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Best handheld vhf radio 2018 – [Buyer’s Guide]Last Updated January 1, 2020
Best handheld vhf radio of 2018
Many brands have introduced handheld vhf radio on the market. These brands have resulted in a variety for the user. These require that the consumers be well aware of what they are buying so as to make the best choice. However, after giving you the TOP list, I will also give you some of the benefits you stand to gains for using it. Many models on the market may be confusing to a person who is shopping for their first time. Below you can find 3 reviews of the best handheld vhf radio to buy in 2018, which I have picked after the deep market research.
Test Results and Ratings
|Ease of use||
№1 – BaoFeng BF-F8HP
Why did this handheld vhf radio win the first place?
I really enjoy the design. It is compact, comfortable and reliable. And it looks amazing! I am very happy with the purchase. It is definitely worth its money. The product is top-notch! I also liked the delivery service that was fast and quick to react. It was delivered on the third day. The product is very strong. Its material is stable and doesn’t crack.
Why did this handheld vhf radio come in second place?
Seems that the material is good. It has a very beautiful color but I don’t really like the texture. I like this product. For such a low price, I didn’t even hope it to be any better. It’s decently made. I really liked it. It is amazing in every aspect. It did even exceed my expectations for a bit, considering the affordable price. The design quality is top notch and the color is nice.
Why did this handheld vhf radio take third place?
It doesn’t squeaks nor bents. Looks great in my apartment. It is inconvenient to use due to the size. I am going to get something different next time. A very convenient model. It is affordable and made of high-quality materials. I liked the design. We’ve been using it for 2 months and it still looks like brand new.
handheld vhf radio Buyer’s Guide
VHF handheld radio
The last time PBO tested handheld VHF radios was back in January 201Since then there have been changes to product ranges, updates to existing models, and some are no longer around.
There’s no doubt in my mind, reinforced by lots of practical experience, that a handheld VHF radio is an essential communication and safety item on any craft heading out on the water.
Fixed radios have their role, and when installed by the navigation table offer a convenient communication location. However, there are many occasions when the opportunity to communicate on deck offers great advantages, not least the ability to both monitor the boat’s position and in safety situations monitor the scene while communicating.
Handhelds can be used by a tender shore party to communicate with the mother ship, and of course they’re vital in any abandon-ship situation.
All those tested come with detachable belt clips, which not everyone will want. The swivel type can be detached by rotating through 180° – which could lead to accidental loss. Hand lanyards (or straps) are also provided, and these are best attached to the radio body, not the belt clip, so they can be used when the clip is detached.
All radios can select high- or low-transmission power, and some have three levels. All have a lock function to prevent accidental change to settings, but will still allow the transmit function.
All have a battery level indicator: those with push-button volume and squelch will have a linear level indicator for these on the display screen.
How we tested them
We took the radios out on the Solent aboard my Beneteau First 305, and I picked up a mooring off Calshot in Southampton Water. Alan Watson then motored his Nelson powerboat Trinity Star eastwards into the Solent, acting as the communication boat.
We tried each radio at different distances on low power (1W) until reception began to break down. We then turned the radios to their full transmitting power. At their limit we used the radios while standing up in the cockpit.
The test team reviewed the sets for ease of use, focusing on channel change, squelch and volume control.
How They Work
Marine VHF radios rely on radio waves to send and receive transmissions. They rely on line of sight in order to function. Anything that blocks line of sight (land masses, earth curvature, etc.) will disrupt the signals. Thankfully there are few such obstacles on the open water.
The most powerful marine radios are those with long antennas and high wattage. If multiple boats simultaneously transmit on one frequency, the strongest signal is the one which will come through.
Fixed-Mount and Handheld
VHF Radio vs. Mobile
Why buy a VHF radio at all? Why not simply use your cell phone? There are a number of good reasons. For one, mobile networks offer spotty coverage on the open water (nonexistent in many locations). Cell phones lack the weather alert and DSC features of marine radios and are not waterproof.
