Best Marine VHF Radio

Updated June 1, 2020

One of the most essential pieces of gear to have on a boat is a VHF radio. Although it isn?t required to have one for recreational boats, this device comes in handy in more ways than one. A Marine VHF Radio is a unified two-way communication system for ships and watercrafts, and having one in your vessel before traveling guarantees communication with nearby ships. Having a marine VHF radio allows you to communicate with other boats, bridges, and even coast guards while you?re navigating the sea. It?s the easiest way to communicate when on coastal waters, and it also provides quick access to weather reports 24/7.

Getting lost in the middle of the ocean is what sailors fear the most, and while having an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) is needed to send a distress signal, it?s also ideal to have a means for external communication if this happens.

Looking for the best VHF marine radio requires a lot of canvassing, so we?ve gathered all the best boat radios for you to choose from.

Best Marine VHF Radios

#PREVIEWProduct
1 Standard Horizon HX870 Floating 6W Handheld VHF with Internal GPS (1) Standard Horizon HX870 Marine VHF Radio
Hide other buying options

2 Uniden UM385 Fixed Mount Marine VHF Radio
Best Overall
Uniden UM385 Marine VHF Radio
Hide other buying options

3
Best For Higher Budgets
3Uniden MHS126 Marine VHF Radio
Uniden MHS126 Handheld Submersible VHF Marine Radio (1)
Best For Higher Budgets
Uniden MHS126 Marine VHF Radio
Hide other buying options

4 Cobra Fixed Mount MRF 45D VHF Marine Radio Cobra MR F45D Marine VHF Radio
Hide other buying options

5 Cobra MRHH350FLT Floating VHF Long Range Marine Radio (1) Cobra MR HH350 FLT Marine VHF Radio
Hide other buying options

6
Best For Low Budgets
6BaoFeng GT-3TP Marine VHF Radio
BaoFeng GT-3TP Mark-III Two-Way Radio Transceiver
Best For Low Budgets
BaoFeng GT-3TP Marine VHF Radio
Hide other buying options

1. Standard Horizon HX870 Marine VHF Radio

Highlights
  • Noise-cancellation for easier audio transmission and reception
  • Floats on water
  • Has a water-activated emergency light
  • Full dot matrix display

Following the success of its predecessor, Standard Horizon’s new marine VHF radio focuses on safety. In addition to its normal VHF functions, it is also a digital selective calling radio, which means that you can MMSI numbers and communicate with specific watercrafts.

This radio does more than what is expected—it can locate different boats with VHF radios and displays its own GPS and speed in a compass style. With a simple push of the red button on this handheld, you can automatically send distress signals to the coast guard. The HX870 is noticeably larger and lighter than previous models, which makes this radio float easily.

Specifications

Range:
9 KM
Channels:
66
IP Rating:
IPX8
Battery Type:
1800 mAh Li-Ion
Battery Life:
12 hours
Warranty:
3 years

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Long-lasting battery
  • Charges fast
  • Easy to operate menu

Cons

  • Comes with a separate receiver for DSC calls
  • Larger compared to other models

2. Uniden UM385 Marine VHF Radio

Highlights
  • Can communicate with international channels
  • Rugged handheld microphone
  • Digital Selective Calling
  • Weather alert
Best Overall
Uniden UM385 Fixed Mount Marine VHF Radio

With the Uniden UM385 Fixed Mount Marine VHF Radio by your side, you will feel safer at sea knowing that this radio notifies you whenever there are any weather disruptions nearby. The Uniden UM385 is a fixed mount radio that can be easily installed by anyone. Aside from its stellar emergency alerts, its built-in GPS is ready to transmit your location to other boats and the coast guard, should you need any help. This radio comes with a dot matrix LCD that’s easy to interpret. It also has a shock-proof microphone with rubber grips.

