Best Vhf Marine Radio
The best vhf marine radio to buy in the UK (June 2020).
#1 Choice: My Review Score = 89%
#2: Best Ranked Runner-Up
#3: Top For Customer Satisfaction
Handheld VHF Marine Radios: A Buyer’s Guide
Whether you sail as a hobby or if you work off the mainland, it’s crucial that you keep in touch with people as a matter of safety. What if you sail far off-course without any way of getting back to the mainland? It’s a nightmare that no one at the helm wants to think about. Therefore, more and more technology is being developed to help sailors and mariners keep in contact with the people around them. For most people out at sea, long-range radios are the best and quickest way to make sure contact is always safely maintained.
But what should you be looking for in a radio? As there are now more choices and different types of technology available to mariners than before, it’s not always easy to narrow down the best choice. Ultimately, you are going to need to find a unit that’s easy to use, is lightweight, and ready to react in the wettest of conditions. For many people, VHF marine radios offer all the flexibility and support they need. However, even comparing between the best VHF marine radios can get tricky!
That’s where we come in. As always, we have taken the time to look carefully at some of the most popular and most dynamic radio systems for ocean use online. We’ve set up a guide that you can use even if you’ve been out on the water a thousand times before. However, if you intend to head back out into the big blue again, you must make sure you have full connection to someone close by, or on the mainland.
At the end of the guide, as always, we will break down some of the most common queries shoppers ask when looking for portable VHF radios for sea use. Specifically, we will look at handheld systems – so make sure to bear this in mind before you start reading!
Why Use a Handheld VHF Marine Radio?
A handheld radio is one which is always going to be at your beck and call, is flexible, and is easy to use in an emergency. Many VHF radios for portable use offer push to talk technology, for example. This means that there should never be any awkward fiddling around in the event of something urgent occurring.
Ultimately, whether you head out to sea for sport or for work – you may even volunteer with a lifeboat service – a VHF radio is going to be there for you if the worst possible scenario occurs. It doesn’t bear thinking about, but heading out to sea without a radio is potentially going to cut you off from the world. Safety first – stay connected!
Handheld radios, even those built for land use, are easy to use in a pinch. Some people prefer mounted radios for the added bells and whistles, but when you are investing in a system for emergency purposes, you can probably leave those added features to one side!
Things to Look For
As there are many different standards of handheld VHF marine radios out there, it’s important that you compare and contrast between the main features and facilities. As mentioned, bells and whistles aren’t really something you should prioritise. However, plenty of radios offer greater ease of use than others, so there is always likely going to be something you’ll prefer over the pack.
Here’s our pick of the best features to look for, including ones we feel you really can’t do without.
Digital Selective Calling
A standard for handheld and mounted radios, DSC allows you to send remote distress signals. When you buy a radio system, you may need to licence it with OFCOM – in which case, they will also give you a specific number. This means that your radio has its own ID, and you can request emergency assistance from maritime support when you need it.
This is always worth looking for as it allows you to send a beacon into the grid without having to fiddle around. It’s literally the push of a button.
Naturally, all handheld VHF marine radios should be pretty waterproof! However, the waterproofing standard of one radio will differ from the next. Therefore, you should keep a close eye on systems which offer high depth submersion. The more capable a radio is in water, the more likely it is to support you in the long run. Ultimately, do you really want to run the risk of heading out to sea with a radio that’s unlikely to cope with deep submersion?
Capability and Power
Of course, you should also look to invest in a handheld radio that operates on wide frequencies. You may even wish to buy a unit that has capability to communicate across scores of channels. Again, for the purpose of emergency support, you probably shouldn’t worry too much about the fancy features and facilities. However, the more powerful a radio is, the more support it is going to give you in the long run.
You should look carefully at battery power. Handheld radios can charge very quickly, but you’re going to need a system that will last long trips in case you have no fixed time of return. You may not always be able to charge up a radio at sea, either! For example, what if you have to head out on a dinghy or a lifeboat – will you necessarily have the same electronics and support you receive on a full boat?
Ease of Use
The main point of a handheld VHF marine radio is ease of use. Handheld radios should allow you to send emergency signals and to communicate with others in just a few button presses. In fact, always look for press to talk functionality. This means that, in a pinch, you can just raise an alarm without having to scroll through awkward menus and clumsy add-ons.
You should also buy a VHF marine radio with a clear screen. You don’t need anything too fancy or colourful – a simple LCD will do enough if you are looking for a handheld radio to depend on.
Of course, if you’re heading out to sea with a handheld radio, there’s no reason why you should always have to keep hands on your device . In fact, the best radios come with various accessories and features that let you strap it to your person on a hands-free basis. For example, you might want to invest in a radio that comes with a belt clip or strap. You can also invest in those with lanyards, which will always ensure to keep your radio to your person.
Not everyone invests in accessories, but think carefully before you buy. What happens if you lose your radio in the water? If you have no means to retrieve it, you may be stuck. Therefore, make sure to invest in a system which you can attach to yourself securely. This means, regardless of how turbulent weather will get, you know you always have a comms unit sticking by you. There’s no need to fumble around for it in a crisis, either.
Frequently Asked Questions
Heading out to sea for the first time? Maybe you’re an old sea hand, and simply need something to help you stay afloat when things get hairy. In any case, there are always likely to be questions you need to ask. Here are just a few common queries we’ve lined up from online shoppers looking at VHF radios elsewhere.
What is VOX, and Do I Need It?
VOX control allows you to active your radio without touching it. This works by picking up on a noise and then switching to full transmission. It’s a very useful feature to have if travelling alone, however, as it can be sensitive, you need to make sure you have it turned off if surrounded by noise. Otherwise, you’ll broadcast constantly.
How Do I Measure Waterproofing?
Waterproofing is generally measured in International Ingress Protection standards, or IP levels. For example, you may find a radio offering IP57. The ‘5’ will let you know how much dust a radio can withstand, while the ‘7’ will tell you how far you can submerge the radio in water and for how long. It’s always worth acquainting yourself with these numbers and figures before buying, as radios will vary in terms of capability.
How Much Do Handheld VHF Marine Radios Cost?
As always, the more you pay, the more reliable a system you will receive – on the whole. We advise that you should look at systems around £100-£150 as a good marker. You can buy radios for less, but when it comes to marine safety, is it really worth compromising on cost?
Marine radios are huge life support for many people who find themselves heading out into the water. Therefore, do make sure to compare between the best handheld VHF systems on the market, and don’t be afraid to invest a little more money in your safety and protection! Take a look at what verified buyers have to say, too.