Handheld VHF Radio


            Some people love playing sports or watching movies, while others love… boats. The sea or the ocean can be very relaxing but let’s face it, water is different from land. You are basically alone in the middle of nowhere. Whether you are a sailor or a recreational boater, you need to be practical and invest in a device that enables you to communicate with other vessels. It may be just for exchanging information or maybe for emergency situations when your life depends on it. You may never know it!

            Although some sailors underestimate the necessity of a VHF radio, there are many who consider it a lifesaver, especially the experienced ones. These devices are specially designed for marine communications and are a safety equipment that should be on board of any vessel. There are two types available: fixed and handheld. We will only focus on reviewing handheld VHFs as these devices are great for smaller boats. They may be exactly what you’re looking for.

Top Handheld VHF Radio Comparison

1. Standard Horizon HX870 2. ICOM Marine M73 3. Cobra MRHH350FLT 4. BaoFeng BF-F8HP 5. Uniden MHS75
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Specifications

General
Dimensions (W×H×D/in.) 2.44 x 5.43 x 1.69 2.07 × 4.92 × 1.18 2.66 x 4.75 x 2.09 2.28 x 4.33 x 1.25 2.49 x 4.57 x 1.53
Weight (oz.) 11.36 11.3 9.59 7.54 10.2
Operating Temperature Range (°F) –4 to 140 –4 to 140 –4 to 122 –4 to 140 –4 to 122
Frequency Range (MHz) Tx: 156.025 – 157.425/Rx: 156.050 – 163.275 Tx: 156.025 – 157.425/Rx: 156.050 – 163.275 Tx: 156.025 – 157.425/Rx: 156.050 – 163.275 TX: 136 – 174, 400 – 520/RX: 136 – 174, 400 – 520, 68-108 Tx: 156-158/Rx: 156-164
Transmitter
Output Power (Hi/Medium/Low) 6W/2W/1W 6W/3W/1W 6W/3W/1W 8W/4W/1W 5W/2.5W/1W
Maximum Frequency Deviation (kHz) ± 5.0 ± 5.0 N/A ± 5.0 N/A
Frequency Error (ppm) N/A ± 10 ± 5 N/A ± 10
Spurious Emission (dBc) –75 –68 -60 at High Power/-55 at Low Power -60 70
Receiver
Sensitivity 0.25μV at 12dB SINAD (for Voice)/ 0.5μV at 12dB SINAD (for DSC) 0.22μV at 12dB SINAD 12dB Sinad -121 dBm 0.2μV at 12dB SINAD 0.20 μV at 12dB SINAD
Adjacent Channel Selectivity (dB) N/A 70 -60 65/60 75 at ±25 kHz
Intermodulation (dB) 70 70 -70 60 N/A
Hum and Noise Ratio (dB) 40 40 40 N/A N/A

Features

Battery Life (h) 12 16 8 at 6W/16 at 1W 24 at 5 W/ 20 at 8 W/18 at 4W Up to 12
Water Resistance Rating IPX8 IPX8 JIS7/IPX7 N/A JIS8
Other Features Noise-Canceling Bridge-Tied Load Amplifier Noise-Canceling Microphone Large Tri-Color LCD Display Emergency/Weather Alert
10 Preset Keys Active Noise Cancelling Floating Design LED Flashlight Backlit LCD Display/Backlit Keypad 
Oversized Full Dot Matrix Display Bass Boost Weather Alert PC Programmable Memory Channel Scan
Water-Activated Emergency Strobe Light Last Call Voice Recording Unlimited Memory Channels Dual Standby
GPS Automatic Power Save Memory Scan Transmitter Time-Out Timer
Weather Alert Battery Indicator Busy Channel Lock-Out
Favorite Channel and Tag Scan

Included Accesories

1800 mAh Li-Ion Battery Battery Pack 1000mAh LiON Polymer Rechargeable Battery 2000mAh Battery Rechargeable Lithium Ion Battery
110VAC and 12VDC 3-hour Quick Chargers Rapid Charger Locking Desktop Charger Battery Charger DC Adapter
Alkaline Battery Tray AC adapter 12V DC Accessory Plug Power Adapter Beltclip
Antenna AC Adapter with North America Plug V-85 Antenna Wrist Strap
Cigarette Lighter Cable Replacement Antenna Earpiece Antenna
Handheld Strap Spring-Loaded Belt Clip Belt Clip
Belt Clip Hand Strap

