Handheld VHF Marine RadioBoating is one of the most leisurely and enjoyable hobbies to have, but it’s also something that requires you to be incredibly safe and prepared for all potential situations.

Whether it’s having the right inflatable life jackets for an emergency situation or portable fuel tanks to ensure that you’re never stranded in the water, preparation is the key to enjoying this wonderful hobby. However, communication is often one of the most overlooked things about boating and it’s vital that you consider how you can communicate with people on land in the event of an emergency. This is where a very-high-frequency (VHF) radio can come in handy.

If you’re out on the water then one of the most important devices to carry with you is a handheld VHF marine radio. The purpose of this device is to ensure that if you are to experience an emergency, you’ll be able to contact any local harbours or marinas to request a rescue service or even make use of ship-to-ship communications. This is for your own safety but also the safety of other boats out on the water. However, picking the right handheld VHF radio can be difficult and there are plenty of people out there that still haven’t fully understood the importance of a handheld VHF marine radio and why it helps them.

What’s the purpose of a handheld VHF marine radio?

The primary purpose is to allow you to communicate with coastguards, harbours, marinas and even other boats or ships should there be some kind of emergency out in the water. For instance, if you’re stranded in the water and have run out of fuel or are experiencing engine faults and are unable to move your boat, then using handheld VHF radios can help you get in touch with the coastguard or a local marina to help you refuel out on the water. Another potential use case is if you or one of your passengers is suffering from a medical condition and needs immediate medical attention. By contacting the coastguard, they’ll be able to respond quickly by requesting an ambulance boat or something similar.

Are there different types of VHF radio?

There are two main types of VHF radio. There are handheld types which can be carried around as a portable device much like a bulky mobile phone and there are fixed panel radios that are mounted on your boat. Unless you have a relatively large boat, then a handheld VHF marine radio is often the go-to choice because they are far more space-efficient, have long battery life and can even float on water thanks to the buoyancy. Handhelds are very straightforward to use but they do require a certificate of proficiency in order to use it. This certificate is awarded at the end of courses which are offered by local coast guards.

Considerations when purchasing a handheld VHF marine radio

Purchasing the right handheld VHF marine radio is important to get the most out of it, so here are a couple of the most important considerations to keep in mind.

  • What features does it have? Every radio comes with a variety of different features. Although the main purpose of the radio is so that you can contact the coast guard or other ships, there are a number of extra settings that can make your handheld VHF easier to operate. When purchasing a radio, it’s vital that you consider the features of each model so that you can focus on what’s important for your personal needs.
  • Is the VHF marine radio waterproof? There are actually different levels of waterproofing and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. For instance, a submersible rating (IPX7) means that the radio can be thrown into the water and still work correctly. On the other hand, IPX4 ratings mean that water can splash on it, but if it was to be submerged it will most likely fail. Higher levels of waterproofing will cost more, but this offers you far more reliability and is recommended for anyone who uses their boat on a regular basis.
  • Is the marine radio buoyant? People often underestimate just how important it is to have a buoyant radio especially if it’s being used in an emergency situation. There’s a chance that you may knock the radio into the water during a panic or you may need to take the radio with you and use it while in an inflatable life jacket on the water. Losing your handset can be disastrous especially when you need it the most in an emergency situation, so consider buoyancy as a must-have feature for a handheld VHF radio that will be used for emergency situations.
  • How much power can the radio utilize? Power is actually an important consideration for a handheld radio because it directly affects the quality of the signal strength. More power out means more power received which can mean shorter battery life. When using your radio, make sure to work your way up the power ratings if you’re unable to get a clear signal. Having the option of utilizing more power is a great feature, but perhaps not the most important if you don’t plan on going too far out into the water.
  • What’s the battery life like on the radio? The last thing you want is to run out of battery when you need the radio the most. Thankfully, most modern handheld VHF radios come with surprisingly long battery life, meaning that you’re typically not going to be worried about having too little. However, what is important is how you can replace the battery should an emergency occur. Does the radio come with a spare battery that can be charged separately? Can it take conventional batteries? Will you have a way on your boat to charge it? These are the types of features to look for when it comes to the battery itself. In addition, it’s essential that you’re able to keep your radio turned on for the full duration you’re out at sea so that you can tune into the distress frequency in the event someone else is experiencing and emergency.
  • Have you obtained your certification? Although you’re able to own a handheld VHF marine radio without any trouble, actually using it requires that you have a certificate awarded by your coast guard. If you’ve yet to obtain your certification, then it’s best to do it before you purchase a marine radio so that you understand how to use it and that you’re officially certified to do so.
  • Does it come with noise cancelling technology? There’s no denying that boats can get quite loud especially if you’re exposed to the engine. As a result, you may want to consider noise cancelling technology on your radio so that the person on the other end can hear you clearly.
  • What accessories does it come with? Lastly, consider the types of accessories that you have available to you. Most handheld VHF radios come with a charger, spare battery, antenna and some sort of clip to keep it close to your boy at all times. However, you may want to consider other accessories such as a speaker microphone, a case to keep it safe from damage or even a headset for clarity and ease of use without needing to physically hold the phone.


A marine radio is one of the most important components of any safe trip out to sea, so hopefully, this list of considerations has helped you pick from the vast selection of different handheld VHF marine radios available on the market.