A fixed-mount VHF marine radio is one which is permanently mounted to your boat and wired into the boat’s electrical system, generally the helm. Benefits include a higher power output and range than handheld radios, dedicated power, and ease-of-use in choppy sea conditions. Many options are available for antennas (straight mount, swivel mount, ratchet mount, rail mount, etc.). You can even set up dual stations and navigate using GPS.
Power and Range
A fixed-mount radio can transmit on anything from one to 2watts of power. Transmitting on one watt allows you to talk to nearby boats without disrupting other transmissions. Transmitting on 2watts will maximize your range (anywhere from five to 30 miles, depending on clear line of sight).
As mentioned before, you have numerous options when it comes to antennas for fixed-mount units. To get the best range, you want your antenna to be mounted as high as you can. If you plan to attach the unit to a powerboat, do so on the superstructure and pick an antenna with six- or nine-dB gain. If you have a sailboat, mount on the mast and go with three dB.
One popular feature for fixed-mount systems is dual station. This allows you to install a microphone in another room inside your boat and operate dual stations from the helm radio. You can then use the system as an intercom.
This is a feature you will find in higher-end fixed-mount marine radios, but generally not in the less expensive models. It allows you to broadcast to other vessels in the area, line handlers, and so on. To use it, you will need to purchase additional hardware in the form of an external waterproof speaker. You also may find it comes equipped with a feature called Listen-Back. With this, you can convert speakers into microphones to amplify noises. This makes it easy to hear the foredeck hand or fog signals in the distance. Not all hailer functions include Listen-Back, so if you need it, look for it specifically in the product specifications of the model you are considering.
This is the portable version of a VHF marine radio. It isn’t mounted; you carry it around with you. Many handheld units these days offer most of the same advanced features as fixed-mount units. You can get extremely basic models at the lower end and very sophisticated ones at the higher end.
Features can include DSC capability, built-in GPS, a distress button, waterproofing, noise canceling, and much more. Range is lower than what you will get from a fixed-mount radio, but handheld models offer a couple of very important benefits. They offer a backup if your ship’s electrical system crashes in an emergency (or your ship sinks altogether). On top of that, they are portable. You can take them anywhere on your vessel or off of it.
The larger your handheld radio, the bigger the battery it can hold and the longer its battery life is going to be. Buoyant, lightweight models also generally hold smaller batteries than those which are allowed to sink. At the lower end of the range, you might get seven hours of charge. At the higher end, you can expect around 20 hours. You will need to weigh the importance of battery life in conjunction with other important features such as buoyancy. Figure out what you need most and make your purchase decision accordingly.
As just discussed, some radios these days are made to float. While the tradeoff is a shorter battery life, there are plenty of benefits to a floating radio. For one thing, you are less likely to lose it and have to waste money on a replacement. For another (and more importantly), you might need to use your radio to get rescued in the water. If it sinks, obviously it is useless to you. A buoyant radio could save your life.
Handheld marine radios usually have either a dot matrix or LCD display. A seven-segment LCD display looks like your clock radio; it is blocky and hard to read. A dot matrix display can generate any image, and looks more like the screen on your smartphone or television. While dot matrix may not be a vital feature, it certainly makes for a more pleasant user experience.
What are some important features to look for on a VHF marine radio? The features listed below may cost you extra, but they can provide you with greater value in your purchase.
GPS is an incredibly useful feature. As mentioned above, you can use it in conjunction with your DSC to transmit your exact location in distress. This allows rescue parties to make their way to you directly.
GPS is also useful for general navigational purposes. You can view your latitude and longitude, and even set up custom waypoints as you travel. That way you can find your way to and from specific locations. This is excellent for fishing, diving, and numerous other purposes.
AIS stands for “Automatic Identification System.” It is a tracking system you can use to locate and identify other vessels. Using an AIS-equipped transponder or receiver, you can see real-time data on nearby ships including their type, dimensions, cargo, position, speed, destinations, and more. A transponder will broadcast information on your vessel; a receiver will not. Benefits include the ability to transmit your position, detect movements from unauthorized vessels, manage a port, conduct coastal surveillance, and more.
