VHF radio advice

I am getting ready to buy a pair of VHF radios for my wife and I to use on our kayak adventures. We both have sea kayaks. I would appreciate some advice.

Our main reason to get them is:

We are both a little hard of hearing, so we want them to keep in contact while on the water.

I do a number of kayak meet up groups in my aera and what to have them to aid in communication there.

I like the idea of having the weather information and alerts at hand.

I also want them in case of an emergency to be able to call for help.

I live in a suburb of DC and paddle the local waterways and hope to do a little kayak camping this summer.

It seems like the two main VHF radio producers of high-quality radios are Standard Horizon and ICOM. As I look at the models I see the biggest difference in price is weather it has a GPS or not.

So what to get, is it worth spending the extra on the GPS? Are there other brands to also consider?

Thank you,

A friend has always said you should get the smallest and cheapest one that meets the basic specs, as radios (like a lot of electronic gear) can have a shorter life span than you would hope (especially if it regularly gets wet, like if you roll or surf or things like that). Doesn’t hurt as bad to be replacing a $100-150 radio every few years versus replacing a $400 one. Small, waterproof, and floating seems to be the basic specs, though maybe one wouldn’t need floating if they keep it connected to your PFD by a lanyard/leash (and they make radios waterproof by adding space with foam or air inside, which floats, but also makes radios larger, so harder to fit in a pocket).

On the other hand, the GPS you talk about is part of DSC, which basically gives you 1 touch call for emergency help which also sends out your location. Be very nice if you ever needed it.

Think about where you want to keep it when you paddle - I keep mine in a dedicated pocket in my PFD. That requires a smaller radio than one that you keep in a hatch. I don’t recall which model I have but mine is a Standard Horizon waterproof/floating. No GPS capability but I carry a dedicated GPS plus Navionics on my phone and a PLB for “rescue me” needs.

If you’re not familiar with using them, there are many resources online. Also, see if your local USCG Auxiliary has free classes.

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There are a few threads regarding radios, a couple of them were started by me to gauge the benefits of having the DSC feature. Please understand this about digital selective calling, or any GPS feature associated with a handheld radio: you have to be in a position where someone will be able to receive your message, whether it’s a verbal Mayday, or a digital Mayday. There is no guarantee that having that feature will result in you getting rescued. If you are not sure about whether those benefits relate to you or how they relate to you, I would suggest that you contact your local Coast Guard office and start a conversation about whether that feature is important in the area that you live.

As others noted, you have to have the radio on you for it to be of any use; having it in a day hatch is not helpful if your boat is floating away from you. The DSC radios tend to be larger than radios without that feature, and they also tend to consume batteries quicker than radios without a digital selective calling. Don’t take my word for it, do your own search on the Internet to confirm this information.

Having said all that, I decided that having a compact radio that I would be diligent about carrying with me all the time was more important than having a larger radio with the digital selective calling feature. I purchased one of the smaller standard horizon models, one that is waterproof and floats. I think it is a 300 model. I don’t have a personal flotation device with a pocket big enough to hold much of anything much less a radio. I clip the radio onto one of the loops of the PFD. I actually like having a smaller radio that I can put on the outside of the vest; it sends a message to others that I take safety seriously and they can see that I have the radio with me in case we run into trouble.

Whatever you do, please make sure that you carry radio on your person, same thing for your wife. It won’t help anyone if it’s floating away from you inside the kayak.


I actually had someone ask me if I was a park ranger when I was paddling on the Weeki Wachee on Monday because of my “walkie talkie”. Granted a VHF would have been mostly useless there, but it’s always in my PFD.


Depends where you paddle but DSC is for me. You location is not “I think I’m over here two miles past the pointy island”. I hear it from boaters all the time. It’s “Help me I’m broke down but don’t know where?” Not sure I could even read the lat long on my Standard Horizons radios in bad conditions. If you need reading glasses :nerd_face: you’ll never read it.

My favorite radio was a VHF50 (50) West Marine. I had two - one for my sister. It was easy to use, could find buttons from memory, lanyard and clip, solid construction, long battety life, battery life remaining, weather. They both stopped working within days of each other. No reason. Discontinued.

The new model Standard Horizon HX851 was designed by a pencil neck intern on college summer gig. See if you can designed a radio with whistles and tweets for the unsuspecting. Hold the power button too long and the strobe come on (turning off is still trial and error). Changing channels or volume (and the squelch), you press one button while dodging waves and act fast for the two second window to make adjustments on the other button. Squint-to-see window for the hard of seeing. No battery life meter (who came up with that). No lanyard or lanyard ring (dont need it so it can float away). I just wanted a radio like the I had. Bobbing in the sun with dried waterspots on your sunglasses, the GPS feature is unreadable or worse, possible to give wrong coordinates

Simplicity. Small. Large clear screen. Weather. Battery life. H/L wattage nice. Lighted screen nice. Glow in dark trim nice. Logical volume and channel toggles. Or volume toggle on side or knob on top with squelch. Clip and lanyard ring (you can make a lanyard to make a convenient length with old venetian blind cord tied with a fishing knot).

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Radio placement on you is imperative. Two died including a guide here because the guide couldn’t get to his radio in the hatch.


bungee through two top holes with a Scotty Clip. The Carabineer on my shoulder strap on my PFD.

Volume is easy if you want your strobe on in emergency.

Hit one button for volume or squelch then up and down better so it can’t change with one button function. Two taps and you set it.

n arrow it’s so easy.

HX 890

890 battery meter top right.

I have HX 300 somewhere and it’s much smaller.

I always have one clipped on my deck bag exterior and one on my PFD. Also my cellphone on my deck bag.

Standard Horizons has all the manuals online to download so you can possibly see what fits your needs best.

I had 8 SH never a problem with any of them. The 890 is 162 bucks can’t beat that.

I agree with much of the advice you have already received–

  • Your VHF needs to be small enough to be in a PFD pocket–and tethered on a short line
  • It needs to be “waterproof”–look for an IPX7 rating
  • GPS useful but optional–as previously stated, how much you need this depends on where you paddle. If you’re paddling the Chesapeake or its tributary rivers including the Potomac, you can know exactly where you are at all times if you’ve reviewed a chart ahead of time or keep one on your deck

I’ve had Standard Horizon VHFs and found them reliable & durable for paddling. Mine has GPS, but I’ve never used it.

I just went down this road with upgrading my handheld VHF radio. I upgraded my handheld to the Standard Horizon HX890 with GPS/DSC having seen the benefit of a rescue that was a success as the vessel in distress activated the DSC on the VHF radio. The Coast Guard and local marine police were able to pinpoint the exact location of the vessel in distress saving vital minutes.

Having a VHF radio while paddling is important for on water communications with other paddlers, weather updates and in the event of an emergency. Having GPS coordinates helps should you have an emergency.

I paddled the Chesapeake Bay for many years before retiring to Eastern North Carolina. I wouldn’t venture out on any river, bay, or sound without a VHF radio within easy reach whether kayak, sailboat or SUP. Emergencies happen and having a means of signaling for help / calling for assistance is vital to one’s rescue/survival.


300 HX SH in kokatat pouch. 750 or later series won’t fit in pouch.

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