View Full Version : Hand Held VHF

11-17-2005, 09:45 AM
Hi Folks

I want to get a VHF radio for my boat but because I do not want an ugly antenna stuck to my hardtop I am thinking about get a hand held. Here is my question. Does a hand held provide enough range to provide me with the safety and coverage I need? I plan to do my cruising on rivers and small lakes. What about battery time?


11-17-2005, 11:21 AM
Handhelds typically emit 5 watts, fixed mounts 25 watts. The short rubber ducky antenna on a handheld is less efficent than a 1/4 or 5/8 wave usually used with a fixed mount. The short answer is you'll have less range given the same conditions.

[ 11-17-2005, 12:22 PM: Message edited by: kc8pql ]

Dan McCosh
11-17-2005, 01:45 PM
VHF is line-of-sight, which means that unless you have an antennae mounted on the top of a a relatively tall mast (40 ft. or larger), you get little benefit from the extra wattage of a fixed-mount radio. A handheld will work to the horizon (about 15 miles) about as well. Battery time is usually good for several days of standby. It's transmitting at 5 watts that takes it down pretty quickly.

[ 11-17-2005, 02:47 PM: Message edited by: Dan McCosh ]

Terry Etapa
11-17-2005, 02:14 PM
I have a handheld for the zodiac. In the San Juan Islands, even a distance of a few miles, the transmission can be blocked by the land in the way.

I have a Standard Horizon. They make a model with a second battery pack that has user replaceable AA batteries.

11-17-2005, 02:30 PM
A cell phone is a great addition as well, but expect coverage to be spoty & limited to near the coast.

11-17-2005, 08:01 PM
The rubber ducky antenna is much, much less efficient than an electrically full sized antenna (a quarter wave for marine VHF frequencies is about 18 inches). In fact, a rubber duck can be thought of as essentially a leaky dummy load. Good for short range communications, but not much else. The antenna is a much bigger factor than the difference in power between 5 and 25 watts.

So, if you are going to seriously depend on this handheld, I'd advise a couple of things:

Get either a regular fixed mount antenna and an adapter to BNC or SMA (or whatever connector type your handheld uses) OR a telescoping 5/8 wave whip that mounts directly on the radio.

You don't have to use these all the time, just have it aboard for the time when you really need to get through. For everyday casual use and listening, go ahead and use the ducky.

If you go offshore, choose the fixed mount antenna over the telescoping one, and have some way of affixing it to a boathook or other pole to gain height above sea level. Personally, I'd carry both.

Also, get an AA battery case for your radio, and have some fresh, unopened AAs on hand, and buy the 12 volt cigarette lighter power cord for your radio, if you have an electrical system on the boat. Rechargebles are not to be depended upon without backup, and also, many handhelds will not develop their full rated power output unless they are operating from a 12v supply.

With 12v power and a real antenna, the handheld can be depended upon in a real emergency.

Oh yeah, these days there's no excuse for not getting a submersibly rated waterproof model. You can't go wrong with either Standard or Icom, though other brands may serve as well.


Ken Hutchins
11-17-2005, 08:54 PM
A handheld will work to the horizon (about 15 miles) The horizon is correct, line of sight. But don't expect 15 miles unless you are transmitting to a higher receiving antenna. If you are standing, lets say 1 foot above water level your range to another hand held radio held by a person 1 foot above water will be less than 5 miles because of the curvature of the earth (rough numbers).
Any greater range than that would have to be to an antenna considerably above water level.

11-17-2005, 09:45 PM
My antenna was broken so I tried a handheld vhf. I found it essentially useless. Trying to listen to a voice with constant static and noise really bothers me though. You get so must better range with a mast mounted antenna.. assuming you have a hollow mast to run the cable up. I returned the handheld and bought a new antenna. I had a Uniden Aquarius which was cheap but apparently just as good as others. It also depends on where you are located. If you're in small coves with high mountains around your range won't be very good. In our waters, it may be ok in the Gulf Islands but go up to desolation sound and it is less effective. I found even in a small anchorage with no real mountains around it still didn't work very well.

Bruce Hooke
11-17-2005, 10:15 PM
To state the obvious, a VHF is only useful if there are other people out there with VHF's with whom you can talk. If you are going to be on rivers and small lakes I am wondering how many other people on those waters are even going to have a VHF. In coastal waters the Coast Guard always monitors channel 16, and I suppose if you are on a lake or river with a marine patrol they probably do too, but I've spent a good bit of time on rivers and lakes and only VERY rarely seen any sort of marine patrol. As far as I know, land-based emergency services like fire, police and ambulance do not normally monitor VHF traffic. In inland waters away from rivers used by commercial traffic I'd guess that it might get pretty spotty in terms of their being anyone to communicate with. If there is cell phone service in the areas you frequent, it seems like that might be a much more useful communications device in an emergency. If you are going to be on rivers used by barge traffic then that is another matter, because VHF is clearly the way to communicate with that sort of traffic. Ditto for talking to locks and swing bridges. However, you are unlikely to need to talk to barges, locks or bridges unless they are in site and thus quite close by...typically much less than a mile away, which should be well within the range of a handheld VHF.

11-18-2005, 06:34 PM
I've had a couple Standard Horizons, and they're good radios. But, the beep the make everytime you push a button drives me crazy.

Once I learned that Icoms have a feature to turn off the beeps, I bought one.

11-18-2005, 08:11 PM
I found 'em really useful when I had to navigate my "big honkin' barge" into a tiny yacht harbor and the crew didn't have to "YELL" directions to me. redface.gif

I could also keep up with the crew when they "disappeared" into town and I needed an extra hand. :rolleyes:

Used 'em to call water taxis down in SA. :cool:

Other than that, I wouldn't have paid the money to have 'em.

I went to Guam recently and I saw most of the tourist guides using cell phones that functioned EXACTLY like radios. I've never seen it before, is it a new function/feature/technology on American cell phones ? Seems like it'd be a lot better than a VHF radio.