Warranty&Support

Warranty 3-Year Waterproof Warranty 3-Year Warranty 3-Year Warranty 1 Year Complimentary Concierge Service and Warranty Support 3-Year Warranty
User Manual
Customer Support
Online Support

Handheld VHF Radio Reviews


1. Standard Horizon HX870

This model is packed with technology but the good thing is that is very easy to use. It features an intuitive design and is waterproof. In case you drop it in the water, it will flow so you can easily grab it. Even though it is not the lightest and the most compact model reviewed by us, it fits great in your hands. It has a large 2.3″ dot matrix LCD display and a 13-button keypad. There are 4 scanning modes to choose from including programmable scan and priority scan, dual and tri-watch.

The many built-in features make it one of the most versatile models on the market. To begin with it has a weather alert that notifies you in the event of extreme weather. Then, for clear transmissions it features noise cancelling. The 10 preset keys give you the possibility to store up to 10 favorite channels. It comes with a lithium-ion battery that can last for up to 12 hours. Additionally, you will also receive 2 chargers and a battery tray.

PROS

CONS

Features an emergency strobe light in case it falls in the water Bulky design
Fast charging time
Built-in GPS
If you register the radio, you can use it to send distress messages to the Coast Guard
Comes with a 3-year waterproof warranty

VERDICT

All, in all this radio is a great addition to any boater or sailor. It was designed to withstand hostile weather conditions. The battery delivers great performance and comes with many built-in features. The only drawback is the bulky design. If you’re considering the price, you will have to pay more for this model. All good things come at a cost.

2. ICOM Marine M73

Here is another nice radio worth trying. It is not as lightweight as the other models but is very compact. The high-intensity LCD is quite bright and features a wide viewing angle. It features a long communication range for a handheld device and it acts very well even if you accidentally drop it in the water. This marine VHF features a powerful battery that allows you to use it up to 16 hours continuously. The battery indicator has 4 levels to know exactly when you need to charge it.

Due to the BTL (bridge-tied load) amplifier, the audio output is real impressive, featuring a nice 700 mW internal speaker. From the many features it comes with, we find some of them quite interesting. For example, the bass boost does a great job at improving voice quality. At the same time, the active noise cancelling can drastically reduce background noise for a clearer conversation. It also has a function that allows you to scan and tag your favorite channel. And the great news is that you will receive all th accesories needed when buying the radio.

PROS

CONS

Comes with AquaQuake water draining function Rather heavy
Features a dual and tri-watch function
Auto power save features
Compact design
It automatically records the last incoming call

VERDICT

Well-crafted and user-friendly design. We like that it comes with many helpful features and is compact. Also, it includes some helpful accessories and is backed by a 3year warranty. We don’t have too many complaints except the weight. It could be a little bit lighter. Also, you will have to pay more money for this model but you won’t regret it.

3. Cobra MRHH350FLT

With this versatile tool, you will enjoy clear conversation at all times. It is pretty powerful and submersible, so it will not only float on the water but you can submerge it without affecting its performance. Just by pressing a button, the device will make a loud noise to shoot the water out of the speakers. It is lightweight but less compact in comparison to the other models, so handling it won’t be very difficult. The battery is very durable, especially if you use it at low output power.

The model comes with many impressive features, including the noise-canceling microphone. You can also program an unlimited number of channels and then scan them to learn about the conversations in progress. The radio is easy to use and features a nice backlit LCD screen. It shows the current weather condition as well as the weather alert icon and the signal level. Furthermore, it comes with all the necessary accessories and a 3-year warranty.

PROS

CONS

Features a floating design Bulkier than other models
You can program an unlimited number of channels and then scan them Not very user-friendly
Great features at a reasonable price
Alerts you in case of bad weather
Good reception

VERDICT

This radio is well-made and is not expensive at all. It features a good reception and it enables clear conversations. The display is large enough to read all the information and the battery is very durable. Of course it needs some improvements, but overall we consider it the best value for the money.

