 10 hours
- Options to switch to 5W, 2.5W, or 1W
- Waterproof down to 5 feet underwater for half an hour
- Floats on the water
- Comes with a belt clip
2. Standard Horizon HX210 6W Compact Handheld Marine Vhf Radio
This comes with a built-in 1850mAh Li-Ion battery, along with its charging cradle. It only takes 3 hours to full charge the radio, and you also have a nice handy place to put your radio when you’re not using it. You can save power with the option to select 6W, 2.5W, or 1W output power
It’s easy enough to use, with a nice clear LCD screen and an uncomplicated menu system. This has programmable function keys, and you’re even able to listen to FM stations.
Its IPX7 rating means you can submerge this a meter underwater for 30 minutes. It’s compact enough that it floats in the water, and it floats face-up.
What’s more, when you drop it in the water it activates an emergency strobe light so you can easily retrieve this. You can even program the light to stay on indefinitely or to flash an SOS signal.
- Selectable output power
- Quick 3-hour recharge for 1850mAh battery
- Can listen to FM broadcasts
- Waterproof, and can float on the water
- Water-activated emergency strobe lights
- Easy navigation menu system with high-resolution LCD
3. Cobra MR HH150 FLT Long Range Handheld VHF Marine Radio
A lot of people say that this is the best floating handheld vhf radio they’ve used, and it’s easy to see why they’re adamant about this. This is just so reliable and easy to use.
The waterproofing is rated at IPX8, which is even better than most waterproofing levels you see on other radios. This time, you’re able to get the radio down to 5 feet underwater and it will still work after being submerged for half an hour. It also floats as well, making it easier to retrieve on the water.
You can transmit at 6W, but you can also save energy by dialing it down to 3W or even just 1W. You can immediately access channels 9 and 16, along with all NOAA weather channels. A tone can even alert you to any weather emergencies.
This uses rechargeable AAA batteries, which are already part of the package. Of course, you also have the option of carrying backup batteries with you so you can be sure you have radio power in case of emergencies.
- Readable backlit LCD
- Uses AAA batteries
- Can be submerged 5 feet underwater for 30 minutes
- Memory scan to find conversations
- Selectable power setting (6W, 3W, and 1W)
- NOAA weather channels
4. Standard Horizon HX870 Floating Handheld VHF with GPS
This is quite an advanced model, as you’ll notice when you use it. You’ll likely take note that the audio you’ll receive will be quite clear, and the people on the other end will report that you’re coming in loud and clear as well. This is because of the noise-canceling function that works for both transmission and reception.
The output is selectable, so you don’t have to waste battery power using the 6W output all the time. The preset key can also store up to 10 of your favorite channels to use. You also get the NOAA weather channels, and you get their weather alerts immediately.
The waterproofing is also excellent, with an IPX8 rating. If you do drop this on the water, it’ll be easy to find. It emits an emergency strobe light when it hits the water.
You get a large display, with an easy to use navigation system. You also get GPS, which can prove very useful when you’re on the high seas. You get your position in less than 15 seconds. This also has DSC that lets you press a button for an automatic distress call.
- Selective output wattage
- Saves 10 channels into memory
- IPX8 waterproofing
- Strobe light activated when dropped into the water
- DSC allows for automatic distress signal
- Clear transmission and reception due to noise-canceling function
5. Cobra MRHH350FLT Floating VHF Long Range Marine Radio
If the Cobra MR HH150 isn’t enough for you, then this may meet your high standards. It comes with a full set of features that can truly allay your fears.
When it comes to waterproofing, for example, this has the “burp” function. Aside from the IPX7 waterproofing, you’re able to vibrate the radio speaker so you can remove any condensation in the speaker that can mess up the audio output quality.
If you’re looking for channels, then you have channels in memory plus memory scan. You also get full access to the all-important NOAA weather channels, so you can receive alerts if there’s bad weather coming your way.
You’ll come across loud and clear, and not just because of the 6W output. You also have a noise-canceling microphone so that the wave and engine noises around you don’t mess with your communications.
