You probably know how sensitive radio signal can be during bad weather. This is why the quality of a radio system really matters when you are out there boating. Make sure you have peace of mind by obtaining the best VHF marine radio. You can’t make any compromises when it comes to your safety while boating. But you probably have some questions.
How to choose the right item? What is the difference between the types of radios? How to install the product and how to take care of it?
Our team has collected some interesting information, useful tips, and the top VHF marine radio reviews, so we can make your choice easier.
Best VHF Marine Radios Comparison Chart
Uniden Fixed Mount Marine Vhf Radio
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Standard Horizon HX870
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Uniden MHS126 Handheld VHF Marine Radio
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COBRA MRF45D Marine Radio
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Cobra MRHH350FLT Floating VHF Long Range Marine Radio
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Standard Horizon GX1700B
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BaoFeng Pofung Two-Way Radio Transceiver
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BEST VHF MARINE RADIOS REVIEWS (RECOMMENDED PICKS)
Selecting the right product is the most critical step in any purchase. We will give you some tips and useful info in the article below but first, let’s take a deep dive into the vast selection of VHF marine radios. They aren’t ordered in any particular way. Just grab the one you like the most.
1. Uniden Fixed Mount Marine Vhf Radio
The first product we review here is the Uniden UM385. The brand has been historically tested for reliability, and this product is not an exception. The radio connects to all of the USA, Canadian and International channels. In addition to this, it is provided with the SAME weather alert to warn you of the obstacles that you might encounter. These two features make it a safe choice that will ensure your protection from anything that lies ahead.
In a case that a storm awaits you, the Uniden marine radio will inform you before the storm starts. The radio itself is safe from water damage as it is equipped with a tone to clear the cavity. Other accessories are a white backlight for the day and an orange one for night visibility.
However, when it comes to visibility, it is essential to note that the letters and numbers are quite small when you change the channels. A crucial part of the radio is the DSC that will allow you to call others. It is a sensitive program so bear in mind that it sends and requests position unintentionally. As for the connection – the sound is clear and can be enhanced with an antenna.
- Works with many channels.
- Reliable DSC
- Easy to install
- Numbers and letters are difficult to read.
- The mounting bracket is brittle and challenging to install.
2. Standard Horizon HX870
This next marine radio impresses with a floating construction which makes it waterproof. Although it is quite tall and thick, it is designed to be handheld, and you can quickly run around your boat with it. A high-quality DSC input will provide you with safety and allow you to connect to others. When not used the transmit and receive audio can be muted so that it does not interfere with your other tasks.
The HX870 radio is easy to operate as the menu system is intelligible. You can manually create a route, set the speed, and display the distance in a numerical or compass style. However, the compass style performs slower than the numerical one. The radio can be used not only on big boats but also on kayaks and small boats once the number of the vessel is registered on the Internet.
A significant drawback of this product is the lack of visibility. Although the screen is big, it is still not big enough for any serious navigation. A lack of backlight for night vision is another disadvantage. Nevertheless, the radio is equipped with an emergency strobe light that activates by water. Mainly, it performs well, and it will provide peace of mind no matter the weather.
- Displays distance, location, and speed in numerical and compass style.
- Solid and handheld
- Easy to operate system menu
- No backlight for night vision
- Tall and thick – not compact
3. Uniden MHS126 Handheld VHF Marine Radio
The third product on our list is again by the brand Uniden. It is a good pick for its construction. Not only that it is handheld, but it also fits perfectly in your hands, unlike other radios that are bulkier. The floating design will allow it to come up to the surface of the water when submerged. Although the sound might be muffled before the radio dries up, the product is waterproof, and it will continue to perform as expected.
For your safety, the MHS126 automatically hears NOAA weather alerts and prepares you for coming storms. To further ensure your untroubled travels, the radio is equipped with glow-in-the-dark seals and an emergency strobe light. It is advisable that you buy an AC-to-DC charger as the product comes only with a cigarette charger in spite of the information given. Apart from this, the battery has a long life of 11 hours.
The radio works on 3 levels of power (1, 2.5 and 6 watts) for peak performance and reliability. It is good for you to be prepared that the battery clip breaks easily. Otherwise, the construction is reliable and durable.
- Handheld and compact
- Floats to the surface and is waterproof
- Prepares you for different weather conditions in advance.
