Appreciate suggestions for a marine radio that’s waterproof and reliable with good battery life. ICOM America M25 or other?
Depends on where you’re kayaking, if you’re with other people, etc.
If you’re kayaking alone offshore, you need a radio with an “Oh Shit” button. (Press the button and your location is transmitted to people who will send help.)
If you’re always kayaking with others, you don’t need that feature.
When I wanted to charge my ICOM M93D last week, I couldn’t. Two of the contacts on the battery had corroded away.
I then opened the battery (there is a non-waterproof “hatch” in the battery, on the dry side of the sealing gasket), and could see corrosion there too, probably from water, which had leaked through from the outside at the contact points.
So not only will I have to buy a new battery (for the third time). I also can’t trust the waterproofness of the radio, since the contact points are obviously a passageway for saltwater into the radio.
There have been a lot of writing about this problem with ICOM radios, so I know I am not alone. I don’t really think they are intended for regular submerging in salt water.
Sorry to hear about that. I intend to keep the waterproof radio in a flexible waterproof radio case, which still allows speaking/hearing and operation, and which can be attached to my PFD. I’d wear on the PFD or keep in a day hatch, depending on conditions.
Just to be safe, I’d be careful to open and dry it after every trip.
I’ve always been happy with the VHF radios from Standard Horizon. The three radios we have are discontinued but Standard Horizon has a wide range of radios available, All are submersible to a degree and many now float. Average 15 hour battery life. One has been going strong for over 10 years on the original battery. All have spent time in the water with no problems. Great warranty. Three years including water damage. After that a flat rate repair or replacement charge. My main radio at this time is the HX-870. It’s been superseded by the HX890, although it’s still available. Some of the current radios don’t show up on their website, but can be found in their 2020 catalog…
It would help if you were to list a price range and what features you are looking for. Most have NOAA weather alert, Some of the more expensive ones have DSC capability and GPS. Some even have satellite communications capability. Submersibilty varies. Five or six watt?
I consider a VHF radio to be almost as important as a PFD. If not used to get help for yourself or one of your group, it might be used to get help for someone else on the water. I’ve used it for both a group member who had a medical issue and for others on the water who had mechanical or other issues with their boats and no cell coverage. Kayaking with a group is often like herding cats. VHF radios help keep the group in easy contact. Some people I know will not take people on big open water trips unless they have a radio due to past problems. Always have you radio on you, not in or on your boat. I never go out without a radio after some close calls.
For getting help, a VHF is most useful on coastal waters. On smaller inland bodies of water there may not be anyone monitoring VHF. VHF is usually limited to about 5 miles line of sight, but the USCG has a pretty extensive array of tall towers in coastal areas.
Doesn’t that sound like overkill?
I’ve been using a Standard Horizon HX300 for the past 4 or 5 years. It’s compact, waterproof, fits in the pocket of my Kokatat PFD, floats and activates a flashing recovery strobe light if dropped in water. And I particularly like the fact that it charges from any USB port which means I can recharge it from my car, my PC, an iPhone charger, etc. Battery life is said to be more than 13 hours. It’s also reasonably priced at about $130.
No GPS/DSC but that takes you up another price level.
I’ve dunked mine more than a few times and it’s been fine.
I’ve mostly used Icom radios, originally M34s and now an M36. I bought the last one from West Marine and paid a bit extra for the replacement plan. Over the years, I seem to average 1-2 years of use on batteries (before the center terminal would corrode), and 5+ years on the radio itself. The battery warranty is just 1 year, and only once did one corrode out before that (the radio itself has a longer warranty). I do clean and brush the corrosion off terminals and will put a dielectric grease on the terminals after charging to try to protect it. The radio doesn’t get a lot of power-on use, so it goes weeks or even months between charges.
I have used the radios in dry bags before, but found them more of a hassle than they were worth (plus they last a year or two before they need to be replaced, at $50 each).
I do have a cheapy, $50 Cobra non waterproof radio as second right now. That one does live in a radio dry bag.
I do treat VHFs as somewhat disposable, so still to cheaper radios. So no DSC (the emergency button talked about before) for me. I have a PLB for that emergency button.
I think my next radio will be one that can be charged off of USB, which Icom does not do (directly - adapters can be purchased).
Use is for coastal sea kayaking
Coastal kayaking is about the only place they can be used. As @rstevens15 says, with the exception of on very large lakes, radios are typically not monitored inland.
Oh and personally I want the radio with me, as in on my person. If I get separated from my kayak I want the radio with me and I want to get to it fast.
So agree. Three people died in Maine a few years ago when the paddlers were caught in a squall and capsized. The radio was in the kayak not on the person… Useless then.
I have had no issues with my Icom M 24 but it is an older model. several years old. It is so sensitive to water that the flashing red light goes off in the fog. The light is designed so that you might find it in water but that is a situation you can avoid. Wear it.