- Selectable output (6W, 3W, or 1W)
- Waterproofing 1 meter underwater for 30 minutes
- Emits tone to get rid of speaker condensation
- Access to 10 NOAA weather channels and alerts
- Backlit display with ergonomic design
6. Uniden Atlantis 155 Handheld Two-Way VHF Marine Radio
You’ll immediately notice the rather large LCD screen, which makes it much easier to read. It measures 30 by 40 mm so it’s most likely the largest LCD screen in its radio class. You can even pick the color of the backlighting. You can go with the white backlight during daytime use, but for night time it’s best to go with the orange backlight.
This receives all the Marine Radio Channels. These include the new 4-digit channels and Canadian “B” channels along with the usual International, US, and Canada marine VHF channels. More importantly, you get the NOAA channels as well so you can get your weather alerts.
The waterproofing is fantastic, aside from the IPX8 rating. This can go 30 minutes underwater even if the radio is 5 feet down. But it shouldn’t stay underwater for long, because it floats. Once you’re able to fish it out of the water, you can use a vibrating tone to clear the water from the speaker cavity.
This comes with 4xAAA, 950mAh NiMH rechargeable batteries. But you can dial down the standard 6W output to either 3W or 1W to conserve power.
- All international marine VHF channels, including the new channels
- Receives NOAA alerts
- IPX8 waterproofing (1.5 meters for 30 minutes) and it floats
- Vibrating tone clears speaker cavity of water
- Large LCD with white or orange backlighting
- Switchable output power
7. IC-M73 01 Handheld VHF Marine Radio
This looks substantial, but it’s not as big as it may seem at first glance. This measures less than 5 inches long and about 2 inches wide, and 1.2 inches thick. It also weighs just 11 ounces. It just looks like a serious machine, though the hourglass design actually makes it easier to hold.
It looks serious because it is a serious gadget. The radio body is rugged for long use. The LCD offers a wide viewing angle, with backlighting and easy to read characters.
This offers the standard 6W transmit power, with a BTL (bridge-tied load) amplifier to double the audio output. There’s also a 700mW built-in speaker giving you nice clear audio. With the Dual/Tri watch feature, you’re even able to monitor 2 or 3 channels at once.
The LCD screen has a battery power indicator, telling you when it’s time to recharge the Li-ion battery. But you can expect a single charge here to last about 18 hours under normal conditions.
The waterproofing is excellent as well, as you can go 5 feet under the water for 30 minutes. It’s not surprising that many organizations trust this particular model. It’s a tried and tested radio that many people have used for years.
- Terrific waterproofing (1.5m/30 minutes)
- Dual/Tri watch
- 18 hours for each full battery charge
- Easy to read LCD
- Good range
Handheld VHF Marine Radio Buying Guide
When you read reviews and spec sheets, focus on the following factors before buy the best handheld VHF marine radio.
First of all, take note of how long you can use the radio with the battery power you have. Usually, you can expect the best handheld marine radio to come with a built-in rechargeable battery.
Take note of how long a single charge will last, and how long it takes to fully recharge the battery. Obviously, it’s better if it lasts longer and it doesn’t take too long to get another full charge.
Some people prefer using old-fashioned disposable batteries. That’s because you can just bring a lot of backup batteries on the boat with you. If the battery power gets too low, you can just pop in the new set of batteries. There won’t be a time when you can use the radio because it’s still recharging.
You may find some models that offer both a built-in rechargeable battery
It does help you to conserve battery power if you have helpful features in your radio. Most handhelds top out at 6W, but you may have an option to dial it down to 2.5W or even lower.
You may find that in most cases, dialing it down to just 1W works fine for most short-range communications. That should save you lots of battery power.
How many channels can you monitor with the radio? Some radios can monitor 2 or even 3 channels at once. When any activity comes over these channels, you’ll be alerted.
It’s great if you can get weather channels, especially NOAA alerts. Some radios even let you get FM radio broadcasts. You can listen to your favorite FM station, and a NOAA alert will interrupt the music if the alert is released.
Having this feature keeps you from buying a separate GPS device. Knowing where you are precisely helps with fishing, finding your destination, and plotting your course. It’s much harder to get lost, and you can keep track of the best fishing areas.