Early warning in case of inclement weather conditions at sea can quite literally save your life. For that reason, you are going to want a marine radio equipped with weather alerts. These should include alerts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as well as Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) alerts. SAME alerts are specific to your region; NOAA alerts are national.
2watt mountable marine radio doesn’t have built in GPS. However, it is very reasonably priced, powerful and very easy to use. Also, it’s one of the only marine radios on the market that comes with an external speaker jack.
Comes with mounting bracket. There’s no chance this radio will go overboard. It attaches to the frame of your boat.
Long range communication. 2watts of power allows you to send messages to boats 20 nautical miles or more away.
Noise free transmissions. The built in noise reducer erases static and wind.
Uncomplicated interface. The MR F45-D doesn’t have quite as many features as some nautical radios. But it has all the basics and it’s super easy to use.
External speaker jack. If you need a volume boost, you can hook up an extra speaker.
GX1700W costs twice as much as an ordinary mounted marine radio. But, it has twice as many features. With this unit you get built in GPS and DSC. Plus, water doesn’t phase it. This radio is JIScertified waterproof.
Built-in GPS. No need to buy a separate GPS device. The GX1700W comes with built-in GPS functionality.
Advanced DSC calling. With this radio, you can place DSC calls while you monitor other communication frequencies.
Send and receive position info. Receive, send and navigate GPS waypoints via DSC.
Easy to install. Some bulky marine radios are a pain to setup and wire together. But it’s super easy to set up the GX1700W because it’s slim and compact.
Compatible with RAM3+ remote microphone technology. With a RAM3+ microphone, you’re not stuck in front of the radio anymore. You can walk around your boat and communicate from wherever you want.
Won’t break if submerged underwater. The GX1700W can withstand being submerged in water for up to 30 minutes. It’s JIScertified.
Water damage guarantee. Standard Horizon is so confident in this radio that it has backed it up with a year warranty that covers all water related breakages.
Suppose you accidentally drop your VHF radio overboard—or fall overboard while it is in your hand? In a handheld VHF radio, it is important to look for waterproofing. Make sure that the radio is more than just water resistant. The best ratings are IPXand IPX8, which provide waterproofing in up to three feet of water or more than three feet of water respectively.
Also shop for a radio which is buoyant. That means if you drop it in the water, it will float on the surface so that you can find it again. This could easily be a life-saving feature.
Look for a radio which includes alerts and updates from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This is a nationwide service which warns of inclement weather. Also useful are Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) alerts. NOAA operates at a national level, whereas SAME alerts provide you with regional updates.
VHF radio tends to sell at a higher price than some of the others on this list, but it includes a number of great features. As of the time of this review, it has also received some excellent feedback online.
Waterproof with IPXrating. This means that the radio can be submerged in up to three feet of water without dying.
Dual and Tri Watch. Monitor two or three channels at a time.
Battery life indicator. There is a four-step indicator which shows you your battery level. That way you know exactly how soon you need to recharge.
2-step power saving feature. If you want to conserve battery life, you can use this special feature to do so.
Weather alerts. The weather alert feature warns you if inclement conditions are on their way.
Noise cancellation. True noise canceling keeps your outgoing signals clear.
Output up to watts. Many VHF handheld radios only provide up to watts of power, but this one can operate on watts. This can extend your range.
Higher price. The ICOM M3Vhf-HH marine radio is more expensive than some other models we have reviewed.
Not as much feedback yet. For whatever reason, as of the time of this review, there is not a lot of customer feedback on this radio, so that gives you less information from a buyer standpoint.
VHF handheld radio. As the name indicates, it is waterproof, and also designed to float. It boasts a large LCD screen which is easy to read.
Submersible and can float. This radio has the J1Srating, which means that it is submersible. It is also designed to be buoyant so that you can retrieve it.
