When you are on land, there are multiple ways of communicating with one another, but communication can be different when you are on the water. You should not depend on your usual mode of mobile communication when you are out kayaking. The best option you have, in such cases, is a very high frequency (VHF) radio.
The best VHF radio for kayaking helps in conversing with other vessels and boats navigating the water. A constantly monitored internationally-known channel called Channel 16 is relied on for guide and rescue communication. You will have to use a VHF radio to communicate with other boaters.
But, how to choose the right VHF radio out of so many available options? You have nothing to worry about because we’ve got you covered on all that you need to know about VHF radios.
Here’s the list of the top ten VHF radios highly recommended on kayaking adventures. Here you’ll find all the features, along with the pros and cons of each product, to help you choose the right radio.
- Best VHF Radio for Kayaking Reviews
- 1. Uniden MHS75 Handheld VHF Marine Radio
- 2. Standard Horizon HX300 VHF Marine Radio
- 3. Cobra MR HH350 FLT Handheld VHF Radio
- 4. ICOM IC M93D Marine VHF Radio
- 5. Standard Horizon HX870 Floating VHF Radio
- 6. ICOM IC M25 Handheld VHF Radio
- 7. Standard Horizon HX40 Handheld Marine Radio
- 8. Retevis RT55 Floating Handheld Marine VHF Radio
- 9. Standard Horizon HX210 Marine Handheld VHF
- 10. Uniden Atlantis 155 VHF Marine Radio
- What to Look for When Buying a VHF Radio for Kayaking
- Other Important Factors to Consider
- Frequently Asked Questions
Best VHF Radio for Kayaking Reviews
1. Uniden MHS75 Handheld VHF Marine Radio
First up on this list is this durable and affordable handheld radio from Uniden. It comes with an amazing twelve hours of battery life, which promises a whole day of use on the river. If the device still runs out of power, you can plug its quick charging unit to any 12V DC outlet. For instance, users can plug it to a cigarette lighter, and it will work just fine.
The radio is also JIS8-rated and submersible. It will float on water and is completely waterproof. I have taken quite a few tumbles in my kayak, but this waterproof radio for kayaking still functioned well.
It is a dual-way VHF radio that comes with a handy triple-watch feature. So, you get to monitor three emergency channels and different other channels after every two seconds. Such a feature comes in handy in hazardous weather conditions.
One of the things that I love about the unit is that it has all the Canadian and the US channels pre-programmed. I could use it straight off the box, without the need to fine-tune the channels. To top it off, you get a three-year limited warranty to assure you about the product quality.
2. Standard Horizon HX300 VHF Marine Radio
Going by the consistency the Horizon brand has in delivering quality, this model can be your potential partner on a kayaking trip with friends. In truth, the Hx300 is a cost-effective product that doesn’t compromise on performance.
All the information we need to see will appear on a clear LCD screen. The backlit keypad shows up the buttons clearly during nights. Overall, everything is easy to use and intuitive.
Furthermore, it comes with a lithium-ion battery that lasts for ten hours of usage on one charge. Thus, you can take this with you on those long trips down the water. It is also rechargeable, which means you will not have to bear the running costs to enjoy the quality performance of lithium-ion batteries. Also, we take advantage of the USB charger coming with the package.
This one is designed to be waterproof and submersible, hence suitable for trips on the river. As it is with the best marine radio for kayakers, you will have multiple international and North American channels pre-programmed on the device.
Moreover, it comes with three years of limited guarantee. I think it packs in enough features given its price point. Such a functional device deserves to be one of the top contenders for budget VHF radios.
3. Cobra MR HH350 FLT Handheld VHF Radio
The next product that promises affordability and compactness is the Cobra Handheld VHF Radio. It’s a perfect go-to marine radio for someone on a tight budget. It is the ideal choice for kayak, given its intuitive floating design and excellent battery backup. If you are looking for a compact design without splurging too much, go for MR HH350 FLT.
What I like about this product is its submersible technology. It remains well-functioned after thirty minutes in the water (around one-meter deep inside). When bringing the product along, you should not worry about its internal and external protection. That is because the manufacturer incorporated a sturdy case to protect it if and when dropped overboard.
Another excellent feature added on this kayaking device is the spring-loaded belt clip, making it convenient and safe to wear. Moreover, it also comes with an external microphone jack for lapel mic, and a bright screen for essential information display. Alongside this, it also shows the weather alert sign to keep users updated with weather conditions.
