Handheld VHF Radios

Cobra HH125

Handheld VHF radios are normally used in small boats, but they are also used in bigger boats for onboard communications, they can be used for distress alerts, monitoring weather alerts, and much more.

Handheld radios can be very cheap, and almost all are now waterproof and many float. Handhelds are completely portable and many are small enough to fit in your pocket

Handheld VHF radios
Handheld VHF radios

More on VHF Radios and DSC here

Handheld VHF radios Features

Handheld VHF radios provide short range, portable communications between boats without depending on the ship’s power or antenna systems. Handheld VHFs are suitable for; Portability, Dinghies, Inflatables, PWC, Keep in touch with the “mother ship”, Emergency Backup, Onboard communications

Usability; Functions should be clearly labeled, and scanning functions should be easy to program and use. Some functions are rotary knob while others are keypad. Which do you prefer. Is the push to talk button easy to use, cease of volume adjustment,

Range; Handhelds are limited to a transmit power of 1-6 watts and low antenna height, so range of a handheld on a small boat maybe 3-5 miles. Remember, VHF range is more dependent on antenna height and antenna length than on transmit power, so you can add significantly to your range by connecting an external antenna.

Batteries; . Many modern VHF are using Li-ion cells. Some VHFs have batteries that can be replaced by alkaline batteries, in case you cannot get to get to your AC charger. Some manufacturers have moved to Li-polymer which are light and can be recharged at any state, but need special chargers

Battery Types; Pros Cons
Alkaline batteries Easily replaced
Lithium-ion battery Self discharge 10%/m, little memory Short shelf life
Lithium Polymer Lighter & smaller, used in IPods Needs dedicated charger
Ni-MH Little memory, rechargeable AA, AA size, Easily replaced High self discharge 30%, long time to recharge

Floating VHFs have shorter battery life before charging than heavier models.

Typical handheld VHF batteries are between, 500 mAh and 1200 mAh. Many models offer optional battery packs with longer operating times, or greater transmit power.

Power; Unless you need a stronger signal, use the minimum power. That’s considered good radio etiquette and will conserve battery life. Note: Most radio manufacturers measure their battery life by usage: 90% standby, 5% receive, and 5% transmit at high power. Batteries quickly deplete if there is lots of conversation.

 

Other features of handhelds:  
Durability: Many models have a 3 year warranty
Size Do you need a radio fit in your pocket
Waterproof Submersible JIS-7 / IPX7 (3.3 feet for 30 minutes) or JIS4 splashproof.
Floatation Floatation may be just a gimmick unless you really need it
Other Dual watch or Tri watch
Headset, or speaker
Transmitter strength indicator
Cobra feature; rewind again

Europe v USA VHF handhelds

If you are buying in Europe v USA you will find the manufacturers use slightly different designations.

For example the ICOM M24 is the M23 in Europe.

Cobra HH125

Cobra HH125
Cobra HH125

HH125 marine handheld VHF radio. Its basic but it works, a 3 watt package ships with the radio, 5 rechargeable AAA Ni-MH batteries, DC chargers, belt clip, wrist strap, and owner’s manual.

  • Cost $50
  • Power 3 watt
  • Waterproof JIS4-splash proof
  • Battery 5 AAA NiMH batteries
  • Battery Capacity 850 mAH
  • DSC No
  • GPS No
  • Floats No
  • Size Overall 9″
  • Warranty 1yr

Controls; rotary volume control on top, side PTT push to talk with backlight adjustment underneath. Radio functions are controlled using pushbuttons. In the dual scan mode channel 16 will always be one of the scanned while you can select a second.

Batteries & Charging; 5 accompanying AAA Ni-MH batteries installed Using the cigar lighter type DC charger (no AC charger) the unit takes about 15 hours to fully recharge the AAA battery set. This radio can also be used with Alkaline AAA batteries.

