If you are out in the water a lot for fishing, boating, or sailing, you’re probably familiar with VHF marine radios. If you are a beginner in the hobbies mentioned above, you probably want to know more about VHF marine radios. Your search navigated you to the right spot.
Here, we list a detailed guide on what to look for when buying your VHF marine radio.
VHF marine radios are great for calling out emergencies, receiving weather alerts, and communicating in the absence of mobile signals.
Have a look at the seven best VHF marine radios below.
The Best Marine VHF Radio Reviews 2020
1. Standard Horizon HX210 Marine Handheld Vhf Radio
- Compact Case Design. Water Activated Emergency Strobe light. Oversized full dot matrix display. E20 Easy to Operate Menu System
- 3-year Waterproof Warranty. Floating / Submersible IPX7 Waterproof rating (3.3 feet or 1 meter for 30 minutes). Built in FM Broadcast band receive
- All USA, International and Canadian channels. Selectable 6W / 2.5W / 1W output power. Receive WX and FM radio bands 76MHz to 108MHz
Standard Horizon pioneered marine electronics in 1969. They are a California-based company that designs and manufactures electronic communications and navigation products for the shipping and fishing industries.
The Standard Horizon HX210 comes in a compact and slim yet rugged design with a high-resolution dot matrix LCD screen.
The lightweight design is also responsible for one of the standout features of this VHF marine radio. It can float face-up in water. This feature is what you want when going out to sea. Because it floats, you can easily spot it and use it, especially in accidents, when you need to get in touch with emergency services.
Other than floating, as soon as the radio falls in the water, it automatically activates emergency strobe lights. This activation happens despite the unit switched off. You can also change the strobe setting to flash SOS, on and off, or continuously on.
The device can withstand submersion for up to 30 minutes through to a depth of 1 meter or 3 feet.
Another standout feature of this handheld VHF marine radio is its E20 easy-to-operate menu feature. This feature does just as the name implies: it enhances the user-friendliness of the device.
It also has a built-in FM band receiver for frequencies between 76 MHz to 108MHZ. This additional feature allows you to tune in to your favorite FM radio station while at sea.
The device can transmit a wide range for International channels, including that of the USA and Canada. There is also a choice between 6W/2.5W/1W output power.
The device operates on an 1850 mAH lithium-ion battery that you can charge within 3 hours using the accompanying speedy desktop charger.
Ápart from this long list of features, the HX210 also comes with a three-year waterproof warranty.
If there is one flaw we could find with the Standard Horizon HX210, it’s probably the relatively small speaker area. Although this feature is part of its compact design, it may make hearing difficult for those that are hard of hearing. It may also impact on hearing quality in noisy environments.
Overall, the HX210 is the ideal option for a compact device that is extremely useful in emergencies out at sea.
- Floating and submersible.
- Emergency strobe light activation on contact with water.
- Easy-to-operate menu.
- Built-in FM band receiver.
- Small speaker which may make hearing audio hard.
2. Uniden UM385 25 Watt Fixed Mount Marine Vhf Radio
- Uniden's Marine Radios protect you from what lies ahead, as well as getting you out of dicey waters, by informing you the moment a storm starts brewing and transmitting your location should you need help.
- With triple watch features, DSC capabilities, a range of international marine channels and S. A. M. E Weather Alert—the UM385 brings everything you’ll need on the water into one compact design.
- The UM385 rugged handheld mic allows you to transmit easily from the wheel while keeping your focus on the waters ahead.
Uniden is well-known in the wireless communication industry. Based in Japan, their products include CB radios, baby monitors, phones, dashcams, and home security devices.
The Uniden UM385 is Uniden’s fixed mount product in their VHF marine radio range. It comes with a large and well-lit dot matrix LCD screen with the white backlight during the daytime. The backlight converts into orange for night time use.
This VHF marine radio comes with a ruggedly designed handheld microphone attached through a curly extendable cord. This feature allows you easy access so you can still transmit while the other hand remains safe and stable on the wheel.
The radio is compliant with IPX4 waterproof standards, which means it can withstand water abuse from rain or accidental splashes.
The Uniden UM385 can reach a range of international marine channels, including SAME weather radio. It also comes equipped with a triple-watch feature.
It has digital selective calling abilities and includes a distress button, a position send button, and a request button. All of these features are great for making emergency contact as needed.
The design of this fixed-mount VHF marine radio also incorporates an emergency strobe light and a built-in flashlight for use in emergencies.
Another notable emergency feature is the UM385’s tone that clears water from its speaker cavity as soon as the radio gets submerged in water. This feature ensures you are still able to communicate despite being overboard.
The device can withstand 30 minutes of submersion for depths up to 4.9 feet.
