Waterproof VHF recommendation?

I searched the archives and all the recommendations are from last year. Anyone have a favorite? thanks.

I have a Standard Horizon HX270s. More features than a paddler will liklely ever need, submersible, built-in Ni-Mh battery pack, car charger (I use that a bit & it’s handy), and under $90.

Range is pretty impressive, too.

ICOM’s are very good as well.

ICOM or Standard Horizons are both good brands. IMO whatever you get if you are not going to carry it on your PFD get a VHF drybag to keep it in. I do keep mine in one and I am on my 7th season with it.

I beg to differ, a bit
There have been huge problems with some Standard Horizon radios, most notably the HX-460S, which is legendary for leaking and failures. I haven’t heard of problems with their newer models, so perhaps they’re better engineered these days, but I would still be cautious.

ICOM radios are all but bulletproof, in my experience.

I use an ICOM M88, and I couldn’t be happier with it. It is at the high end of the cost spectrum, but the price is worth it. It’s incredibly waterproof, tough enough to get dropped and kicked, and small and light enough to be stashable anywhere.

Battery life is also excellent; I don’t believe any other radio has the runtime of the 88.

If you buy online through third-party retailers, be sure you are getting the American version. There’s no difference in operation between the Euro and the American, but the Euro version has the two skinny prongs on its charger and runs off 220 (240?) power. You’d have to buy an adapter to use it at home - don’t ask me how I know this!


Read February 2009 Sea Kayaker reviews.
It was a good article. I am sure the Icom is a great radio, but in their tests it leaked water into the battery compartment. I bought the SH hx270 based on value, it was that or the Icom m72. My Uniden Mystic would not transmit after one year of use, and most of that below deck and in a dry bag. Bill

Standard Horizon HX500S
this 1600 MaH nickel hydride version (the older one, which I have) has been discontinued. It is rated JIS 7 or 30 minutes at 1 meter. I have never been disappointed in signal strength or battery life on long weekend jaunts on the Great Lakes. Mine came w. the car battery charger ( as well as the home charger) so it is convenient to charge while driving, pretty nice going betw. paddling destinations.

It does not float but since I have it tethered in a small mesh bag inside my PFD that has worked so far for me.

I like the other features, large buttons, energy saving option for lower wattage, programmable memory etc. includes a flashing white strobe for emergency signalling.

The Li-Ion battery version of this model is out there.

if you prefer Li-On technology.

Go up to the HX750s if you want a floater and 1 more watt of power than the 5 watt HX270 or HX500.

Original ICOM M88, while a fine radio, is overly long for me to stow on my person. Obviously torso size varies so this may not be a consideration for some.

There is a ICOM IC-M88 mini version which is waterproof (could not find the JIS rating quickly) & worth investigating. Neither of the ICOMs have the white strobe option which was the deciding factor for me in choosing the Standard Horizon HX500S.

Both makes are excellent, just depends how you prioritize size and features. My last bit of advice is to research extensively as there are a lot of models circulating out there w. slightly different features. Two other brands are Uniden and Humingbird (spelled that way) and there are people who use and speak well of all four companies’ products.

Icom M72/M36
Only thing left to decide is whether or not the floating 36 is worth a little more size. Not a lot bigger, but the sleeker 72 is really nice in the hand (much better than stubby chubby 88 IMO).

Ditto M72

– Last Updated: Jun-15-09 7:01 PM EST –

It fits great in the hand; and when not in use, stays happily tethered in my VHF radio friendly PFD pocket - with drain hole.

Into its 3rd season; lots of water over the boat and no problems whatsoever with the radio.

This radio has been used mostly in fresh water while paddling on St. Lawrence River and on Lake Ontario.