Standard Horizon HX280S

HX280S was designed to be rugged, waterproof and affordable, and is all you need in a basic radio. This low priced handheld VHF has the same 5 watt transmit power as more expensive units.

Standard Horizon HX280S
Standard Horizon HX280S
  • Cost $100
  • Power 5 watt
  • Waterproof JIS-7 / IPX7 (3.3 feet for 30 minutes)
  • Battery Li-Ion battery
  • Battery capacity 1650mAh
  • DSC No
  • GPS No
  • Floats No
  • Size 5,3″ body 11″ w antenna
  • Warranty 3yr
  • Batteries & Charging; The HX280 includes a 1650mAh Lithium-ion battery, 110 VAC and 12 VDC chargers and a cradle. Other Features; User selectable 5 or 1 Watt transmit power, large channel display, programmable scanning/dual watch, NOAA Weather Alerts, low battery indicator, preset keys for your favorite channels and a key lock.

ICOM M24

M24 is the latest handheld from ICOM one interesting feature is that if dropped overboard flashing LEDs alert you to its whereabouts. This is a bit of a gimmick but do not let that stop you and what may be more

ICOM M24
ICOM M24

interesting is its lightness and size, at just 5 in and 9oz.

  • Cost $150
  • Power 5 watt
  • Waterproof IPX7 (3.3 feet for 30 minutes)
  • Battery 3.7v Lithium-ion batteries
  • Battery Capacity 1590 mAh
  • DSC No
  • GPS No
  • Floats yes
  • Size Body 5″ overall 11.5″
  • Warranty

The size is a big difference for people who walk around the deck or dock with a VHF all day. Setting and anchor you can talk to a person on the bow from the helm with this VHF and then stow it in your pocket.

Batteries & Charging; The M24 VHF is powered by cell phone type 3.7v Lithium-ion batteries. Icom rates its capacity at 1590 mAh or 10 hours of “typical operation”. AC charger included, DC charger optional.

Land use & Family Radio Service

VHFs are for use in and around the water. Want to use the VHF like a walkie-talkie?

Then choose one with family radio service (FRS).

Standard Horizon HX-471S has FRS channels and can be used on land and water.

VHF & FRS; Having a portable radio able to communicate on different bands, the possibilities are endless. Want to communicate with another vessel? You CAN with the HX471S. Want to communicate from you vessel to family or friends from shore? You CAN using the FRS band. Want a submersible radio to take along hiking, skiing, hunting or caravanning? You can have it all with the HX471S!

You can use the charging cradle and connect to a GPS.

High End handheld VHF

These VHF radios offer additional functions like full GPS and DSC making much more versatile. They are bigger and more expensive however. Costs are the best we found online.

Learn about DSC and position polling here

Standard Horizon HX851S

HX851s is their top of line radio comes with full DSC and built in 12 Channel GPS.

Standard Horizon HX851S
Standard Horizon HX851S

The unique feature of this radio is the DSC and GPS. This makes the radio a navigation tool and distress signal, which is normally found on larger fixed mount units. You must enter a MMSI number for the DSC feature.

  • Cost $340 list $270 online
  • Power 6 watts
  • Waterproof IPX7 (3.3 feet for 30 minutes)
  • Battery Lithium-ion
  • Battery Capacity 1150 mAH
  • DSC yes
  • GPS Yes
  • Floats yes
  • Size 5.6 inch 12 w antenna
  • Warranty 3yrs

Other features; Large easy to read LCD with Full dot matrix display (132 x 64 dot), This display allows you to see the navigation data including compass. A glow in the dark gasket lets you find the and to further help a SOS strobe light is activated when the 851S is submersed in water. Navigate to DSC Position Request call, cradle also has 3 wire connection to chartplotter.

Battery & Charging; The HX851 comes with both AC and 12-volt charger. Full charge takes 8 hours. Optional FBA-38 battery case holds five (5) “AAA” Alkaline batteries. The Alkaline batteries can be used for receiving and transmission in an emergency.

