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ContinuousWave: Small Boat Electrical
Handheld VHF Radio Recommendations
|Author||Topic: Handheld VHF Radio Recommendations|
posted 03-09-2009 06:44 PM ET (US)
Hello all, I own a 2009 130 SS and have been hesitant to install any permanent electronics, so I am opting for a handheld VHF radio, rather than a fixed mounted unit with an external antenna. Recommend a decent and inexpensive unit that you own and love. I've been considering the iCOM IC-M34 for $170 (less a $25 rebate from iCOM). It has Lithium batteries and it floats. Are there advantages to buying a fixed unit vs. a handheld (other than transmit power)? Any suggestions or comments would be appreciated. Thanks gang.
posted 03-09-2009 09:41 PM ET (US)
You can't go wrong with Icom. That model floats and that feature will come in handy one day. Can be carried in a ditch bag and when you boat with others, you have your own comms if you need to abandon ship. The AAA battery pack might be a good accessory to buy with it.
posted 03-10-2009 09:18 AM ET (US)
Take a look at the Standard Horizon HX-850S. It also has a builti-in strobe light. From SH's website:
"SAIL’s annual Pittman Innovation Awards recognize the most-innovative products in the sailboat market each year. "Some said it couldn’t be done, but Standard Horizon has not only combined quality GPS and VHF features in a single handheld, but has also endowed it with a complete set of DSC functions." With an HX850S you can place automated distress calls that include precise location and identification data. You can also “direct dial” other vessels or ping the 850’s location from the mother ship. The 6-inch-high handheld also boasts 6 watts of transmitting power and a 1,150 mAh Li-Ion battery that’s good for about nine hours (depending on GPS settings). What’s more, the unit can output NMEA 0183 GPS data, and it floats. The HX850S could serve well on everything from an offshore yacht to a kayak."
posted 03-10-2009 11:03 AM ET (US)
Thanks HAPPYJIM and Hoosier. I appreciate your suggestions.
posted 03-10-2009 11:38 AM ET (US)
You're welcome. I think that in a 130 a wearable radio with DSC is essential. Best price I've found so far was $211.
posted 03-10-2009 06:39 PM ET (US)
Hoosier, I went to West Marine today and bought the Standard Horizon HX850S. I found it for around $50 less online, but I liked the thought of having a local dealer in case there were any problems.
It's an amazing little floating box, and unique because of its built-in GPS and DSC functionality. Those two features work together to automatically "broadcast" your exact location in case of an emergency. Awesome product!
posted 03-11-2009 08:11 PM ET (US)
posted 03-17-2009 11:19 AM ET (US)
FYI,I recently went to West Marine intending to purchase a Standard Horizon 750 (floating model, no GPS). They had been pulled off the display shelf and the store clerk told me Standard Horizon recalled that model because they did not float like they were supposed to. I elected to get an Icom that was comparable but a little more expensive. Also the store was running a special promotion on that Icom model that offered a rebate and a free accessory allowing the option of using alkaline batteries. That sold me because according to a survival-at-sea web site I visited, they recommended the best radio is one that has the flexibility to use both types of batteries.
posted 03-17-2009 05:34 PM ET (US)
I checked out the SH HX850S at Hamilton Marine. A bit bigger than I was expecting (based on my imagination). Compared to the HX750 (no gps) it is only slightly thicker and has a taller, thicker antenna.
Will be waiting for their spring sale, starting April 4th. Price will be ~ $211.00, same price as the lowest offered online.
posted 03-17-2009 06:53 PM ET (US)
Why not just buy it now for $195.99
posted 03-17-2009 07:20 PM ET (US)
A fixed mount 25-watt VHF Marine Band radio connected to a decent antenna will have much greater range than a handheld radio. I would not count on a handheld radio being able to communication more than a mile or two. A fixed mount radio with a good antenna will be able to communicate 15 to 25 miles.
If you want a handheld radio, it seems like STANDARD HORIZON has taken over this market segment. They have excellent radios and their prices beat everyone.
A nice fixed mount radio is only about $100 to $135. A handheld radio is a nice supplement to a fixed radio, but I would not depend on it as my primary radio. If for no other reason, the battery life in a handheld radio is a limiting factor.
posted 03-17-2009 10:29 PM ET (US)
Rene - Just so you know, I have a fixed mounted VHF with DSC and highly recommend you install a fixed mount.
I plan to carry a portable VHF on my PDF. I need to increase my safety protection since I captain my boat 95% of the time alone, in the off-season and in water temperatures that range from 40-64.
