VHF handhelds

I tried to bump a 7 year old thread, but to no avail.

Basically, I want a unit I can rely on, with the basic features, for what might be one week or less use per year. I don’t want to spend a bunch, but as it is safety equipment, I would like something reliable/rugged.

These all seem pretty affordable - are any of them winners?





VHF Handhelds
We still have a 13 year old Standard splash proof hand held that is kept in a PFD from March through November. It doesn’t have the battery it started with, but works well. Also have a five year old waterproof ICOM that is barely used, it too having spent 9 months of the year in a PFD on the ocean. Buy what you can afford and keep it off your deck, and it should last a long time.

Dry bag
I would no matter which one you go with look for a dry bag for it. Get one that will allow you work the radio with it on.

I’ve got a Standard Horizon
(an older model, a 270)and never had a problem. Good battery life, and works great.

Ditto Standartd Horizon Here

– Last Updated: Mar-23-11 9:47 PM EST –

HS270S - seems OK by me - reception drops on fringe areas...

Have you tried using it in a dry bag?
While it’s nice to keep your radio all dry an cozy, dry bags make a radio much more difficult to operate when you actually need to use it, which is probably going to be in less than ideal conditions. They require you to use both hands, which may be a luxury that you cannot afford. They also reduce the volume of the radio significantly.

Under real conditions, you need to be able to operate your radio with one hand. That also means that stowing and retrieving it need to be one-handed operations. The most effective way I’ve found to handle a radio is to mount it on your PFD shoulder strap. That puts it close to your ear and mouth, and holds it securely for one-handed operation. You can see one method of doing this in my “Kayak Gear” album on Webshots at:


BTW, the Standard Horizon radio shown is long since dead, along with many of it’s brethren (the 460 model was a leaky nightmare). The ICOM M88 is still going strong. For my money, ICOM is the more trustworthy brand.

Icom here
I have had a great track record with Icom radios, both mounted, and handheld. My Icom M32 (predecesor to the M34 you mentioned) still works great, and I’ve had it in my PFD pocket (no bag) for years.

It’s great to see how cheap these quality submersible radios have become, and everyone on the ocean or great lakes should really have one, IMO.

I’m also excited to see the radios now being introduced with internal GPS. This seems like such a powerful feature, that I think if I were buying a radio now, I’d have to spend the extra money for one of these features. I don’t use a GPS for navigation, but in an emergency, or in the case of an unexpected navigation dilemna, it would be indispensible to have coordinates immediately available, right there in your PFD pocket. The models I’ve seen are in the $250 ish price range though.

Must go in PFD

– Last Updated: Mar-18-11 11:55 AM EST –

If the radio is not on you -- you risk not having it
when you'll truly need it.

Skip the bags and tether it to your pocket in PFD.

Submersible HandHeld Marine Band VHF Radio manufacturers:

* Standard Horizon
* Cobra Marine
* Humminbird
* Icom
* Uniden
* West Marine

My GPS unit goes in the other pocket
- also tethered

Tethers can be long - and retractable
Take a lesson from the scuba divers / sailboats

my thoughts exactly
I think accessibility trumps speculation about guarantees of watertightness, and I keep mine in the same place as you do. I can’t count the number of times I’ve paddled with my ICOM in the rain, rolled with it, or dropped it on a sandy wet beach during loading or unloading.

but remove battery after rinsing for day
I have an ICOMM M72 and it is VERY waterproof in large part because the unit and battery are separately waterproof. But I did learn that after my post-paddle rinsing I need to remove the battery to avoid water trapped between the battery contacts from corroding the contacts. Probably good advice for waterproof GPS units too since the battery compartment is their week link along with the USB connector.

Dry Bags - Will Fail
Think your electronics are safe in a dry bag

– they simply are not


good point!
particularly in salt water.

West Marine
I buy the store brand and wear it right on my life vest and it gets soaked with salt water at least once or twice a month. West marine is very good about replacing a stuff that has failed under warrantee, but their radios last for a long time for me.

Yes a bag can fail but
so can’t the waterproofing in the radio. I would rather count on a double layer of protection then on just one layer. As for using it one handed, yes I can not to hard to push a button while in a bag. But to each his own I would rather have the double layer of protection.

If it makes your radio useless…

– Last Updated: Mar-21-11 6:48 AM EST –

...when you really need it, is that really a "double layer of protection"? The point is for the radio to help protect YOU, not the other way around. If you buy a good radio and maintain it (rinse and dry it after every use), a dry bag is unnecessary and does nothing but compromise the radio's functionality.

I understand that people are worried about protecting the investment they have in their radio, but trust me, in conditions when you REALLY need the radio, ALL you will care about is that you can access it easily with one hand and communicate; money will be the furthest thing from your mind.


– Last Updated: Mar-21-11 10:34 PM EST –

I carry my VHF unbagged, tethered and mounted to my left PFD shoulder strap, similar to Brian.

I previously owned an ICOM M88. I rinsed it after EVERY saltwater paddle, but battery removal was not required.

More recently I picked up ICOM's M72. I too found that one must remove the battery after paddling/rinsing or water will become trapped behind it.

If you are going be 'lazy' in regard to VHF maintenance (e.g. rinsing, annually lubing the 0-ring that protects the contacts), then bagging the radio is an option. However, try to use a bagged VHF one-handed in a howling wind and see how effective your broadcast is.

How does it make useless?
I have never had a problem using it and just like all my equipment I tried it from the water. Like I said I can work it while it is in the bag and have never had to take it out of the bag to use it. So how will it prevent me from using it? Of course if yours develops a leak yours will not work when you need it either. I like the extra protection, to each their own. This is good to discuss with the season fast approaching for most paddlers.

I’ve been looking at this one …
I’ve noticed several salt water paddlers using this one. Curious to hear opinions. What I like about this one is if you do have trouble, it will include your GPS location when you call for help.

Standard Horizon HX851 6W Floating Hand held VHF with intenal GPS

A couple of thoughts
I would not buy a new VHF radio unless it is DSC enabled such as the 851 since there are many safety features associated with DSC.

To make a handheld VHF radio that floats they have to increase volume and/or decrease battery capacity. Neither has any impact on the basic functionality of the radio.

However, if you are using a radio on long trips, battery capacity might matter as it might if you needed to use it for sustained transmitting.

A smaller radio is usually easier to carry on the PFD so larger volume can be a negative.

Since I believe most people will tether their radio, not sure it is a big advantage to have a floating radio. Of course only one drop from thinking otherwise.

yep, no need for floating
It’s pretty vital to have it well secured on a lanyard. If not on a lanyard but floats then in conditions it’s still likely a gonner. It’s pretty darn easy to have a secure lanyard so may as well be small even if that makes it not float.

btw, another reason I like my ICOMM m72 over a previous make/model I had is that my old model would tend to get water in the speaker grill and be very hard to hear anything. The M72 has a vibration mode to flush water out although for whatever reason I haven’t really needed it like I would have on the older model (forgot the model of the bad one).