Dual and Tri Watch. You can monitor two or three channels using the Dual or Tri Watch features.
Transmit and receive on a wide range of channels. Not only does this radio provide you with access to all USA channels, but it also includes all Canadian and International marine channels as well.
Emergency strobe. An emergency strobe allows you to send a visual signal of your position to rescue workers nearby.
All weather channels. All NOAA channels are included in this radio, and you can receive automatic alerts if inclement conditions are on their way.
Instant channel or 1In an emergency, the radio provides instant access to channels and 16.
Floating VHF Radio, it is no wonder why. This radio is buoyant and waterproof, and features a number of other excellent benefits which make it competitive with more expensive models.
Waterproof and floats. This devices has an IPXrating, so it can be submerged in as much as three feet of water. It also is designed to float.
Up to watts of power. You can operate the MRHH350FLT on several different power settings: 1, 3, or watts. This gives you the flexibility to balance range with battery life conservation needs.
Compact and lightweight. This radio is lightweight and small, which makes it ideal for active use.
NOAA weather updates. You get access to all NOAA weather channels and updates through this VHF model.
Tri-Watch. Monitor up to three stations at one time.
There may be quality control issues. There are complaints from some buyers about miscellaneous issues (the antenna, the display, etc.). We did not notice any consistency in the complaints, so there may be quality control issues affecting some units. Most however appear to work great.
NMEA 018and NMEA 2000 explained
There is also no standardization with wire color coding, so you need to pay close attention to the instructions in each manual of the two units you are connecting. The brown wire on your GPS may need to connect to the purple wire on your radio.
The newer NMEA 2000 standards solve most, if not all, of the problems of the old standard. It allows all of your electronic equipment to talk to each other. For instance, the instruments on your navigation station will talk to the gauge on your helm, even if they are of different manufacture. It also allows easy plug in of all components.
Get the whole story here.
Adjacent Ch. Selectivity – More than 80dB. Which is better? Why is one expressed as a negative? We have no clue.
There are some accessories you may want to consider, such as a remote microphone (called a RAM mike or a WHAM mike depending on brand.) We use one because our VHF radio is at the nav station below deck, and it’s handy to have a second at the helm. A remote mike does the job without needing another installation of a radio as well as antenna and 12v power. Some units will accept these, some not, so if you feel you may want one in the future, make sure you get a radio which has that capability.
A remote speaker for at the helm can be an essential accessory, and almost all VHF radios have an output for it. However, a hailing speaker, which some may want, may not be available in some models.
Alright, you just got your amateur radio license and you’re itching to get on the air. But first you need a radio. What type should you get? As a volunteer examiner, I’ve been asked this question scores of times. It’s a common question of the new ham, and one that doesn’t have an easy answer. But hopefully in this video will shed some light on what’s available and help you make a good purchase decision.
As new technician radio license holder, you will most likely set your eyes on the VHF & UHF bands. I know techs also have limited privileges on the HF bands, and we’ll talk about getting your first HF rig in a future video. Today let’s concentrate on VHF and UHF communications. And in this realm your choices boil down to two formats, the handheld radio and the mobile/base station.
But what makes a handheld so convenient, is also their biggest downside. You are limited in transmit power, batteries quickly discharge, and rubber duck antennas are lackluster.
Budget is a big consideration, you may not have a lot of money to spend, or in just getting started with the hobby, you may not want to make a big initial investment only to later regret it.
So in that spirit, I’m going to lay out a roadmap to building your amateur radio station. Prices are approximate and nothing I say is an endorsement of a particular brand. This is just a guideline to help you build your own station.
This setup will work nice, you’ll hit all the area repeaters and be able to talk simplex with your local friends. But using a handheld as a base radio is cumbersome. The battery doesn’t last for long, and they tend to overheat if you use them for long periods of time.
But what matters is to get on the air, make some contacts, meet new people, and most importantly- have fun. The amount of money you spend is immaterial. So with that, invest into the amateur radio hobby the amount you feel comfortable with.
