VHF handhelds

-- Last Updated: Jul-11-06 1:47 PM EST --

(HAHAHA sidenote... when I first posted this I had the subject as "VHS handhelds"... while that would be amusing it's not going to help me much in an emergency... maybe it would make a good anchor LOL)

Last subject on VHF handhelds seemed to be from late 2004. From what I've read the Icom IC-M88 is the radio of choice for many. I don't know much about VHF radios but I am very familiar with the Icom name as my father is a HAM. Is there anything newer on the market worth considering? How about the M72? I noticed its high power is 6 watts vs. 5 watts. I don't know how much of a difference that will make (I'm sure my father can answer that one for me).

From what I've read I gather I want:

Drop in charging (DC adapter plugs are a source for leaks)
Weather radio features.
Quick access to channel 16.

Icom's web page says "DSC is a standard on all ICOM VHF radios" (direct quote) but if I'm correct this is not the case with the handhelds. The Standard Horizon HX471S looks like it has this feature but it requires the charging cradle to work which would be useless on a kayak. Are there any handhelds that do have this capability? Technically I see no reason why it can't be done (I'm a professional photographer and many digital SLRs have the ability to accept a connection from a hand held GPS to record the GPS location in the image's EXIF metadata... if a camera can do it...)?

I know that the HX471S also supports FRS as well. Are there any VHF handhelds that support FRS as well as GMRS? That would be a pretty compelling feature set.

Cheers, Joe

I just ordered an M88, and it has a $50 rebate until the end of this month - at least thru West Marine. I googled the Standard Horizon and found a lot of kayakers reporting problems with the waterproofing, but few complaints about the M88 which has a three year warranty.

Only problem is that the with the accessory AA battery holder, it’s not submersible. I plan to use the M88 on the water and my other non-submersible radio for checking the weather while on shore to save the battery life on camping trips, seeing as I can’t recharge it. I’ve seen solar chargers but haven’t looked into this possibility yet.

Real world battery life
Thanks Steve. What has your experience been with the real world battery life on the M88? Icom reports 24 hours with 5% 5% 90% (talk, receive, standby) but manufacturer’s reported battery life and real world battery life are often two different things.

Cheers, Joe

M 72 is good set

– Last Updated: Jul-11-06 3:55 PM EST –

I got IC-M2 A for $119, at a boat show. One of the best deals in handhelds. Great radio. Waterproof. Holds charge for weeks, even if used frequently. Receives from a great distance. Transmits a few miles, on flat sea. (Tested) Comes with alot of stuff, too. It rocks.

Not DSC or FRS capable. I don't need that, so this one works for me. I also have a mounted ICOM on my real boat. No problems.

I don’t know if I need something as tough as the M88, but with the rebate (and I hate to mention it) the extra 10% off last Friday, I couldn’t pass it up. I don’t have it yet so I can’t comment on battery life so we’ll see how it goes.

That 90%/5%/5% seems to be an industry standard, so it’s at least good for comparison. The 8 x AA’s in my current (large, heavy, non-submersible) radio last for a long time.

has an entire line of marine handhelds:


I own an Icom M2A radio and it’s bulletproof. I even dropped on a concrete parking lot and it despite a few little dings works like a charm. Got mine from West Marine and at the salesman recommended it as one of the best radios out there. He sold both Standar Horizon and Icom so he had no ax to grind. FishHawk

I have an Uniden.
It’s an older model, an HH985. I bought it in '99 and it’s a brick, but has stood up to many dunkings, snow falls and sitting completely submerged for a few minutes because I wasn’t paying attention. Uniden puts out some good products.

I’m curious as to why you would want DSC capability?

Consider a seperate weather radio
or running AA batteries for waether reports on shore and saving the LI-ion for when it counts.

"I’m curious as to why you would want DSC capability?"

I don’t need it by any means, just figured it wouldn’t hurt to have if there was something out there that featured it. Really in order for something like that to be truly effective the GPS would need to be built into the radio otherwise you’d be connecting a cable from your GPS to your radio… I’m guessing you’re not going to want to be fishing around for a cable if you’re in a real emergency. Certainly a read of the position across the radio would work so long as someone was there to hear it and if not you’re probably screwed anyway.

Garmin makes the Rino 520 and 530 which are FRS/GMRS radios with a GPS. Those have the ability to transmit location but the Coast Guard sure as heck isn’t monitoring them and the likelyhood of someone else on the water with a unit capable of receiving that information is probably zero to nill.

