Boat Cockpit

Best Marine VHF Radio Review

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A marine VHF radio is the best communication device to have on a boat. It is an important safety tool for mariners who set out on offshore or inland waters. The law requires boats that are over 62 feet to carry a VHF radio, but it is advisable to carry one regardless of the size of your boat. You’ll use it all the time to make contact with harbors or marinas, call rescue services if something goes wrong, and communicate with other boats or ships.

Many people think that carrying a cell phone on their boat eliminates the need a VHF radio. We cannot emphasize enough that a cell phone is not an appropriate alternative for VHF radio! This is because cell phones are limited in range and power and are not suitable for use in a safety situation. This is where the best VHF marine radios come in.

This article is a review of 10 top marine radios. We’ll start with a look at the best marine VHF radio, the Standard Horizon GX1700W Standard Explorer.


Contents

Best Marine VHF Radio

Preview
Budget Pick
Uniden MHS75 Waterproof Handheld 2-Way VHF Marine radio, Submersible, Selectable 1/2.5/5 Watt Transmit Power. All USA/International and Canadian Marine Channels - Color Black
Best Long Range
FT-2980R FT-2980 Original Yaesu 144 MHz Single Band Mobile Transceiver 80 Watts - 3 Year Manufacturer Warranty
Best Fixed Mount
Standard Horizon GX1600B Standard Explorer VHF Marine Radio - Black
Name
Uniden MHS75
Yaesu FT-2980
Standard Horizon GX1600B
Price on Amazon
$90.78
$229.99
Price not available
Budget Pick
Preview
Uniden MHS75 Waterproof Handheld 2-Way VHF Marine radio, Submersible, Selectable 1/2.5/5 Watt Transmit Power. All USA/International and Canadian Marine Channels - Color Black
Name
Uniden MHS75
Price on Amazon
$90.78
View on Amazon
Best Long Range
Preview
FT-2980R FT-2980 Original Yaesu 144 MHz Single Band Mobile Transceiver 80 Watts - 3 Year Manufacturer Warranty
Name
Yaesu FT-2980
Price on Amazon
$229.99
View on Amazon
Best Fixed Mount
Preview
Standard Horizon GX1600B Standard Explorer VHF Marine Radio - Black
Name
Standard Horizon GX1600B
Price on Amazon
Price not available
View on Amazon

Our Top Pick: Standard Horizon GX1700W Standard Explorer GPS VHF Marine Radio

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Key Points at a Glance

  • 10 channels with scan feature
  • Weather channel
  • Tracks position of up to 4 surrounding ships
  • Noise-canceling microphone
  • 3” LCD display
  • Scanning functions; Dual Watch, Priority Scan
  • Connects to a second station RAM3

The Details

Our top pick for the best VHF marine radio is the Standard Horizon GX1700W VHF Marine Radio. You can permanently mount it in your boat and use it easily whenever you want. It is designed in a way that it optimizes the console space of your boat. This VHF radio is thin and you can literally install it anywhere in your boat without needing a special spot for it. Standard Horizon has been the best brand of  VHF radios for decades.

Apart from the design, Standard Horizon has also equipped it with some interesting features. It has Class D DSC (Digital Selective Calling), and it can help you track the positions of around 4 surrounding ships on its screen. This makes you aware of the presence of other ships in close proximity to your boat without the need to use radar.

It will also let you know about your exact position in the open sea, let you make distress calls, and allow you to communicate with other boats. It has an internal 12 channel GPS which you can locate easily in the front panel so the user does not have to worry to connect the radio with a GPS for DSC.

It also has a noise-canceling microphone, NOAA weather channel selection with an alert, programmable soft keys, programmable Scan-Priority Scan-Dual Watch, mounting bracket and a power cord.

You can easily customize the names of the channels as well.

The downside of using this VHF radio is that it only has a dual watch, and it is a high-end option as compared to other VHF radios in the market. However, it is the best VHF marine communication device available.

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Our Runner Up: Standard Horizon HX870 Floating 6W Handheld Marine VHF Radio

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Key Points at a Glance

  • Lightweight and portable VHF radio
  • JIS8 certified waterproof radio
  • Noise-canceling technology
  • Water-activated emergency strobe light
  • 66 channels
  • Weather channel
  • Automatic reading of your GPS coordinates

The Details

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For those who are looking for the best handheld and portable VHF radio, the Standard Horizon HX870 VHF Radio is your best choice. You can take the lightweight VHF radio anywhere. In addition to portability, this VHF radio also has some wonderful features to prioritize your safety onboard. Standard Horizon specifically designed this radio for serious situations where you have to go overboard and abandon your ship.

