There are some things you just don't go without on the water. Among them, a good Very High Frequency (VHF) handheld radio which is your primary means of communication and, quite simply, the most important safety device you can have aboard your vessel at all times. Most major maritime rescue agencies, such as the U.S. Coast Guard, actively monitor VHF transmissions to assist boaters in trouble. These radios are more reliable than your standard cell phone since cell towers are non-existent in open water.
When looking for a good VHF radio, you want it to come with a back up antenna and power source in case the boat is disabled. Portability is important since you want to be able to carry the radio with you in the event something happens or you're away from the helm for any period of time. The radio should also be waterproof and float as well since if it takes a dive overboard, you want it to keep working and avoid taking a dive to retrieve it.
Keep an eye on battery life at all times since Murphy's Law states the worst emergency will arise when your radio is low on juice. Try to minimize disaster with a fully charged radio at all times to allow for more talk time and less charge time.
Before you hit the high seas, get yourself a good VHF radio. Chances are you'll find the one that's right for you among these five best picks listed below. They've all made our list under strict selection criteria including each unit’s portability, power options, extra features, ease of use, reliability, durability, and price.
Compact, portable and resourceful, the Cobra MR HH500 is a rugged VHF radio that is waterproof and comes with a list of absolutely stunning features. Bluetooth connectivity to your cell phone, a digital voice recorder, noise-cancelling technology, and if you drop it in the drink the unit will float for easy retrieval. Read Full Review
Cobra's MR HH500 is fully loaded with just about every possible feature and convenience you would want in your VHF radio. First and foremost, it comes equipped with standard functions like NOAA weather radio, Weather Alert mode, JIS7/IPX7 rated for water-resistance, and up to six watts of available power for communication over long distances. There are even three options for signal power to make those long-range calls.
The Bluetooth feature is particularly useful, allowing you to make and receive phone calls by syncing it to your cell phone. The MR HH500 also has a built-in noise-cancelling microphone which minimizes background sounds so your conversations are heard loud and clear. Cobra also added a useful digital voice recorder function so you never miss a call. If you're not available to respond, the other party can leave a message for you to play back.
We all know mistakes often happen around the water, so if you happen to drop the radio in the drink, the unit will float for easy retrieval. No need to worry about this baby sinking to the bottom, just fish it out and it's as if nothing happened. There's also a BURP feature which expels any water from the front speaker grill in the event it does get wet.
The Link-2 from Lowrance moves to the top of the list because it can do just about everything. Why simply have a VHF radio when you can also add GPS and Digital Selective Calling features to the unit? The Link-2 offers total functionality with all the bells and whistles, plus it's waterproof and floats in case things get a little out of hand. Read Full Review
You name it, the Lowrance Link-2 has it. As a radio, the unit features both US and International National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) channels and it can be adjusted between one watt and five watt RF power with up to 13 hours of battery life. The Link-2 also comes with a signal strength indicator for both incoming and outgoing transmissions.
This radio has a scanning function of all channels and comes with a Dual Watch feature to monitor two separate channels at the same time. The built in GPS feature lets you set and store up to 500 waypoints and provides navigational information with up to the minute latitude and longitude recognition. There's also a "Man Overboard" option allowing you to mark a certain waypoint in the device and a direct route is navigated directly to the specific area.
The Link-2 also has a convenient "Get Buddy" feature to transmit your current position with just the touch of a button and the unit can keep an internal buddy list of up to 20 names for easy reference and broadcast. As you would expect, the unit is waterproof and comes equipped with a large, easy to read, backlit LCD display as well as an SMA antenna connector. Lowrance even provides a two-year warranty on the Link-2.
With the ICOM IC-M92D you'll communicate with total clarity and loud audio output as this radio adjusts for ambient noise during transmit and broadcast. But what really makes this unit stand is its GPS navigation feature. Read Full Review
ICOM's IC-M92D combines VHF radio and GPS navigation in a floating handheld device. There are plenty of distracting sounds on deck but ICOM eliminates ambient interference with a highly-sensitive noise-cancelling microphone that hones in on just the direct sound of your voice. An integrated BTL amp delivers 700mW of loud audio so transmissions come through loud and clear on your end.
The inclusion of GPS navigation offers multi-purpose functionality allowing you to map your current location as well as the route you want to take from point A to B. There’s also digital selective calling which works in concert with the GPS function as well.
The IC-M92D has an IPX7 water resistant rating along with a flashing LCD beacon/alarm to make location and retrieval easy. The AquaQuake feature helps shake water from the device if it ends up submerged. This is a neat little package that affords all of the basics along with a wealth of exclusive features at a price of around $200.
Ease of use, bright backlight, multiple channel scanning abilities, and all NOAA weather channels make the MHS75 a dependable ally out on the water. With its submersible, waterproof construction and three adjustable RF power output levels, this model gives Uniden a well-deserved spot on our list. Read Full Review
The MHS75 comes with all NOAA channels and has weather alerts for inclement forecast conditions. Dual, triple, and quad watch lets you monitor up to four channels at the same time. You can also scan through only preset channels if you prefer, instead of the entire dial. Three selections of trasmit power let you switch between one, two and a half and five watts of RF output to conserve battery for up to 12 hours of life on a single charge.
The unit is waterproof and submersible, so it will float in case it goes overboard. Weighing in at only one pound, this is a lightweight and compact option that’s easy to carry with you at all times. There's even a three year waterproof warranty so your purchase is well-protected.
The NT3VP is designated JIS4 for water-resistance, which means it's not a piece of equipment you want to drop in the water. But it'll still do you plenty of good ON the water, with its large LED display visible in both day and night-time situations, NOAA weather notifications, 88 channel range and emergency channel 16 button. Read Full Review
The Nautico 3 is a reasonably priced VHF radio that offers a little bit more than just the basics and available at most online retailers for around $80. The NT3VP offers 88 channels which includes all US and international channels and an emergency channel 16 for instant emergency info when necessary.
It's got pretty good power at 5 watts and comes with three different call alerts to let you know when a call is coming in. Standard features like NOAA weather radio, channel scan, and squelch are all here. The radio has an 18 mile range for clear communication and its rated JIS4 for water-resistance. That means it can handle getting splashed or sprayed, but that's about it. Don't dunk it in the water by mistake because this unit probably won't survive a full plunge.