Choosing a Handheld DSC Radio

VHF Marine Band radios, protocol, radio communication theory, practical advice; AIS; DSC; MMSI; EPIRB.
MattFL
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Choosing a Handheld DSC Radio

Postby MattFL » Sat Apr 20, 2019 10:51 am

I'm looking for some help in choosing a handheld DSC radio, and I would love to hear opinions on personal favorites and why. I've done a lot of reading, and have realized that my lack of actual experience with a DSC radio means I'm not sure what questions to ask, or features to focus on, so any guidance is appreciated.

It will be used primarily in a 17' boat that will spend a lot of time a few miles off-shore in the Gulf Stream. There are typically other boats visible, lots of sport fishing boats. The feature I want is the distress button, followed closely by ease of use so that an unfamiliar adult or teenager can at least communicate in an emergency. It must also float, be durable and have reasonable battery life. Ideally there would be dedicated buttons for critical functions (changing channel, volume, squelch, MOB, distress, etc..). A luxury feature is to scan many channels at the same time.


On my current Standard Horizon HX350S I often scan 5 or 6 at a time to see who's catching fish. ;) I've been looking at the Icom M93D, and Standard Horizon HX870 and HX890, but other suggestions are welcome. Some of these are at the local store, but they're display dummies that don't actually turn on, so I haven't been able to actually play with any of them. Any tips and opinions are more than welcome.

jimh
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Re: Choosing a Handheld DSC Radio

Postby jimh » Sat Apr 20, 2019 11:40 am

Does your 17-foot boat that you operate in the Gulf Stream have a fixed-mount DSC radio and fixed VHF Marine Band antenna installed already?

I don't have a personal favorite handheld VHF Marine Band DSC radio. The choices are somewhat limited. I have owned both ICOM and Standard-Horizon fixed mount DSC radios.

Any handheld radio will have limited operating time due to the limited battery power. Because of that, a handheld should be kept in a state of full charge while on the boat by using a battery charger and charging cradle that is powered by 12-Volts DC. (Here I am presuming that on a 17-foot boat you will not have 120-VAC power available.) Be certain that any radio you buy includes a 12-Volt charging cradle or plug, or has that as an option you can purchase separately.

The HX890 radio is a CLASS-H DSC radio. The HX870 and M93D are CLASS-D DSC radios. There is some very well informed discussion about CLASS-D and CLASS-H in a prior thread. See

Standard-Horizon HX890, CLASS-H DSC Radio
http://continuouswave.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=4117

All DSC radios need an MMSI. For discussion about MMSI and handheld radios, see

Handheld DSC Radio in USA: Use; MMSI Assignment
http://continuouswave.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2646

MattFL
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Re: Choosing a Handheld DSC Radio

Postby MattFL » Sat Apr 20, 2019 11:48 am

No, it's a 1996 Montauk with a different console (original console was stolen). There's no real place for a fixed radio.

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Re: Choosing a Handheld DSC Radio

Postby jimh » Sat Apr 20, 2019 12:01 pm

I recommend you purchase a fixed mount DSC radio for the boat. A fixed mount 25-Watt radio, powered from a large lead-acid storage battery, and connected to a fixed mount antenna will have much greater range of communication than a handheld radio.

Modern DSC fixed-mount radios are very compact. A 36-inch metal whip antenna can be mounted easily.

MattFL
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Re: Choosing a Handheld DSC Radio

Postby MattFL » Sat Apr 20, 2019 9:22 pm

Thank you very much for the replies and the link, I will go read that next. The way the boat is used, fixed mount really isn't a good option. The antenna would be problematic and mounting the radio would be a challenge. Your points about a charger are good, though we are more often than not wet with salt water spray before the end of the day, so keeping any sort of charger dry and salt free may not be possible.

I stumbled upon a proposed-Class-H to Class-D comparison (apparently from before the standard was adopted). It looks like the goal of Class-H was to be simpler to use; simplify the features to be more appropriate for a hand held, while simultaneously making it easier for the average person to use. Here's the comparison:

http://www.rtcm.info/sc101/136-2008-SC101-221.pdf

I'll study this and your link and see where I end up. :)

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Re: Choosing a Handheld DSC Radio

Postby jimh » Sun Apr 21, 2019 9:39 am

Thanks for the link to the RTCM document discussing the differences between DSC classes D and H by the advisory committee. That document is 11-years-old and is discussing the then yet to be enacted -12 revision of the DSC standard. The standard is now at a -14 revision, so some of the speculative comments in that document may not be accurate.

