For Comparison's Sake: Handheld VHF Radios

We put handheld VHF radios to the test in an effort to help you boat safer.

Icom IC-M36
Splash Test: Icom claims it's not only waterproof but that it floats as well. So I chucked it into the harbor and let it bob around for 10 minutes. Flotation confirmed! Bash Test: Since the radio proved it can go swimming without damage, I returned to the concrete boat ramp and "accidentally" flung it 20 feet into the air. The impact caused nothing but a few scratches, so I gave it another throw. That one knocked the volume button out of kilter and it was slightly harder to turn, but the radio still worked like a champ. $320;
Icom America
Uniden MHS75
Splash Test: Since the MHS75 doesn't float, I gave it the heave-ho at the boat ramp, into about three feet of water. Then I let it percolate for 10 minutes to give it a true stress test. Bash Test: Instead of gently retrieving the unit I kicked it up the ramp. Since it bounced up in front of my trailer, the natural decision was to jump in the truck, put it in drive and haul my 1,800-pound boat and trailer over the Uniden. This deliberate disaster put a lot of scratches and chips in the unit's screen and casing — but it still worked just fine. $129;
Cobra MR HH325 VP
Splash Test: Bored of the boat ramp, I decided to tie this radio to the end of a fishing line and practice my cast-and-retrieve technique from the dock. I didn't get any strikes, but five casts later the MR HH325 VP remained undamaged. Bash Test: It didn't seem fair to cast the Cobra onto concrete. But did it stop me? No, I turned 180 degrees and let it fly. The 30-foot flight ended with a crunching noise, plenty of scrapes and chinks, and a crack in the grate covering the speaker. Yet the radio still worked like new. $120;

Handheld VHF radios live miserable lives, yet we depend on them to work when we need a lifeline to the rest of the world. To find out if these three were tough enough to make the grade, I dropped them from my boat onto a concrete boat ramp — and then put them through a battery of torture tests.