Just as smartphones have become powerful pocket-sized computers sporting amazing functions, marine VHFs have stepped up their game mightily in recent years. Whether fixed-mount or handheld, VHFs routinely offer connections to search and rescue via DSC, keep you informed about potentially dangerous nearby vessel traffic via AIS, nail your location, course and speed via GPS—and, oh yeah, they let you communicate via radiotelephone.
Below are the nine best marine VHFs--fixed mount and portable--on the market. The lineup is part of an exercise we do at Marine Electronics Journal every year—we call it the Best & Brightest Boating Electronics. We ask manufacturers to tell us which model in 19 categories of marine electronics products they consider to be their best—not necessarily the most advanced or latest but the one than delivers the highest marks overall. That could be their most popular model or the one that has passed the test of time. Last week we rolled out the best autopilots.
The Furuno FM4850 is a new black-box marine VHF radiotelephone with built-in Class D DSC (Digital Selective Calling), GPS receiver, AIS (Automatic Identification System) receiver, multi-station intercom, and 30-watt loud hailer with listen-back capability. The ultimate marine electronics multi-tool, the FM4850 offers a long list of useful features in a compact and unobtrusive package. The FM4850’s black-box configuration allows for a space-saving installation, so the included handset and speaker may be placed in an accessible but out-of-the-way location to free up valuable real estate on the helm. Up to three individual stations can be connected to a single black box, each with full access to the FM4850’s impressive features. This allows you to have the full range of communications capabilities available at multiple locations onboard, all with one simple installation.
Garmin VHF 215 AIS
Communication and situational awareness are critical on the water. The fixed-mount VHF 215 AIS radio displays AIS information on the chartplotter to enhance communication, situational awareness and collision avoidance. The radio is designed to complement the latest GPSMAP chartplotters and MFDs. Easy to install and use, just plug and play via the NMEA 2000® https://www.boatingmag.com/gear/basics-nmea-2000/ network to compatible Garmin chartplotters and MFDs. It provides standard Class D Digital Selective Calling functionality (distress calling and direct calling with user-programmed MMSI-Maritime Mobile Service Identity). With 25-watt transmit power, VHF 215 AIS gives all fishermen, sailors and cruisers confidence at their fingertips in emergency situations and may improve their chances of rapid rescues. It’s preprogrammed with US, Canadian and international marine channels plus 10 NOAA weather channels.
Icom’s M605 VHF (built-in AIS optional) transceiver is designed with optimum visibility in mind. The large 4.3-inch LCD color display provides nearly 180-degree viewing angle, bringing communication to life, while also providing comfortable operation in the dark with Night Mode. Remotely manage up to three controllers using all the M605 functions with the HM-195 Series COMMANDMIC (not included). The M605 gives boaters flexibility and allows you to not be tied to one station again while onboard. The M605 has taken home the Best VHF of the Year award from the NMEA three years in a row.
Onwa KV-290 is the newest VHF marine transceiver from Onwa Marine Electronics. It has an ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information Service) function, 70 programmable user channels, weather channel and a favorite channel function. KV-290 has a built-in Class D DSC and independent DSC dedicated receiver. It has IPX7 waterproofing (1 meter depth for 30 minutes) and if submerged in water it has vibration water draining function to remove water from the speaker housing. The transceiver has Dual/Tri-Watch. Dual-watch monitors Channel 16 while you are receiving on another channel. Tri-watch monitors Channel 16 and the Call channel while receiving on another channel. KV-290 also has a common GPS/NAV interface, built-in GPS module (optional) and external speaker connection.
Raymarine’s Ray73 Multifunction VHF Radio with AIS receiver is communications central for any boat with built-in VHF, AIS receiver and loudhailer capabilities. Built on a full-sized marine radio chassis, the Ray73 comes with oversized controls and a big screen for easy operation offshore. The Ray73 also supports optional wired or wireless RayMic controllers for true multi-station control and intercom capability. When connected to an optional hailing horn, the Ray73 can generate automatic fog signals and work as a public address announcement system.
, B&G V20
, Lowrance Link 6
The versatile Simrad/B&G/Lowrance Class D DSC VHF radios are ideal for a variety of vessels from small RIBs to larger cruisers, and are designed to match the low-profile style of modern glass bridge displays and accessories. The VHFs feature a white dot matrix LCD screen with inverted light mode, four backlit mic buttons and an easier front-mount installation with snap-on edge bezels. They have a new Startup Wizard for easier radio set up, improved scanning features, a Favorites shortcut for customizing users settings and a My Channels list, which enables users to only scan desired channels. The layout of controls is designed for left-hand operation, allowing for right-hand control of the helm.
Standard Horizon Explorer GX1850
The Standard Horizon Explorer GX1850 is a competitively priced fixed-mount VHF with NMEA 2000. Seamlessly interface the radio into the boat’s networking system with a simple plug-and-play connection, supporting PGNs for all navigation, GPS, and DSC functions. Connect the GX1850 to the RAM4 second station microphone and remotely control all functions of the VHF from the remote station. Constructed with an ultra-slim rear case design, large dot matrix display, channel controls on the hand microphone, and full Class D DSC features. The GX1850 is part of the larger Explorer series of VHF radios available from Standard Horizon. All Standard Horizon radios are backed by a three-year waterproof warranty.
Icom’s M93D handheld is slender, has a two-tone body, and is feature rich. With built-in Class D DSC, Channel 70 is constantly monitored for distress calls, and you can feel safe with its integrated GPS providing location, bearing and speed. The interface is large, user-friendly, and easy to read. A flat-sheet keypad provides a positive click-feeling, all while slimming the radio’s profile. Program 19 custom functions at the bottom of the display to make what you need most, most easily accessible. The M93D has Icom’s own Float’n Flash, AquaQuake, Active Noise Cancelling and a MOB feature. The M93D is built for the serious boater.
Standard Horizon HX890
Standard Horizon’s new HX890 floating Class H DSC VHF/GPS comes in black or navy blue. Features include two built-in scrambler systems, a four-code CVS2500A and a 32-code FVP-42 scrambler system for secure communications on the water. Another new feature is an FM broadcast band receiver so when radio communication is not necessary you can relax with music. Other features include switchable daytime or nighttime mode, waypoint and route navigation and group monitor function utilizing DSC Group position call. The HX890 has been redesigned with a new ergonomic case and has been rigorously tested to conform with Military Standard (MIL-STD-810F). Included are rechargeable Li-ion battery, alkaline battery tray, 110V wall charger, 220V adapter, charging cradle, 12V charger, PC programming cable and belt clip with lanyard.