Another complete solution to the NAV and COMM backup issue is the excellent Icom IC-A2Icom knows a thing or two about radios, and its portable and panel-mount models have a reputation for reliability. The IC-A2is priced just below the SP-400 and has a few differences. It’s powered by nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries, and features a duplex capability allowing you to talk on the NAV frequency and receive on the COMM frequency. The IC-A2also offers full NAV capability with a VOR display and a nifty “DVOR” function that shows the radial to or from the VOR.
Yaesu FTA 750L
A top-of-the-line NAV/COMM transceiver that comes in near the high end of the price ladder, the Yaesu 750L offers many of the features of other handheld radios with the addition of a 66-channel WAAS GPS receiver. Though it doesn’t have a moving map display, the 750L’s GPS receiver provides the capability of manually entering waypoints for reliable navigation. When a waypoint is activated, the navigation screen features a compass display with bearing, course over ground, distance and speed information. The standard NAV capabilities add VOR navigation and ILS displays for localizer and glideslope.
With less-advanced features and a lower price, Yaesu’s FTA-230 is a great option for pilots looking for a simple but capable backup transceiver for communications. One feature we loved, especially for water operations, is that this radio is built to survive immersion in water for up to 30 minutes at a depth of three feet. The unit is the most rugged we tested.
For those looking for Icom reliability at a lower price, the Icom IC-A1may be just the answer. Offering just COMM capability, the IC-A1can go 1hours on a single charge of its lithium-ion battery pack. Packed with features like 200 memory channels, backlit display and water-resistant construction, the IC-A1can be used for a variety of missions.
Some valuable user insight from community members include the recommendation that you not skimp when purchasing a miniature radio frequency meter. That said, there are some really affordable options on the market- and they are a great place to start before you invest in something more sophisticated.
The way they work, is that you turn on the frequency counter by holding the on button for a second, switch on your radio, make sure that the two antennas are touching, then you’ll hold down the transmission button for a few moments until you have captured the frequency.
Pause for a few seconds at this point before holding down the transmission button again. If you are looking to capture CTCSS codes you do not need to hold as long as you do for DCS codes, which in the case of the NSKI frequency meter requires up to 20 seconds of button-holding to capture. Some users who purchased less expensive options complain about the flimsy build quality and the antenna that oftentimes arrived broken in shipping.
Another common complaint is that the manufacturers sometimes oversimplify the user interface- consolidating all functionality into one button, which can make operation more rather than less confusing.
This manifests when users were attempting to select a frequency range because the time out for the stop was so quick that it would take several attempts before you get what you wanted. In all, it would seem to make sense to invest in a quality model to start with rather than opt for a less expensive option that might arrive broken or lack the functionality and dependability of a higher-priced radiofrequency counter.
The award-winning SP-400 is simply the most powerful portable radio you can buy—like having a complete standby radio stack in your flight bag. The all-in-one radio makes a reliable backup for emergency use, but it’s also perfect for listening to ATIS, getting clearances before engine start or just monitoring local traffic.
But a great radio is worthless if it’s hard to use. That’…
Why we recommend AA batteries
Of course we offer a rechargeable battery pack for the SP-400 if you so desire. This is a good option for pilots who fly more frequently or for FBO use. Whichever option you choose, we believe you’ll get great performance and long battery life from Sporty’s radio.
First of all thanks for reading my article to the end! I hope you find my reviews listed here useful and that it allows you to make a proper comparison of what is best to fit your needs and budget. Don’t be afraid to try more than one product if your first pick doesn’t do the trick.
Most important, have fun and choose your handheld vhf radio wisely! Good luck!
So, TOP3 of handheld vhf radio
- №1 — BaoFeng BF-F8HP
- №2 — Floureon 4 Packs 22-Channel FRS/GMRS Two Way Radios Up to 3000M/1.9MI Range
- №3 — Uniden MHS75 Handheld Submersible 2-Way 5W VHF Marine Radio – Black