Out To Sea: The Best Handheld Marine VHF Radios of 2019

Nothing compares to the serenity that one can feel in the great open seas; the further you get the calmer it’ll be. It’s also common knowledge that at some point you won’t have any signal on your cell phone since you’ll be far from the nearest cell tower, so how can you contact someone if there’s an emergency?

Introducing the Marine VHF Radios, you can use these devices to get in touch with nearby ships or even talk to the Coast Guard in case you need them. As you can imagine, there are handheld and base models however, the former option will be detailed here.


Definition of a Handheld VHF Radio

First of all, VHF is an acronym for Very High Frequency and that’s perfectly logical since these radios operate between 156 and 174 MHz. Secondly, Handheld is exactly what it sounds like, you hold these devices by hand and operate them with a push of a button.

The VHF Radios are the best choice for marine travel since they offer an amazing range for communication. Whether you’re on your private boat, on a large cruise ship, or even an international trading vessel, you can use the radio to communicate with the Coast Guard in a far away harbor or notify the right personnel of your arrival to a dock.

Keep in mind that, similar to any long-range two-way radio, your transmission will be affected by any type of obstruction. Now this isn’t exactly a problem in the open sea but an interfering signal can be an issue.


Sailing Locations

It goes without saying that you should buy the device that suits you best and your sailing itinerary plays a huge role in that decision. If your trips are usually close to the coast then a short range and low power radio should be enough. Naturally, if you plan on going deep into the ocean then you’ll need a more powerful model that can ensure a clear transmission.


Do You Need a License for a Marine VHF Radio?

Generally speaking, you don’t need any license if it’s for personal use on a privately owned boat. However, this is not the case for international cruise ships or trading vessels.

It’s important to mention that you will need a Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) if your device has a DSC feature. This will be your personal identification number through which the Coast Guard or other official personnel can use to get in touch with you.


Charging Your Handheld Marine VHF Radio

The vast majority of today’s models are compatible with rechargeable batteries. This means that you should purchase a Charger since you never know when you might need it. That way, you can place the batteries inside it and plug it into the ship’s grid.


Important Features in a Handheld Marine VHF Radio

Apart from the usual features that should be included in a radio, there are some necessary “aquatic” properties that you should look for as well.



It should be obvious why this feature in particular is on the top of the list. You’re completely surrounded by water and the first thing that should be on your mind is the safety of your device. Look for a radio with a waterproof rating equal or superior to IPX7.


Imagine dropping your radio and it’ll be gone forever. Well that shouldn’t be the case if it’s buoyant but on the contrary, it’ll directly float to the surface and since it’s waterproof as well, you’ll just pick it up and continue using it as if nothing happened.

Battery and Power

In most cases, the bigger the device, the more power it has. In other words, the batteries tend to last longer on a single charge. However, you should keep in mind that a larger size means less buoyancy.


The key here is to search for a model that allows you to modify the wattage as per your needs. This will reduce power consumption when you’re communicating over a short range and at the same time it’ll allow you to increase the device’ smaximum range when required.

Background Noise Cancellation

Anyone would look for this feature if they’re buying a CB Radio for their car so why would things be any different here? The waves, the rain, or even the engine can bother you while you’re talking on the radio. A noise cancellation feature will eliminate any type of background interference allowing you to converse clearly.

Scanning Options

Who would want to tap into one single channel? Obviously a minority since most radios are now equipped with Dual Watch, Tri Watch, or even Quad Watch. These features allow you to monitor 2, 3, and even 4 channels, respectively.

Weather Channels and Alerts

A sudden change in weather can be lethal when you’re at sea which is why it’s really important to have NOAA alerts on your radio. Other local weather notifications can come from what is known as SAME alerts.

Built-in GPS

If you radio has this feature then you can use it to locate yourself on the map and discover your coordinates. That’s not all, the GPS can keep track of all your whereabouts which can be really useful if you’re going diving for example.

Digital Selective Calling

Commonly referred to as DSC, you can find this functionality in almost all base models and in a majority of handheld VHF radios. Usually, DSC sends an SOS signal to the Coast Guard if there’s an emergency. If your device is also equipped with a GPS then they will be able to locate you once they receive a distress call.


Two-Way Signal Reviews the Best Handheld Marine VHF Radios

Now that you’ve acquainted yourself with all the necessary information, it’s time to discover the top-selling models on Amazon.


Uniden MHS126 Handheld VHF Marine Radio

You can’t say radio without saying Uniden, the MHS126 is equipped with all the essential features along with additional utilities that can definitely come in handy.

