Best VHF Marine Radios Reviewed

We have the right information for you if you are looking for a VHF radio. This section includes a buying guide and reviews of top VHF radios, both fixed-mount, and handheld.

The Best Handheld VHF Radios

  • Uniden MHS335BTVHF Radios for Handhelds at the Best Price
  • ICOM IC M93D
  • Standard Horizon HX890 – Best Handheld VHF Radio

Best Fixed VHF Radios

  • Uniden UM385BK
  • Cobra MRF45-D– The Best Fixed VHF Marine Radio
  • Standard Horizon GX1400 Eclipse– The Best Fixed VHF Radio For Rain and Spray

Best VHF Marine Radios Reviewed

VHF radios are being reviewed for fishing vessels less than 65 feet. We may not be able to cover larger boats that require multiple functions and stations.

Uniden MHS335BTVHF Radios for Handhelds at the Best Price

Uniden MHS335BT 6W Class D Floating Handheld VHF Marine Radio with Bluetooth, Text Message Directly To Other Vhf Text Message Capable Radios, IPX8 Submersible Design

Transmitting power maximum 6W

Waterproof ratingIPX8/JIS-8 Submersible up to 4.9 feet for 30 Minutes

DSC: Yes

GPS: Yes

BatteriesRechargeable Lithium-Ion with up to 12 hours battery life and 3 1/2 hour charging

The Uniden handheld VHF radio is a great deal and you get a lot more peace of mind for the price.

You can expect 6W of transmitting power and easy line-of-sight communication. The Coast Guard will only allow you to communicate with them at a maximum distance of several miles. This is enough power to keep most vessels operating inshore waters safely.

The radio has access to all American, Canadian, and international channels. This includes all-weather channels. This Uniden radio is an affordable way to keep up with weather information, including small craft advisory and rough weather.

The battery is reliable and comes with an additional power outlet charger that allows it to keep constant power. Even with heavy usage, you can expect no less than 6 hours of battery life.

Although the manufacturer calls it “floating radio”, this radio actually does not float. It is IPX8/JIS-8 rated, which means it can withstand a shallow dip and still function.

This is not a great radio. In reality, it’s much better at resisting rain and spray than being completely submerged. Many of these radios have survived such submersions without any problems, but this is not the option I would choose as a kayaker.

Protected by a cover, the DSC button can be found on the side of your radio. You can find it easily if you need it. However, it won’t block your view if it isn’t.

The screen is large, easy to read and the controls are simple. Make sure you read the manual.

The sound quality is good and the clarity is excellent for a handheld radio.

The Uniden MHS335BTBT is a budget-friendly option that still provides all the safety features you need. The Uniden MHS335BT is not the best option for everyone. Plastic bits such as the belt clip or battery clip are more fragile than I would like.

Pros

  • Full-featured
  • GPS and DSC equipped
  • All-weather channels available
  • Battery life is excellent
  • Great, easy-to-read screen
  • Waterproof
  • High-quality sound quality
  • Good range

Cons

  • Belts and battery clips may be fragile
  • No matter how high the rating, full submersion is not recommended.

ICOM IC M93D

ICOM IC-M93D Marine VHF Handheld Radio with GPS & DSC, 5W

Transmitting power maximum 5W

Waterproof ratingIPX7 (but only if the speaker microphone jack cover is removed,

Optional HM-165 or HM-228 are attached; floating

DSC: Yes

GPS: Yes

Rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery; up to 9-hour battery life; 3 hours charging time

The Icom IC-M93D handheld VHF radio is a high-quality, top-quality product. But you will have to decide if it is worth the extra cost over the Uniden.

The VHF system transmits at 5W, making the line of sight communications easy. You can expect to travel up to two or three miles depending on the weather and even further if you want the Coast Guard.

I believe that this ICOM has a range that is approximately equal to that of the Uniden. However, conditions can affect the distance more than an extra Watt of power.

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This Icom radio, like its cheaper counterpart, provides access to all American, Canadian, and international channels. It’s worth having a VHF radio aboard, as I have already mentioned because it can save your life.

Battery life is good, usually around nine hours, but it can be a little shorter if you use the device a lot. The average recharge time is around three hours. However, the AC power adapter and auxiliary power outlet charger can keep constant power if needed.

