When it comes to safety once you are out on the water, getting the best VHF marine radio should be high on your list of priorities. It is vital for communication and will be essential in emergencies and finding critical weather information.
In choosing the best VHF marine radio, there is a lot to consider. Aspects like the battery and water-resistance are going to play a key role but there are also other areas such as the range, power, and antenna among other key features.
Here we will explain all of those key features to leave you fully confident in what you are buying. We have also completed VHF marine radio reviews to show you the best products on the market and once you have finished reading this guide, you’ll know exactly what you need.
How To Choose A VHF Marine Radio – Buying Guide
Fixed Mount vs. Handheld
Perhaps the biggest question that you need to ask yourself before you get a VHF radio is whether or not you want to get a fixed model or a handheld one. There are several different factors to take into account before making this decision.
One of the biggest differences between the two devices is the distance that they are going to be able to cover. A handheld radio will generally be able to have a coverage of around five miles whereas a fixed mount radio will often be able to broadcast up to 25 miles.
For that reason, handheld radios are generally seen as more apt for smaller boats and fixed mounts for larger boats. There is also the aspect of how you are going to get power to the VHF radio, which is another key difference between the two.
If you are only going out for a day trip then a handheld will be fine as it often has around 10-12 hours of battery runtime. Fixed-mount radios instead have to be powered by the boat battery and require a constant source of power.
Fixed-mount radios will also have additional features such as AIS and wailers that a handheld device wouldn’t have. The best product for you is going to come down to your own needs and also the size of your boat.
As mentioned there, if you are getting a fixed mount radio then you are going to need to ensure that it is connected to the battery at all times. It’s important, therefore, to have the best marine battery that is going to be able to cope with this use.
As this is a product that is going to be vital in case of emergencies, you must never run out of power. Even with handheld radios, it’s good to be able to attach them to a boat battery as that way you won’t have to worry about the radio’s own battery life.
The battery needs of your handheld radio are going to depend on the use that you have and how long you intend to be out on your boat. If you are going on a day fishing trip, for example, then you will want one that is going to be able to last for the length of time out there.
These devices can vary quite a lot in size and often the smaller models are going to have less battery life than the bigger versions. This is going to depend on your individual needs but you always want to make sure you have more than enough battery life.
For any marine electronic device, water resistance is going to be the most important feature. Whether it is your stereo system or your marine radio, without the ability to repel water, any electronic device that you have is going to fail very quickly.
Due to the nature of where they will be situated and how mobile they are, it’s going to be more important for a handheld device to be waterproof than a fixed mount radio. This is where the difference between water resistant and waterproof is important.
You need to make sure that your fixed mount radio is going to be water-resistant so that it won’t be affected very much if it suffers and splashes or bad weather. It is never going to be fully submerged though and therefore full waterproofing isn’t required.
For handheld radios, this is going to be more important as there is a much higher chance of them ending up in the water. Water-resistance is a minimum but a lot of these products are going to be fully waterproof and will even be able to be submerged in the water. Floatation is also really important with handheld units as they could get swept overboard and being able to work underwater is not important if you can never get it back.
This is also why it is vital to get a marine grade radio, as if you get a VHF radio without this level of protection then you will soon find out that it is going to completely fail very quickly once it has been installed on a boat.
Noise Canceling Technology
When you are on a boat there can be a lot of outside noise that can interrupt the signal. This could be from machinery, other people on the boat, the weather conditions, and a lot of other things that can affect the sound that you are hearing.
The only time you wouldn’t need this is if you are working from a room that is going to be able to be closed off to the outside world. Even then having noise-canceling technology is going to be a good feature to have.
Due to the type of radios that they are and where they will be used, this is going to be of higher importance if you are using a handheld radio as there is a higher chance that there are going to be more things that could potentially interfere with the sound.
If you are in an emergency, then it’s going to be vitally important that any messages can be sent clearly and directly. Noise-canceling technology is an important feature as you want to make sure you are transmitting quality sound.
Power & Range
The power and range of the radio are going to be important to make sure that you are going to be able to send and receive the signals that you need. As mentioned, the range that you have is going to be a lot higher with fixed mount radio.
This is going to be due to the amount of power that you can draw but also the fact that you will have the ability to use an antenna to be able to have a higher range of signals. If you need that higher level of power, then you need to have a fixed mount radio.
A fixed mount radio is going to be able to have a power of up to 25 watts which is the maximum allowed whereas a handheld radio is going to be limited to six watts and that is going to be a big difference in their overall usability.
As we mentioned earlier, this is going to translate into more range as it generally works out that you are going to be able to receive a signal from roughly the equivalent amount of miles as watts and that is important to consider when it comes to your buying decision.
In terms of the most important channels that you are going to have on your radio, channel 16 is probably going to be the most crucial of them all. It’s important to know the key channels of your device before you set sail.
The reason that this is so important is that it is the international distress calling frequency and that is vital information should you ever find yourself in trouble when you are out there on the water as the coast guard will be monitoring these calls.
More than that though, it is also used by the coast guard to inform you of any bad weather warnings and if there are going to be any storms in the area. Other crucial information can be passed over this channel too, making it one of very high importance.
Weather Channel NOAA
NOAA stands for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is vital in terms of giving you the information you need when it comes to the weather reports. If you have this on then they will inform you directly of any weather reports.
They use satellites for an accurate weather report to your radio. It’s easy to forget to check weather reports, especially if it is clear outside but having access to this channel will mean that you are going to be alerted should anything important be happening.
