What to Look for in a Handheld VHF Radio

What to Look for in a Handheld VHF Radio

Being able to communicate is essential, we all know that. But, when you are out on the water, having a way to communicate is necessary. So much so, it can mean the difference between life and death. While bringing your cell phone out with you when you are spending time on your boat is never a bad thing, it’s not something you want to rely on. Depending on where you are, you may not have a signal, and this is not a scenario you want to deal with during an emergency. Reliable communication is necessary, which is why every boater should have a handheld, marine VHF radio onboard. While having a fixed mount VHF is valuable, handheld VHF radios have their own set of benefits. Best part, you don’t have to rely on your boat being functional in order to use the handheld, where you would have issues using your fixed mount radio if your electrical system failed.
Handheld VHF Radio Features
Having a VHF radio on your boat is vital, and is a piece of equipment that all boaters should have with them when they are out on the water. However, before you go and pick one up, know what key handheld VHF radio features to look for.


Luckily, technology today seems to be getting smaller and lighter every month. However, with VHF radios you don’t want something too small. Otherwise, it will be clumsy. Look for one that’s an appropriate size for your hand. You want it to be comfortable to operate. On that token, look for a radio that won’t weigh you down; while smaller is not better, lighter is.

Multi-Channel Monitoring

Being able to be tuned to multiple channels is an excellent way to stay connected. Many devices offer Dual or Tri-Watch technology, which allows you to monitor two or three channels at the same time. Having instant access to channel 9 and 16 for emergencies is an invaluable feature.

Alkaline Battery Packs

Having the ability to use an alkaline battery pack in your VHF radio can be a life-saver. Disposable batteries are inexpensive and can be stored away for a long time. If you are ever in the situation where you are not able to recharge your lithium-ion battery, you will thank your lucky stars that your radio can run off an alkaline battery pack.


Having the ability to float will help save your investment if you ever need to abandon ship, or it accidentally falls overboard. You never know if this situation will happen to you, so be proactive and purchase one that features a floating design.


Be vigilant when investing in a handheld radio and get one that is waterproof, not weatherproof or water-resistant. This terminology can trick you if you are not looking carefully, but be aware of what the radio features. You want a radio that is completely waterproof, not weatherproof or water-resistant, which means the device will likely not work if it becomes submerged.

Noise Canceling Microphone

When you are out on the water, there is almost always wind. You don’t want your communications to sound garbled due to the prevailing wind, so make sure your marine VHF radio comes with a noise-canceling microphone.

Digital Selective Calling

If you have a Marine Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) number for your VHF radio, you may want to get one that offers the protection of digital selective calling (DSC). When you activate the DSC distress function, the built-in GPS will broadcast your information and coordinates. Looking to obtain a DSC number? You can obtain one through Boat U.S., Sea Tow, and the U.S. Power Squadrons.

Weather Alerts

Weather out on the water can change in a blink of an eye, so it is important to have access to weather changes and emergencies. Make sure the unit has an automatic weather alert feature, so when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issues a warning, you can be informed in time.

Bluetooth Ability

While this is not a necessity, it is a nice feature to have when you are taking phone calls out on the water. With Bluetooth technology, your phone can pair with your radio allowing you to make and receive phone calls through the VHF radio. Not only will this help reduce background noise, but it will also help keep your cell phone safe and dry.

New York Marine Trades Association