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Best Marine VHF Radio – Reliable Communication Saves Lives

  • Updated: November 16, 2019
Best Marine VHF Radio

On the sea, river or the lake, reliable communication is a basic safety MUST! Choosing the best marine VHF radio could save your life!

Read next:Check out our review of the best marine speakers, and fuel stabilizer for boats.

Please note: This article contains affiliate links. If you buy something through the links on this page you won't pay a penny, but we'll get a small commission.

Best Marine VHF Radio - (Comparison Table)

Best Overall
Standard Horizon HX870 Floating 6W Handheld VHF with Internal GPS
BaoFeng BF-F8HP (UV-5R 3rd Gen) 8-Watt Dual Band Two-Way Radio (136-174MHz VHF & 400-520MHz UHF) Includes Full Kit with Large Battery
Cobra MRHH350FLT Floating VHF Long Range Marine Radio, Tri-Watch, Burp Feature
Uniden UM380 25 Watt Fixed Mount Marine VHF Radio, Class D, DSC, Waterproof Level IPX4/JIS4, S,A,M,E, Emergency/ NOAA Weather Alert  (New replacement model, Replaced by Uniden UM385BK)
Best Budget
Uniden MHS126 Handheld Submersible 2-Way 6W VHF Marine Radio. IPX8/JIS8 WaterProof, Floats for Easy Retrieval. All USA/International and Canadian Marine Channels. N.O.A.A. Weather Channels with Weather Alert.
Brand & Model
Standard Horizon HX870
BaoFeng BF-F8HP
Cobra MRHH350FLT Floating VHF Radio
Uniden UM380 Fixed Mount Class D
Uniden MHS126 Handheld VHF Marine Radio
Type
Portable / Handheld Radio
Portable / Handheld
Portable / Handheld Radio
Fixed Mounted VHF
Portable / Handheld Radio
Has GPS
Yes
No
No
Yes
No
NOAA Weather
No
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
Waterproof Rating
IPX 8
IPX 8
IPX 8
IPX 4
IPX 8
Best Overall
Standard Horizon HX870 Floating 6W Handheld VHF with Internal GPS
Brand & Model
Standard Horizon HX870
Type
Portable / Handheld Radio
Has GPS
Yes
NOAA Weather
No
Waterproof Rating
IPX 8
BaoFeng BF-F8HP (UV-5R 3rd Gen) 8-Watt Dual Band Two-Way Radio (136-174MHz VHF & 400-520MHz UHF) Includes Full Kit with Large Battery
Brand & Model
BaoFeng BF-F8HP
Type
Portable / Handheld
Has GPS
No
NOAA Weather
No
Waterproof Rating
IPX 8
Cobra MRHH350FLT Floating VHF Long Range Marine Radio, Tri-Watch, Burp Feature
Brand & Model
Cobra MRHH350FLT Floating VHF Radio
Type
Portable / Handheld Radio
Has GPS
No
NOAA Weather
Yes
Waterproof Rating
IPX 8
Uniden UM380 25 Watt Fixed Mount Marine VHF Radio, Class D, DSC, Waterproof Level IPX4/JIS4, S,A,M,E, Emergency/ NOAA Weather Alert  (New replacement model, Replaced by Uniden UM385BK)
Brand & Model
Uniden UM380 Fixed Mount Class D
Type
Fixed Mounted VHF
Has GPS
Yes
NOAA Weather
Yes
Waterproof Rating
IPX 4
Best Budget
Uniden MHS126 Handheld Submersible 2-Way 6W VHF Marine Radio. IPX8/JIS8 WaterProof, Floats for Easy Retrieval. All USA/International and Canadian Marine Channels. N.O.A.A. Weather Channels with Weather Alert.
Brand & Model
Uniden MHS126 Handheld VHF Marine Radio
Type
Portable / Handheld Radio
Has GPS
No
NOAA Weather
Yes
Waterproof Rating
IPX 8

Top Marine VHF Radio

Best Marine VHF Radio Overall

Standard Horizon HX870

This is a great radio for the more experienced mariner. With a built in GPS, you can send an instant distress call with your vessel’s GPS location. This is a fantastic feature enabling you to push your level of experience with the safety of knowing help is not too far away.

This unit can float if dropped, not only that but it can continue to transmit it’s GPS signal even if submerged.

The HX870 is able to both send and receive GPS distress signals.

What we like

  • 66-channel WAAS GPS
  • Water resistant rating of IPX 8
  • Oversized Dot Matrix display makes it easy to read
  • Easy to operate in the case of an emergency.
  • Strobe light activated when the unit is in water, making it easy to find.

What we don't like

  • The GPS can be slightly flaky
  • Some users have reported the speaker shorting out after a season.