Sometimes people can be paranoid about whether or not they are going to get these alerts when they are out on the water and one good thing to do to give you peace of mind is to test it out on dry land before you set sail.
GPS is a great device to be able to work in conjunction with DSC (Digital Selective Calling) as DSC will allow you to send out a distress signal with one push of a button that is going to be able to send out your signal and your GPS too if that is available.
This is going to allow you to be found as quickly as possible if you are in distress, increasing your chance of being rescued. There are other uses for GPS that are also going to be useful when you are out there in the water.
It can also be used for other common features associated with GPS such as routing your journey, setting waypoints, and watching your position and these can be useful for several different reasons and therefore this is a great feature to have on your boat.
Automatic Identification System (AIS)
This is another acronym that has importance when it comes to using your boat in a marine situation. It will allow boats to be able to identify each other and this will be able to be done with a wide variety of different values. If you are torn between two radios, always choose the one that has AIS built-in, it is worth the extra money.
The most common of these would be the name and number of the boat but other values can be added too such as the position, destination, and even what type of cargo is on board too and this can be useful. AIS changes “you see a ship on the horizon and they are coming right at you, you begin calling on the radio and no one answers as the ship continues to barrel down on you. When you are way too close, you can read the ship’s name and hail it by name. The captain now responds but it’s too late and you get crushed” into “you see a ship on the horizon, so you look it up on your AIS display. You call the ship by name and alert the captain that you are on a collision course. The captain responds that he now sees you and corrects course to avoid a collision. You continue to have a wonderful day on your boat.”
In terms of VHF radios, they are often only to receive this information and not send it out but it can be useful in identifying other ships to allow you to safely navigate through any water that you are going to be traveling through.
The watch operation can be a key feature of these radios as it is going to be able to give you an increased level of safety without feeling that you are risking missing out on valuable information that you might need to stay safe.
What the watch operation will be able to do is let you watch numerous different channels at the same time. This could be a dual, triple, or quad watch system depending on your type of radio but it will allow more flexibility.
Having a quad watch radio, for example, would allow you to listen out for two different distress channels, a weather channel and a channel on your memory scan too. When one channel sends out an alert, the other will mote and you will be able to pick it up clearly.
This is like listening to your commercial radio on four different channels at the same time, except that the only time you hear any sound is when important information is being given to you. This is a very useful feature.
If you have a fixed mounted radio then you are going to want to use it in conjunction with an antenna to give yourself the best chance of sending and receiving signals. Without an antenna, this ability is going to be drastically limited.
On handheld radios, they generally have an antenna that sticks out quite far to be able to catch their range of signals. This is less important on a handheld radio as they aren’t going to be able to pick up a signal from that far out anyway.
Q: What Is a Marine Radio And How It Works?
When you are on a boat, communication is going to be crucial, especially if you are venturing far out from the shore. A marine radio is going to play a vital role in not only escaping danger when it happens but also avoiding it altogether.
In terms of receiving signals, a marine radio can pick up several different channels that are going to be able to alert you should anything happen. These will often be emergency weather updates which you will be able to instantly act upon.
You will also be able to send signals out and that is going to be of vital importance if you are in an emergency. You will be able to alert the Coast Guard and your VHF radio is going to be able to alert you to the position that you are in.
Q: Why VHF Radio And Not Just A Cell Phone?
Like a VHF radio, a cell phone is going to be able to send and receive signals that are sent out but these are very different from the one that your radio is going to be getting. The problem with mobile is whether or not you’re going to get a signal at all.
If you’re any decent distance away from the coast then it’s going to be unlikely that you are going to be able to get a phone signal. This would render your phone useless in emergencies as you wouldn’t be able to contact anyone.
Also, marine radios are purposefully set up to be able to instantly contact the coastguard and send out your position. On mobile, you would have to contact the emergency services and try to give them your position. There is no comparison here, you need a VHF radio.
When you see a random boat in the distance, you won’t know their mobile number, but with a VHF radio, you can call anyone and everyone can listen.
Q: Should You Get a Fixed Mount or a Handheld VHF Radio?
There are a few key considerations here with the main ones being the size of your boat and also your distance away from the coast. You also have to consider options such as whether you have got the battery power to run a fixed mount radio.
If you are going to be staying within five miles of the shore on day trips then having a handheld VHF radio is going to be perfectly fine for your needs. You won’t have to worry about the battery life and you will be able to get in touch with the coastguard.
If you are spending longer out on the water and further away from the shore, then it’s best to get a fixed mount radio. Also, fixed-mount radios tend to have more functions along with their increased power. If you can, it’s probably best to get a fixed mount radio installed as this would give you more versatility.
Globo Surf Overview
Hopefully, this VHF marine radio buying guide has been able to give you all the information that you need to get the perfect radio for you. There is a lot to consider but most of this will be down to your personal preferences and your situation.
The choice between a handheld or fixed mount is going to be your first hurdle and as we have seen, there are good arguments for having both types. Once you know the ideal choice for you and your boat, then you are going to be able to make sure that you have other important features.
You want to ensure that the radio you are using is going to have enough range and a decent antenna can help with that. Also, other aspects such as water resistance, watch the operation, and channel selection is going to be important along with the other key features that we have discussed in this guide.
Ideally, you are never going to have to use your VHF radio to send out a distress signal but even if you never do, its other uses are going to be very important and you’ll always want to know about crucial weather information. The best VHF marine radio would be able to give you peace of mind that you are going to be safe on your trip.