It is easy to read the screen and the controls are intuitive. This radio is very easy to use. However, it is a good idea to read the user manual.

You can activate the DSC by pressing a button at the top of the radio. The GPS augments it for additional safety.

The Active Noise Canceling system reduces background noises for better clarity, which is a great improvement in sound quality.

The ICOM’s IPX7 rating is only given to those equipped with aftermarket microphone jack covers. That’s not confidence-inspiring, even though this radio will float for a while.

This is a very popular VHF radio. However, it doesn’t offer anything that the Uniden does, other than perhaps a stronger clip.

Pros

  • Full-featured
  • DSC and GPS-equipped
  • All-weather channels available
  • Battery life is excellent
  • Excellent, simple-to-read screen
  • High-quality sound quality
  • Good range

Cons

  • It’s expensive!
  • Only optional aftermarket parts are eligible for the IPX7 rating

Standard Horizon HX890 – Best Handheld VHF Radio

Standard Horizon HX890 Handheld VHF Navy Blue - Floating 6 Watt Class H DSC Two Way Radio

Transmitting power maximum 6W

Waterproof ratingIPX8; floating

DSC: Yes

GPS: Yes

Rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery; up to 11-hour battery life; three-hour charging time

Standard Horizon is the most trusted name in handheld VHF radio circles. The HX890 helps to explain why. The radio is slightly less expensive than the Icom and I believe it delivers at a higher level than its rivals.

Transmission of 6W power, which allows for easy line-of-sight communication and the Coast Guard’s expected over-the-horizon capabilities. The Standard Horizon is comparable to all of these radios in terms of performance.

As you would expect, the radio has access to all American, Canadian, and international channels. This includes all-weather channels. You’ll always be up to date on everything, from small craft advisory to rough seas and high winds.

The battery tech is where the Standard Horizon really shines. You can immediately see the price you are paying by seeing the battery life. It is at least half the length of the Uniden and Icom. No matter if you use the AC adapter or an automobile auxiliary, the charging times are around three hours.

Expect a simple-to-read screen with intuitive controls. I recommend reading the manual.

The DSC can be activated by pressing a button at the right rear of your radio. It is augmented with GPS to broadcast the exact location of your radio. The sound quality is superb.

The Standard Horizon shines in waterproofing. It is rated IPX8 and can float (and activate a strobe lamp, regardless of whether it’s powered on or off). This is a major selling point for me. It will not have any problems with rain or wind-borne spray, and should your radio get sprayed, it will be fine!

The Standard Horizon handheld VHF radio is my favorite.

Pros

  • Full-featured
  • DSC and GPS-equipped
  • All-weather channels available
  • Amazing battery life
  • Excellent, simple-to-read screen
  • High-quality sound quality
  • Good range
  • Extremely waterproof and capable of floating

Cons

  • It’s expensive!

Uniden UM385BK

Uniden UM385BK 25 Watt Fixed Mount Marine Vhf Radio, Waterproof IPX4 W/ Triple Watch, Dsc, Emergency/Noaa Weather Alert, All Usa/International/Canadian Marine Channels, Memory Channel Scan, Black

Transmitting power maximum 25W

Waterproof rating IPX4

DSC: Yes

GPS: Externally connected, yes.

Uniden’s UM385BK VHF radio is a simple, fixed VHF radio for value-conscious customers.

The standard 25W transmission power is available. However, it’s more dependent on the conditions and antenna used than the radio itself. The range is usually excellent when comparing antenna lengths.

Uniden states that this radio can be used with an external VHF antenna, with a male SO238, PL259 connector, and 50 O impedance. A minimum 4ft 3dB rated antenna to sailboats and an 8ft 6dB rating antenna to powerboats.

This Uniden radio is easy to use with clear controls and simple to read the screen. The sound quality is superb, with an optional engine noise-canceling option.

You can find all the American, Canadian, and international channels, as well as critical weather information, as you would expect.

This radio can be used with DSC, and the distress button is located behind a red shield at the radio’s front, next to the squelch control. The Uniden does not include a GPS receiver. However, one can be connected to increase safety in an emergency.

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The basic Uniden radio is solid, reliable, and affordable.