I have the Standard Horizon HX40. Very easy to use, and it’s about as small as you can get. Waterproof but does not float, but that doesn’t concern me as I have it on a lanyard clipped to my PFD.
@kfbrady and @kayamedic, thank you, this is a very good point. I know if a tool isn’t handy it can be as if you never bought it. Like keeping a rescue hook in your day hatch instead of on your person.
It’s the same reasoning that would make me lean toward keeping it in a waterproof cover which still allows operation. Also because I like to take good care of my gear. “Take care of your gear and it’ll take care of you.”
The only reason I suggested day hatch sometimes in very nice conditions close to shore is that many people in local kayaking circles can spend a lot of time chattering on their radios which can take away from the experience of paddling. I’ll just keep it on my PFD and shut it off when needed.
So, Standard Horizon or Icom - which has a better reputation for build quality and warranty support?
Do you suggest 5 or 6 watt?
And do you suggest a model that has the ability to send GPS coordinates and has DSC?
I consider a radio a key piece of safety gear.
I carry a Standard Horizon HX870 (DSC) when paddling certain sections of Lake Michigan. I attach my Kokatat Tactic Pack to the back of my PFD since it has but two small pockets, and tuck the radio inside the pack. It’s close enough to my shoulder so I can hear it.
While I also carry a PLB, that’s Plan C. Plan B is the radio.
Groups who like to chat while paddling should set up their own channel and not use 16 or 9.
In real world situations, there’s practically no difference between 5, 6 or 8 watt radios. VHF is line of sight only, and your line of sight radius while on the water is smaller than what even a 2 or 3 watt radio could cover. Get the radio that otherwise suits your need and worry about power last.
I have gone thru Standard Horizon, ICOM and West Marine brands. Have a Standard Horizon and I think an ICOM now because last year I got one with a DSC button. They both float. They are both too big for me to love in my PFD pocket but if I face it the right way I am not getting whacked in the face by the antenna. Two of the three brands have shown a tendency to get a bit flaky after lots of salt water but if I use the flush feature with fresh water it seems to keep issues at bay.
Focus on a decent one that you can wear on you with a DSC button. You will find that the DSC requirement makes the selection easier…
You really don’t need to keep a waterproof radio in a waterproof cover. You don’t really want to do anything that might reduce its ability to receive or transmit. I’ve had my radio for 5 years, I use it every time I paddle, and it still looks like it’s brand new.
You also don’t need to listen to other people’s conversations (unless you want to!) VHF radios have multiple channels, 25 or more. You usually leave your radio on channel 16. Channels 16 and 9 are reserved for emergencies and hailing. Once you establish communication you immediately switch to another channel that both/all parties agree on. See the website below for more info…
Second the above. The most important reason to have the radio on you is for an emergency including a weather alert. Neither of these are best served by having it in a day hatch. On the deck at the least close to you.
Do the flushing with fresh water some ask for after each use, just drop it in fresh water for a bit when you first come in, and a decent one will last a long time. W/o waterproof covers.
You need to put any metal zippers under fresh water after coming in from salt as well as rinse the skirt. Doing similarly with the radio is not a major extra bother.
Another couple of points:
As has been stated, these are “line of sight” devices so the range is very much dependent on antenna height. You don’t want that radio in a hatch - possibly even below the water line of your kayak - but as high up as you can get it. For me that means the upper chest pocket on the PFD I usually use or clipped to the left shoulder strap on the other PFD I have.
Certainly for the paddling I do among the South Carolina coastal marshes, salt water estuaries and sea islands a phone is probably even more useful than a VHF radio. I keep an iPhone in a Lifeproof waterproof case with me at all times and I can always get a signal.
More good info about radios here…
Considering how long my Standard Horizon radios have lasted, I considered the upgrade to a DSC capable radio to be worth it. After all, your life may depend on it. Once activated the distress signal with your identity and location goes out continuously with no other action required. DSC has other non-emergency communication features as well.
The radio must be registered for the DSC distress signal feature to be most effective. This is done online one time and is usually free. Check around as some sites charge for this. This information can be updated online later if necessary… It will have your name, address, boat type, contact information, etc and it goes into a database accessible by the USCG.
Be aware that the DSC emergency button is protected by a flip up cover, so it will not be accessible in a waterproof case. If you activate it accidentally you MUST contact the USCG to cancel it. Otherwise they are going to launch a search for you if they cannot contact you. Shutting off the radio will not stop this.
Be sure to read the manual or look online for information as to radio etiquette, what channels to use, how to make a distress call, etc.
In addition to what the USCG regards as “coastal waters” VHF is also monitored on the Great Lakes and its major rivers. On other inland waters it’s still useful for group paddles at the very least. In theory every vessel that caries a VHF radio is required to monitor channel 16 at all times, but I have never heard of anyone being sent to Guantanamo for not doing so. Not yet, anyway.