It floats, and a strobe light immediately switches on as it falls into water. This allows you to easily retrieve it in water.

When it comes to features, this VHF radio has a built-in GPS that automatically locates the position of your vessel and promptly sends out a signal to the rescue teams if you are in trouble. The HX870 Floating VHF Radio also has a great range which makes it convenient to communicate with near and distant vessels.

It is a JIs8 certified radio which means it is completely waterproof. Even if it gets completely submerged in water, it will cause no damage to the device. It also has a 2.5” display and it meets ITU-R M493-13 Class D DSC. The company designed it with noise-canceling technology that provides good quality of transmission to the user.

Some downsides to HX870 VHF Radio include the fact that it has a white LED illumination rather than the standard red backlight making it difficult to use when it’s dark outside. Additionally, even though it is quite lightweight, the size is a bit large.  It is one of the best VHF marine radios available.

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Best Budget: Uniden MHS75 Waterproof Handheld 2-Way VHF Marine Radio

Uniden MHS75 Waterproof Handheld 2-Way VHF Marine Radio

Key Points at a Glance

  • JIS8 certified waterproof radio
  • All USA and Canadian marine channels
  • Weather alerts
  • lightweight and portable
  • Triple Watch mode
  • Up to 12 hours battery time

The Details

Uniden MHS75 Waterproof Handheld 2-Way VHF Marine Radio

Our best budget pick is Uniden’s MHS75 waterproof handheld VHF Marine Radio. It is the most suitable option for people who are looking for an inexpensive, portable VHF radio. The body of the radio is such that it can float on water. It works with a battery which lasts for 12 hours if you have fully charged it.

Uniden designed this VHF radio in a way that makes it easy to use. It has all US and Canadian marine channels. It also has a Triple Watch mode which allows you to check US emergencies, weather channels, and a channel of your choice simultaneously.

The MHS75 also has a weather bulletin alert so that the user is alerted every time the weather channel broadcasts a weather bulletin.

It also allows you to adjust the radio transmission power to make the battery last longer. You can select between 1, 2.5, and 5 Watts of radio transmission power for short- and long-range communication. It is JIS8 certified waterproof radio which prevents any damage if it gets submerged in water. The best thing about MHS75 is that it is lightweight, portable, and compact.

The disadvantages of using this VHF radio are that it neither has a GPS or a DSC which limits your options in case you have to make a distress call.

See this article if you need a refresher on VHF Radio Lingo.

This is the best VHF radio for those on a budget, but plan to upgrade when you can.

Sale
Uniden MHS75 Waterproof Handheld 2-Way VHF Marine radio, Submersible, Selectable 1/2.5/5 Watt Transmit Power. All USA/International and Canadian Marine Channels - Color Black
  • JIS8 Waterproof Level - Uniden MHS75 VHF Hand Held...
  • 1 /2.5/5 Watt Switchable - Select between 1, 2.5,...
  • All USA, International, and Canada Channels - The...
  • All NOAA Weather Channels with Weather Alert -...
  • Instant Channel 16/9/Triple Watch - Triple Watch...

Best for Power Output: Yaesu FT-2980R FT-2980 144 MHz Single Band Mobile Transceiver

FT-2980R FT-2980 Original Yaesu 144 MHz Single Band Mobile Transceiver

Key Points at a Glance

  • Four adjustable power output levels; 5/10/30/80 Watts
  • 3 Watts of Audio Output
  • Large 6 digits, backlit LCD display
  • Built-in CTCSS and DCS Encode/Decode
  • Smart Search Function
  • Easy programming menu
  • Wide/Narrow Deviation Selection

The Details

When looking for the best power output in VHF marine radios, Yaesu’s FT-2980R comes out as the best option in that regard. It has some of the best feature configurations and has the mechanical toughness that guarantees 80 Watts of power output with no need of cooling fan. The power output levels are adjustable for the user and you can easily between 5, 10, 30 and 80 Watts of power. It also has a loud 3 Watts of audio output for noisy situations or environments.

