Best Handheld Marine Radio Reviews

Updated August 23, 2020

A VHF (very high frequency) marine radio is essential for any mariner leaving the harbor – whether you’re a newbie or an experienced sailor. They allow you to contact rescue services, communicate with harbors & marinas, and contact other ships or shores.

While there are many integrated marine radios for boats, it’s always a safe and smart idea to have a handheld VHF radio too. They’re easy to keep in your pocket or bag and are a reliable solution in case of any damage to the boat itself and the integrated radio.

This article will cover our top handheld VFR radio reviews, including the specifications of each product (such as range, channels, battery life, and IP rating) as well as a handy marine radio buying guide at the end!

Best Handheld VHF Marine Radios

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

2 ICOM - M73 Handheld VHF Marine Radio ICOM M73 Handheld VHF Marine Radio
Hide other buying options

3 Standard Horizon - HX400 W_SBR-29LI Handheld VHF Marine Radio Standard Horizon HX870/Handheld VHF Marine Radio
Hide other buying options

4
Best For Higher Budgets
4ICOM M85 Handheld VHF Marine Radio
ICOM - M85 VHF-HH 5 Watt Compact with Land Mobile
Best For Higher Budgets
ICOM M85 Handheld VHF Marine Radio
Hide other buying options

5 West Marine - VHF85 Handheld VHF Two-Way Radio West Marine VHF85 Two-Way Radio
Hide other buying options

6 ICOM - M93D Marine VHF Handheld Radio with GPS & DSC
Best Overall
ICOM M93D Marine VHF Handheld Radio
Hide other buying options

7 Standard Horizon - HX380 1.5_ Standard Handheld VHF
Best For Low Budgets
Standard Horizon HX380 Handheld VHF
Hide other buying options

1. Standard Horizon HX870 Handheld VHF Marine 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. ICOM M73 Handheld VHF Marine Radio

Highlights
  • Submersible in water.
  • Aqua-Quake water draining function.
  • Power saving function.
  • BTL amplifier.

The ICOM M73 Handheld VHF Marine Radio is a well-designed, high-functioning option for mariners. It’s a durable radio with compact size; ideal to fit into a pocket when it’s not in use.

The radio itself is submersible in water. It’s been tested to survive submersion in 1.5 (4.9ft) meters depth of water for up to 30 minutes. This is ideal for smaller boats where things falling overboard are common.

It leaves enough time for you to grab your radio back out of the water. This is also excellent for surviving times when rain or seawater enters the boat.

It also includes Aqua-Quake draining technology to ensure water-resistant features.

Furthermore, the marine radio is excellent for those looking for substantial sound levels; particularly louder levels to work in harsher and noisier weather conditions. The ICOM M73 uses a BTL (bridge-tied load) amplifier that doubles the audio output resulting in louder audio.

Last but not least, the radio display is easy to read and well-lit. It has a high-density liquid crystal display (LCD) meaning the characters are brightly lit and won’t strain your eyes to read. This is perfect for darker weather conditions (such as wind and rain), and even nighttime use.

Specifications

Range:
6 Watts
IP Rating:
IPX8
Battery Type:
1 x Lithium Iron
Battery Life:
18 hours
Warranty:
3 years

Pros

  • Very durable.
  • Compact size.
  • Easy to read.
  • Comfortable to hold.

Cons

  • No voice recorder.
  • Not noise canceling.

3. Standard Horizon HX870/Handheld VHF Marine Radio

Highlights
  • Submersible to 1.5M.
  • Adjustable power wattage.
  • Noise-canceling. (microphone)
  • 40 channels.

In line with many other radios, the Standard Horizon HX870 HX400 is submersible to 1.5 meters (4.92ft) for up to 30 minutes, making it a perfect choice for wet weather conditions.

This model is very lightweight, coming in at less than half an ounce which makes it an ideal choice for those wanting a radio that’s easy to carry around at all times. It also has a compact size making it easy to fit into any bag or boat drawer. It’s also easy to fit into a jacket pocket, for example.

This radio has noise-canceling and voice scrambling technology. The noise-canceling microphone makes it easier for the received to hear what you are saying which is both safe and efficient. It’s also an excellent choice for windier or rainy climates than can be loud through a microphone. Voice scrambling technology ensures private conversations without interruption.