4. BaoFeng BF-F8HP

This is the most powerful model from BaoFeng. It has a high power output of 8 watts. It comes with an improved antenna and a larger battery for increased performance. It features a tri-color LCD display, having the possibility to choose from blue, orange, and purple. When it comes to weight, this radio is the lightest one in our list. It is also compact. The sound is great and the signal as well, being a reliable companion for all sailors. The 2000mAh battery provides many hours of continuous use. The menu is responsive and is easy to figure out how to use it.

Among the most interesting features are the transmitter time-out timer and the busy channel lock-out. At the same time, this model is compatible with all UV5R battery options and accessories. UV5R is a previous model made by BaoFeng that is very popular among users. For a more convenient PC programming, it is recommended to use a PC03 FTDI programming cable. The radio comes with 1-year complimentary concierge service and warranty support.

PROS

CONS

Comes with many improvements in comparison to the previous model There’s no button for VHF/UHF
Lightweight Rather difficult to program
Available at an affordable price
Long-lasting battery
Single or semi-duplex operation

VERDICT

This VHF radio fits any budget. It works well, is durable, and versatile. Is very lightweight and comes with a nice LCD display. We like the fact that is responsive and the built-in antenna does a great job. However, it comes with some drawbacks, including the lack of a VHF/UHF button or the fact that is not very easy to program it.

5. Uniden MHS75

Another great option to consider is Uniden MHS75. This model comes at a great price and it offers great performance for all users. The backlit display is large and the backlit keypad allows you to use the radio at night with absolutely no inconvenience. The battery can last up to 12 hours and it can be recharged in maximum 4 hours. It can be recharged through a cigar lighter or power port for more convenience. You can monitor the battery power with the help of the battery level gage on the screen. Once the battery needs to be recharged you will also be informed by the audible alarm.

The radio can be submerged without affecting its performance, which means that if you drop it in the water there’s nothing to worry about. In case there’s an emergency or the weather conditions change, you will be informed to take the necessary measures. You can also program channels and the device will automatically scan them for you. This model is backed by a 3-year warranty and it comes with multiple accessories.

PROS

CONS

Die-cast aluminum housing The beltclip falls off the radio very easily
Waterproof design It doesn’t float
Great price
Automatically scans the programmed channels
Large LCD display and easy to use keypad

VERDICT

All in all, the device does a good job and is a great alternative for all those who don’t want to spend a fortune on a VHF radio. It comes with many features and is quite intuitive. Additionally, the backlit display is large and easy to understand. It is water submersible but it doesn’t float.

Product Ratings


            The following lines will tell you more about how we ranked the product. When comparing VHF radios is highly important to take into consideration aspects like dimensions and weight, frequency range, features, and so on. After comparing the products, we came to the conclusion that the best one is Standard Horizon HX870 followed by ICOM Marine M73 and BaoFeng BF-F8HP. Let’s see why.

  • Dimensions&Weight

  •             Being handheld devices, these radios have to be compact and lightweight. When it comes to size, the winner is ICOM Marine M73. This model is 2.07 inches wide, 4.92 inches tall, and only 1.18 inches deep. The other ones are a little bit bulkier but they fit securely in the palm of your hands. As about weight, the lightest model is 4. BaoFeng BF-F8HP with a weight of only 7.54. The heaviest one is Standard Horizon HX870 being at the same time very solid and durable.

  • Frequency Range

  •             VHF marine radios use very high frequency range. This range is usually between 156.0 and 174 MHz. There’s a different range for the transmitter and receiver. The frequencies are assigned to predetermined channels on the radio, the most important ones being channels 16, 09, 06, 22, and others. Although handheld radios usually have a shorter range in comparison to the fixed-mount ones, they are pretty versatile and the tendency is to become even more performant. From this point of view, BaoFeng BF-F8HP is more flexible as it features a more generous frequency range.

