Everyone wants to be heard when he presses the transmit button on his radio’s microphone. Review this checklist of successful tips to extend your radio’s reach.
Tests show a quality VHF is best able to deliver a true and stable 25 watts to the antenna, while lesser sets may struggle to squeeze out 60 to 80 percent of their rated power output under true onboard conditions. Effective long-range transmission is only half of the story. Reception ability is the other half. The best radios have exceptional “hearing” and can suppress signal-killing noise interference to pull in weak and distant stations.
Invest in Quality
Antennas also vary in their long-range performance capability. Superior ones tend to be constructed of better-radiating materials such as brass or silver-plated tubing, rather than of pieces of wire or cable sealed in fiberglass. They cost more but are definitely worth the investment. In fact, you are better off purchasing a medium-price radio and a top-of-the-line antenna than the best VHF radio with a mediocre antenna.
Boosting Handheld Range
Most portable radios have an antenna adapter accessory available to connect a handheld to your boat’s antenna cable to multiply its range should the main radio fail. A radio-antenna coaxial switch (available at Radio Shack) and an extra antenna cable allow both a boat radio and a portable VHF to share an antenna.
Cell and Wi-Fi Coverage
You can add miles to your cell phone range with a high-gain external antenna, amplifier and wireless repeater. Also, Wi-Fi range is no longer limited to a computer's wireless connection. Suppliers of cell and Wi-Fi range-extending products include Shakespeare (shakespeare-marine.com), Digital Antenna (digitalantenna.com), PDQ Connection (pdqconnection.com) and GeoSat Solutions Inc. (wavewifi.com).
Gain: The higher the “gain” or decibel rating of the antenna you choose, the greater the communications range. Common antenna ratings are 3, 6, 9 and 10 dB. Choose the antenna with the highest gain you can accommodate on your boat (because of their size, antennas with the very highest gain are usually reserved for larger boats).
Height: The higher the antenna, the greater the radio’s signal reach. The side of a flybridge or the top of an arch or T-top is a good location. Antenna extension poles are available to elevate an antenna.
Length: The longer the antenna, the stronger the signal it will put out. An 18-foot antenna will outperform an eight-foot antenna with the same gain rating and mounted at the same height.