In addition to the design features, this handheld marine radio includes National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather channels and weather alerts to ensure safe sailing. This helps you to stay aware of upcoming weather conditions that may require a change in your route.

Last but not least, the radio includes a low battery indicator, informing you it’s time to replace the battery. This is key in ensuring you won’t be left with a dead radio in the middle of the water. It also includes a rapid charger.

Specifications

Channels:
40
IP Rating:
IPX8
Battery Type:
Lithium-ion
Battery Life:
17 hours
Warranty:
3 years

Pros

  • Easy-to-read display.
  • Compact size is easy to carry.
  • Lightweight design.
  • Weather channels and weather alert.

Cons

  • Does not include a chip.
  • Smaller display than some others.

4. ICOM M85 Handheld VHF Marine Radio

Highlights
  • Up to 100 programmable channels.
  • Voice scrambler.
  • Very compact size.
  • 3 automatic emergency functions.
Best For Higher Budgets
ICOM - M85 VHF-HH 5 Watt Compact with Land Mobile

The star feature of the ICOM M85 VHF Radio is it’s extremely compact size. It measures at just 56 × 92 × 29 mm making it smaller than most other competitors. This is ideal to fit inside a smaller pocket and it’s easy to pack into any bag.

Secondly, the marine radio has 100 channels which are more than double some other competitors. All channels are programmable with DTCS and CTCSS tone. The integrated voice scrambler allows for private and secure communications between stations.

An excellent additional safety feature of this radio holds three different emergency functions which automatically begin an emergency alarm if any one of them is activated. They include the MOB (man overboard) alarm, Man Down, and Lone Worker alarms.

These features are excellent for both smaller teams and larger boats.

The marine radio has a sleek black design with a long antenna for good signal quality. It’s also submersible in water for up to 30 minutes like most others. It survives different weather conditions thanks to AquaQuake™ technology which prevents bad audio quality from water. Plus, it’s dust resistant.

Last but not least, it has a loudspeaker option ideal for louder boats.

Specifications

Channels:
Up to 100
IP Rating:
IP-67
Battery Type:
Lithium-ion
Battery Life:
14 hours
Warranty:
2 years

Pros

  • Wattage selection (1/3/5 W).
  • Submersible in water for up to 30 minutes.
  • Optional speaker microphone.
  • Sleek black design.

Cons

  • Higher cost than alternative models.
  • Fairly small display.

5. West Marine VHF85 Two-Way Radio

Highlights
  • Compact size.
  • Transmits with 5 watts of power.
  • 7 segment LCD display. (even in sunlight
  • Can be used while charging.

The super-compact West Marine VHF85 Two-Way Radio holds all marine VHF channels, making it stand out from competitors. This way, you’ll have no trouble reaching any required channel after leaving the dock. It also transmits at 5 watts of power ensuring high-quality sound for you and the receiver.

Although this marine radio has a slightly lower battery life than others (11 hours), it can be used while it is charging. This is a unique feature that many competitors don’t have. This is an excellent way to ensure you’ll never be left without a functioning radio, as long as you have an electrical socket and the included charger onboard.

The model is durable and well crafted with an aluminum alloy chassis. This ensures the radio will be long-lasting and can withstand knocks and contact with water.

With a 7 segment liquid crystal display (LCD), THE West Marine VHF85 is very easy to read. It also boasts that it can be read easily in sunlight. This is perfect for sunnier climates and Summer boating days. Plus, it’s easy to use thanks to the simple 8 button control system.

Lastly, this model includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather channels to keep you in touch with any upcoming weather conditions or alerts.

Specifications

Channels:
All marine VHF radio channels
IP Rating:
IPX8
Battery Type:
Lithium-ion
Battery Life:
11 hours
Warranty:
3 years

Pros

  • Durable design.
  • 8 button control.
  • With NOAA weather channels.
  • All marine VHF channels.

Cons

  • The design isn’t so modern.
  • Shorter battery life than some other models.

6. ICOM M93D Marine VHF Handheld Radio

Highlights
  • Built-in GPS.
  • Favorite channel function.
  • Built-in DSC receiver.
  • Active noise canceling.
Best Overall
ICOM - M93D Marine VHF Handheld Radio with GPS & DSC

The ICOM M93D Marine VHF Handheld Radio has a number of both unique and essential features and is ideal for a serious mariner.