Yaesu FT-2980R also offers some very interesting features for the users including a large 6 digit, backlit LCD display that allows good screen visibility. This VHF radio has an outstanding receiver performance with 200 memory channels displayed on an alpha-numeric channel display. Other features include; built-in CTCSS and DCS Encode/Decode, wide or narrow deviation selection, versatile scanning capability, an interactive programming menu, a smart search operation, and direct access to the microphone.

Yaesu’s Transceiver is easy to program and use. The programming menu is easy to understand and most users do not find the need to look into the written instructions to know their way around it.

FT-2980R FT-2980 Original Yaesu 144 MHz Single Band Mobile Transceiver 80 Watts - 3 Year Manufacturer Warranty
  • Massive Heatsink guarantees 80 Watts of RF Power...
  • Excellent Receiver Performance - Alpha-Numeric...
  • CTCSS and DCS Encode/Decode Built in - Versatile...
  • Smart Search Operation - DTMF Direct Access...
  • Interactive Programming Menu - Supply Voltage...

Best Fixed Mount: Standard Horizon GX1600B Standard Explorer VHF Marine Radio

Standard Horizon GX1600B Standard Explorer VHF Marine Radio

Key Points at a Glance

  • thin and compact rear case design
  • large 3” LCD display
  • 1-25 Watts transmit power
  • All scanning functions including programmable, scan priority, Scan Dual Watch
  • GPS tracking of 4 surrounding ships using GPS
  • JIS8 certified submersible
  • NOAA weather channel selection with alert

The Details

Standard Horizon GX1600B Standard Explorer is the best fixed-mount marine VHF radio. The fixed mount design on this radio is easier than ever to install. This marine radio features an ultra-thin, compact, and minimum depth (3.5”) rear case. It has a plastic tilt bracket suitable for overhead or dashboard mounting which takes up less dash space.

Another important set of features of this fixed mount radio is that it has both built-in Class D DSC capabilities and a channel 70 receiver dedicated to continuously looking out for DSC calls.

More interesting features of Standard Horizon GX1600B include navigation to a DSC distress call with a compass page, automatic DSC channel change selection, programmable scan priority, Scan Dual Watch, automatic tracking of the GPS position of up to 4 surrounding ships using DSC and GPS compass display.

It is a JIS8 certified submersible radio which poses no damage to the device in 4.92 ft of depth for 30 minutes. It uses a noise-canceling microphone and has up/down channel controls.

The GX1600B also has a NOAA weather channel selection with alert. It allows the user to set customized channel names and connects to a second station RAM3.

Standard Horizon GX1600B Standard Explorer VHF Marine Radio - Black
  • Large 3" LCD
  • 25 or 1 Watts of transmit power
  • All scanning functions including Programmable,...

Marine VHF Radio Buyer’s Guide

best marine vhf radio

How to Use a Marine VHF Radio

A Marine Radio is very different than a marine stereo! Marine VHF radios are designed for communication and safety, rather than pure listening.

You will find using a VHF radio as simple as using an intercom in a building. All you have to do is switch the device on, set the channel to 16, and listen to it for a moment. If you hear no one talking, it means channel 16 is not in use. You can squeeze the transmit button, mention the name of the boat you are calling twice, then mention the name of your boat and say over in the end. Finally, switch off the mike or transmit button.

Some important things to keep in mind are that you must not use VHF radio as a toy and should not hold up important channels with mindless chatter. We also advise not to make a false Mayday call as it can have serious consequences.

Who Should Buy a Marine VHF Radio?

Admiralty or maritime law requires vessels that are over 62 ft to use marine VHF radios. However, it is highly recommended for small boat owners as well to carry a VHF radio with them on board for their safety and for circumstances that require prompt communication. It is used for a variety of purposes including calling rescue services or communicating with harbors, marinas, locks, bridges, etc.

That said, regardless of the size of your boat, you should carry a marine VHF radio if you are planning to sail to offshore or inland waters. It can help all types of boat owners to make a distress call in case of an emergency or bad weather.

Important Features to Consider

A VHF radio is an important on-board tool for all types of boaters. Apart from making a distress call, they also let you communicate with other boats to exchange information. This makes it important to spend mindfully for the best marine VHF radio. Finding the best VHF radio is only possible if you consider all the important features before making a purchase decision.