Specifications

Range:
20 miles
Channels:
All USA, Canada, and International Channels
IP Rating:
IPX4
Battery Type:
Battery is irreplaceable
Battery Life:
Must be connected to an external power supply
Warranty:
3 years

Pros

  • Has a built-in flashlight for emergencies
  • Clear sound transmission
  • Has a multi-channel scan feature
  • Waterproof

Cons

  • Heavier compared to other VHF radios
  • Must be connected to an external power supply

3. Uniden MHS126 Marine VHF Radio

Highlights
  • Long-life rechargeable battery
  • Automatic weather alerts
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to operate
Best For Higher Budgets
Uniden MHS126 Handheld Submersible VHF Marine Radio (1)

Uniden does not disappoint with its large-screen, easy to operate handheld radio. It’s easy to change the radio’s power levels with just a few clicks on the menu, and it is very beginner-friendly, as the screen is bright and its audio transmission is always clear. The Uniden MHS126 comes with its own accessories—both AC and DC charge cords, a lanyard, a belt clip, and an alkaline battery tray. With this device, you can worry less about accidentally losing your way in the waters or running into hazardous situations caused by the weather. Its emergency strobe lights make you highly visible, and the radio notifies you about any weather disturbances nearby.

Specifications

Range:
8 miles
Channels:
All USA, Canadian, and International Channels
IP Rating:
IPX8
Battery Type:
1 LiPo Battery
Battery Life:
10 hours
Warranty:
3 years

Pros

  • Large display
  • Easy to carry
  • Floats on water
  • Comes with seals that glow in the dark

Cons

  • Charger is sold separately
  • Battery clip should be held carefully

4. Cobra MR F45D Marine VHF Radio

Highlights
  • Can simultaneously monitor two channels
  • Noise-cancelling microphone
  • Function keys are illuminated
  • Weather alerts come with audible tones and visual alarms

The Cobra MRF 45D is perfect for both short and long-range communication, as its output can be set between 1 and 25 Watts. You may program channels into this radio’s memory and scan them to hear ongoing conversations, as well as weather information and hazard warnings coming from other stations from both land and sea. The illuminated LCD display shows the strength of the signal coming into the device so that you may be aware of your proximity. With just a touch of a button, you may send a distress signal to other boats or even to the coast guard.

Specifications

Range:
162 MHz
Channels:
US, Canada, and International Channels
IP Rating:
IPX8
Battery Type:
Battery is irreplaceable
Battery Life:
Must be connected to an external power supply
Warranty:
3 years

Pros

  • Submersible
  • Maximum coverage
  • Functions well even without an external antenna
  • Fixed mount yet compact

Cons

  • Display cannot be seen well under direct sunlight
  • External speaker needs adjustment

5. Cobra MR HH350 FLT Marine VHF Radio

Highlights
  • Long-range
  • Water-resistant
  • Selectable power setting
  • Emergency Weather Alert

The Cobra MRHH350FLT floats on water and was purposely made to have a neon core to make it easy to retrieve. With this radio, you won’t feel alone because you can simultaneously track and efficiently communicate with three channels at once. It has international coverage, making it navigating foreign waters easier while staying in communication with nearby watercrafts.

Specifications

Range:
156 – 163 MHz
Channels:
USA, Canada, and International Channels
IP Rating:
IPX8
Battery Type:
1 LiPo Battery
Battery Life:
8 hours
Warranty:
3 years

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Submersible for 30 minutes
  • Can simultaneously monitor 3 channels
  • Backlit display

Cons

  • Has only 1 charging option
  • Does not have Channel 37

6. BaoFeng GT-3TP Marine VHF Radio

Highlights
  • Wide-range
  • Heavy-duty
  • Has up to 128 memory channels
  • Audio received is clear
Best For Low Budgets
BaoFeng GT-3TP Mark-III Two-Way Radio Transceiver

This is an upgraded version of GT-3 Mark-II, with three different power settings that can be changed accordingly. Its built-in antenna allows communication with boats that are, at most, 11 kilometers farther than you. Its LCD is backlit, and its keys are large, making it easier for you to operate the device. The battery of GT-3P Mark – III is as impressive as people say it is—it can last for days, with light usage, without having to charge it.

Specifications

Range:
400-519 MHz / 11 KM
Channels:
Up to 128
IP Rating:
IP57
Battery Type:
1800mAh Li-ion Battery
Battery Life:
9 hours
Warranty:
1.5 years

Pros

  • Waterproof
  • Dustproof
  • Shock-resistant
  • Two-way radio

Cons

  • Antenna is made of plastic and may break easily
  • Difficult to program alone

VHF Marine Radio Buying Guide

Types Of Radios

Handheld Marine Radio

When the boat?s battery goes down, so does the fixed VHF radio attached to its power outlet. That?s why it?s important to always have a handheld VHF radio for backup. These smaller radios don?t necessarily have short battery lives?in fact, many handheld VHF radio reviews commend the strong battery lives of several of these devices, some of which are even listed above.?