My first run 10 days ago:
Air temperature 38-41 degrees
TransAm - Thanks for the link.
posted 03-18-2009 12:08 AM ET (US)
Use the gimbal mount that comes with every radio and it doesn't have to be "permanent".
Neither does the antenna, actually.
posted 03-18-2009 08:25 AM ET (US)
I agree here with most that stress a fixed mount radio for any off-shore operation. We need the RANGE of communication out there, not just the convenience of a hand held. I am intrigued by the SH 850 with GPS but as a back up radio. I have the SH GX 3000S matrix as my main radio and have been able to contact the Rochester, NY CG staion at 28 miles! No handheld will give you that range. I am using the Shakespeare entry level 8' antenna and have been very happy with both transmit and receiving voice quality. My back up radio is the SH HX 600S handheld. It can communicate using DSC but must be connected to a separate GPS from its cradle. It also has FMS, FM radio and aircraft band capability.
Cruising offshore, there are only three things to remenber: safety, safety and SAFETY!
posted 03-18-2009 10:26 AM ET (US)
Something interesting I found out from Standard Horizon, they haven't offered a DSC fixed mount radio with built in GPS because they feel that the GPS would be unreliable due to antenna blockage. I find that a bit lame, a port for an external antenna connection would solve that for below deck installations (my handheld H2OC has that). My opinion is a DSC radio should be self contained, like the HX850S.
posted 03-18-2009 03:59 PM ET (US)
The nice feature about the handheld is that it is able to go on any boat that you want to use it on. I even carry mine when out on charter fishing trips. As far as range, I tried comms on my Icom 14 miles offshore with the Oregon Inlet Coast Guard Station. Their tower is well over 100 feet high and they transmit way over 100 watts but even at that distance I was able to transmit and receive.
I like to be able to listen to the weather stations without sitting in the boat at the fixed mount VHF.
I take my handheld when I bare-boat sailboats also. Most places, especially the Bahamas, use VHF for Taxi's, grocery stores, restaurants and bars. Telephones or cell phones are not used as much down there.
posted 03-18-2009 06:14 PM ET (US)
I agree with Jimh's comments about fixed mount vs hand held. I purchased my hand held as a back up to my fixed mount which is connected to my GPS and is DSC capable, registered, and ready. The Florida incident prompted me to get the handheld as a backup because I am not sure if those guys had time to use their fixed mount.
posted 03-18-2009 06:57 PM ET (US)
I agree...fixed mount and a portable back up...I use Icom for both
posted 03-20-2009 12:48 AM ET (US)
I have been considering buying a VHF - and will probably buy the Standard Horizon.
But, I thought that having a handheld VHF "driving" a fixed mounted amplifier and matching antenna would be slick. Called Standard Horizon and they don't make such a set-up. Has anyone seen such a set-up from another manufacturer? ---- Jerry/Idaho
posted 03-20-2009 07:35 AM ET (US)
Equipment for use on the VHF Marine Band in the United States has to be type accepted by the FCC, and I wonder if this has put a crimp on the sale of amplifiers for handheld radios. An amplifier of that sort is probably more common in the market for the 144-MHz Amateur Radio Band. I don't recall any Marine Band models.
posted 03-20-2009 01:05 PM ET (US)
Jim - thanks for the information - and I suspect that you are right on. And, though not involved in Amateur radio, I know that repeater systems are used in many radio communication systems. So, is it a big extension to include marine systems? I was hoping that such a system was available.
Still think it is a good idea -
-- it gives portable assessability (sp?) for convenience and safety, and the benefits of minimized foot-print and improved communication via more power and higher antenna
and will ask Standard Horizon to consider it. I will also try to get the FCC's thoughts on it.
Just thinking - and being a bit naive regarding radio communication systems - would such a system induce an interference between the transmission from the handheld and the higher powered repater? --- Jerry/Idaho
posted 03-20-2009 08:17 PM ET (US)
For unlicensed radio bands, I don;t think it's practical to have ad hoc repeaters, meaning ones anybody can turn on at will. If multiple, identically configured repeaters are operating in the same area, they will be attempt to rebroadcast the received transmissions simultaneously on the same frequency, and they will "step on" each other.
For this reason, in my experience, repeaters are usually only licensed for fixed locations. In public safety communications, mobile repeaters are used, but such uses are carefully regulated.
I'm not familiar with how amateur (ham) radio repeaters work, so I can't compare that to marine communications.
posted 03-20-2009 10:12 PM ET (US)
Tom - Thanks - that is a good point that I had not thought of - bad idea! I'll forget it - and go with a fixed VHF and a portable. ---- Jerry/Idaho
posted 03-20-2009 11:03 PM ET (US)
A power amplifier is not a repeater. A repeater is a form of automatic remote station that re-transmits signals it hears. In the case of the VHF Marine Band, repeaters are specifically prohibited except in special situations. I believe there are a few repeaters authorized in Alaska due to the long distances and the remote locations involved.