This cobra floating VHF radio works with Canadian, USA, & International channels. It is worth mentioning that an adjustable output powers the device. For both short and long communication range, the product has good benefits as it features 1, 3, and 6 Watts. Being closer to the shore would require selecting the 1 Watt output option. In that way, you get to conserve battery.
The ALL NOAA channels alongside weather alerts increase your safety. It can monitor a maximum of three channels. And in case of an emergency, it offers instant access to Channel 16. It blocks the background noises perfectly and supports a long-lasting 1040 mAH Lithium-Ion battery.
4. ICOM IC M93D Marine VHF Radio
Another deserving spot in this top-selected product list is the ICOM IC M938. Most users claimed that their experience with the radio while kayaking was incredible.
If comfort and slim design are what you seek, it is best to opt for IC M938. Thus, calling it the slimmest floating handheld radio is not an overstatement. Its user interface is intuitive and easy to use. Besides, the device comes with software keys alongside a 4-way directional keypad. It serves an excellent emergency service when you don’t get time to read the manuals.
You are going to love its built-in Class D DSC that comes with another dedicated channel monitoring Channel 70. Kayakers can easily send an automated distress message to the coast guard. For this purpose, simply press and hold the DISTRESS button (the one in red) embedded on the rear panel. To make the features work fine, you only need to go for a registration process to get the MMSI phone number.
It is one of the sought-after waterproof radios for kayaks due to its amazing active noise canceling feature. Users still make clear communication even amidst a rowdy maritime environment. It provides the exact location through the Integrated GNSS receiver.
5. Standard Horizon HX870 Floating VHF Radio
Reliability is a major concern when in the waters, that is why the Standard Horizon HX870 becomes a solid choice for kayakers. I think Standard Horizon’s HX870 is where you should land on if you wish to get hold of premium upgraded features.
We can never go wrong with this device since it works best with all International and US marine radio channels. During setup, you get all three group settings available – US, Canadian, and International. Due to its smooth operation while submerged, numerous buyers consider it as the best waterproof VHF radio kayak they have used.
Proper registration for the MMSI phone number is a must in case you want the DSC signal to transmit the coordinates. Also, its battery life is incredible, so are its emergency features. What I like about its battery is it packs in an 1800 mAh Lithium-Ion battery. Moreover, there is an alkaline tray taking 5 AAA type batteries included in its box. The tray protects the batteries from weather conditions and daily wear and tear.
My favorite features that deserve mention are the full-dot matrix display and noise-canceling capabilities for greater clarity.
6. ICOM IC M25 Handheld VHF Radio
The next VHF radio in my list is another amazing marine radio from ICOM– the IC M25 Radio.
Design-wise, the manufacturers have strummed the right chord. In detail, its large backlit LCD display offers all specific information about the channels and frequencies for a safe kayaking trip.
The micro-B type USB connector works just fine with the device. Why I recommend this product is because the radio can be changed via cigarette lighter cable and mobile battery too. It weighs around 7.76-ounce and comes with a new benchmark of a 1 3/16″ slim body.
Apart from that, this well-made waterproof FM radio for kayak gains numerous compliments from users for its amazing capability of operating underwater. I like its AquaQuake™ draining feature, which emits buzzing noise once the water enters the speaker’s grill by automatically shedding the water from its speaker. Furthermore, it has 11 hours of battery support, so I don’t need to worry about charging.
Its ‘float ‘n flash’ feature lets you know where the device is via its red light & key backlight. Going by its large LCD, it shows the channel number and status icons. It features the four-step battery life indicator too that alerts you right on time about charging the device.
7. Standard Horizon HX40 Handheld Marine Radio
Standard Horizon has kept its notions high by delivering such a quality device. If you are in the market in search of a compact design and a reliable battery capacity, look no further than this SH radio. The device can offer you an intriguing marine experience.
This compact design can be the best handheld VHF radio for kayak that affords ease in carrying and traveling. For anyone wanting a device to tuck in their small PFD pocket, this product can be a worthwhile purchase. Just make sure that you attach it with the lanyard.
The backlit display features perfect brightness, not too illuminated or too shabby. It also comes packed in with an easy to operate menu system that allows access to setup functions of the device. Going by the preferences of users, it gets easily customized.