- Emergency strobe light
- 3 levels of power
- Battery clip breaks easily.
- No AC-to-DC charger
4. COBRA MRF45D Marine Radio
The Cobra MRF45D radio can be easily operated as you can send or receive location just at the touch of a button. Therefore, a quick connection to other boats or stations can be established. This feature functions well thanks to a Digital Selective Calling program.
Moreover, it works from short or long distances, which gives you peace of mind and confidence during your travels. Clear communication is possible across three-channel maps that cover the USA, Canada, and International waters. Be prepared for any weather conditions with the NOAA channels and a constant weather alert.
The radio is submersible up to 3ft/1m for 30 minutes, which means that it will float on the surface if you drop it. The unit is provided with an adjustable backlight. On the other hand, however, the light of the screen is limited, and it is difficult to read the inscriptions in direct sunlight. Other than that, the radio functions well for its price and will ensure your safety in the water.
- Be prepared with NOAA channels and weather alert
- Easily operated
- Communication at short and long-range distance
- Limited screen light
5. Cobra MRHH350FLT Floating VHF Long Range Marine Radio
What impressed us about this Cobra MRHH350FLT radio is that it is ergonomic and compact. This makes it easy to hold and take it with you around the boat. You will also find it comfortable to operate as it is equipped with a backlit display for communications in any weather conditions. A choice of three output options (1, 3, 6 watts) brings you peace of mind and a sense of safety. With this radio, you will have access to some local and international channels. This way, you will always know that there is an option to connect with other boats. The product is submersible, and it will float to the surface of the water.
Moreover, the orange core will make it visible and easily retrievable from the water. Features such as weather channels and alerts will prepare you for bad weather in advance. The price is, and the product will serve you well. However, keep in mind that for the more advanced user, it might not be as strong and durable as it is required.
- Ergonomic and compact
- Backlit display and orange core for high visibility
- Weather channels and alerts
- A shorter lifespan if it is frequently used
6. Standard Horizon GX1700B
The GX1700B Standard Horizon stands out amongst other radios because it has a GPS already installed in it. This is as well its significant advantage since there is no need to wire the radio to an external GPS. You will only need to buy a VHF antenna. The signal of the GPS is excellent and covers short and long-range distances. This way, you will be able to reach out to boats that are located further away.
The DSC calling is capable of quickly sending and receiving coordinates. A waypoint and route can be navigated through a compass screen. It will also display various features of your vessel at the moment you start using it. With a rear case of 3.5” depth, your radio presents in a slim, compact silhouette. It can, thus, grant you flexibility when mounting the radio in limited space. The details you need will be displayed on a large 3” LCD.
However, a concern is that, with time, the screen light loses intensity. Another disadvantage is that the speaker might crack. This causes the sound to become muffled. Therefore, a great advantage of this otherwise valuable radio is that it comes with a 3-year warranty. Overall, you can be sure that this powerful radio will provide you with safety on your boat.
- Internal GPS with a strong signal
- Large 3’’ LCD
- Thin and compact case
- 3-year warranty
- The screen light goes down with time
- Speaker cracks
7. BaoFeng Pofung Two-Way Radio Transceiver
The last product on our list is a BaoFeng Profung radio, and it is another good pick. The reason for this is that it provides you with a great and far-reaching signal with up to 11km range. At the same time, this is one quite small radio.
This makes it compact. But, it might seem too small to some users. It is a good idea to have the elongated battery to have a better grip on the radio. The signal is improved by the copper antenna. This material ensures that your radio stays dry during rainfalls. The functionality of this product is further enhanced by a frequency-modulated receiver chip. The chip enables high-quality sound with varying reception conditions.
You can change the power settings from high to medium and low. The added power amplifier limits crossover distortion to a minimum. A disadvantage of this marine radio is that it is challenging to program, and the manual is not the most helpful. However, once you manage to start the radio, the enlarged buttons and power knob will allow you to operate it efficiently. To finish off, this product comes in a solid shell that protects it from dust and water. An excellent choice for when you are on your boat.
- Up to 11km talking range
- Large buttons and power knob
- Solid shell
- Copper antenna
- Difficult to program
- Quite small in size
What Is a VHF Marine Radio?