Pros

  • It is simple to use
  • Great sound
  • DSC compatible
  • The screen is easy to read

Cons

  • It’s not as waterproof as I would like.

Cobra MRF45-D – The Best Fixed VHF Radio

Cobra MR F45-D Fixed Mount VHF Marine Radio - 25 Watt VHF, Submersible, LCD Display, Noise Cancelling Microphone, NOAA Weather Channels, Signal Strength Meter, Scan Channels, White

Transmitting power maximum 25W

Waterproof ratingJIS7

DSC: Yes

GPS: Externally connected, yes.

The MRF45-D radio from Cobra is part of a highly-respected series and is the choice of professionals like Sea Tow.

This is a powerful statement.

The radio has all the standard features. DSC is accessible via a covered button located next to the microphone. Although it does not have a GPS, it can be connected to a receiver.

It has a simple-to-read display and intuitive controls that make it easy to use. The sound quality is also excellent.

All American, Canadian and International channels are available. This includes critical weather information.

As you would expect, the MRF45-D can transmit up to 25W, but the range is dependent on the conditions and your antenna.

This series is waterproofed to perfection. To get it to stop working, you would have to toss it overboard. This radio is actually the most rugged out there, which may be why Sea Tow chose it. I don’t think there’s anything you can do to stop it from transmitting and receiving.

This is my personal favorite fixed VHF radio.

Pros

  • It is simple to use
  • Great sound
  • DSC compatible
  • The screen is easy to read
  • Extremely waterproof
  • Very durable

Cons

  • ?? ??

Standard Horizon GX1400 Eclipse- The Best Fixed VHF Radio For Rain and Spray

Standard Horizon GX1400 Eclipse Fixed Mount VHF Radio - White

Transmitting power maximum 25W

Waterproof ratingIPX8

DSC: Yes

GPS: Externally connected, yes.

Standard Horizon is certainly a trusted name in VHF radios. This fixed radio, like the excellent handheld they have reviewed, is an outstanding choice.

The GX1400 Eclipse can receive and transmit on all American, Canadian, and international channels. This includes the weather channels. It also has DSC capabilities, which can be accessed by the covered button located next to the microphone.

It doesn’t have a GPS, as is the case with fixed VHF radios. However, you can connect a receiver.

The screen is large and bright and the controls are simple to use. The sound quality is superb.

As you would expect, transmitting power should be no more than 25W. The range will depend on the conditions and antenna used.

The GX1400 Eclipse shines in waterproofing. This rating of IPX8 would make the GX1400 Eclipse my favorite choice for a center console boat or any other type of boat that can withstand rain and spray. This radio will not stop until your boat is below the waves. Maybe it won’t even then for a while.

Overall, the Cobra is a better choice than Sea Tow. The Standard Horizon is my favorite pick if my radio will get wet.

Pros

  • It is simple to use
  • Great sound
  • DSC compatible
  • The screen is easy to read
  • Extremely waterproof

Cons

  • ?? ??

How to Choose the Best VHF Radio

Are you looking for a fixed or handheld device?

Source of power

Handheld VHF radios are powered by a lithium-ion rechargeable battery. These can be recharged using an AC adapter or the automobile adapter (the cigarette lighter style). Many come with mountable holders that can charge the battery while being used frequently, but these cradles do not have waterproof capabilities.

We will be sure to provide accurate information on battery life and charging times for each handheld radio.

Fixed units, on the other hand, runoff power from your boat. In most cases that will mean multiple batteries. You can have a radio as long as you have power. However, batteries, including whole banks, can fail.

Range

The typical handheld radio’s maximum power is 6W. They also have short antennas. This limits their range to approximately 2 to 3 miles for other vessels but can reach up to 10 miles for Coast Guard personnel who can receive signals over longer distances. They typically use more advanced radio equipment and are higher above the water.

Fixed VHF radios transmit at 25W maximum and rely on stronger coaxial cables and larger antennas. Depending on the setup, you can expect to travel 25-30 miles boat-to-boat traffic and up to 60 miles with Coast Guard.

VHF radios can use a low power signal (typically 1W) to communicate with each other.

DSC

Digital selective calling (DSC), is vital.