Best Handheld Marine VHF Radio

BaoFeng BF-F8HP

BenFeng is a well known name in the marine world and has a long history with handheld radio’s

This is a fantastic transceiver for the mariner on the go or a beginner getting used to the water. With a rechargeable 24 hour battery, this radio will be on hand when needed.

The tough outer shell makes this unit very durable and won’t give up the ghost if accidentally dropped.

What we like

  • Built in flashlight, and FM radio
  • Long battery life
  • Very easy to use and beginner friendly

What we don't like

  • The antenna has average performance range

Best Entry Level Marine VHF Radio

Cobra MRHH350FLT Floating VHF Radio

This is a great starter VHF radio for anyone looking to communicate with fellow boaters, kayaker's or have a, "just in case", back up VHF radio.

The long battery life and water resistance means it can stay in water for up to 30 minutes whilst still being fully usable.

A bright and clear LCD display makes seeing this unit at night simple.

What we like

  • Good level of water resistance.
  • Capable of remaining afloat.
  • Compatible with USA, Canada and other international channels.
  • Monitors NOAA weather channels with instant access to channel 16

What we don't like

  • Batteries are expensive and proprietary

Best Fixed Mount VHF Radio

Uniden UM380 Fixed Mount Class D

This is a compact, yet powerful fixed mounted 25 watt VHF radio. It can send and receive on all USA, Canada, and international frequencies and has DSC capability. (Digital Select Calling) Allows someone with no experience to send a distress signal

What we like

  • Trippe channel monitoring, including NOAA weather alerts and channels
  • Easy to rad dot matrix screen

What we don't like

  • It can automatically start sending distress calls when on Channel 16 for a short period of time. Manual intervention is needed to stop it.

Best Budget Marine VHF Radio

Uniden MHS126

This is a lower priced unit that does not scrimp on features. It is constructed with a buoyant design and can emit a strobe light when immersed in water.

This unit can remain submerged in 5 feet of water for up to 30 minutes whilst still being fully functional. It has full access to all USA / Canada and other international frequencies.

A quick access button puts you onto channel 16 for emergency calls.

What we like

  • Large easy to read display
  • Variable power output, max 25 watts
  • Tripple channel watch
  • IPX 8 rating, with built in strobe and flashlight
  • NOAA weather notifications

What we don't like

  • Channel number become hard to read when changing
  • Some users report that a distress call can be sent accidentally

Buyer's Guide for Marine VHF Radio's

Having a radio on the water is a requirement for motorboats, yachts, and ships. However, a radio is sensible safety equipment for anyone out on the water. I have a radio on my person when kite surfing, windsurfing, and kayaking.

Fixed or Handheld Radio's

In most cases, the decision of whether to get a fixed or handheld radio is decided by the type of vessel you have. Smaller boats, kayaks, and dinghies which don’t have room for larger marine batteries, mean having a fixed VHF radio is impractical and a handheld radio is the only option.

Fixed VHF’s usually have greater power, range, and features.
These types of radio’s don’t have antenna built in, and require an external antenna to be fitted.

Multi Channels

Being able to monitor multi channels is a big plus and something to consider if you are planning long-distance trips. Weather channels, and channel 16 are some of the channels you should monitor on a regular basis.

Digital Selective Calling

Digital selective calling (DSC), is a feature that most modern fixed mounted radios have, and is a good safety feature.  It means that anyone, even with no radio experience, can send a distress call.  In some cases, handheld radios have this feature as well, so keep an eye open for this feature.

Once your radio has been set up correctly, you can use DSC to make instant distress calls at the press of a button. If you have a GPS system built into your radio or connected, your position is sent out along with your distress call.

In order to be able to use this function, you will need to have an MMSI number (Maritime Mobile Service Identity) This number is a unique identifier for your craft. Fixed mounted VHF radios are required to have an MMSI number, whereas portable radio’s don’t.

GPS

Having a GPS on board is extremely useful. Having a GPS built into your radio, especially for small crafts is a great space saver. If a GPS is connected to your radio your position can be sent out along with your distress call.

Some VHF radios have the facility to broadcast your position to other boats in the vicinity. This is especially useful when sailing in a flotilla.

Waterproof Rating

As most radios are mounted either in the cockpit or close to the hatchway, it’s very likely it will get wet If you have a handheld radio it’s even more likely. Having a decent IPX rating is imperative if you wish your radio to be fully functional after being hit by a few waves.

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Category: Boats

About the Author Brad Pickering-Dunn

Hey, I'm Brad - the founder and editor of Watercraft Watch. My love for boating is what prompted me to start WatercraftWatch.com – helping people find the right equipment and supplies so they can enjoy their time on the water. I hope you find the articles on the site useful, and share in my love for boating.

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