Are you finding that the choice of handheld VHFs on the market at the moment is a little overwhelming? I don’t blame you because I thought the same thing when compiling this list.
The editorial team here at Sailing Savvy has nearly 50 years of experience in the yachting and sailing industry. So, we have used our fair share of handheld VHFs.
If you have a fixed VHF radio, then you don’t need all the extra bells and whistles for a handheld unit. So that’s how we have approached this article. The radios recommended here perform the basics, and they float!
If you don’t have a fixed unit, we have also given our recommendations on what we believe is the best on the market. So, with that out of the way, let’s get into it!
I recommend the Standard Horizon HX210 for its excellent performance, user-friendly features, and reliable durability.
|✔️ Pros||✖️ Cons|
|Compact design with a high-capacity battery||Needs more battery lifespan|
|Water-activated emergency strobe light||Limited to rechargeable battery use only|
|Built-in FM broadcast band receiver||May have a learning curve for some users|
As avid sailors, we were impressed with the compact and ergonomic design of the Standard Horizon HX210 handheld marine VHF radio.
Despite its smaller size, it is equipped with a large capacity 1850 mAh Lithium-Ion battery, ensuring a reliable communication device when out on the water.
One standout feature of the HX210 is its water-activated emergency strobe light. We found this incredibly useful, as the strobe light automatically turns on when the radio falls into the water, even when the device is turned off. The strobe can be reconfigured to flash on and off, emit an SOS signal, or stay on continuously, providing added safety during marine excursions.
We appreciated the built-in FM broadcast band receiver, allowing us to listen to FM radio stations while at sea. The HX210 also communicated clearly on all USA, International, and Canadian channels, with selectable 6W, 2.5W, and 1W output power.
However, we noticed that the rechargeable battery had a slightly shorter lifespan than expected and was limited to the included rechargeable batteries. Additionally, some operators might need time to get accustomed to the device’s interface.
Overall, the Standard Horizon HX210 is a high-quality handheld marine VHF radio offering reliability, safety features, and excellent communication capabilities, making it a valuable asset during marine adventures.
The ICOM IC-M25 21 Handheld VHF Radio is a fantastic choice for boaters seeking a compact, easy-to-use device with practical features.
During my time working at sea, almost every yacht I worked on used this ICOM model as their go-to portable VHF unit. It’s affordable, durable, and reliable!
|✔️ Pros||✖️ Cons|
|Floats and flashes when in water||Limited range compared to larger models|
|Long 11-hour battery life||Screen illumination could be brighter|
|Charging from a 5V USB socket||Comes with only 12 channels|
My experience with the ICOM IC-M25 21 Handheld VHF Radio has been predominantly positive. The Blue Trim design not only gives the device a sleek appearance but also provides a helpful visual indication if it falls into the water as it floats and flashes. This feature gives you peace of mind, knowing your radio will not be lost at sea.
The compact body and large LCD screen make it comfortable to hold and easy to read, even in challenging conditions.
With an 11-hour battery life, we were impressed by its endurance during our long sailing trips. The convenient charging option from a standard 5V USB socket means we can easily top up the battery on the go.
One drawback we encountered was the limited range compared to larger marine radios. However, this limitation can be forgiven, given its compact size and primary purpose as a backup or portable device.
The screen’s illumination could be brighter for better visibility in dim conditions. Lastly, the device comes with just 12 channels, which might not be sufficient for some users seeking more extensive coverage.
Overall, the ICOM IC-M25 21 Handheld VHF Radio is a reliable and user-friendly choice for boaters who require a backup or portable VHF radio with practical and convenient features.
It may not have the range of larger models, but its compact size, long battery life, and floating design make it a valuable addition to any sailing trip.
The Uniden Atlantis 275 is a reliable and feature-rich handheld VHF marine radio that we highly recommend for your backup to your primary fixed unit.
|✔️ Pros||✖️ Cons|
|Compact, submersible and floating design||A bit heavier compared to competing models|
|Large dual-color LCD screen with backlights||A bit heavier compared to competing models|
|6-watt power with selectable transmit options||Limited to 16 channels|
The Atlantis 275 from Uniden offers everything you want in a handheld marine radio. The compact design fits easily in your hand. It floats and meets the IPX8 waterproof standards.
I never worried about dropping it in the water, and the built-in flashlight and emergency strobe light have proven to be helpful during nighttime excursions.
We particularly love the sizeable dual-color LCD screen on the Atlantis 275. With a paper white backlight for daytime use and a red backlight for nighttime, we find it easy to read in almost any lighting condition.
Plus, the powerful 6-watt transmitter is complemented by user-selectable 6W, 2.5W, or 1W transmit power options, giving us better control over our signal reach.
While the Uniden Atlantis 275 handheld VHF marine radio has some great qualities, it could be better. The unit is heavier than some other handheld radios we’ve tried, making it less portable.