The Coast Guard strongly urges you to take the time and interconnect your GPS with DSC-equipped radio. This could save your life in an emergency. You should consult the manuals before you connect your radio and GPS.

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A Maritime Mobile Service Identity number (MMSI), a nine-digit unique identifier for your boat, can be registered to allow a DSC-equipped radio to broadcast an SOS.

A DSC-enabled radio can send your GPS coordinates to you if it is equipped with GPS reception.

The US Coast Guard reports that the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), has mandated that all new maritime radios must be equipped with Digital Selective Calling. DSC uses digital data instead of voice transmission to improve the range and accuracy of maritime communications. It also allows for the direct transfer of that information to specific units. DSC allows distress signals to be sent to the nearest vessel. This increases the likelihood that help will be received.

Non-emergency situations: Boaters can call each other directly using DSC radios by entering the unique, nine-digit MMSI code of the vessel they want to hail. It’s similar to making a boat call. DSC reduces the time required to establish communications, eliminates most of the ‘voice talkers that can normally be heard on VHF FM hailing channel 16, and gives priority to distress calls.

DSC is more than a nice feature. It can be a lifesaver in the worst.

All of the handheld radios that we tested were GPS-equipped, which enhances their DSC capabilities.

Although fixed radios don’t usually include GPS receivers, one can be easily added to the radio via a plug at its back.

Waterproof ratings

You can’t expect electronics to remain dry in the rain or spray.

Waterproof ratings for vital equipment such as a VHF radio are not jokes. The only acceptable standard for handhelds is “immersion resistance,” which means nothing less than an IPX6 or JIS-7 rating.

A JIS-4 or IPX4 rating is fine for fixed radios. However, I would like to see more information on boat designs where radios can be expected to experience rain or spray.

The Japan Industrial Standards rating scale

  • JIS-0– No special protection
  • JIS-1– Vertically dripping or sprinkling water should not cause any harm (Drip resistant 1
  • JIS-2Dripping water at angles up to 15 degrees above vertical will not cause any harm (Drip resistant 2
  • JIS-3– Rain that falls at an angle of 60 degrees or more from the vertical will not cause any harm (Rain resistant).
  • JIS-4Splashing water in any direction will not cause harm (Splash resistant).
  • JIS-5Jet resistant – Water poured in any direction must not cause harm (direct jetting).
  • JIS-6– Watertight. No direct jetting water should be allowed to enter the enclosure.
  • JIS-7– Water must not enter the enclosure if it is submerged in water at defined conditions (Immersion resistance).
  • JIS-8– The equipment can be used for continuous submersion of water at a specified pressure (Submersible).

The IEC Standard 60529 and IP scale:

  • IPX0– The product offers no special protection water.
  • IPX1– Can resist waterVertical dripsPlace the product.
  • IPX2– Resists water splashes on the product at an angle of 15deg or less.
  • IPX3– Can take water sprays to 60 deg.
  • IPX4– Resistant to water splashesAny direction.
  • IPX5 – Can resist a sustained, low-pressure water jet spray.
  • IPX6Can you resist? high-pressure, heavy sprays water.
  • IPX6K– Resists water jetsExtremely high pressure. Very rare.
  • IPX7– Can be submerged up to 1 meter for 30 minutes, boil water.
  • IPX8– Can be submerged deeper than 1 meter. The manufacturer will specify the exact depth.
  • IPX9KResist!high-pressure, high-temperature sprays close to the action

Easy of use, readability, and sound quality

Radios that are difficult to use are almost useless. There are many good options, from simple controls to easily readable interfaces.

Also, you need to have excellent sound quality. Garbled messages will not work in high-pressure situations.

Each of these issues has been noted in my reviews.

Last Thoughts

Safety should always be your top priority, whether you are riding a kayak past the breakers into near-shore water, taking your center console out into the blue waters in search of grouper, or running a larger vessel on multiday fishing trips.

You should have a VHF radio capable enough to leave the marina. They are true lifesavers.

We hope this article helped you to narrow down your options. If not, we would love to hear about it!

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Lewis Mark is a vastly experienced fly fisher. His encyclopedic knowledge of fly tying has led to start blog on fishing. He also review Fishing equipment based on his knowledge and experience.