It has a built-in GPS, allowing you to be aware of your location while away from the dock. This is also ideal for allowing you to inform the harbormaster where you are in case of any emergencies. It has a built-in navigation system making it easy to get from point A to point B.

Furthermore, a unique and very useful feature of the ICOM M93D is it’s “Float’n Flash” function. If the radio is accidentally dropped into the water, it will float and an automatic LED flash will begin. This is a great way to prevent accidental loss of your radio if it falls overboard!

It also includes an emergency distress signal of “Man Overboard” button which will immediately transmit your location and the time.

It also has AquaQuake technology to drain any water away from the device and prevent any damage to the speakers or sound quality. The last convenient function is the Active Noise Cancelling integration. This cancels noise on both ends, ensuring good quality sound for both yourself and the receiver.

Finally, this model has a large 2.3-inch Large High Visibility LCD display, making the screen easy to read even in darker lighting and bright sunlight!

Specifications

IP Rating:
IPX7
Battery Type:
Lithium-ion
Battery Life:
9 hours
Warranty:
3 years

Pros

  • Modern phone-like design.
  • Includes a distress button.
  • High contrast display.
  • Includes navigation function.

Cons

  • Shorter battery life than other models.
  • Buttons are a little small.

7. Standard Horizon HX380 Handheld VHF

Highlights
  • A large LCD display shows channel names.
  • An optional headset is possible.
  • Includes 40 land channels.
  • Easy to use an 8-button control panel.
Best For Low Budgets
Standard Horizon - HX380 1.5_ Standard Handheld VHF

Standard Horizon HX380 Handheld VHF boasts a large LCD display that also shows the channel names. The display size makes it easy to read when compared to other models. The display also shows a battery level indicator to ensure you won’t end up running our or charge after leaving the dock.

Secondly, the design has 8 simple buttons to use the radio. This is great for newbies and experienced mariners alike, reducing the time it takes to understand how to work your new radio. Another convenient feature of the display is the option to change the channel names

This model has the option for both a headset and also a speaker mode. This provides multiple ways to receive effective audio on the radio in louder environments or noisy weather conditions. It also has loud 700 mW audio for clear communication.

HX380 includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Canadian weather channels. These provide you with updates and alerts to advise you of current and upcoming weather conditions during your time on your boat.

Specifications

Channels:
40
IP Rating:
IPX7
Battery Type:
Lithium-ion
Battery Life:
13 hours
Warranty:
3 years

Pros

  • Loud audio.
  • Battery life indicator.
  • NOAA weather channels and alerts.
  • Changeable names for channels.

Cons

  • The screen is a bit small.
  • Slightly bulky design.

Handheld VHF Marine Radio Buying Guide

What is VHF radio? 

A VHF radio is a global system used for two-way radio communication on ships and watercraft. They function bidirectionally, working between ships or between a ship and shore as a method of voice communication. VHF is defined as “very high frequency”

VHF radios use FM (frequency modulating) channels with a range of 156 and 174 MHz. FM channels are generally preferred over AM channels. 

These radios are installed on almost all ships and seacraft as a safety measure and for general tasks such as navigation or traffic control. They provide a sure way to contact harbor masters, other marinas, bridges, and more.

Handheld VHF Radio Range

These radios are typically used for shorter range communication than integrated ship radios. They have a range of approximately 3 to 8 miles for clear communications. This differs quite drastically from fixed boat radios which have a range of 15 to 20 miles.

The change in transmission range is primarily due to the wattage of handheld VHF radios compared to fixed ones. Handheld VHF radios have a lower wattage capability (at a maximum of 6 watts) compared to fixed radios with a higher wattage of up to 25 watts.

Portability

All VHF marine radios are portable, thanks to their handheld designs and the fact that they don’t need to be attached to a boat system in order to work. They function without physical connections to any other device, apart from a charger when they are charging!

Most VHF marine radios are also specifically designed with portability in mind. They will generally include design features like lightweight materials and smaller compact sizing.

Features

Not only are VHF marine radios ideal for communications, but manufacturers are constantly advancing their designs to include extra features. 

Let’s take a look at them in a little more detail.