Handheld vs. Fixed Mount Marine VHF Radio

The first thing to consider before purchasing a VHF radio is to decide whether you want a portable handheld radio or a fixed mounting radio. Both styles have their pros and cons so boaters can pick the right one according to their needs.

While handheld units are easy to carry anywhere, they are in fact less powerful than a mounting VHF radio. They also require batteries to run on and therefore you should carry spare batteries with you in case your radio runs out of batteries. Mounting radios offer more transmit power which makes them suitable for mariners who need a wide transmission range.

Power Output of the Radio

The power output of any VHF radio determines its transmission range. This means that your radio will rely on the power output for how far you can send out a signal. More often than not handheld units have 6 Watts of power which allows you a very limited range of transmission. The mounted VHF radios have a long-range transmission frequency usually with a power output of 25 Watts.

Rating of Submersibility

Another important feature to consider is the waterproof rating of the VHF radio. It is important that the water poses no damage to the radio device in case you have to go overboard and abandon the boat. The common rating of JIS8 certification allows the radio to be submersible without getting damaged.

Design of the VHF Marine Radio

Since a marine VHF radio is an emergency safety tool, it is important that the company has designed the radio in such a way that it makes it easy and convenient to use. Some of the options for VHF radios in the market have complicated menus with so many different options that can make the usage very difficult. While choosing a VHF radio, you should consider the settings of the radio to ensure you are purchasing one which is easy to use.

NOAA Weather Channels and Alerts

When you set out offshore, you should be aware of the water and weather. It is important to invest in an option that has NOAA weather channels and alerts to keep you updated about it on your journey.

By considering these important features, you should be able to make the right choice of purchasing the best marine VHF radio.
Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need a license for a Marine VHF Radio?

According to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, recreational boaters with a VHF marine radio do not need to an FCC station license. It is, however, different for commercial ships, ships traveling in international waters or using HF radios, and boaters under special regulations. With any such conditions, you should contact FCC.

What is meant by DSC?

DSC stands for Digital Selective Calling and it is a standard for sending out pre-established digital messages on marine radio. It is an important part of the Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS).

What is the use of different channels on a marine VHF radio?

The VHF marine radio operates on standard frequencies which are commonly known as channels. Channel 16 is specifically is an international channel for making a distress call. It is also important for owners of recreational boats to be aware of Channel 9 which is an alternate channel for private and recreational boats to make a distress call. It was established to relieve the congestion on Channel 16. These channels are only used for calling.


Other Products We Looked At:

COB-MR HH350W FLT Handheld VHF Radio

COB-MR HH350W FLT
The Cobra MR HH350W is a budget-friendly, floating VHF marine radio with interesting features. It is a portable and durable design with a variable transmission power of 1W, 3W, and 6W to provide a maximum range. It also has a noise-canceling microphone that blocks background noise for clearer messages.

This handheld VHF radio has JUS7 and IPX7 rating of waterproof which means the radio will bear no damage if it gets submerged in 3 ft of water for half an hour. It covers all USA, Canadian, and international channels along with 10 NOAA weather channels to keep you updated about the weather. A button can immediately turn to channel 16 for emergencies. The tri-watch feature helps you monitor 3 channels at once. It has unlimited memory to program as many channels as you like for quick retrieval.

This VHF radio runs on a lithium battery which can last for 8 hours after full charging. A downside of using this VHF radio is that it has a comparatively low capacity battery.

Key Points at a Glance

  • Handheld, floatable and durable
  • Variable transmission power; 1W, 3W, and 6W
  • Noise-canceling microphone

BTECH Mini UV-25X4 25 Watt Tri-Band Base, Mobile Radio

BTECH Mini UV-25X4 25 Watt Tri-Band Base, Mobile Radio
The BTECH Mini Mobile Radio is a mounting radio with a handheld microphone. It has a completely customizable Multi-color LCD display screen. It allows the users to adjust the display according to their choice. Apart from the display, users can also customize the channel names and frequency settings.

It has many interesting features including dual synchronize display mode, up to 520MHz expanded range of frequency, auto scan, variable frequency scanning, auto power-off function, randomization privacy mode, mic audio gain settings, etc.
BTECH Mobile Radio has about 200 programmable memory channels. You can add or remove the channels from the scanning list anytime. It also allows you to edit your channel preferences without having to program a new channel. It allows the user to synchronize up to 2 channels.