Cobra HH475

HH475 Floating VHF Radio with Bluetooth The HH475 unique compact floating radio features Bluetooth® Wireless Technology to keep your cell phone safe and dry while communicating loud and clear. It also

Cobra HH475
Cobra HH475

features Cobra’s exclusive Rewind-Say-Againâ„¢ digital voice recorder so you will never miss a VHF transmission.

  • Cost $180
  • Power 6 watts
  • Waterproof JIS7 (IPX7) (3.3 feet for 30 mins)
  • Battery rechargeable lithium-ion battery
  • Battery Capacity
  • DSC No
  • GPS No
  • Floats Yes
  • Size 5″ 12″ with antenna
  • Warranty 3yr

Battery & Charging: package includes; rechargeable lithium-ion battery, AC and DC chargers, belt clip, wrist strap, AA battery tray, approximately 5 hr charging time, 6-8hours use on full charge.

Other Features; Signal Strength Meter, Shows the strength of the receiving and transmitting signal. Illuminated Function Keys, Tri-Watch Monitors three (3) channels at once – Channel 16 and two (2) user selected channels

Traditional rotary volume controls, plus spot for external speaker, Having easy backlight on/off switching is another nice feature of this Cobra radio. fixed antenna

Lowrance LHR-80

The LHR also incorporates GPS, making it a dual-purpose tool. A simple plotter with Great Circle waypoint navigation offers a basic graphical view; 500 waypoints can be stored. Like the Standard Horizon, DSC functionality provides man-overboard alerts with position, accessed via a single button.

Lowrance LHR-80
Lowrance LHR-80
  • Cost $200
  • Power 5 watt
  • Waterproof JIS7 (IPX7) (3.3 feet for 30 mins
  • Battery Li-Ion battery
  • Battery Capacity 1400mAh
  • DSC Yes
  • GPS Yes
  • Floats Yes
  • Size 5.6″ body
  • Warranty

Other features: DSC and GPS-enabled radio gives you many more options than just communications. The basic chart plotter, gives you a sense of position. The LHR 80 incorporates position polling, when you register an MMSI number. A hinged door covers the distress button.

Batteries & charging; 7.4V 1400mAh Lithium Polymer battery pack. Desktop charger with wall adapter. Power Saver Circuitry automatically switches to battery saver after 10-second TX lapse.

ICOM M88

This small radio is packed with features, even though it looks basic. Very rugged, and intended for professional use. One of the great features if the M88 is its small size, which fits incredibly well in the hand.

ICOM M88
ICOM M88

ICOM states the M88 has 70 dB of receive selectivity, as high as most handhelds we tested. Audio output hit a high of 93 dBA.

  • Cost $260
  • Power 5 watts
  • Waterproof JIS7 (IPX7) (3.3 feet for 30 mins)
  • Battery Lithium-ion
  • Battery capacity 1700 mAH
  • DSC No
  • GPS No
  • Floats
  • Size body 4″
  • Warranty 3yrs
  • Battery & Charging; if battery life is what you need this VHF has between 11-15hrs. Just the battery pack alone costs $120.

GMDSS VHF

These Radios are aimed at the larger yacht market providing worldwide communications and conform to GMDSS regulations.

GMDSS VHF
GMDSS VHF

For more than ten years, Simrad Yacting has had an enviable reputation for the supply of GMDSS survival craft radios, to the world’s shipping fleet. With modern, high-impact materials, the latest micro electronics, and designs that are thoroughly practical in every detail, the AXIS range features the toughest, most efficient and most user friendly handheld VHF radios on the market.

The Simrad Yacting range of GMDSS handhelds offers the choice of the basic AXIS30 for GMDSS emergency use only or the AX50 which provides a cost effective handheld for safety and on board use. Waterproof All models are fully sealed and waterproof to a depth of 1 meter. Impact resistance. Due to the choice of case materials and internal construction, the AXIS can be dropped from a height of 1 meter onto a hard surface