Water Resistance

Although we would hope you don’t intend to drop your radio into the water, it does happen occasionally. Rainfall can also be an issue for some radios. Therefore, manufacturers have kept this in mind when designing VHF marine radios. 

Certain brands have designed their own waterproof functions. For example, ICOM has designed something called AquaQuakeTM technology. This is a form of draining water away from the microphone in the case of submersion. It helps to prevent audio degradation. You’ll find this in some of our reviewed VHF marine radios above!

The next way to assess the waterproof capabilities of VHF marine radios is through their IP rating which stands for Ingress Protection. This is a rating of protection provided by the mechanical casings and electrical casing to combat any intrusion of dust or water. You’ll find all of our reviewed VHF marine radios with their IP rating above!

Weather Updates

Weather conditions are a huge factor in assessing whether or not going out on a boat is appropriate at any given time. They can also help you to be aware of any upcoming alterations you will need to make to your journey plans.

Most handheld VHF marine radios include the NOAA weather channels, plus other channels based on specific countries. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather channels provide alerts and updates for mariners.

GPS

Some handheld VHF marine radios have a pre-installed Global Positioning System (GPS), such as the ICOM M93D Marine VHF Handheld Radio we reviewed above!

GPS is a radionavigation system that actually includes 3 different components. They are the GPS satellites, the GPS receivers, and the computer software needed to understand the signals and calculate the geographical location of the user. These three components work together to provide boats with navigation systems.

While not all handheld VHF marine radios have GPS systems, many ships will already have this kind of software or device holding it on the control board.

Battery Life

Most VHF marine radios come with Lithium-ion batteries which can vary from 7 to 20 hours, depending on the size of the battery. As well as the battery size, the amount you use your radio will also affet=ct the lifespan of the radio. 

Lastly, the battery life will be affected by the wattage. Many VHF radios, including some we have reviewed above, have different options for the power transmission (such as 3 or 5 watts). Transmitting at a higher wattage will reduce battery life faster than a lower wattage. 

Pricing Range

As with any product, marine radios vary in price. A higher price could be due to a higher quality or more durable materials. It could also be due to newer and more modern designs or extra features. 

On the other hand, a lower price could be due to the model being more basic or older than others. A cheap marine radio may not be lower quality than a more expensive one, but it could simply be an older model. 

If you are looking to keep costs down, you could also opt for a second-hand marine radio. Remember to check the radio we have listed as “Best for Lower Budgets” to get you started!

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Are VHF radios required on boats?
A:

In the UK, these radios are required on some boats depending on which areas they are in. For example, they are required on the Thames, Trent, and Humber. In the United States, recreational boats that are under 65 feet are not required to have a VHF radio.

Although VHF radios are not always required on boats, you should choose to have one as a safe and responsible mariner.

Q: Do you need a license for a VHF marine radio?
A:

In the United Kingdom and Ireland, you will need a Short Range Certificate to use a VHF marine radio. This is fairly easy to obtain by undertaking a two-day course and passing the required exam. If you plan to venture into larger bodies of water (other than lakes and coasts) and require different frequencies, then you will need a Long Range Certificate. The same rule applies to some European countries.

Q: When operating a VHF marine radio, when should the term mayday be used?
A:

The Mayday signal should only ever be used in serious situations of danger to people or other watercraft, man overboard, fires, etc. The purpose of this distress call is to inform surrounding vessels and harbors or coats that you require immediate assistance.

Q: Which VHF channels can I use?
A:

The channels you can use depend on your location in the world and the channels that the VHF marine radio you have purchased supports. Youll be taught about these in the course you must take for your VHF marine radio license.

Our Verdict

All in all, a handheld VHF marine radio is a pretty essential piece of kit for any mariner. While some countries don’t have it as a requirement, it’s always best to have one to hand.

Handheld VHF marine radios help you to stay in touch with services, communicate with other boats, and alert others in case of an emergency. In addition to this many modern models have extra features such as waterproof capabilities, GPS, and navigation systems.

We’ve seen than the prices of different handheld VHF marine radios vary due to brands and also features they may include. Extra models with features like “Float’n Flash” or “AquaQuake” will generally cost a little more.

With all this in mind, our top reviews and the buying guide should hopefully have left you a lot more confident in purchasing your new radio!