I really like the fact that this device comes with three years of waterproof warranty. It receives NOAA weather alerts and channels to ensure your safety from weather hazards during your kayaking trips.
8. Retevis RT55 Floating Handheld Marine VHF Radio
Retevis does an incredible job with its RT55 walkie talkie. The best thing that I like about this marine waterproof radio is its ergonomic design. The device has a headphone jack that allows you to connect your headphones in case the channels aren’t clear and you need better clarity in sound. The device is dust-proof and waterproof as well, which ensures that the radio will not break down too easily.
It is submersible up to a meter in the water for a maximum of 30 minutes. In truth, the RT55 doesn’t get eroded easily by the seawater. Due to its amazing performance, we can use it for a multitude of sea activities.
Furthermore, it floats in the saltwater and freshwater, given its 280g light volume feature. This marine vhf radio also supports vibration water draining features. It monitors Canada, USA, and International channels and has ten pre-programmed NOAA weather channels. It offers a great backlight function for customers like me who like kayaking during nighttime.
9. Standard Horizon HX210 Marine Handheld VHF
This handheld VHF radio comes with quite a few features that I love. The ergonomic and compact design of this model is perfect for a handheld VHF radio. I like that the radio has an emergency strobe light that gets water activated, and a clear dot matrix LCD display for hassle-free operation. Moreover, the function keys are programmable and the menu is easy to use.
Above all, the manufacturer offers a three-year waterproof warranty on the radio. With a waterproof rating of IPX7, your radio is safe at 3.3 feet for thirty minutes. The in-built FM broadcast band is a nice touch, too.
Also, first-time owners will face no difficulty using Canadian, International, and American channels since they are already pre-programmed on the device.
The output power settings can be altered between one, two, and six watts, which helps in long and short-range communication. The device comes with an 1850 mAh lithium ion battery and a rapid charger, which means you will never be left stranded because of a dead battery.
10. Uniden Atlantis 155 VHF Marine Radio
The final entry is a waterproof radio by Uniden that packs multiple handy features in its small design.
It has one of the largest LCD screens that is 25 mm x 40 mm in diameter. Moreover, there is a red backlit display for night and white backlit display for the day. I think the backlit displays are a nice addition for people like me, who spend long hours at their kayaks at night.
It comes with JIS8 and IPX8 ratings, which means its waterproof standards are pretty amazing. In fact, this VHF radio can clear the speakers of water after getting submerged, which is a really cool feature to have.
As expected, users can find numerous marine channels using this device. This includes not only the international, Canadian, and American VHF channels, but also the latest four-digit channels and those B channels of Canada. It also receives NOAA weather alerts to ensure your safety from weather hazards.
The DC charging cable and 950 mAh rechargeable batteries are included in the package so that users don’t need to rely on external chargers and batteries. It also has three-year limited warranty and three-year full waterproof warranty.
What to Look for When Buying a VHF Radio for Kayaking
There are a couple of factors that you need to consider when buying a kayak VHF radio. Here is a detailed discussion on those five factors.
You should go for the VHF radios that say submersible and waterproof because these can get completely immersed in the water, and still come out intact.
Most of the quality VHF radios in the market are IPX8 and IPX7 rated, which means they are certified in having the ability to float. Some radios even come with an emergency light that blinks when the product comes in contact with water. This makes it easier for you to find the radio if it falls in the water.
When you are at the sea for long hours, battery life of the VHF radio is something that you have to consider. The earlier models of handheld radios came with NiCad batteries that do not take a complete charge if they are not discharged after each use. However, new models do not have these issues as most of them use the lithium ion batteries.
A fully-charged lithium ion battery allows you to use the radio for a full day at sea. Most good radios have a battery life of ten to twelve hours, which is sufficient. The charger and charging cable usually come with the package, so don’t forget to carry those with you.
If you are buying a VHF radio that comes with a warranty of at least three years, you can be assured that it’s of good quality. A brand will not offer that kind of warranty without enough confidence in their product.
Moreover, you need a radio whose buttons are easy to use. It should be able to work fine even after those occasional dips in the waters because a few of such incidents are bound to occur when you are in the whitewater or lakes on your kayaking trips.
Regardless of whether you kayak in a lake or a whitewater, a VHF radio is usually able to get the alerts that are sent out by the international and national coast guards and weather centers.
