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If you are a boater, spend time sailing with friends or family or spend enough time on the water kayaking, fishing or windsurfing, make sure you have a VHF marine radio.
A VHF marine radio is most possibly the single most important marine electronics item you should buy. It is also fairly inexpensive. A handheld VHF radio can be a lifesaver when the situation calls for one. You can communicate with coast guard, other boats and marinas around you but its most important function is to request help in the event of an emergency. The United States Coast Guard monitors VHF channel 16, 24/7. Commercial vessels also listen to this channel when they are underway. So if you run into trouble, it is your best bet to call for help.
A handheld VHF marine radio looks similar to a walkie-talkie. It s completely self-contained with its own battery. Some models feature a GPS and a feature known as Digital Selective Calling (DSC). VHF radios operate within line-of-sight and handheld VHF radios have lower transmit power settings than fixed mount ones but in an emergency, having a handheld radio is crucial and also help to have redundancy.
Using a VHF radio does not require a license. That being said, there are regulations governing their use. Most importantly, you should not use a VHF radio unless you are onboard a boat. So you need to avoid that temptation to use it as a walkie-talkie.
Uniden makes some of the most popular VHF marine radios. MHS75 is one of their low-end models. It is JIS8 submersible, meaning the equipment is usable for continuous submersion in water under specified pressure. It includes all USA, International and Canadian marine channels, which is standard in almost all models.
One aspect you need to watch out for MHS75 is that it doesn't float. So make sure you use it with a strap.
MHS75 is relatively in expensive, at around $80 price range. If you go out on the water casually and relatively infrequently, this is the model we recommend you to have.
Standard Horizon is another brand with very popular VHF marine radios. HX870 is a higher-end handheld VHF marine radio at a higher price point but comes with several key features.
HX870 supports Digital Selective Calling (DSC), which allows mariners to instantly send automatically formatted distress alerts to the Coast Guard or other rescue authority anywhere in the world. DSC also allows mariners to initiate or receive distress, urgency, safety calls to or from any DSC equipped vessel or shore station. DSC eliminates the need for a loudspeaker. It acts like the dial and bell of a telephone, allowing you to direct dial and ring other radios without the need of someone listening to a speaker.
HX870 also includes a WAAS-capable GPS receiver. With WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System), your GPS gives better position accuracy up-to five times.
HX870 is usually priced slightly above $200 and is one of the more expensive options on our list. But well worth it with all the features it includes for that extra. We recommend this model if you go out on the water regularly or into sailing.
ICOM-M73 is a mid-high range model that is IPX8 submersible. It uses a technology known as bridge-tied load (BTL) amplifier that doubles audio output. It produces clear audio output. This is a nice feature if you are challenged in understanding radio communications.
There is also an ICOM-M73 PLUS model that features Active Noise Canceling and built-in Voice Recorder. ICOM-M73 is priced around $175 while ICOM-M73 PLUS at around $250.
At its price point, particularly with the PLUS, we would love to see DSC and GPS, at least a GPS functionality built-in. Unfortunately ICOM-M73 comes without these features, including the PLUS one.
We recommend this model (especially the PLUS) if you want clearer and crisper audio.
All three models provide good value and are suitable to different needs.