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Best marine VHFs for 2019
8/19/2019

Back in the 60s my dad’s pride and joy was a wooden lapstrake 26-footer that my brother and I used as a dive boat. There was plenty of real estate on the small dashboard since it didn’t have much more than a knotmeter, magnetic compass and a basic VHF. You could fire up the radiotelephone and send and receive transmissions although I remember the voice quality as pretty lousy—and that was about it for functions.

These days a VHF is more than simply a dedicated piece of communications electronics—it’s a system that incorporates safety and situational awareness functions to name a few jobs the VHF does beyond communications. What’s more they come in both fixed mount and handheld models.

Below are several VHFs that come highly recommended. They are part of an exercise MEJ does every year in our Buyers’ Guide. It works like this: We ask manufacturers to identify the one model they produce in a particular category that they consider to be their Best & Brightest—not necessarily the most technically advanced or newest but rather the one they rate highest in the product line for one reason or another. Could be the functions and features it offers, or maybe it breaks new ground in maximizing effectiveness or utility, or maybe it’s the most popular as measured by sales to boaters. If a manufacturer makes both fixed-mount and handheld VHFs, we asked them to include both.
 
The Best & Brightest list includes 16 categories of electronics, from autopilots and fishfinders to radar and satellite TV. Last week we told you about the pick of the litter in night vision equipment. Next week we’ll tell you about a technology that’s coming on fast and expanding in terms of its applications—AIS, or Automatic Identification System.


Fixed Mount


Bring on the color. Icom’s award-winning marine radio, the M605 fixed-mount transceiver, has a large, 4.3 inch TFT, full dot-matrix color LCD that has been designed for optimum readability in any lighting condition, even at night. With a full keypad, you are set for quick and reliable operation. The M605 features include Active Noise Cancelling, Last Call voice recording, integrated GPS, and an optional integrated AIS receiver that can show real-time vessel traffic information via a plotter or list. Boaters also love Icom’s own AquaQuake. This function drains any water that comes into contact with the waterproof, speaker-cone by emitting a vibrating sound that clears away water from the speaker grill. This ensures that you will continue to hear powerful, clear audio.



The versatile Lowrance Link 6 Class D DSC VHF radio is ideal for a variety of boats from small bass boats to larger pontoons. The Link 6 features 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. The Link 6 has 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 Link 6 controls are designed for left-hand operation, allowing for right-hand control of the helm.



Raymarine’s Ray73 radio is communications central for any boat with its 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.


The versatile Simrad RS20 Class D DSC VHF radio is ideal for a variety of boats from small RIBs to larger cruisers, and is designed to match the low-profile style of modern Simrad Glass Bridge displays and accessories. The RS20 features 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. The RS20 has 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 RS20 controls are designed for left-hand operation, allowing for right-hand control of the helm.

 
The Quantum GX6000 from Standard Horizon is a commercial-grade fixed-mount VHF with AIS receive. The integrated NMEA 2000 supports all PGNs for navigation, GPS, AIS and DSC function. Simply plug NMEA 2000 into your existing network to complement your system with full VHF and DSC features. Wirelessly control all radio functions of the GX6000 with the interface of the RAM4W wireless Remote Access Microphone. Using the SCU-30 Wireless Access Point plugged into the back of the radio, you have the capability of syncing up to 4 RAM4W units. The Quantum GX6000 includes a 25 watt Loud Hailer with Fog signals; Bells and Whistles with listen back, a 4 code and a 32 code scrambler, voice recorder and much more.



Handheld

 
Standard Horizon is proud to introduce the HX890 high-end floating Class H DSC VHF/GPS available in black or navy blue. Prominent built-in features include two scrambler systems and an FM broadcast band receiver. Other features include switchable daytime or nighttime mode, waypoint and route navigation, and group monitor function utilizing DSC Group position call. The HX890 has also been redesigned with a new ergonomic case design, and has been rigorously tested to conform with the Military Standard MIL-STD-810F and the IPX8 waterproofing standard. Complete with a 1800 mAh Li-ion battery, 12V and 110V charger, charging cradle, alkaline battery tray and it's backed by a three-year waterproof warranty.


Icom’s stylish M93D VHF handheld radio is loaded with advanced safety features—like integrated GPS, built-in DSC receiver, Active Noise Cancelling, and Icom’s own AquaQuake. The large LCD screen gives your eyes a break with bigger text size, and exceptional visibility—even under direct sunlight. An overboard M93D is easy to retrieve with Icom’s innovative Float’n Flash feature. A flashing red LED light makes it easy to find, day or night. It even flashes if the power is off. It’s IPX7 rated, making it submersible in depths of 1 meter for up to 30 minutes. The intuitive user interface matched with its compact size makes the M93D the go-to radio for serious boaters.


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