The downside of the Uniden UM385 is that it doesn’t automatically scan your stations. If you’re happy with this manually, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
Overall, the Uniden UM385 is jam-packed with features for use as a radio and as an emergency contact device.
- SAME weather alert.
- Easy access microphone and extendable cord.
- Digital selective calling.
- You have to manually scan through stations.
3. STANDARD HORIZON HX870 Floating 6W Handheld VHF Radio with Internal GPS
- Floating 6W Handheld VHF with Internal GPS; Supplied with a 1800 mAh Li-Ion Battery, 110VAC and 12VDC 3-hour quick chargersAlkaline Battery Tray
- Meets ITU-R M493-13 Class D DSC (Digital Selective Calling)
- Separate Receiver for CH70 (Receiving DSC Calls)
The Hx870 is another product in Standard Horizon’s floating handheld VHF marine radio line. The standout feature is that Standard Horizon claims it to be the first floating handheld VHF radio with an integrated global positioning system (GPS).
Like the HX210, the Standard Horizon HX870 also comes with an easy-to-operate menu and system. The relatively full display screen and extremely bright backlight also add to the ease of navigation and use of this VHF marine radio.
This marine radio also has a group monitoring aspect. Through this feature, you can continuously track and display the position information of up to nine pre-determined vessels.
Again, like the HX210, the HX870 has the water-activated strobe SOS light despite the device not switched on.
It has a USB data port, a GPS position logger, and preset keys that allow you to select and save up to ten channels.
The Standard Horizon HX870 comes equipped with a 66-channel WAAS GPS receiver. It also comes with the NOAA weather channel to keep you up-to-date with weather alerts.
It also has digital selective calling features that allow you to send out distress messages. You can use the position request or position report keys. The device makes it easy for you, so send calls using your coordinates, which is always handy when isolated out at sea.
Information from these nine vessels is also available at the integrated compass page. The same page also allows you to store up to 20 routes and 200 waypoints.
Communication wise, the HX870 has a noise-canceling function. This function ensures clarity of sound both in receiving and transmitting audio.
The device operates on the included 1900 mAh lithium-ion battery and can last up to 10 hours, even with GPS on.
One element that could do with some improvement in the Standard Horizon HX870 is the durability of some of its components. The belt clip, for example, broke in less than two weeks of use.
Despite this minor design fault, the Standard Horizon HC870 still has many features. The GPS integration specifically, is an excellent addition to this floating submersible VHF marine radio line.
- Floating and submersible.
- Integrated GPS features.
- Strobe lights that activate with water contact.
- Relatively large full-dot matrix LCD screen.
- Group monitoring features.
- DSC features.
- Could do with improvement in some design elements, such as the belt clip.
4. Uniden Atlantis 155 Handheld Two-Way VHF Marine Radio
- The Atlantis 155’s submersible, Floating Handheld design allows you to stay secure and connected while having fun on the water.
- With the Largest LCD screen in its class 25mm (h) x 40mm (w), and Paper White Backlight display for Day Time, and Red Backlight display for Night Time, it’s the radio you won’t leave shore without.
- When every inch of space count, you still want the important features that will keep you safe at sea. The Atlantis 155 doesn’t sacrifice big features to keep its profile small.
The Atlantis 155 is another VHF marine Radio from Uniden. It comes in an ergonomic, handheld design in a striking pitch-black color.
The Atlantis 155 boasts of having the largest LCD screen of its class. It has a 25-mm height and a width of 40 mm. During the day, the device uses a paperwhite backlight, which then turns into a bright red backlight for nighttime use.
The Atlantis 155 floats and is submersible to depths of up to 4.9 feet for as long as 30 minutes. There is also a built-in tone in the device. This tone clears the speaker cavity when the radio becomes submerged in water.
Channel wise, the Unident Atlantis 155 supports all international marine channels, including that of the USA and Canada. It can also receive all NOAA weather channels and is capable of receiving alerts.
For emergency use, this device comes armed with an integrated flashlight for distress signaling and an emergency strobe light.
The Atlantis works on four NiMH AAA or 950mAh NIMH rechargeable batteries. A charging cable comes included in the package for charging on DC outlets as needed. The device has a battery life of up to 10 hours when used on a full charge.
Like the Standard Horizon HX210, the Uniden Atlantis 155 comes with a full three-year waterproof warranty.
Generally, our issue with the Uniden Atlantis 155 is its battery charging. Although it comes with a DC charging cable, the charging port malfunctions occasionally after just over a month of use. Also, if you opt not to use the charging port, you would have to unscrew the black closure to recharge the NiMH batteries.