  • Output Power

  •             Unlike what most people think, output power doesn’t increase range. The height of the antenna does this. Handheld devices have a shorter antenna, so it’s absolutely normal to have a shorter range. The maximum transmission power of all marine radios is 25 watts. This is available for fixed-mount devices. The handheld ones usually have a transmission that ranges from 5 watts. The power can be changed to low, medium, or high, depending on the type of your communications. For example, short distance communications require 1 watt of power. Every model selected by us have 3 output power options, according to your preferences.

  • Features

  •             When it comes to features, we evaluated the battery life and the water resistance rating but also the unique features of each model. The battery life depends on the selected output power, some of the radios being able to operate up to 20 hours in the lowest setting. ICOM Marine M73 can work up to 16 hours until it needs a recharge while BaoFeng BF-F8HP up to 20 hours when used at the highest output power.

    As about the water resistance rating, some of the models are not only submersible but they can also float, like Standard Horizon HX870, ICOM Marine M73, or Cobra MRHH350FLT. Other features that caught our attention are the included GPS or water-activated emergency strobe light of Standard Horizon HX870 or the bass boost or the bridge-tied load amplifier of ICOM Marine M73. Cobra MRHH350FLT features unlimited memory channels. The most important features are presented in the comparison table, so take a closer look if you want to find out more.

  • Accessories

  •             All our models come with the battery and the charger. Some of them come with a beltclip or a wrist strap for more convenience. Also, ICOM Marine M73 includes a cigarette lighter cable while Standard Horizon HX870 comes with an alkaline battery tray. The more accessories, the better.

Are Fixed Devices Better than Handheld Ones?


Both types of marine radios have the same purpose: to allow sailors or boaters to communicate to vessels. There are some differences between them but we can’t say which system is better as each of them comes with advantages and disadvantages. Since the disadvantages of a particular system represent the advantages of the other one, we will only highlight the main benefits for you. In this way, you will draw your own conclusions.

Fixed VHF Systems:

  • They depend on the main power source and antenna of the vessel. Therefore, they are recommended for vessels with battery power.
  • Due to the fact that they are larger in size, the controls and the display are easier to use.
  • On sailboats the VHF antenna is mounted on the mast and on powerboats the antenna is mounted on the superstructure. Therefore, these devices provide a longer communication range. However, you have to invest in a good quality antenna and make sure is well installed in order to enjoy best results.
  • You don’t need to constantly recharge them, so there’s one less concern.

Handheld VHF Systems:

  • Since they feature a compact design, these units are easier to handle and allow you to carry them with you at all times. You can even take them with you in a lifeboat if there’s an emergency.
  • They work independently from the main power source or antenna of the vessel. This makes them ideal for small vessels that don’t have a main battery source.
  • Some people choose to use them as a backup for the fixed VHF systems in case they fail.
  • They have a waterproof design and can be used as a walkie-talkie.

           As you can see, there are some differences between the models reviewed by us. If money is not a concern for you, we strongly recommend you to opt for Standard Horizon HX870. This device may be bulky but is very accurate and long-lasting. It comes with a built-in GPS and some nice features that increase its value. ICOM Marine M73 is our second choice but is great considering if you want a well-made radio that won’t disappoint you. It comes with many features, is versatile, and quite compact. The other models come with more drawbacks but they do a great job and they are less expensive. Although they may need some improvements, they are accurate and highly responsive.

Frequently Asked Questions



?Is It Necessary to Get a VHF License?
Yes, in case you opt for a marine VHF radio, you will need a license. For obtaining the certificate you have to pass an examination. The are 3 license classes: technical license (entry-level), general license (for wold-wide communications), and amateur extra license (it offers all operating privileges for USA amateur radio). All licenses are available for 10 years.

?What is a Weather Alert?
The devices with a weather alert inform you when they detect a signal from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In case there are any extreme weather conditions like thunderstorms or tornados, your device will notify you by sending an audible alert.

?When to Use Low Output Power?
This power is usually required for short distance communications. If a certain vessel you want to communicate with is relatively close to you, you can use the low power. For your knowledge, there are certain channels that automatically require a particular power setting.

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