The UV-25×4 supports common analog tones like CTCSS, DCS, 2Tone, 5Tone and DTMF calling methods. It lets the users to set up their calling methods to call by group tones. Despite its many amazing features, some flaws include a substandard FM radio reception and a mic cable which is both short and stiff.

Key Points at a Glance

  • Variable transmission power; 1W, 3W, and 6W
  • Uses an upgraded Power Chipset
  • Dual Synchronize Display Mode

Uniden UM385 25 Watt Fixed Mount Marine VHF Radio

Uniden UM385 25 Watt Fixed Mount Marine VHF Radio
Uniden is known for its reliability and good quality. The Uniden UM385 Fixed Mount Marine VHF Radio is also a reliable product of the company that provides a number of interesting features to its users. It covers all US, Canadian and international channels and is also equipped with the SAME weather alerts that give you updates about the weather on your journey.

This keeps the safety of the boater as a priority by informing you about any forthcoming weather problems.

This one compact design has a tri-watch feature, DSC capabilities and a number of international marine channels. It is an IPX4 waterproof radio which means that it will bear no damage from rain and splashing water. The handheld microphone provides ease of use for the boater at the wheel. It has a white backlight for the day and an orange one for night visibility. The DSC includes a distress call button which allows the user to make an instant call to rescue services in case of emergency.

Some downsides of using this device are that the letters and numbers on the display are small when you change the channel and the mounting bracket is fragile.

Key Points at a Glance

  • Mounting hardware with a handheld microphone
  • US, Canadian and international channels
  • SAME weather alerts

Cobra Electronics MR F57W Marine Vhf Radio

Cobra Electronics MR F57W Marine Vhf Radio
Cobra Electronics MR F57W Marine Vhf Radio is a full-function mounting radio. It has a Class D DSC feature that allows you to send a distress call just at the touch of a button. Other amazing features include tri-watch and a 10 channel memory.

It lets the users monitor emergency channels and local radio channels to keep them connected to their relevant area updates. The MR F57W also gives weather bulletin alerts. Although the display screen is a bit small, the overall features of the radio are easy to use. It is also JIS7 submersible.

The MR F57W has a volume knob and simple arrow controls for scanning channels. You can also switch from 25W transmissions to 1W transmissions to communicate with local boats. It also has a rewind feature which allows you to instantly switch back to the last few seconds of transmission.

The downside of using this VHF radio is that the display screen is too small which makes the display look crowded.

Key Points at a Glance

  • 1 or 25W power output options
  • Tri-watch and 10 channels memory
  • JIS7 submersible

Uniden MHS335BT 6W Class D Floating Handheld VHF Marine Radio

Uniden MHS335BT 6W Class D Floating Handheld VHF Marine Radio
Uniden MHS335BT VHF Marine Radio is a submersible, handheld, and reliable VHF radio. Uniden has optimized the functionality in a compact radio with 6W transmission power, Class D DSC and integrated GPS. It is all you can ask for in a handheld VHF radio. It is IPX8 certified, making it meet the toughest waterproof standards. It clears the speaker of water after it gets submersed and also has a flashlight.

The MHS335BT has a completely submersible body that allows you to use the radio amidst bad weather and waves.

It has NOAA weather channels, provides weather alerts and has SAME local location alerts. It is equipped with wireless Bluetooth which allows the user to send text messages to other VHF radios that are capable of sending and receiving text messages. It also has a built-in compass screen and Water Activated MOB which instantly activates the distress feature when the radio gets into the water.

Some downsides of using this VHF radio are that it has a fragile battery clip and the belt clip is also very substandard.

Key Points at a Glance

  • Class D DSC capable
  • 6W transmission power
  • integrated GPS

Conclusion

Standard Horizon makes the best VHF marine radio around. IT’s GX1700W VHF radio is an outstanding choice for any boater, and will work in just about any conditions. As a backup choice, the HX870 is an excellent handheld marine radio solution for those looking for something more portable.

With the help of this user guide and reviews, you can choose one of our reviewed VHF marine radios, whichever suits your needs. To ensure your safety, carry a VHF radio on your next outing! 

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