I guess I’m just surprised that nobody offers that feature. Just about every cell phone on the market now has a GPS receiver built in that can trasnmit your phone’s coordinates if you dial 911 (known as e911 for locations that support that technology). The point is that the technology is relatively cheap now and I’m surprised that none of the manufacturers haven’t built a GPS receiver into any of the handhelds specifically for the purpose of DSC in emergency situations.

Cheers, Joe

You’d have to also make sure your gps has dsc capabilities, to allow it to interface w/ the vhf. Probably very few if any handheld gps’ with dsc jacks.My ICOM base unit gps, 3 years old, doesn’t have dsc.


– Last Updated: Jul-11-06 5:04 PM EST –

all VHF radios will be equipped with DSC, but the majority of the handheld users are on kayaks, canoes, etc, so it's a low priority and not very demanded.
Some CG units monitor DSC on VHF-FM and/or HF/MF and have DF capability. (Although, that damn DF finder is as useless as tits on a bull when cliffs or multiple simultainious transmissions are invloved.) With the new Rescue 21 being installed they will. However, installation and it coming on line and working properly are two different things. It's way behind schedule as it is.

I have both the 460 Standard and the Icom M88. Both have been in service a couple of years with constant use. They have not been abused, but have been taken care of as per the manufactures advise. With that said I have had no problems with either. I do favor the M88 as it has less to worry about as far a water entry points. They have had multiple immersions and rolls. The M88 will last without a recharge a couple of days with normal talking and no re-charge. It will last a week with less talking. Daily use consists of at least 4 hrs on the water with per day as much as 8 hrs per day.

water proof bag
If you are using it in a kayak then I recommend you get one of those water proff bags they sell for handhelds. You’ll also need to put dessicant into the bag to make it work well. If you don’t put dessicant capsuls into the bag with the radio just the moisture from humidity in the bag could be driven into the radio case and ruin it.

I never seen an Icom or standard Horizon fail from dropping or water, but they could.

6 watts or 5 watts makes no difference. To save power you’ll transmit most of the time on the 1 watt setting. If folks have trouble hearing you then you can try the 5 watts for a little boost. I find that its about antenna height not power so if they can’t hear you then stand up in the boat to talk.

IMHO, the M72 is better
The best feature of the M-72 is the feature to drive water out of the speaker grill. That is what caused every other radio I have seen to fail at some point. The radio will still work, but it may take a couple of days to get the water out so you can be heard and hear others.

My M-72 works like a charm.

M 72 period.
it is the current champ. there is no good reason to have any other handheld for sea kayaking, this latest offering from ICOM sets the new high mark. all others are below this one.

What makes it better?

– Last Updated: Jul-12-06 12:38 AM EST –

Just curious... what gives the M72 an advantage over say the M88? Price is better (and that is a very compelling argument) but it looks like battery life suffers a bit and it doesn't seem like 6 watts is a huge advantage over 5 watts.

Cheers, Joe

Check the specs…
… like I just did.

Think I just found a birthday present! My Uniden Voyager needs replacement and was going to get the IC-M88, but I saw it in the store and liked the hand fit/control better. Body is only about an inch longer than the 88, but a bit thinner and it’s hourglass shape is a lot easier to keep hold of. I had assumed it was somehow inferior to the 88 (by $100), but now that I see the specs it’s a done deal.

Marketing blurb from West Marine’s site highlights the main improvements:

"This beefy new radio is one of the most powerful marine handheld VHFs on the market—AND it is extra watertight. The M72 is rated IPX 8 by Icom, or “Submersible PLUS” - the highest waterproof rating available for a VHF radio. It has 6 Watts of power, more power than any other handheld VHF, and includes a 2000mAh Li-ion battery…the biggest available - making it transmit more powerfully than most radios. Extra loud and clear audio reception cuts through engine noise and other audio distractions. New antenna design notably reduces the antenna length without sacrificing performance. "



I actually downloaded the manual for the M88. Unfortunately the M72 seems to be so new that Icom doesn’t have it on their website yet (I really wish they had a comparison chart of features). Feature by feature it’s kind of hard to compare them based on the Icom America website as the layouts for each web page are different.

The big drawback I see to the M72 is an 8 to 9 hour battery life deficit when compared to the M88 (according to Icom at least). The 72 is more “waterproof” but I don’t think it’s added 1/2 meter of depth is really going to be an advantage for the application. Again… cost on the M72 is compelling but I’ve found the M88 for $215 shipped (price after rebate) so it’s not a huge difference.

Cheers, Joe

great battery life on my M88
My wife and I both use the M88 and the battery life has been great.