Budget-Friendly VHF Radios | Boating Magazine

Budget-Friendly VHF Radios

Four non-GPS VHF radios that won't break the bank.

You may not need a DSC radio with internal GPS if you’re just working around the marina or using it for communication on smaller inland waterways. You can save a buck opting for the more basic radios, but we’d have a hard time giving up our favorite feature: floating submersibility. Well, that’s our favorite after stellar communications.

Cobra MR HH500 BT
Price: $149.95

It’s waterproof and features Bluetooth connectivity to your phone, but we weren’t sure we were crazy about it until after we used it. You can actually take and place calls on it, and the sound-canceling mic for the phone provided clear transmission. VHF transmission did not include sound canceling, though, and its clarity suffered.

Features
Number of GPS Channels: Not applicable
Screen Size: 1½” x 1”
Weight: 0.59 pounds
Dimensions: 4.74” x 2.66” x 2”
Low to High Watts: 1, 3, 6 watts
Li-Ion Power: Yes
Alkaline Power: 2 AA
Channel Scan: Tri-channel + 2 faves
Charger Base: Yes
12-Volt Charger: Yes
Tactile Controls: On/off, volume

Icom IC-M73
Price: $249.99

Icom specializes in radio communications in the aviation, marine and land mobile arenas, so its grip on quality communications is strong. The waterproof IC-M73 has a noise-canceling mic and does an excellent job of eliminating background noise from boats and motors. A low-frequency “buzz” that Icom called Aqua Quake purges water from the radio speaker face on command. Last-call recording means you can play back rather than ask for a callback — until you can understand the transmission.

Features
Number of GPS Channels: Not applicable
Screen Size: 1⅛” x ⅞”
Weight: 11.3 ounces
Dimensions: 2.07” x 4.94” x 1.18”
Low to High Watts: 1, 3, 6 watts
Li-Ion Power: Yes
Alkaline Power: No
Channel Scan: Dual or tri-channel
Charger Base: Compact USB cord charging
12-Volt Charger: Yes
Tactile Controls: On/off, volume

Standard Horizon HX 300
Price: $149.99

A water-activated LED light makes it easy to find the radio should it be floating in the dark. It is a powerful and clear radio that received and transmitted with an extremely minor but detectable hiss with strong volume. We liked the feature allowing us to set up to 10 channels for automatic scanning. Its large LCD display let us see what was on the screen without those pesky readers.

Features
Number of GPS Channels: Not applicable
Screen Size: Not available
Weight: 8.4 ounces
Dimensions: 2.32” x 5.04” x 1.3”
Low to High Watts: 5 watts
Li-Ion Power: Yes
Alkaline Power: Optional 3 AAA
Channel Scan: Dual or tri-channel
Charger Base: Yes
12-volt Charger: Yes
Tactile Controls: On/off, channel up/down

West Marine VHF 160 Price: $129.99

Rumor has it Uniden makes West Marine radios, and this one was a dandy. It was one of the clearest radios we tested and was submersible too. An LED strobe/flashlight adds utility for emergency use, and activation when wet eases relocating the radio in the dark. It also has a luminous shell gasket, making it easy to spot in the dark. It’s equipped with a remote microphone jack, should you prefer to operate it with an optional mic.

Features
Number of GPS Channels: Not applicable
Screen Size: 1½” x 1”
Weight: Not tested
Dimensions: 6.29” x 2.44” x 1.61”
Low to High Watts: 1, 2.5, 6 watts
Li-Ion Power: Yes
Alkaline Power: 4 AAA
Channel Scan: Custom dual and 6/9/weather tri-channel
Charger Base: Yes
12-Volt Charger: Yes
Tactile Controls: On/off, channel up/down

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