A simple power amplifier used to boost the power output of a handheld is not a repeater. Such power amplifiers are fairly common in the VHF Amateur Radio band. They often have automatic transmit-receive relays so they can just be placed in the antenna transmission line. When they sense power on their input, they switch the power amplifier into the circuit. Otherwise they just pass the antenna through to the handheld. In some cases you can get the device with an antenna pre-amplifier for receive, too. If you looked at Amateur Radio oriented manufacturers you could probably find a device set up for the power levels typical from a VHF Marine Band handheld. The frequency coverage of these things is typically fairly broad, so one tuned for the 144 to 148 MHz Amateur 2-Meter band might even work on the 156-MHz VHF Marine Band without much loss of gain or power output.
A repeater system is a specialized installation of a receiver and transmitter. The receiver output feeds the transmitter, which then retransmits whatever the receiver hears. The transmitter control is operated from the receiver squelch, an arrangement called a carrier operated relay or COR. When the receiver hears a signal, the transmitter goes on the air and retransmits it. There is a frequency offset, that is, the receiver listens on a different frequency than the transmitter is transmitting. This is necessary for the repeater to work, otherwise the transmitter would blanket the incoming signal at its own receiver. Repeaters are very common in Amateur Radio 2-Meter service. Generally there is a supervisory control system to prevent the transmitter from latching up and staying on the air. A three-minute time out is typical. Repeaters often use the same antenna for receive and transmit, but require rather elaborate and physically large high-Q tuned circuits arranged as filters to keep the transmitter from interfering with the receiver. Such an arrangement which allows a transmitter and receiver to share the same antenna simultaneously is called a diplexer or duplexer.
The Coast Guard typically does not use repeaters. They use remote base stations, especially remote receiver sites. The remote site base band audio from the receiver demodulator is usually relayed to a central point using other radio links or via dedicated land lines. Coast Guard stations may also be set up with their transmit and receive sites physically separated (by a significant distance) so that they can maintain duplex operation, that is, they can still receive while they are transmitting even on the same frequency. They'll use a centrally located transmitter and listen on the remote receiver that is closest to the station they are trying to communicate with. With duplex operation, they can hear the other station if he begins to transmit while the Coast Guard is still transmitting.
To get back to the topic, handheld radios, don't take my previous comments about the superior range of a fixed 25-watt radio and good antenna to mean that there is no value in a handheld radio. A VHF Marine band handheld radio is better than no radio at all. It just has some limitations compared to a 25-watt fixed mount radio. The biggest advantage of the fixed mount radio is that it runs off the vessel's battery, so it should have longer battery life. Of course, this can also be its biggest liability, and in the event of a battery failure on the vessel, the fixed mount radio will be dead or significantly reduced in power output.
Another advantage for the fixed mount is the antenna. The short antennas used on a handheld radio are not nearly as effective as the full-size antennas used with a fixed mount radio. The effective radiated power from a handheld will be much less than from a properly installed fixed mount 25-watt radio using a good antenna.
The Coast Guard radio coverage charts show the anticipated coverage for communication with a 1-watt transmitter at a height of sea level. This is a very conservative estimate of coverage. It's what you might have if you are in the water and holding a VHF handheld radio just above the water.
posted 03-21-2009 12:55 AM ET (US)
Keep in mind that even if you are in the water with a handheld, that the Coast Guard aircraft is probably flying at 500 ft and can pick up signals at great distances.
posted 03-21-2009 10:25 PM ET (US)
Agreed, ICOM is a superior product for marine comms.
posted 03-23-2009 10:51 PM ET (US)
Just got one today.
Free shipping also.
posted 03-24-2009 06:27 AM ET (US)
That link shows a Garmin GPS72. If you are looking for a handheld GPS, this is a heck of a deal at $128.25 and free shipping to boot. I have this model and it floats too.
posted 03-24-2009 01:34 PM ET (US)
You're right Jim! I was in a hurry. Thanks for clearing it up.
Note: They always give me a hassel about shipping to Hawaii free. Sometimes they give in, then on occasion they will ship USPS for a small price. Good products though.
My guardian is ready to splash. Can't believe it!
posted 03-25-2009 12:28 AM ET (US)
Here is the correct site for Cobra Marine Tri-Watch VHF.
posted 03-26-2009 07:45 AM ET (US)
I hope you start another thread and tell us all about it and include pictures. You did a fantastic job on the Montauk. I'll bet the effort was no less with the Guardian.
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