Marine VHF Radio - Where to Carry?

handheld mic
makes sense on a powerboat or a sailboat

no sense at all on a kayak (a new object to keep track of, a cord to deal with, etc.)

your head is probably
symmetrically located between your shoulders or have a big head. For those of us with small heads or off the centerline there’s room on one side.

Shoulder placement of my VHF unit
has never interfered with my head, vision, mobility or bracing/rolling to either side. On top of that I don’t have to fish out of a pocket and I have storage space for the additional safety items on my pfd :wink:

Of course ymmv.

long antenna
Long antenna on a handheld VHF used on a kayak doesn’t accomplish much, it’s line of sight communications (mostly) anyway and from the kayak that’s not real far, maybe 5 or 6 miles until the curvature of the earth puts the recieving antenna below the horizon.

Bill H.

Here is a Hands Free VOX VHF ???

– Last Updated: Jul-08-09 9:36 AM EST –

Here is a hands free VHF by Horizon. Do any of you have it? Is it a worthwhile function to have the ability to use it without holding the unit to hear and speak???



CG receivers are quite high though.

– Last Updated: Jul-08-09 12:41 PM EST –

You probably can't reach a powerboat with a handheld in the water further than a few miles away, but a sailboat, ferry, trawler, etc with a 50' mast height will "see" an antenna 1' above the water from nearly 10 miles away. And a CG reciever on a 200' tower will "see" your 1' handheld almost 20 miles away. That's probably a little beyond the 5 w transmit power of your handheld anyways, so in an emergency, your antenna height is likely not a limiting factor.

I wear my VHF in my PFD pocket, with a short tether to my shoulder strap. I can remove and operate it with one hand. I can see the advantages of having it shoulder-mounted, but I can't see having it there all the time, when it is virtually never used. I use a VHF more regularly on larger boats, but on a kayak I have never used it. Perhaps in higher traffic areas it would see more use. Getting run over up here is less likely than say Boston, and if you do get run over it's probably going to be by a lobster boat - which rarely monitor 16 in my experience. They seem to always be on a chat channel like 71.

Having it always on my shoulder strikes me similar to storing a flare gun on my wrist - sure it would be quicker to use, but the intrusiveness of having it there would outweigh the potential advantage, in my personal opinion anyways.

Paddlers should consider getting
a Ham Technician License. It would give you the option of having 5 watts for transmit with a handheld and more when mobile using a car battery or at a home base station . Also, especially when paddling off the coast, you probably could hit repeaters or talk to other Hams located along the coast. Now with the Internet, you can talk to Australia on VHF. The Hams have tied the repeaters into the Web and are doing all types of things using it.

The license is easy to get with study guides on the Web and practice tests. They use a pool of questions so you actual know what questions will be asked. The local Hams administer the tests so you don’t have to drive far and you only pay a nominal fee allowing them to recoup what the test costs them to administer ($15). The thirty-five question test is on basic radio procedures, e.g. you can’t say the seven deadly words on the air, don’t transmit out of your allowed band, etc and very fundamental radio theory: what converts an electrical signal into something you can hear - duh, a speaker. I guess the hardest thing is getting use to is learning about the the different bands allowed, e.g. the 2 meter band is 144-148 MHZ (300/freq in MHz). You can really get into the theory if you like later with the advanced licenses, but a Technician license would only take a few weeks of study and is on very basic radio theory and procedures.

Check out the Yaesu VX line of handhelds: bluetooth capable, GPS/APRS, barometric and temperature sensors, waterproof to 3 feet for 30 minutes, and more.

Longer than you might think
"And a CG reciever on a 200’ tower will “see” your 1’ handheld almost 20 miles away. That’s probably a little beyond the 5 w transmit power of your handheld anyways, so in an emergency, your antenna height is likely not a limiting factor."

The new CG system is designed to communicate with a 5W handheld VHF at a minimum range of 20 NM. Any rubber duck antenna on a VHF handheld is a joke in terms of being an efficient radiator, but they do surprising well at times. I can communicate via VHF and UHF with a repeater around 50 miles away with my ham radio handheld at 5W when I am in position to see the top of the mountain it is on. VHF is not actually line of sight limited, but it doesn’t take much to block a signal either.

Point is well take that for talking to other vessels the range is far more limited.

about ham
I don’t know much at all about ham, but for a paddler within 20 miles of the US coastline, does a 5w ham handheld have any advantage over a 5w marine VHF handheld? I would think that if your reason for carrying a radio was emergency communications you’d be a lot better off with the marine radio.

