Ask Ken: Boost VHF Sound

Great tools for boosting your VHF radio's sound.

Ask Ken VHF Sound

Q. I keep missing parts of VHF radio transmissions because of wind and engine noise. How can I boost the sound of my radio?

A. Use an external accessory speaker such as the Poly-Planar MB41 ($70), which plugs into the back of the radio. Manufacturers such as Icom and Standard Horizon also offer these as options. The larger speaker produces louder, clearer audio than the small speakers built into your radio. For best effect, mount it directly facing you. For maximum volume, remote speakers like the Standard Horizon MLS-310 ($70) with built-in amplifiers and a volume control work great.

A number of VHF models allow you to add a wired remote microphone, such as Icom’s HM-195 ($230), that lets you operate your radio from anywhere aboard. For weak or muffled transmissions, hold the mike close to your ear to better hear the conversation.

Simrad's RS35 ($399, simrad-yachting.com) and Garmin's VHF 300 ($699, garmin.com) radios both offer optional wireless handheld remotes ($170 to $399) that can be used up to 300-plus feet from the main radio. The remotes can work as an onboard intercom as well.

Poly-Planar (polyplanar.com) has a line of remote waterproof speakers for VHF radios for every purpose. In addition to the MB41 ($40) 4-by-4-inch speaker, it offers the MB21 ($25) 2.93- by-2.73-inch bracket mount and its MB100R ($40) round 5.93-inch-diameter flush-mount speakers. All are designed to elevate voice frequencies. All three models are available in black or white.

A portable VHF radio can help you hear radio communications from almost anywhere on the boat. To keep your hands free you can clip the handheld radio to your belt and use an accessory ear-bud earphone to monitor radio traffic.

A new feature that is built into the Icom (icomamerica.com) M73PLUS handheld radio ($350) and the Icom M56 series of fixed-mounted VHFs ($450 to $699) helps you to never miss a call. It is the "last message playback" function. When activated, the radio will playback the last message it received.

Standard Horizon (standardhorizon.com) has a headset with a boom mike, the VC-24 ($80), that can be used with several of its portable radios that not only lets you hear radio messages but also will transmit whenever you speak. This allows you to keep your hands free and still use the radio.

If you use the right tools, you will never miss a radio call again.