How to choose the best marine vhf radio
Trying to decide on the best marine radio solution is dependent on some key factors.
- How you use your boat, distance from shore, time at sea, type of craft.
- Your budget – how much do you have to spend, are you aiming for a top end marine radio, intermediate or budget vhf.
- Are you looking for a fixed mounted marine radio or a handheld device?
As the primary means of communication when out on the water it is recommended that the marine VHF radio is high on the priority list (if not at the top of the list) of purchases when thinking about marine electronics. As an important piece of boating electronics your VHF can serve as a life line should any tricky situations arise, using your VHF you will be able to send emergency calls and broadcasts to rescue services including coastguards, lifeboat crews and other boaters in your area. The marine VHF is not just for emergency use allowing you to easily communicate with other craft and receive the latest hazard and weather updates directly.
With advances in technology the marine VHF has improved dramatically, a key advancement was the introduction of DSC otherwise known as Digital Selective Calling. By pressing a single button on your vhf unit a digital distress signal will automatically be sent identifying your boat and its location to emergency agencies and boaters within your units broadcast area. DSC is an extremely useful innovation and should be considered when purchasing a marine radio as some low-end cheap marine radios do not have this function as standard.
When making a purchase you should consider the features that you require and potentially plan your other marine electronics around the purchase you will make. For example to make the most of DSC your marine radio will need to be linked to a GPS receiver in order to broadcast your positional location should you need to push the emergency button.
With so many marine radios on the market choosing the right one for your boating needs is often a daunting task. We review many different marine radios to help you make an informed purchase of the most important piece of marine electronics you are likely to buy.
There are two main types of marine VHF radio:
- Fixed mount marine vhf radios
- Hand held marine vhf radios
Choosing which one will suit your needs will depend on the type of boating you are likely to be doing and how far offshore you intend to go. A fixed mount marine radio has a typical range of roughly 20-30 miles and range in price form £80-£500 ($100 – $700) whilst a handheld vhf has a range of roughly 5-10 miles and a price tag between £30 – £100 ($50 – $200). A craft that is likely to go further than a few miles offshore should consider purchasing a fixed mounted VHF.
Buying a Fixed Mount Marine VHF Radio – The Advantages
Many mariners chose to go for a fixed mount radio for ease of use. The button and control configuration on fixed mount systems are often easier, quicker and less fiddly to use. Many fixed mount systems are controlled by rotary control knobs or simple up and down push buttons allowing for easier use when selecting channels. Rotary knows allow you to scroll through channels much faster than pushing a button for every channel increment.
A further advantage of the fixed mount vhf radio is the ability to easily add additional hardware to the system. Larger craft with additional decks, cabins or towers often increase the functionality of their system by adding a remote VHF station and/0r a hailer horn. A remote VHF station allows access to the radio from the secondary device, whilst a hailer horn allows for communication over an external speaker system. This can be extremely useful on larger craft when direct voice communication to crew is not possible. If you are looking to connect a remote or hailer horn to your fixed marine vhf then this should be considered before purchasing as not all units have this functionality.
Screen size, backlighting and numerical display size should be carefully considered, can you easily see the display in rough seas or when you are a few meters away from the unit?
The overall size of the radio should be considered as you do not want to make a purchase and then find out the area you are going to mount it is too small. Mounting the unit should also be considered, how do you plan to mount the radio? The two primary methods of mounting are bracket and flush mounted radios. The option you chose will be highly dependent on your boat and the layout of the crafts helm.
Volume controls and clarity of sound is a key factor, rough seas, wind and engine noise can provide allot of ambient background noise and you don’t want your new purchase to be drowned out. If you own a craft without an enclosed cabin area you may well need to be able to plug your vhf radio into an external speaker setup to make it easier to hear, therefore a speaker jack is a definite must have.
Many other factors should be considered but don’t fear take a look through our Marine VHF radio reviews and buy with confidence.
Buying a Handheld Marine VHF Radio – The Advantages
Handheld marine VHF radios are not as powerful as a fixed mounted system but are perfectly adequate on smaller craft when not venturing to far from the shore. Often used as a backup device it is infinitely better to have a handheld than nothing at all.
Handhelds have improved allot with advances in marine electronics and technology. Many now have the ability to connect to Bluetooth and wireless networks as well as syncing with your mobile phone. Having a backup is always important whilst out on your boat, what would happen if your fixed unit failed or you craft looses power? No problem you reach into your bag and pull out your handheld VHF. Boaters who already own a fixed vhf radio should consider purchasing a handheld vhf as a emergency backup just in case.
Many handheld marine radios are waterproof and adhere to high waterproofing standards. This is a definite must have, there is little point of having a radio on a boat that no longer works as you accidentally dropped it over board. When looking for a handheld the JIS8 standard shows the radio will survive at a depth of 1.5 meters for 30 minutes, a pretty impressive claim for an electronic device.