You experiences may vary.


is larger but floats… incredible battery life and range…

maybe I should have gotten the M72 because it’s smaller although I don’t have a problem keeping the M36 in a PFD pocket…

I keep mine in a dry bag as well and will probably take it out if I really need it…

Look at specs/ check personally
All these radios have roughly equal RF performance. Some have louder and cleaner audio on receive and that can be important. I do not understand the desire for a floating radio when used by kayakers. The radio needs to be tethered. They can make the radios float by using a much smaller battery and a larger case. For example the Icom 36 does not have great battery life relative to non-floating radios. The battery is half the capacity and the useful operating life is half of say an Icom72.

On a long trip or in a prolonged situation that could ruin your day.

Best to read the specs, handle the radios to see which ones seem to fit your hand and fingers, look at display to see how easy or cluttered it is, check how easy or hard the controls are to use, and then buy the one that seems right to you. My advice is to ignore unimportant stuff like 6W v. 5W, floating v. nonfloating. There are some real bargains out there for very nice radios.

Personally I like the Standard HX-270 since it is bullet proof and inexpensive. The Icom M-72 is nice too.

the M34

– Last Updated: Jun-16-09 9:53 AM EST –

has a Li-ion battery. it last for several days while scanning..

you are completely misinformed to suggest that this is less capable than any other VHF.. or that you know more about it's performance than someone who uses one every on the coast and in constant contact with the CG and many other ships..

Edit: the M34 uses less power and has a larger antenna.. and what if the tether comes loose or breaks?

If you don't mind the size the M34 is second to none.

I use a tether to the dry bag which is much stronger.

I would suggest holding them and comparing side by side. ICom is considered the best and you will see why the M34 is bombproof.

Excuse me, but

– Last Updated: Jun-16-09 10:25 AM EST –

I never said the M36/34 was not a capable radio. In fact I said the RF performance was equal among these radios and suggested other factors should be used to decide. I have held and tried every radio under discussion. I have used VHF handheld radios in a variety of setting for over 20 years and have a modicum of technical knowledge about them. I believe I have some basis for the opinions I gave.

If you look at the specs for the M36 and M34 you will see that the battery is rated at 980mAh and the battery for the M72 is rated at 2000mAh. Icom rates the operating time for the M36/34 to be 8/9 hours for mixed operation and 16 hours for the M72. The M36/34 does draw slightly less current than the M72, but only slightly. All of these radios have very inefficient antennas (in the trade they are joking called "dummy loads")and a slightly longer length is really immaterial.

I understand any of these radios will scan for a long, long time and they all serve the intended purpose. I was just suggesting that given these radios are all about equal in performance, person preferences after actually trying them was the best way to decide which to buy. You like one that floats, I see no purpose for that. I like an old, but tried even if larger radio, you don't. We each have our reasons sufficient for ourselves. Don't assume that people with other views must be ignorant or wrong. I didn't.

What you posted
"For example the Icom 36 does not have great battery life relative to non-floating radios. The battery is half the capacity and the useful operating life is half of say an Icom72. On a long trip or in a prolonged situation that could ruin your day."

The M72 uses a larger battery and more power to compensate for a smaller antenna. You save space, that’s it.

While Icom list the I72 as about 9 hours with only 5% use and 95% stand by, they don’t list the M34 at all. Why? And how do you know the preformance when it doesn’t list the specs and you don’t own one? While I haven’t tested the talk time, it takes 3 days to drain on scan.

The I72 uses more power on stand by as well, which explains the limited battery use, even with a larger battery.

When the M34 had a N cd battery it didn’t perform well,but since the upgraded the battery, it has outstanding performance.

I even called Icom and the tech rep at Icom uses a M34 for kayaking. He said you want it to float as there is no pressure.

Also, the M34 is larger than the I72. I have been very clear that I use the larger one, so I’m not sure why you say I’m using the smaller one?

Finally, when you say, “The battery is half the capacity and the useful operating life is half of say an Icom72. On a long trip or in a prolonged situation that could ruin your day.” Is saying the Icom M34 is below standard.

If I had my choice, and was in the ocean, I would choose the M34.

If I got a new one, the I72 for the smaller size.

I’ve been on the water thousands of times for over 30 years.