Other than the charging issues, the Unident Atlantis 155 is an ideal compact device with a full list of features. Its massive LCD screen is the standout feature, providing high visibility in all lighting and weather conditions.
- Massive dual backlight LCD screen.
- Three-year warranty.
- Occasional charging issues with the charging port and not so user-friendly NiMH battery recharging process.
5. Cobra MR HH350 FLT Handheld Floating VHF Radio
- Maximum Coverage – This VHF marine radio allows operation of channels in the US, Canada, and internationally at 1, 3, or 6 watts with for short and long range communication, and access to NOAA weather channels.
- Safety First – Scan channels to find conversations in progress and have instant access to Channel 16 for emergency situations. Use the Tri-Watch feature to monitor three channels at once (Channel 16 and two user selected channel).
- Sea Ready – Floating design and orange core makes retrieving your radio easy if dropped overboard, and meeting JIS7 (IPX7) standards allows your radio to be submersed for 30 minutes at one meter deep.
Cobra Electronics is an American company specializing in the design and distribution of wireless communication and navigation technologies.
The Cobra MR HH350 comes in a rugged and lightweight design. It has an ergonomic design to it for easy holding. It also comes with a wide-view LCD screen and a bright orange backlight, which helps ensure visibility in all weather and lighting conditions.
This VHF marine radio from Cobra floats and submergible for 30 minutes to a depth of up to 1 meter.
Another water-related feature is the Burp feature, which essentially vibrates water out of the speakers to improve audio performance. It also comes with an integrated noise-canceling microphone, so you get less background noise and clearer conversations.
Communication wise, you can pick between short or long ranges and between output powers of 1/3/6W. It also comes with a triple-watch function, allowing you to monitor three channels concurrently.
Like the rest of the devices on the list, the MR HH350 catches international marine radio channels plus the USA and Canada. The additional feature for the HH350 is its three-channel map, making navigation through these three groups of channels easier.
You can also remain up to date with all weather conditions as the MR HH350 can access all 10 NOAA weather channels, including channels 16 and 9. The device sounds an alarm tone for any emergency weather situations that may fall your way.
Single lithium-polymer battery power up the device and the battery pack comes with battery chargers included.
Although Cobra claims that the MR HH350 is waterproof and submersible, we feel this may be better. We found that the LCD screen tends to fog up with prolonged exposure to water. The speakers of the MR HH350 aren’t the best quality.
The Cobra MR HH350 may not be best for kayaking and other activities with a lot of water exposure considering the fogging screen. However, it could be an ideal option if you are looking for a lightweight marine radio for occasional fishing or out-in-the-water use.
- Wide-view screen with orange backlight.
- Burp feature.
- Three-channel map.
- Fogging screen with prolonged water exposure.
- Poor speaker quality.
6. Uniden MHS75 Waterproof Handheld VHF Marine radio
- JIS8 Waterproof Level - Uniden MHS75 VHF Hand Held Radio won't give up no matter how wet it gets. Whitecap splash, gusty spray, tidal wave, whatever, this radio can take it. The Uniden MHS75 2-way Marine Radio is built rugged to take the rigors of being out on the water, day in and day out with a full JIS8 Submersible waterproof rating. Submersible for up to 30 minutes at five feet.
- 1 /2.5/5 Watt Switchable - Select between 1, 2.5, and 5 Watts for short- and long-range communication--this is also a convenient way to save a little battery life. In most situations, the 1 Watt transmission power is all you need. If you find yourself far away from other stations and have trouble getting a response, you may need to boost the transmission power from 1 Watt to 2.5 Watts or 5 Watts
- All USA, International, and Canada Channels - The MHS75 covers all USA, International, and Canadian marine channels, keeping you up-to-date with all the latest marine activity
The MHS75 is another of Uniden’s products on this list. It comes in a compact design that perfectly fits the hand. It comes with a relatively full LCD screen, making device operation easier.
The Uniden MHS75 is water-resistant and submersible. A notable feature is when it submerges in the water and floats right up with easy visibility thanks to its glow-in-the-dark seals.
Other than being a marine radio, the Uniden MHS75 also has land-based or GMRS capabilities.
It comes with a rubberized, super lightweight antenna, and a belt clip for ease of mobility.
In terms of its channel reach, the MHS75 catches all international, US, and Canadian marine channels, plus all NOAA channels.
It comes with a triple-watch mode, which allows you to monitor emergency channels 16 and 9 while simultaneously listening to another channel. The MHS75’s automatic feature monitors channels 16 and 9 every two seconds for any activity.
You can select from three various power levels for the MHS75. Go for 1, 2.5, or 6 watts. It has an integrated Power Boost Key for ease of transitioning into full power.