- VHF stands for “very high frequency,” referring to the range between 156 and 174 MHz, known as the VHF mobile maritime band. Large ships and almost all small sea vessels use VHF marine radio. Rivers and lakes are subjected to slightly different regulations. Cases of use include sending calls for distress and communicating with other crafts, harbors, locks, and marinas.
- There’s no way around it – you need to have such a radio on your watercraft. It is a vital piece of communication that will allow you not only to send distress signals (if needed) but to also gather information while out there.
- It is interesting to find how VHF Radios work. For sending and receiving transmissions, marine radios use radio wavelengths. However, having a clear line of sight also helps and will improve the signal. If you are far away from the shore, though, it is unlikely that an object will block your transmission.
- Why not use a mobile phone? In short, the main reason is because of the coverage of the mobile network while on open water. The signal will be inferior on your mobile. A VHF radio will always have a signal unless massive objects like mountains block it which is rather unlikely in open waters.
- Besides, if you send a distress call via a VHF marine radio, it will be delivered to anyone in range. This will enhance your chances of getting out of a sticky situation. Furthermore, VHF marine radios are much better equipped to withstand sea conditions.
Types of VHF Marine Radio
Of course, it is essential to choose a particular kind of radio, one which will perfectly suit your needs. The more you venture out, the more critical the range or power of transmission is. Many units have a more extensive selection of channels and features allowing you to listen to multiple channels at one time. Here we are going to introduce you to the main types of VHFs.
- Handheld VHF Marine Radios – When we talk about portable units, these are your best options. If you aren’t a heavy boater, a handheld radio will be just fine for you. Such small radios rarely go over 7W of power. Don’t worry about the range – it should be good enough for your little boat trip.
- Fixed Mount VHF Marine Radios – Such console radios are what you see in larger motorboats or small yachts. Batteries aren’t enough to power them. You will need to find an electrical source. Well, this electrical source can still be a battery but it is best if you get a good marine deep cycle battery. If you aren’t sure how to pick one, just visit our extensive guide devoted to reviewing such units.
Fixed-mount radios will also require you to install an antenna. The good thing is that many of these units have some additional features such as GPS or some sort of an ID system. Their cover distances can be quite impressive. We are talking about more than 15 miles.
Benefits of Handheld VHF
Here are some facts about handheld VHF units that you should know when you consider buying a VHF marine radio. They may have more than one way to transmit information about your location. For instance, some radios come with a GPS function. We don’t need to point out the obvious benefits of such a feature. Additionally, your unit may have DSC. We will talk more about it below.
If you are sailing, you will have a VHF radio on the boat or ship-mounted on the vessel. Board-mounted VHF radios, however, operate on power that is either ship power or electricity. If you’re in the eye of the storm, fire or flood, your boat or ship may lose power, and the mechanics may fail. In such a case, the mounted VHF radio would not work.
The handheld VHF radio would be your only recourse. A handheld VHF radio can be charged from a few hours to 16 or 20 hours from anywhere. Many channel frequencies, including weather channels, come with a handheld VHF radio. When you are in a critical situation, you can stay updated on what’s in store for you.
Benefits Of Fixed Mount VHF
A fixed-mount radio can transmit between one and 25 watts of power on anything. Transmission on one watt allows you to communicate with nearby boats without interrupting other broadcasts. The transmission on 25 watts will maximize your range but will interfere with other wavelengths as well.
All new fixed-mount VHF marine radios can call DSC, enabling you to alert other sailboats, ships and shore stations with only one button press. These DSC capabilities are included when connected to a GPS; position polling, a variety of group calling options. Some offer the ability to connect to a remote microphone and act as an intercom system for internships. Fixed radios need to be installed together with a power source connection, VHF antenna, and GPS.
Here you can take a look at the most essential functions of the VHF radios.
- Channels – Not a lot to mention here. Some radios allow you to follow more than one channel at once. Therefore the names “dual watch”, “triple watch” etc.
- DSC – Digital Selective Calling or short for DSC lets you make automated distress calls using certain functions. Most mounted radios come with that function nowadays. It is very handy because it uses other frequencies than the usual ones to transmit a distress signal if needed.
- Automatic Identification System – AIS enables you to locate other vessels and identify them. The identification process goes beyond only determining the name and the ID of the watercraft. You can get some live information about their destination, departure point, current speed, type of cargo etc. This is important because some vessels may have an advantage over others when it comes to crossing one’s waterway. You need to be aware who’s around you.
