The Very High Frequency (VHF) radio (also known as a two-way marine radio) is the single most important communication device you need to buy and always have on you on your boat while kayaking.
A few miles offshore it might be the only way for you to communicate and send messages thus, you need it to be reliable and perform efficiently in case of an emergency.
Handheld VHF radios are great for smaller boats and kayaks especially when one plans on sticking close to shore. Most do not require an external antenna and are portable. The power on a handheld VHF will be limited to about 6 watts and approximately 5-mile distance (depending on weather conditions and line of sight).
Things To Consider When Choosing A Handheld VHF Radio
This list has been based on the best handheld VHF radios across a large price range in varying sizes and features sets. Many of the lowest cost models in the market are probably not worth your time but this is a careful selection that only includes the best buys and does not allow low cost make you get stuck with a low-performance device.
This means that you do not need the most expensive device for communication while paddling. Whatever your budget is, you will find something to your taste with great functionality and the best unit for your money.
A model with a 3-year warranty or better, one that has easy to use buttons and will work inside a waterproof case is what is recommended for your trips.
Some models of the handheld VHF radios are labeled as waterproof (but may only be able to withstand occasional splashing) while some others are labeled submersible. Though you are not likely to be using one while snorkeling but a handheld radio needs to be top-notch with its waterproof quality.
Most good quality VHF radios are IPX7 and IPX8 rated and can float. Some higher end radios will also blink emergency light so you can easily find it on the ocean surface.
Power decides how well the radio transmits at a great distance. A higher power rating means a higher range of reach for the radio. What you need is a handheld with a battery pack that can be swapped with AA batteries in the event you run out of power.
Most models come with Nicad batteries which do not take a full charge if not fully discharged every time you use them and some of the newer higher end models use lithium-ion cells which do not have this problem.
Whether you are kayaking in a whitewater or in a lake, the best VHF marine radios have the capability to receive alerts from the national and international weather centers and the coast guards. This is very useful in case of a storm, to receive forewarns to come ashore and to make distress calls if the need arises.
Other desirable features that makes a handheld VHF radio indispensable and best suitable for your kayaking adventures are:
- The presence of a GPS receiver
- Weather channels with weather alerts (National Weather Radios)
- Active noise canceling
- Large displays
List of Best Handheld VHF Radios For A Kayaker
Standard Horizon HX870 Floating 6W Handheld VHF with Internal GPS
Size: 9.5 x 3.5 x 7.5 inches
Weight: 2 pounds (shipping weight 2.4. Pounds)
Display: Large display
- 6/2/1 Watts of adjustable power
- Internal GPS with waypoint navigation
- Meets ITU-R M493-13 Class D DSC (Digital Selective Calling)
- Separate Receiver for CH70
- Noise-cancelling for both transmitting and receiving audio
- Integrated 66 Channel WAAS GPS Receiver
- Support for USB
- Strobe Function
It is an intuitive and easy to use device with an icon-based menu system but for some the bulky size seems to be an issue. Also, the device costs a bit for an high initial investment.
Uniden MHS75 Handheld Submersible 2-Way 5W VHF Marine Radio
This handheld radio is a compact sized water resistant/ submersible design that complies with JIS8/IPX8 water resistant standards. It can be submerged in 1.5 meter-depth in deep waters for over 30 minutes without damage. It also possesses an adjustable output power between 1, 2.5, 5.0 Watt Switchable Output Powers (which is a rare but very useful feature absent in lots of marine radios). It enables you to switch output power at anywhere and at any time.
It is dual way radio that has the Triple Watch feature. This means that a user can monitor three different channels and emergency channels every two-seconds. This is very useful at night when weather patterns are very unpredictable and dangerous.
Another characteristic of this radio is the Cast Aluminum housing with a depth of 2 x 4 inch and 1.5 inches.
Its battery is a 1040 mAH lithium-ion with a quick 4-hour charger with 12-hour battery life that can be connected to a cigar lighter or power port. It has battery level gauge; displays battery level indicators on your device so you can measure remaining power and take the device off the charger once it gets fully-charged to prevent overcharging.
Other features include:
- VHF Marine Frequencies
- Adjustable Squelch
- Battery/Power Saver
- Keypad Lock
- Key Beep
- Memory channel scan
Although it is fragile and needs to be handled carefully, the Uniden MHS75 Handheld VHF radio is a great choice if you are in search of a mid-cost quality radio that can be trusted.