This is a highly useful feature in the face of incoming storms. It gives you the much-needed heads-up to let you have enough time to come back to the shore and make any distress calls that you might need.
Active noise cancellation
If you are going to operate in loud environments like a motor cruiser or something similar, you should invest in a radio that has an active noise cancellation feature.
Many of the latest radios come with this advanced feature that can digitally remove background noise to clearly transmit your voice. This feature improves the incoming signals, and thus, increases voice quality.
I can understand that you have a budget to invest in your new handheld VHF radio. Affordability of the product is certainly an important factor to consider, but the features should not be sacrificed for that reason. You can notice that some of the models that came with the lowest price tags were seriously lacking in terms of features.
Other Important Factors to Consider
Here are a couple of other important factors that you need to know about VHF marine radios.
What is the best VHF radio for kayaking? Who this is for?
The first thing you need to consider while buying a VHF radio is why you need the device. If you are a sea kayaker, or a jet skier or a dinghy sailor, then space will be a major issue. You will need a buoyant and submersible handheld radio with a long battery life to last all day for your long kayaking sessions.
The handheld radio has to be easy to use under duress with straightforward shortcuts. It helps to have a radio that comes with an intuitive UI and is simple to operate. Excellent battery life and a bright and big screen are the two features of the best VHF radio for kayak fishing. It also helps to have the American, Canadian, and international channels pre-programmed on the radio.
The DSC handheld VHF radio is also a good idea. It will let you contact a craft that is similarly equipped as through an MMSI number or send an emergency signal using your location and identity by just pressing a button.
The ones using a cruiser, and venturing far out in the sea, should use a fixed radio to get the extra range that is needed. Even a yacht or a big motorboat sailing offshore needs a greater range, and a fixed mounted radio is the way to go in that case. If you have a larger vessel, go for dual station controls having remote handsets. All motorboats and yachts need to think about AIS, which should be used either as a class B transponder or a receiver only setup.
The problem with fixed radios is that they need proper installation. You need to connect these radios to a power source, GPS, and a VHF antenna. If space is a problem, then a black box can help you install a high-end VHF radio out of your sight, while still giving you the ability to control the setup using a portable handheld device.
Consider why you are buying the radio and the functionalities you need, and you will know the best option for you.
How does a VHF radio work?
When kayakers need a reliable mode of communication between them or to a base of operations, they rely on VHF (Very High Frequency) radios for that purpose. In the case of these radios, the nature of the radio waves is such that an unobstructed path gets created between two radios. These radios have to be within each other’s range for the radio waves to communicate, and this form of communication is called a line-of-sight (LOS) communication.
In terms of how VHF radios work, the main mode of transmission for these devices is through direct radio waves, also called LOS waves. These waves travel in straight lines, and get weaker with an increase in distance. Hence, the radios need to be within each other’s range for communication.
The receiving and transmitting antennas have to be able to sense each other for the communication to be completed, which makes the height of the antenna an important determinant of range. For instance, when the receiving antenna gets mounted at about eight meters, the total LOS distance increases to about 14 kilometers.
What are the different types of VHF radios for kayaking?
There are two main types of VHF radios available:
Handheld VHF radio: These are portable and small. These radios are well-suited for the small vessels that do not have their source of battery. Many kayakers also keep it as an emergency backup for their fixed radios. It can also be used as a personal device for crew and in tenders.
Panel-mount radios: These are fixed and permanent, and ideally used as the main radio. It offers more range compared to a handheld due to the extra power, which is usually around 25 W. It also has an external antenna to capture the signals more effectively.
A kayaker needs to carry a handheld VHF radio at all times. A handheld radio has two types. There are conventional handhelds that are only a radio, and there are DSC handhelds, which can transmit the GPS coordinates and help you in automating the entire process of sending out emergency signals.
DSC is a comparatively new technology in the country. These sets are more complicated, and they also tend to be more expensive. However, many kayakers invest in a DSC because it works faster than a conventional radio in times of distress.
Why do you need a handheld VHF radio for kayak?
You might wonder why we need a handheld VHF radio when we can use cell phones. Despite its excellent functions, in case of kayaking, your cell phones will not be of much use.