- GPS – GPS is a handy feature. It can also be a lifesaver. If you can get your hands on a radio that supports GPS, then do it. This way, you will have one more way to transmit signals and to notify people of your location.
- Noise Cancellation – such a feature helps the radio reduce the static sound and other unpleasant background noises when speaking. Noise cancellation may also take care of the environmental sounds that come around you – noise coming from the engine, water sounds, rain etc.
- Water-resistance – Since you’re going to work out in the sea, you need a waterproof radio. When the weather is terrible, it’s common for water to splash into your boat. It is essential to look for a receiver with a waterproof capability to ensure that you are armed with the only gadget that can help you seek help.
Installation of Fixed Mount VHF
Probably the most important thing about the radio is the installation. Always check the instructions of the manufacturer for the most accurate information. Our team has collected some tips for proper installation. Many boaters feel comfortable installing their own VHF. If you have any difficulties, though, you can call a technician.
- Make sure that you follow all the directions of the manufacturer when connecting power to the radio. If you need to run a longer power cable, make sure that you are using proper-gage wire for the range, and use fuses or breakers with the proper rating.
- Consider how simple or difficult it will be to see and access controls and screen when installing your radio. Think about the VHF handset cable drape and whether your view of other systems will be interfered with or blocked.
- Also, to ensure proper connections, all power cables should be “tinned.” It is suitable for the item to be installed in a dry place, free from rain and salt water spray and free from the vibration of the engine.
- Find the drill-bit size that matches the mounting hardware included in the radio, then drill the mounting holes in the helm, following the radio’s instructions. Run a silicone sealant bead around the holes, set up the binnacle mount and insert the mounting hardware. When you are sure that the radio is well-installed, and once you have high-end marine speakers also, you can use your item and enjoy your trip!
Taking proper care for every valuable marine audio item on your boat is very important for their long life. Of course, the most essential information you can find is on the instructions of the manufacturer. Here are some tips for proper cleaning and other types of maintenance.
- Turn off the radios when you charge the battery.
- Clean radios with a little bit of water and a microfiber cloth. The soft texture of the fabric will wipe dirt away without damaging the unit. Use a damp cloth and wipe until radios are clean for more stubborn stains and marks.
- Use only device-compatible batteries and chargers. Once the accessories designed and specified for your unit have been identified, keep them dry and charge only when needed.
- When not in use, you can store equipment in a dry and cool place with limited exposure to harsh weather conditions, such as extreme heat or cold, as well as various sunlight and water elements.
- Do not store inactive chargers radios or batteries.
- Turn off radios before storing and remove the batteries.
- Check the electric cables before using the radio. They are essential when you use other electrical items such as quality marine subwoofers and speakers.
Safety always matters. Here are some pieces of advice, you may find useful.
- Connect your radio to GPS, and the exact location can be transmitted. That’s really important! Not enough people do this, and DSC’s potentially life-saving feature is wasted.
- Vacuum up all fiberglass dust after drilling the holes.
- Do not hold or grab antenna radios. Using the antenna as a handle consistently will eventually affect transmission and reception.
- Battery overloading can reduce their lifespan.
- Store the radio in a cold room.
- Ensure that the radio works properly by performing a radio check. First, tune in to an open frequency station. Then repeat three times, your vessel’s name, and “Radio Check, Radio Check, Radio Check.”
- Test your radio and communications devices to ensure that they are working correctly and that they are not affected by any potential LED lighting interference.
- Having radio communications is essential. For marine communications, they are more effective than CB radios or mobile phones.
Well done, you have now read our buying guide, and you know how to find the best marine VHF radio. You have taken things in your hands, and soon you will also have the right receiver in your hands’ thanks to the new knowledge you have gained. With our list of marine VHF radio reviews and all the information you have, we are pretty sure that you will quickly discover what you are looking for.
If you find our guide useful, forward it to your friends and family, who love sailing and love reading articles to stay updated. Of course, do not forget to leave feedback – write comments, send us an email, tell us what you think.
Also, do not forget to check our other articles regarding everything you need to know about your boat. There, you can find interesting information, tips and everything you need to know to make the right choice. Now go out, do not forget your life vest and enjoy your sailing! Thanks so much for reading, and as always – stay put!