While on land, there are a multitude of ways to communicate with others, but once you are out on the water, communication becomes much more difficult. The US Coast Guard suggests that you do not rely on mobile communication when you are on the water but instead use a very high frequency (VHF) radio.
A VHF radio is used to converse with other boats and vessels navigating the water. Channel 16 is a constantly monitored international channel used for rescue and relief communications. Depending on where you are located, there are other channels used by boaters, and you will be able to correspond over a VHF radio with these other navigators.
Table of Contents
- Do You Need A License?
- What To Look For
- Be Sure You Know How To Use It – Radio Etiquette & When To Use It
- Final Word
Do You Need A License?
According to the FCC regulations in the United States, if you are a recreational boater like a kayaker, you do not need to obtain a ship station license to operate a VHF marine radio.
However, this is not the case in all countries. Many countries do require a VHF radio license, so be aware of regulations where you will be using your VHF radio. If you’re a kayaker in the UK, for example, you’ll need to get yourself a Ship Portable Radio license. You’ll be issued with a T-number allowing you to use your radio on your kayak or any other vessel.
It’s also a legal requirement that anyone operating a VHF radio is competent to do so. The sole exception is a case of outright emergency when anyone is entitled to make use of the radio for obvious reasons. The Royal Yachting Association issues certification.
What To Look For
When you set out to purchase a VHF radio, you will be inundated with a variety of choices and options. For example, you can select a VHF handheld radio or a VHF radio you can mount to a fixed surface. It can be difficult to know what options are important and which ones you can skip, so here’s some simple advice to help you choose the best fit.
Look for a radio with excellent battery life, because if you get stranded it might take some time for another boat to catch your signal and find you.
Because you will be using this VHF radio on a kayak, you should look for a handheld radio. These models might not have as much power as their larger counterparts, but they are more than fit for this purpose and very handy on a small vessel with limited space.
You want a radio that is as waterproof as possible. Most are splash-resistant, but some are submersible rated at IPX7. You can also find VHF marine radios that float, meaning if yours goes overboard, it won’t be lost forever.
Look for a radio with a strong antenna. A VHF radio works on a line of sight signal, so it will only be able to communicate with other radios it can “see” with its radio waves. The antenna might be a bit unwieldy, but your communications will travel farther.
Be Sure You Know How To Use It – Radio Etiquette & When To Use It
When using a VHF radio, there are certain rules regarding etiquette. You must speak in a certain way, announcing yourself before proceeding with your message
When calling another vessel, you must state their name as well as yours three times before continuing. VHF radio is no place for small talk. It’s there purely to relay important messages and call for help if needed.
Pay attention to other channels in your local area. If a guide agency uses a channel to communicate with their boats, stay off that channel so as not to confuse them. You also need to speak clearly and be polite at all times.
Now it’s time to help you track down the best VHF radio for kayaking with a look at some of the best units up for grabs.
1) ICOM IC-M93D VHF Handheld Marine Radio
Replacing the classic IC-M91D, the newest iteration from the hard-hitting ICOM is an upscale handheld VHF from a brand you can rely on. You’ll get GPS built in with this super-slim radio ideal for use on a kayak where there’s limited space. There’s an onboard DSC receiver that keeps a constant eye on CH70.
This radio is feature-rich but user-friendly so you won’t have any problems even if you’ve never used a radio before. From the red distress button at the back for emergency radio through to the draining function, this is an intelligently-designed radio that might not be cheap but delivers in fine style.
2) Standard Horizon HX870
The HX870 from Standard Horizon is an extremely affordable floating handheld marine radio perfect for those kayak trips down the river.You’ll get GPS and DSC built in as expected. The body is designed with buoyancy in mind and it’s solid enough to return many years of faithful service.
The lithium-ion battery gives you plenty of juice for a lengthy trip down the river and if you get caught out at night, the chassis glows in the dark. You’ll get an LED strobe that kicks out various signals including an SOS call. With space to save 200 waypoints and 20 routes, you’ll be all set for a busy summer on the water without breaking the bank.
3) Cobra MRHH500FLTBT Floating VHF Radio
Next up, we’ve got a floating marine VHF radio from the stellar Cobra. Stepping in to replace the enduring HH475, this HH500 model carries on the tradition with added functionality to boot. Bluetooth connectivity allows you to pair this device with your smartphone and take calls on the go.
If you need to play back any parts of the transmission, just hit Rewind-Say-Again and you can listen to the last 20 seconds. You can shake any water from the grille as with all the best marine radios. A noise-cancelling mic and a choice of outputs completes a neat and compact handheld radio ideal for kayakers from a brand you can trust.
Battery capacity is underwhelming, so be aware of this if you’re planning lengthier kayaking missions.
4) Uniden MHS75 Handheld VHF Marine Radio
If you’re looking for an affordable and durable handheld radio with an impressive 12 hours of battery life perfect for a full day on the river, the MHS75 from Uniden is well worth including on your shortlist. If you do run out of power, a quick-charging unit will connect to any 12-volt DC outlet like a cigarette lighter.
Submersible and JIS8-rated, this radio floats so you don’t need to worry about taking a tumble in your kayak. You can monitor the Coast Guard as you paddle across weather and distress channels. This unit comes with US and Canadian channels pre-programmed along with all major international channels so you’re good to go straight out the box.
A rock-solid three-year limited warranty gives you peace of mind if you’re still in any doubt about this budget-friendly radio tailor-made for kayaking.
5) Standard Horizon HX150
Another dependable radio from Standard Horizon is up next, the HX150. If you’re looking for a cheap VHF radio for kayaking that won’t stiff you in terms of performance, this cost-effective handheld is a must. You can see all the information you need on a crisp little LCD. The keypad is backlit for gloomy conditions and everything is intuitive and easy to navigate.
The lithium-ion battery serves up 10 hours of use on a single charge, so you should be set for even longer trips on the water. It’s rechargeable, so you’ll slash running costs while enjoying all the performance lithium-ion has to offer. A trickle charger is included.
JIS7/IPX7-rated, the HX150 is submersible and waterproof. As with all the best handheld radios for kayaking, you’ll get all major North American and international channels pre-programmed.
Guaranteed for three years, you really can’t ask for much more at this price point. The Standard Horizon HX150 is a strong contender for the best budget VHF radio for kayaking, so check one out today.
6) ICOM M3601 Floating Handheld Marine Radio
Rounding out our handheld kayaking radio reviews, this floating unit from ICOM is not the cheapest model at your disposal, but it’s well worth the investment. There’s a sub-mic that cancels out any ambient noise nicely while a LOUD button mutes audio output.
Waterproof and durable, this radio can withstand some pretty serious punishment and you’ll be covered for 3 years by the manufacturer in the event of anything going wrong.
The sole notable weakness is an 8-hour battery life. If you know you’ll be undertaking lengthier trips, you might want to reconsider and look at one of the other models we review.
If you’re looking for an economical but high-performing radio for all your kayaking needs, check out the ICOM M-36 at your earliest convenience.
We hope you’ve found these VHF radio reviews have been useful and helped you on your way to kitting out your kayak safely. Get in touch if you have any questions at all and we’ll help in any way we can.