Pros of the Uniden MHS126

  • International Reach: you will be able to communicate on US, Canadian, and even international channels.
  • Waterproof: this device can be completely submerged under water and will still function normally when taken out.
  • Perfectly Buoyant: if dropped in the water, it will float directly to the surface so you could pick it up.
  • Dual/Tri Watch: keep tabs on 2 or even 3 channels at the same time.
  • Weather Channels and Alerts: monitor NOAA channels whenever you want but rest assured that the radio will notify you if there’s a sudden change in the weather.
  • Perfect for Emergencies: in case something bad happens, you can instantly access channels 9 and 16. That’s not all, the device is equipped with a strobe light so that rescuers can easily find you.

Cons of the Uniden MHS126

The main issue facing users who bought this product is the batteries. They may last up to a year, however it’s not that simple to find the exact ones that fit this model.

Uniden Atlantis 295 VHF Marine Radio

Another awesome product from Uniden, the Atlantis 295 is simply amazing in every aspect. It has all the features that you might be looking for and it looks really cool at the same time.

Pros of the Uniden Atlantis 295

  • Substantial Power: the batteries could last up to 10 hours on a single charge and you can press the power boost key in case you require additional range.
  • Backlit LCD Screen: the radio is equipped with a large screen on which you can read all the information fairly easily.
  • Buoyant: you won’t have to worry if you drop this device, it will float on the surface where you can easily spot it.
  • Dual Band: monitor 2 channels at the same time.
  • Camouflage Design: you will surely appreciate the cool design on this radio.

Cons of the Uniden Atlantis 295

Similar to the previous item, some battery issues were reported which affected the power as well as the performance of this model.

Standard Horizon HX300 Handheld VHF Marine Radio

Another big name in the industry, Standard Horizon has created an all-inclusive device. The HX300 is perfectly priced to suit both beginners and advanced users.

Pros of the Standard Horizon HX300

  • Multiple Power Settings: alternate between 1 Watt and 5 Watts whenever you want to save power or extend the range.
  • Small and Lightweight: you can easily carry this radio around due to its reduced weight and compact size.
  • Perfectly Buoyant: if dropped in the water, it will float directly to the surface so you could pick it up.
  • Dual/Tri Watch: keep tabs on 2 or even 3 channels at the same time.
  • Charging Options: of course you can change the batteries whenever you need however, you can plug this device in using the USB cord.

Cons of the Standard Horizon HX300

This model lacks some advanced features such as speaker phone or even DSC.

Standard Horizon HX870 Handheld VHF Radio

The same brand that gave you the previous product also created the HX870. A powerful device fitted with all the features you need while out to sea.

Pros of the Standard Horizon HX870

  • Powerful Model: this radio can operate at 6 Watts and contains a 1800 mAh Li-Ion battery.
  • Quick Charging: you can fully charge the battery in just 3 hours.
  • Floats if Dropped: it goes without saying that devices such as this one are buoyant.
  • IPX8 Waterproof Rating: it can be submerged at a depth of a meter and a half for half an hour without suffering any damage.
  • DSC: includes Digital Selective Calling which is really useful in case of emergencies.
  • Noise Reduction: you will love the noise-cancelling function whether you’re sending or receiving messages.

Cons of the Standard Horizon HX870

Some charging issues were reported but more importantly, other customers found the fact that this radio is pre programmed really frustrating.

ICOM M36 VHF Marine Radio

One of the top-selling products in its category, the M36 packs numerous advanced features that will make you love this radio.

Pros of the ICOM M36

  • Waterproof: rated IPX7 which means it can sustain being at a depth of 1 meter for up to 30 minutes.
  • Battery Life Indicator: it’s a four-step indicator that updates you on your battery status.
  • Weather Channel and Alerts: you will always be notified if there’s a storm heading your way.
  • 2-step Power Saver: modify these settings to keep using the radio for an extended period of time.
  • Dual or Tri Watch Function: monitor 2 or 3 channels at the same time.
  • Background Noise Cancellation: you will be able to send and receive audio clearly thanks to this feature.

Cons of the ICOM M36

The only negative thing that could be said about this product is that it’s more expensive than the others. However, you will definitely enjoy it if you can afford it.

ICOM IC-M93D Marine VHF Handheld Radio

A second product from ICOM, the IC-M93D is more expensive than the previous item on this list but rightfully so.

Pros of the ICOM IC-M93D

  • Perfectly Waterproof: you won’t have to worry about any water damage with this radio.
  • Floats When Dropped: as you could expect, it’s also buoyant.
  • Dual or Tri Watch Function: monitor 2 or 3 channels at the same time.
  • Built-in GPS: use this feature to locate yourself and monitor your course.
  • DSC: includes Digital Selective Calling which is really useful in case of emergencies.
  • Warranty: this product is ensured for 3 years after purchase.

Cons of the ICOM IC-M93D

With a price tag exceeding 230$, it’s one of the most expensive models out there.


Notice: TwoWaySignal.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Leave a Comment