A few buyers have also reported difficulty obtaining a separate charger if needed. Lastly, the radio contains only 16 channels, whereas some marine radios offer additional channels.
Despite these minor drawbacks, the Uniden Atlantis 275 is still an excellent choice for anyone looking to purchase a reliable and feature-rich handheld VHF marine radio.
Its submersible floating design, large dual-color screen, and power options make it a valuable companion at sea.
I highly recommend the Standard Horizon HX890 for its impressive features, durability, and ease of use.
|✔️ Pros||✖️ Cons|
|Excellent audio quality with noise-canceling function||Complex extended features require studying the manual|
|Floating design with water-activated emergency strobe light||No Bluetooth connectivity|
|Built-in GPS and useful navigation features||Menus and functions can be counterintuitive|
Our experience using the Standard Horizon HX890 Black Handheld VHF radio has been positive, owing to its top-notch audio quality and noise-canceling function for both transmitting and receiving.
This is vital when communicating in noisy marine environments. Its ergonomic design is not just comfortable to hold but also rugged and built to military standards, making it highly durable.
Being a 2-way radio for marine use, it is submersible, and floating nature ensures the device does not get lost at sea. The water-activated emergency strobe light is a major advantage in case of emergencies, significantly improving safety.
The built-in 66-channel WAAS GPS receiver adds convenience with easy-to-operate waypoint and route navigation functions.
But, accessing extended features requires thoroughly reading the manual, as they can be complex. You may also find the menus and functions a bit counterintuitive at times, but once familiarised with them, they become easier to navigate.
One shortcoming is the lack of Bluetooth connectivity, which could have brought its own advantages. But overall, the HX890 is a solid investment for reliability, functionality, and safety at sea.
The ICOM M94D is an excellent choice for boaters seeking a reliable, feature-packed handheld VHF radio to stay safe and informed on the water.
If you do not have a fixed VHF, we recommend the M94D because it has DSC (Digital Selective Calling) and AIS capability. So, this model will serve you well as your primary VHF if you navigate coastal areas.
If you venture from sight of shore, then you should be equipped with a VHF with 25 watts of power output.
|✔️ Pros||✖️ Cons|
|World’s first handheld with AIS capability||Not as rugged as previous ICOM models|
|Powerful 1500 mW speaker||Battery compartment design could be improved|
|Active Noise Cancelling technology||Requires MMSI number to use certain features|
Having recently used the ICOM M94D, we found that its AIS feature truly sets it apart from other handheld VHF marine radios on the market.
The AIS system allows us to see nearby vessels and their information, enhancing our situational awareness and safety at sea.
We also appreciate the radio’s impressive 1500 mW speaker, which provides clear and loud audio, even in noisy marine environments. On top of that, its Active Noise Cancelling technology helps to reduce background noise, ensuring smooth communication between our boat and others.
However, we did notice that the build quality of this ICOM model seems slightly less rugged than its predecessors. The battery compartment, in particular, could benefit from a sturdier design.
Additionally, the radio requires an MMSI number to utilize certain features, which may not be clear to some users upon purchase.
In conclusion, despite minor drawbacks, we believe the ICOM M94D VHF Marine Radio is a valuable addition to any small boat or leisure craft.
Its innovative AIS functionality, powerful speaker, and noise-canceling technology make it an ideal choice for those looking to remain safe and aware while on the water.
Knowing exactly how to choose a VHF marine radio can be daunting, especially with the wide range of options available on the market. In this buying guide, I will help you make an informed decision by highlighting the essential features to consider.
Power Output: The power output of a handheld VHF marine radio is crucial for ensuring clear and reliable communication. Ideally, you should look for a device with an adjustable power output ranging between 1 and 6 watts. This flexibility enables you to select the appropriate power setting depending on your communication range requirements.
Battery Life: You need to consider the battery life of your chosen marine radio. Look for models with a long-lasting, rechargeable battery. We recommend radios with at least 8 hours of battery life on a single charge.
GPS Integration: A marine radio with built-in GPS offers numerous benefits, such as real-time tracking of your location, access to distress signals, and the ability to send your coordinates to nearby vessels in an emergency. Opt for a radio with GPS functionality as it enhances the safety factor significantly.
Waterproof Rating: Picking one with a high waterproof rating is vital, considering that your marine radio will be exposed to wet conditions. We advise choosing a radio with at least an IPX7 rating, making it capable of withstanding brief submersion in water.
Floating Capability: Radios with floating capability are beneficial as they can be easily retrieved if accidentally dropped into the water.
Dual/Tri-watch: Dual or tri-watch functionality allows you to monitor multiple channels simultaneously. This comes in handy when keeping track of important marine communications.
External Speaker/Microphone Compatibility: Some handheld radios have a connector for an external speaker/microphone. This feature can offer hands-free operation, making communication more convenient during onboard activities.
By considering these important features and weighing your specific needs, you should be well-equipped to choose the best handheld VHF marine radio for your boating adventures.