Automatic Distress Calls
All fixed mount VHF radios are required to have digital selective calling, which allows for automatic distress calls at the touch of a button. It’s great if you also have this feature on your handheld. With the vhf marine radio with GPS, you can even send out your location.
Just how well can your radio stand to be exposed to water? The IPX standard is good, as it means you’re able to submerge the radio 1 meter underwater for 30 minutes and it will still be fine. With that kind of waterproofing, even heavy rains won’t be a problem for your radio.
Some radios even have stronger waterproofing. Instead of 1 meter for 30 minutes under water, you can submerge it down to 1.5 meters (that’s about 5 feet).
Aside from waterproofing, you may also look for the ability to float on water. You should also look for a radio with a bright yellow or orange color, so it’s easier to find if you drop the radio in the water. Some radios can even emit a light that automatically activates when they get wet.
Ease of Use
You need an LCD screen that’s easy to read, and it should offer lots of relevant info. It shouldn’t matter if you’re in direct sunlight, or if it’s getting dark.
The radio should be easy enough to hold, with nice buttons as well. An ergonomic design is crucial, so you won’t be likely to drop the radio.
You may find that the best portable vhf marine radios have features that you may not find in other standard radios. You may want to get noise-canceling technology, which can suppress the noise of the waves, wind, and engine when you’re using the radio.
Types of VHF Marine Radios
Fixed Mount VHF Marine Radio
You find this radio normally in the cockpit of the boat or ship. These will require a substantial power source, though they normally work with 12V DC power. For this radio to work, you need to match it with an external antenna. Usually, you mount this antenna to the roof of the boat so you get the clearest transmissions and reception.
With the strong power source, a fixed mount radio can have a range of up to 20 miles. This type can also have a hailer function, or an Automatic Identification System.
Handheld VHF Marine Radio
Even when you already have a fixed mount radio on your boat, it’s always a good idea to have a handheld unit for backup. If you have to go on a life boat, your handheld radio will help you get the help you need.
They’re also good for smaller boats, since you don’t have the space for a fixed mount unit. A handheld radio will have everything you need (including the antenna).
Care and Maintenance of Marine Radio
You ought to read the owner’s manual for instructions on how to maintain your radio. However, there are good general guidelines you can follow for basic care and maintenance.
You should have it in a case or holster, so you can reduce the risk of damage should you ever drop it. Keep it away from the water, regardless of how waterproof it’s supposed to be. If you’re not using the radio, store it in a cabinet or in a place where they’re safe.
Keep the vents of the radio clear of lint and other stuff that can obstruct the vent so your unit won’t overheat. Inspect and change the batteries often, as old batteries may leak and corrode the terminals in your radio.
Clean the radio regularly so dirt and dust don’t get into the radio. Wipe down around the buttons, so the dirt doesn’t impair the button functions.
FAQs on VHF Marine Radio
What is the range of a handheld VHF marine radio?
You can transmit to (or receive signals from) another radio at a range of 3 to 8 miles. The figure will depend on the radio you’re using and the current conditions.
Do I need a VHF marine radio for my boat?
Legally speaking, you don’t need a VHF marine radio if your boat is recreational, and it’s less than 65.6 feet long. Realistically, you need a VHF marine radio for just about any boat.
What is better UHF or VHF radio?
For the open seas, VHF is better. VHF signals can travel over greater distances than UHF, provided that there are no obstructions.
The smaller wavelengths of UHF, on the other hand, has an easier time moving through wood, concrete, and steel. In urban settings, a UHF radio will perform better.
Do I need a license for a marine VHF radio?
If you’re a recreational boater, you don’t need a license for your marine VHF radio.
How do I choose a VHF marine radio?
Pick one with features that best suit your budget and needs. Check out our Buying guide for the most important factors to consider.
Can I use a marine VHF radio on land?
No, you can’t. That’s the law. You can only use it if you have a shore use license.
How do I choose the right VHF antenna?
The rule of thumb is that the height of the antenna should be less than half the length of your boat.
It simply doesn’t make sense not to get a handheld VHF marine radio with you if you’re going out on a boat into the water. Even kayakers these days buy these things because they’re not just useful. They can even save your life!
Buy the best handheld VHF marine radio you can afford. You get so many benefits for so tiny a cost!