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Re: Choosing a Handheld DSC Radio

Postby jimh » Sun Apr 21, 2019 9:41 am

Again, I recommend you get a compact fixed-mount DSC Class-D radio for your 17-foot boat. There are now very compact Class D fixed mount radios available, and their cost is less than a good handheld radio. For more advice about radio installation see

VHF Marine Band Radio Installation on a Small Boat

The radio does not have to be mounted atop the center console and in view. You can mount the radio inside the center console, where it will be out of the weather. If there is room on your boat for a fishing rod then there should be room for a 36-inch VHF Marine Band antenna. Use a clamp-on tilt-mount affixed to a railing. Tilt the antenna downward when the radio is not in use.

If you decide to only equip your boat with a handheld VHF Marine Band radio, you really must have some method to provide power to the radio from the boat's 12-Volt DC main battery. If you rely only on the handheld radio battery, the radio's operating time will be very limited.

If the handheld radio you select has a removable battery pack, I also recommend getting a second battery pack. Often the handheld radio models do not stay in production for a long time, and they often use rather unique battery packs. Buying a second battery pack while the radio is still in production may be a good hedge against the future obsolescence of the radio.

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Phil T
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Re: Choosing a Handheld DSC Radio

Postby Phil T » Sun Apr 21, 2019 6:33 pm

Consider buying a fixed VHF with a command or remote mic on the dashboard.
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MattFL
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Re: Choosing a Handheld DSC Radio

Postby MattFL » Mon Apr 22, 2019 10:36 am

Thanks again for the replies.

I've narrowed my choice for a handheld DSC radio to either a Class D or Class H.

I'm all for simplicity, but it sure would be nice to query my friends locations. From reading a thread he linked above, Class H does not have that capability while the Class D does.

On the down side (for a handheld) the class D has a second receiver, dedicated to channel 70 for receiving distress calls, which could potentially shorten battery life simply because two receivers will be powered. To be able to help if someone nearby needs it would be good.

I'm leaning Class D, and by going with the Standard Horizon HX870, I can use the $50 I saved over the icom to buy a second battery--great tip above about about batteries.

In regard to a fixed mount radio; I appreciate your suggestions and don't disagree that it's a good idea, but in my particular case I think having only a handheld would be better than only a fixed mount and there no budget for both. Under normal circumstances I don't go more than about 5-miles from shore without a buddy boat, and cellular phone coverage is quite good at that distance. If I have a mechanical or medical problem and no one is in radio range, I can call on my mobile phone. In such a small boat, if we have an problem so serious that I can't use my cell phone as a fire or boat upside down, then odds are we're in the water anyway and the fixed mount radio won't help. I would be wearing the portable.

I'm also shopping small wearable EPIRB--a whole new topic--and may revisit a fixed-mount radio after rebuilding my budget after the EPIRB. Mounting a fixed radio inside the console but with a remote command mic is a great suggestion.

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Re: Choosing a Handheld DSC Radio

Postby jimh » Wed Apr 24, 2019 3:46 pm

EPIRB's are registered to a vessel. An EPIRB is usually not worn on clothing but mounted somewhere on the vessel. A Personal Locator Beacon or PLB is registered to an individual and can be worn on clothing. As you acknowledge, those devices should be discussed in a new topic thread.

MattFL
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Re: Choosing a Handheld DSC Radio

Postby MattFL » Thu Apr 25, 2019 11:17 am

I decided on the HX870, the older model from Standard Horizon. I choose this over the newer [HX890] radio in part because the [HX870] allows you to request your buddies position, and from what I've read the newer [HX890] doesn't support this. Now to do some homework and learn how to use it, time will tell if this was the right decision.

Side note, but one of our govt. websites that describes the different classes doesn't even list Class-H in their list: https://www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=DSCClasses

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Re: Choosing a Handheld DSC Radio

Postby jimh » Wed May 01, 2019 6:45 am

Neither Class-D or Class-H DSC radios are required to support POLLING. See a separate thread for details.

viewtopic.php?f=13&t=4428