Buying a VHF radio

A VHF marine radio is the single most important two-way communication device to have at sea. It costs less than a modern smartphone and has extra benefits.

But it pays to do your homework before you buy one.

Here are some important things to consider:

  • It must be a waterproof, marine VHF radio. Only VHF radios designed for the sea will withstand the marine environment.
  • Make sure it floats - if your boat capsizes, your life might depend on it.
  • Visit a specialist marine retailer to talk about the best VHF radio for your boating activity, but think about:
    • Ease of use - in an emergency, the time it takes to send a distress signal with your location and identity, can make a big difference to the outcome.
    • Display visibility - take the radio outside to check the display’s readability (a large display with minimum reflection or glare is best).
    • Power - a radio with more power (rated in watts) increases the chances of your radio’s signal being heard.
    • Battery - make sure it has a good battery life, noting that “transmission time” (when you’re talking) is shorter than “stand-by time”.
    • Audio - the more milliwatts (mW), the louder the volume, which is important when you consider wind, waves and engine noise. Check the sound quality by turning into the weather band.
    • GPS - a built-in GPS provides additional safety and navigational capabilities (not all VHF radios have GPS built in).
  • If your boat is big enough to have a fixed VHF radio, then seriously consider getting one as well as a handheld – they have a significantly longer range due to the increased aerial height.
  • Handheld VHF radios are ideal for kayaks, dinghies, and powerboats. They come with various clips, lanyards and bands for wearing on belts and lifejackets, or attaching to your wrist.
  • If possible, have a handheld radio on your person, or in a grab bag, and a fixed VHF radio on your boat.