One 1200 mAh lithium-ion battery and can last up to 10 hours of use on a full charge.
Warranty wise, Uniden has a two-year warranty for the MHS75.
One major issue we have with the MHS75 is the difficulty one faces as soon as the included battery malfunctions. Not only are extra batteries extremely hard to find, if at all you can find one.
Overall, however, the Uniden MHS75 may appeal to you if you are after a compact and lightweight marine VHF radio.
- Submersible, floating, and glow-in-the-dark when plunged into the water.
- Once battery malfunctions, finding a replacement can be a mission.
7. ICOM IC-M73 01 Handheld VHF Marine Radio
Icom is another Japanese brand that specializes in manufacturing wireless communication technologies. Not only do they produce VHF marine radios, but they also have wireless communication devices for the aviation industry as well as products for individuals.
The Icom IC-M7 has an ergonomic, easy-grip, hourglass design in a rugged matte black finish and a full LCD screen. It is one of the very lightweight VHF marine radios, weighing only 310 g.
Like the other marine radios on this list, the IC-M7 is also submersible in water. It can last 30 minutes to a depth of up to 4.9 feet.
In terms of frequency coverage, the Icom IC-M7 receives international marine channels from 01 through to 88. It can also transmit USA marine channels from the same range and access all of the ten weather channels.
Audio-quality wise, the IC-M7 uses a bridge-tied load amplifier, which magnifies the audio output for up to double its original capacity. To further enhance sound quality, it also comes with an internal speaker with a loud 700mW sound output.
Another notable feature of the Icom IC-M7 is its aqua wake function. This built-in function allows you to clear any water collected on the device when it gets submerged in water. The technology uses low-frequency sound waves to remove water out of the devices’ speakers and microphones from water. This feature ensures clarity of sound despite being in wet conditions.
A large lithium-ion battery operates the IC-M7 and allows it to last up to 18 hours when used on a full charge under normal conditions. You can charge this battery using the included desktop charger or cigarette lighter adapter.
You can also use the optional waterproof speaker and microphone on this device.
The pitfall of the Icom IC-M7 is the seal between the actual radio and antenna. We found that prolonged water exposure results in a poor seal on this part of the receiver, potentially leading to water getting into the actual unit.
Overall, the integrated amplifiers and internal speakers, as well as the long battery life, are features that make the Icom IC-M7 stand out among the rest of the VHF marine radios on this list.
- Integrated amplifiers and speakers.
- Up to 18 hours of battery life.
- It could do with enhancing waterproof and design features, especially where the radio connects to the antenna.
VHF Marine Radio Buying Guide
As mentioned earlier, VHF marine radios are essential devices to have when out in the water. Even if mobile phones are popular these days, their signal is not guaranteed. Having a VHF radio as a backup communication device is always best.
Here are some of the considerations when buying VHF marine radios.
- You may opt for fix-mounted marine radios if you are traveling on relatively large boats, such as sailing or on big fishing vessels. But, if you intend to use it, for kayaking trips or a short day out fishing, a portable device may suit you better.
- Design, material, and make. Ideally, you want to look out for a rugged make to withstand the rough conditions of being out at sea. You also want to look at the screen design, is it easy to see at night, day, in bad weather, or when submerged in water.
- Also, the logical feature to look out for is float and submersion capability because you are at sea.
- When looking for marine radios, think “longer is stronger.” Near the shore, this may not matter much, but when you’re out in the ocean, a longer antenna guarantees better signal.
- Power supplies are essential. If you are using a fixed-mount radio, keep in mind that this uses your vessel’s power supply. If using a handheld device, ensure you have an extra battery pack, or always use it in full charge mode. The last thing you want is your VHF marine radio running out of battery. If this runs out, your VHF radio also won’t function.
- Range and operation. You want to pay attention to the frequencies that your device can catch. Ideally, you want to find as many channels as possible, including channels 16, 9, and all the weather channels.
- Additional features. A GPS function is always a handy feature. You want to look for a digital selective calling (DSC) feature, which allows you to send distress signals in emergencies.
- One thing you will consider when buying your device is its durability. In addition to that, check for any warranties available, especially manufacturer warranties on devices that claim to be waterproof.
Our Best VHF Marine Radio:
Our best of the best VHF marine radio pick is the Standard Horizon HX210 6W Compact Floating Marine Handheld Vhf Radio.
We love the standout features such as the high-resolution screen, the multimode strobe activation, and the submergibility.
You also have to love the built-in FM band receiver, three-year warranty, speedy 3-hour charging, and the easy-to-operate menu.
A compact, feature-rich marine radio with the only flaw being a small speaker area definitely deserves the top spot on this list.