I forgot this is P-Net
I do not understand how you can say Icom does not give figures for specs on batteries and mixed operation battery life for these radios when every radio’s operating manual and brochure is on their website and both contain that information and much more. Oh. I’m sorry. I forgot this is P-Net. Nevermind.

West Marine
Thanks for all the suggestions and info. BTW, the West Marine site has short informational videos on each of the VHF handhelds they carry. I also went back and re-read the Sea Kayaker reviews from earlier this year. I’ll probably go with the Icom M72, or the West Marine brand 150.

Get over it…

– Last Updated: Jun-16-09 12:50 PM EST –

the M34 is an excellent VHF.. you first said it was not and don't have any experience using it..

Why don't you report on the VHF you own and probably know something about, instead of one you don't know much about?

You pretty much slammed the M34 right after I recommended it. Icom is considered the leader in VHF radios and the M34 is no exception.

I find the M34 performs much better than the specs in the owner's manual, which was probably printed when it had the older N cd batteries and not the Li ion.

Maybe you should at least test a product before claiming to be an expert on it?

At least I have reported what I know about the product I own and have tested so that people can make an informed decision.

I also stand behind my original statement that the M34 is a very good VHF, if you want smaller go with the M72, which has slightly different features. I'm not sure which has a better range but the M34 is very good on the coast.

This has some good reviews on performance. The M34 had 12 hours, the M72 over 15hours battery time. The M34 battery cost $50 to replace, the M72 $130.
Performance wise they are both very close. 12 hours is a long time, which supports my personal assessment.


Edit: according to this review, eel's radio Standard HX-270 has a 13 hour battery time and the M34 has 12 hours. Hardly half the battery time as he suggested... and I quote eel's post "For example the Icom 36 does not have great battery life relative to non-floating radios."

Simply not accurate. They both got good reviews, so thanks for the misinformation, insults, and the huge waste of time.

floating radio
For use on a larger vessel (like a sailboat or powerboat) I could see the usefulness of a floating handheld. But in a kayak, I always have my VHF tethered to my vest. I can use it from that position, and I know it’s not going anywhere.

For me size is much more important than density for a kayaking handheld.

Since you edited your post, a reply

– Last Updated: Jun-16-09 10:20 PM EST –

I did not say the HX270S had twice the battery life as the M34 because it does not. The review you cited did not say the M72 battery lasted 15 hours. their test only lasts 15 hours. At 15 hours it was going strong and the M34 quit at 12 hours. They did not test the M72 to exhaustion and their test protocol was not the same as Icom uses when it specs its radios. If you look at the differences in the test protocols, you will se the reviews 12 result is in line with Icom's 9 hour spec for the M34. I rather suspect Icom knows the capabilities of its radios and specs them accordingly. The current draws are close and there is no way a 980mHa battery can sustain the same current draw as long as a 2000mHa battery. that is why Icom rates the M34 to 9 hours and the M72 to 16 hours.

More significantly, on transmit the current draw of any 5W radio is around 1500mHa. You do the math on how long you can expect to transmit on each. Yes, they will both run a long time on standby and receive, but transmitting really drains these batteries fast.

I know of a situation where kayakers in distress and needing to heloed out of the sea encountered great difficulty directing the CG to their location due to fading battery power after a couple of hours. Battery life can be important and floating radios, all of them, have smaller batteries and thus shorter operating life per charge than radios such as the M72. Floating radios are fine, but they are a compromise on battery life. If you want it to float and be roughly the same size, you have to compromise the battery since it is one of the heaviest components. You cannot fool mother nature. Does not mean the radio isn't fine within specs, it is.

Standard HX850S
I have the Standard Horizon HX850S with GPS and DSC. The radio has been in my pfd pocket for a good number of rolls and it is still working fine. Transmissions and reception are both clear and plenty loud. The radio is a bit pricey and on the large side, but it has good battery life, plenty of features and since I often paddle alone the DSC distress call feature is a nice emergency life line if things should go bad.