Fixed VHF Radio

All fixed VHF radios have Digital Selective Calling capabilities, which make communicating with different boats while exchanging locations possible. They also have automatic weather alerts to inform you about any incoming thunderstorms, tsunamis, or other types of weather disturbances.?

Features

It?s always important to look out for specific features when you?re finding the best fixed mount VHF marine radio for you. Some features are not available in other radios, and some features may be counter-productive if you aren?t comfortable with your radio.?

Water Resistance

Almost every marine VHF radio out there is submersible, being a device designed for travels on water. If you want a floatable radio that?s easy to locate in times of emergency, then you should go for a handheld marine radio. It?s crucial to have a waterproof VHF radio handy because you?ll want to still be able to broadcast your voice clearly, even if the device gets submerged into water.

GPS

When navigating, your Global Positioning System (GPS) tells you where you are. Some radios have GPS receivers that can share your location with other vessels, boats, and the coast guard when you?re facing an emergency.? Marine VHF radios with GPS have their own Automatic Identification System (AIS). This helps you locate other AIS-equipped vessels to avoid collisions.

VHF Radios Range

VHF radios have a range of 6 to 30 miles, which makes it far more reliable compared to cellular phones that can sometimes have faulty signals and dropped calls. The longer the range of the radio, the more it can pick up, but it does listen to the strongest signal that it can hear. VHF radios work best in water because they transmit and receive signals from line of sight, meaning they cannot operate well if there are land masses between the two radios.?

Marine VHF Radio Antennas

The antenna is arguably the most important part of the radio because it dictates the operating range of your device. If your antenna isn?t working, you won?t be able to receive and transmit messages to nearby vessels. The antenna?s style and height above water are the factors to consider to ensure quality receiver performance.?

VHF Radio Licenses

For recreational boaters, it isn?t required to have a VHF radio license. There are exceptions, though, such as when recreational vessels sail through foreign waters and would consequently have to communicate with foreign ports.?

An Operator?s License is needed when a person is navigating the boat professionally, and there are many factors to consider, such as the size of the boat, who the operator has to come in contact with, where the vessel operates, and the type of equipment being used.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why is the height of a VHF radio antenna important?
A:

It is necessary to look at the height of a VHF radio antenna is because an increase of height raises it above objects that may obstruct communication between you and other ships. VHF radios operate in a line of sight radius, which means that the higher the antenna, the farther you will be able to communicate. For efficient communication, your antenna should be able to receive frequencies that can only travel without obstructions. Simply put, the higher the antenna, the clearer the sky, and the better the sound.

Q: What is a VHF radio?
A:

A VHF radio is your boat?s safety net. VHF means Very High Frequency, which refers to the way sounds and signals are emitted from radios. These signals can travel farther compared to the signals of cellular phones, making VHF radios the ideal way of communicating outdoors. In case of an emergency, the first thing that you should reach for is your VHF radio. You can ask for back up, find another boat?s GPS, or even get notified if a storm is coming.

Our Verdict

Whether you are operating a yacht, a fishing boat, or even a cruise ship, it is best to always familiarize yourself with the parts of your vessel, more so with the emergency devices that come with it, so you can navigate waters responsibly.

If you are planning a short trip that involves traveling on both land and water, it might be better for you to have a handheld VHF radio. Products listed above such as the BaoFeng GT-3TP Mark-III, the Cobra MRHH350FLT, and the Standard Horizon HX870 offer the best reception and durability that the marine VHF radios could offer. If you?re looking into traveling on bigger vessels, you might want to invest on fixed-mount VHF radios like the Uniden UM385, which has a lot of features useful for emergencies.

Make sure that your VHF radio is waterproof, or else, it may easily tarnish through time. The next time you check out all the marine VHF radios available on the market, look at the height and sturdiness of its antenna?your radio will only function well if its antenna is in perfect shape.

It?s good to weigh the pros and cons of the marine VHF radios that you are choosing from to be able to find the one that fits you best. Once you understand your device?its GPS, its range, and its antenna functions?you will be able to work with it more comfortably, and you can troubleshoot minor malfunctions, should there be any.