I have to fish mine out of a pocket

– Last Updated: Jul-08-09 9:08 PM EST –

so far it hasn't caused much hardship

Well, the difference is that if you have
a marine radio, you just have a marine radio. If you also have a ham license you can use all repeaters up the coast/country/world and talk to other hams to get weather info or whatever. You can use the radio anytime: backpacking, driving, etc. Chances are off the coast you’ll be able to communicate with someone most of the time. Also, you can use the GPS/APRS (Automated Position Reporting System) ability to send position reports via the Internet to your house. It’s not a big investment of time or money to get a Technician license. With the license you discover a whole new world of communication. When paddling you’d give your call sign with the addition maritime mobile. Anyhow, it’s a fun hobby also and you’ll get to meet a lot of new people from all over the world. The license is free and good for ten years. It can be easily renewed and will never have to take another exam unless you want an advanced license.

Ham vs Marine VHF
Won’t you need a separate marine VHF to communicate? I cannot see having to carry two different radios. Heck the list of stuff you have to carry for a lot of events is getting too long.

Let’s see:



SPOT or Epirb





I’d only get the Ham if it could also serve to talk on the required marine VHF channels. Do they make such a thing?

Ay, there’s the rub
As far as I know, due to FCC regs you can’t buy such a multiband transceiver if you’re a member of the general public. There’s no technical reason – my fire department handheld covers several VHF bands, including marine. If you’re a member of a recognized public-service group like the Civil Air Patrol you can get authorization to modify and operate a radio out-of-band.

Most 2m handhelds can receive a wide range of VHF frequencies, but they only transmit in the 2m band.

It is annoying.

Wait, it will

– Last Updated: Jul-10-09 9:09 PM EST –

When you get into rough enough conditions that you can't afford to take both hands off the paddle, you'll quickly see the shortcomings of carrying your radio in a pocket. Add cold water and gloves and it really gets fun. Retrieving and stowing it with one hand in a bouncing boat is at best an inconvenience and at worst, a serious liability.

A common problem I see with paddlers and their safety gear is that it becomes difficult or impossible to use when the need is greatest. I feel fortunate to have learned a few lessons in difficult, but not life threatening conditions. The gear and methods I use are based on that, not on what works in easy to moderate conditions. Emergency equipment needs to work in an emergency, otherwise it's just excess baggage.

Then a Ham Make no sense for a kayaker
I can’t call the coast guard, the other boats I see, the bridge tender or the marinas.

I’d only carry a Ham radio after I already had a vhf and a spare and an epirb or a SPOT.

if I’m still paddling, I don’t need VHF
I reserve VHF for when I’m no longer paddle (in the drink, separated from my boat, etc.)

is that your prediction for me? that this will lead to grief? is it in the tea leaves?

Ham radio use

– Last Updated: Jul-11-09 8:12 PM EST – You don't have to pass a Morris code test anymore.

There are other reasons to NEED it
Communication among a group that’s been broken up by rough water is one of them. Contacting other paddlers or boaters to aid a stricken paddler in rough conditions is another. Contacting others for assistance with towing is yet another. I’ve been in all three of these situations personally. All were in rough conditions with lots of wind and water noise. Having to screw around with a radio in a pocket would have been difficult at best.

It seems to me that there are two types of paddlers, those who think they can always control the conditions they paddle in and those who know that’s not always possible and prepare for difficult conditions. Do whatever you like, but I prefer to be in the second camp.

Ham radios were discussed before
IIRC, the consensus was that they make sense for remote inland waters where VHFs are largely useless, but they make no sense on the coasts or larger inland waterways where there are numerous VHF coastal stations and every powered or sail vessel has one.

Binocular Harness for Carrying VHF

– Last Updated: Oct-31-14 7:03 PM EST –

Based on my online research (for what that is worth), I also don't trust the "waterproof" ratings for VHF radios over extended usage. I then opted for the AquaPac radio case for protection which then precludes it from fitting into any of my PFD pockets.

I ordered a binocular harness which I wear underneath my PFD with the attach connectors coming out over the PFD shoulder strap area and attach to the AquaPac case/radio. This allows the radio to ride horzontally over the PFD at my upper chest level. The radio can be easily accessed and operated with either hand and the microphone and speakers are close to face level.

I ordered the following harness from B&H Photo for $12. It is made of all nylon webbing (since I didn't think an elastic harness would last in a wet environment). The attach points also snap into the harness via plastic connectors which make attaching and removing the radio easy.

OP/TECH USA Bino/Cam Harness Binocular or Camera Strap (Webbing Version)