Icom M36 01 Floating Handheld 6W Marine VHF Radio with Clear Voice Audio
The Icom M36 is weatherproof, waterproof, and it floats. This feature is important so you can easily retrieve the radio when it is dropped overboard. It is IPX7-rated which means it can stay in up to 1m water for up to 30 mins without damage. Its AquaQuake Water Draining Function removes water away from its speaker grill, another featured designed for rainy weather or if it falls in the water.
The ICOM M36 is complete with an automatic weather alert so that you stay informed about changes in weather even when you are miles off the coast. You can also set your favourite channels anytime with channel scanning for 59 US, 63 Canadian, and 59 international Marine channels available on the device. Just like the Uniden MHS75 handheld, it has the dual and Tri-Watch feature and the battery is a 980mAh lithium-Ion battery pack with rechargeable battery included. The battery lasts through 8 hours on a single charge.
This marine VHF radio operates via 10 push buttons. A push-to-talk switch is mounted on the side. You can select between various levels of RF power up to 6W.
The device comes with essential accessories like a wrist wrap, belt clip, and battery pack for convenient use and has a removable antenna which you can connect to a larger mounted radio to increase range.
- 6W RF Output (At 6W RF power, it surpasses the usual 5W)
- Clear Voice and Voice boost
- Noise Cancelling Microphone
- Easy-to-Operate Buttons
- Dual Watch & Scan
- High/Low Volume Control
- Battery Life Indicator
- Adjustable Squelch
- NOAA Weather Alert System with10 NOAA weather alerts
This radio is very loud and is attested to have an extra-long battery life thus, it is reliable and a great investment for safe paddling. On the flip side its range is not as long as expected and it has no car/boat charger.
Cobra MR HH350W FLT MR HH350 6 Watt Handheld VHF
The Cobra MRHH 350 FLT handheld VHF Radio is one of the best mid-priced radios currently in the market. It has great signal quality with high power output (choice selection between 1/3/6 watts).
The MRHH350 has all NOAA weather channels with weather alerts ensuring that you can track storms when you’re on the water. It also includes all of the core features like Noise-canceling microphone, JIS7/IPX7 rated Submersible (submersible to 3.3 ft. in the deep for 30 minutes), Tri-Watch, Memory Channels, Memory Scan and BURP (Burp feature ensures that it vibrates thereby helping to remove water from the speaker grill and reduce distortion).
It also floats with the orange inserts on the body making it easy to spot. The device also features an adjustable power of 6 Watt VHF (selectable between 1, 3 and 6 Watts for short and long range communication).
The ultra-compact body design and light weight of the Cobra 350 make it very easy to carry around and store on smaller vessels and kayaks and the compact size does not compromise its floating ability.
- Button Key Lock
- AA Battery Compatible
- Instant Channel 16/9 with triple-watch
- Battery is120v/12v with a charger Included
The illuminated function keys, reliable design, as well as a reasonable price, makes this a great value among portable VHF radios manufactured by a reputable manufacturer. Because of the long battery life of the device, Cobra MRHH 350 receives a lot of thumbs up from users.
Cobra MRHH125 3 Watt Waterproof VHF Radio
This handheld is for a kayaker working within a budget, therefore, it is very affordable. The features have been shown to keep it in the half budget of the affordable handheld radios. It is a rugged compact design and has all the necessary features for its price.
It is JIS4-certified meaning it is splash-proof but not submersible in water. Its radio VHF operates at either 1Watt or 3Watt Dual output power for short and long communication; this is really limited and is not suitable for someone who plans on going deep into the sea. It also features 3 scan modes which are:
Then there is the Keystroke Tone Signal that is used in confirming key activation;
a selectable feature which can be turned ON or OFF, its weather alert that blares with an audible tone with a visual alarm if threatening weather is nearby and the also selectable Roger Beep Tone a confirmation tone indicating the completion of the user’s transmission, and signals to others it is clear to talk.
- AAA Battery Compatible (5 x AAA batteries)
- 10 NOAA weather alerts
- Noise-cancelling microphone with controls
- Battery Charge Jack (allows charging of batteries in unit)
- Spring Loaded Belt Clip (Secures the radio while on the go. Easily locks in place)
- Wrist Strap
- 12V Power Cord
- 5 Rechargeable NIMH Batteries
- Illuminated Function Keys
- Button/Key Lock
The device battery takes a long time to charge but that is the only pull back on the device. For a kayaker, this handheld VHF radio is easy to use and handle especially for one not venturing too far out into the sea.
With this very detailed review for the best radios on the market, hope you find the most suitable one for your kayaking experience.