First off, the connectivity of your cell phones over water will not be as great as it is on the land. VHF radios will give you better coverage and have lesser shadow areas compared to cell phones. The service providers for cell phones will agree on this factor, too.
Secondly, your VHF radio will ensure your collective safety with both the shore stations and the other boats that are listening. With cell phones, you can only call one person to inform the party about your emergency. This is not the best approach to follow, when there is an emergency.
Thirdly, your cell phone does not have the battery life that a VHF radio can offer you. The phone will not survive, if you accidently drop it in the water. However, most high-quality VHF radios are made waterproof.
Lastly, you need a handheld radio for kayaking because you have very limited space on an average kayak. Only a handheld radio will fit in that place, and not a fixed-mount one.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the most trusted VHF radio for kayaking brands?
In my opinion, Standard Horizon, Uniden, ICOM, Cobra, and Retevis are the best in the market. However, there is no perfect product in the market. Even a highly popular handheld radio like Standard Horizon hx870 also has certain flaws. But these are good brands with reliable products that will get the job done as long as you maintain and use the radio correctly.
How do you use a VHF handheld radio?
You have to follow a couple of simple steps to use a VHF radio with GPS:
- Turn on the radio and adjust its squelch by tuning the knob till you stop hearing any static.
- Perform an automated radio check to make sure your device is working fine.
- Key in the microphone after turning the radio to one-watt on the power setting.
- Call out ‘radio check’ thrice, with the name and location of your boat. For instance, you might say ‘radio check, radio check, radio check. It is Big Man in the North Harbor Marina.’
- Wait for the reply that someone has received your radio transmission.
- Keep the channel set to 16, so that you can hear any emergency transmissions or calls from the US Coast Guard.
Using the VHF radio in case of an emergency:
- Tune your radio to channel 16 and turn on full power.
- Call ‘Mayday’ thrice with your kayak’s name if there is a threat to your life.
- Wait for the US Coast Guard to respond. Reply with the longitude and latitude of your vessels from the GPS, when that reply comes through.
- Call ‘pan pan’ when the situation is pretty bad, but there is no threat to your life.
How to care and maintain a VHF radio?
You need to take proper care of the VHF radio for it to last long. Here’s how I take care of my devices.
- Start by changing the batteries, if and when the need arises. Old batteries will corrode and leak the terminals inside the devices.
- Keep the ventilation areas clean and free from all obstructions, like debris or pocket lint.
- Make sure to carry a small holster or a carrying case to keep the radio from getting damaged if they are dropped.
- Your VHF radios are waterproof and submersible. But, that does not mean you keep dropping it in water carelessly. Store the radio in a dry place and avoid direct exposure to water, as much as you can.
- Take a soft, lint-free cloth to wipe down the VHF radio. Pay attention to the areas around the buttons because debris and dirt might accumulate there to impair the radio’s function.
Make sure to read the manual thoroughly before using the radio. You will find detailed information about the care and maintenance of the device.
Where to buy a VHF radio?
It depends on you where you want to buy your new VHF radio. You can get it from a store near you if it sells enough varieties of VHF radio to help you take a pick. You will get more options and product variety on Amazon than a store near you. Decide on where you want to buy your new radio.
What channels should I use for the VHF radio test?
It is good that you want to test your radio, before heading out, to know that it is effectively transmitting. Radio checks are super-easy in most areas. You will have to use the free radio check services available on the VHF channels 24 to 28. Do not ever radio check on channel 16, and remind other boaters about it, too.
There are multiple automated radio check channels operated by Sea Tow nowadays that you can use to know the quality of the transmissions. Tune in to these channels and ask for the radio check. When the response comes back, you will see the transmission strength and any whine or hum to be detected and solved immediately.
Do you need a license to operate a VHF radio?
A Federal Communications Commission (FCC) radio license is no longer required for the vessels traveling in the US waters that use radar, EPIRB, or a VHF marine radio.
However, a license is a must for any vessel that has to keep the marine radio or marine satellite terminals, such as an international voyage. In that case, FCC license forms, including radio licenses, will have to be downloaded from the official website. Users are advised to check out the official FCC website to know more.
Hopefully, it will now be easier for you to buy the best VHF radio for kayaking after going through the detailed buyer’s guide, product reviews, and more. The choice among the multiple options available in the market depends on your needs and budget. So, keep all the points mentioned above in mind, and choose wisely.