Best Marine Radios (Review & Buying Guide) in 2021
Stay safe on the water and maintain communication with a marine radio.
The Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Read more.
BY Andra DelMonico / LAST UPDATED ON March 17, 2021
You’re packing up the cooler and sunscreen while getting ready for a day out on the water. The sun is shining, and you know it’s going to be a fun trip where you can relax and clear your mind. Perhaps it’s the perfect escape from that car repair project that has you stumped. You think you have everything you need, but do you? Have you packed your marine radio?
No one wants to think about bad times, but it’s important to plan ahead. A marine radio can save your life. When things go bad on a boat, it’s unexpected, and it happens fast. If you aren’t prepared, things can get dire quickly. A marine radio can be your communication lifeline. This buying guide will help you know what to look for.
Choose from three watt levels with this handheld radio for short- and long-distance communication. It is submersible for up to 30 minutes.
- IPX7 rated
- 10 channel NOAA updates
- Burp feature
- Speaker not loud
- Screen can fog
Enjoy all of the features packed into this radio. It has a large dual-color LCD screen, is waterproof and submersible, and has a vibrating water-expelling tone.
- IPX7 rated
- Rechargeable batteries
- DC charging cable
- No DSC
- Lacks power
The attractive design of this marine radio will help it look at home when mounted on your boat. It works with U.S., Canadian, and international channels. It also has DSC.
- Memory channel scan
- Confusing instructions
- Needs software update
Why Trust Us
All of our reviews are based on market research, expert input, or practical experience with most products we include. This way, we offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Benefits of Marine Radio
- Safety. Having a VHF radio onboard is safer than relying on your cell phone. Once you get out far enough on the water, you’ll lose your cell phone signal, making it useless. A VHF radio will continue to work as long as it has a power source.
- Entertainment. Some marine radios come with an AM/FM radio. This gives you the ability to tune into your favorite radio station while on your boat. Now you can rock out to your favorite tunes while relaxing on the deck.
- Durability. While there are several VHF radio options out there, you’ll want a marine-specific one for use on your boat. These radios are more durable and designed for use in harsh conditions. They’ll be waterproof and shockproof.
Types of Marine Radios
These small radios look more like walkie-talkies. They’re reliable, compact, and waterproof. Most of the models on the market today are also buoyant, so there’s no issue if you accidentally drop them in the water. Some will come as a single radio, and others will come in a set. For the most functionality, look for one that has an integrated GPS and DSC.
If you have a power source on your boat, then consider a fixed radio that will mount onto the boat. They are the most stylish option and come with several nice-to-have features, such as a radio antenna or aux-in jack. While they are waterproof, you’ll want to mount them somewhere on the boat that keeps them protected from the water and sun. It also requires a bit of know-how to install it.
If you’re planning on doing some serious boating, such as traveling or going offshore, then you’ll want to consider an SSB radio. These radios use less power yet can produce a higher-powered signal for better communication. This makes them invaluable for communicating important information between boats. However, you’ll need a license to operate one of these radios.
Founded in 1953, Cobra is a world leader in manufacturing mobile communication devices and navigation equipment. The company got its start with a CB radio and has maintained prominence through continual innovation and research. You’ll like the adjustability of the Cobra MR F45-D Fixed Mount VHF Marine Radio and its clean white design.
Founded in 1966, Uniden is a Japanese company that has an extensive product line featuring various electronic equipment. Its cordless phones, radar detectors, radio scanners, CB radios, and surveillance products are distributed worldwide. The Uniden MHS75 Handheld Marine Radio has a rugged durability that won’t let you down.
Founded in 1954 in Japan, Icom is known for its development and manufacturing of wireless communication devices. Its specialties are two-way radios and amateur ham radios. The Icom IC-M73 Handheld VHF Marine Radio has plenty of features to suit any boating situation.
Marine Radio Pricing
- Under $100: You can find small handheld radios that are dependable in this price range. They will serve you well for local boating trips. They will also have some nice features, such as buoyancy.
- $100 to $125: This price range has larger handheld and fixed install radios. They will have a stronger signal ability and several nice features, such as GPS and DSC.
- $125 and up: The radios in this price range are the largest and most powerful, making them ideal for offshore trips or long-distance communication.
If you choose to have a handheld option, then you’ll want to know how long the battery life is. Most radios have rechargeable batteries that can last seven to 20 hours before needing a recharge. The battery life will depend on the size of the radio and its power settings. Generally, lighter radios that are buoyant tend to be lighter, so they have smaller batteries with shorter useful lives.
All marine radios have an antenna. It’s the most important factor in the signal range capabilities of your radio. Larger antennas and those that are mounted as high as possible are the most powerful. You’ll also need a large diameter coax cable to connect the antenna to the radio. Handheld radios have an antenna built into the unit. This makes them have a shorter signal range than fixed radios.
Digital Selective Calling (DSC)
This feature gives you the ability to privately communicate and send coordinates to those you wish to communicate with. It’s also a part of the Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS). You can push one button, and the radio will automatically send a Mayday message on the correct channel for direct receipt by the USCG. This makes for a faster response and eliminates user error.
- GPS. A radio with a built-in GPS allows for navigation and more accurate position reporting. It can also work with the DSC to provide an exact coordinate for the USCG to find you. In non-emergency situations, you can quickly and easily send your coordinates to someone else. Or you can record your position for future reference.
- Accessories. Higher-end models come with several features that make using your radio easier. This could include a drop-in charging base to keep your radio charged, or it could be alkaline battery packs that help your radio last longer. An antenna adapter is also nice because it integrates your handheld radio into your vessel’s antenna for stronger signaling power.
- Design. If you choose a handheld radio, the design should comfortably fit in your hand. Non-slip coatings are nice to prevent accidental drops. Fixed radios should have an attractive design, as they will get permanently installed on your boat. They come in different colors to match your boat’s interior. It should have a large and easy-to-read display with either radio type, with backlighting for day and night use.
Best Marine Radio Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- Test your radio. This helps you learn how to work it and ensure that it’s in working order. You only have seconds to use it in an emergency, so it should be second nature.
- Keep your radio protected and away from salt water and the sun’s UV rays. While your radio is waterproof and durable, these are harsh elements that will prematurely age your radio.
- Obtain and register your MMSI number. This is like a boat registration number, and it’s necessary to set up your radio’s DSC emergency features. You’ll also need to connect it to a GPS receiver.
Q: What is the best marine radio to buy?
The best marine radio to buy is one that will fit your needs, whether it be fixed or handheld. It should have the power needed, durability, and channel tuning to make it effective for communicating.
Q: How do you talk on a marine radio?
You’ll need to tune it to a watt power setting. Start by calling “radio check” and your boat’s name and location. Repeat this three times. Wait until someone replies to you. General communication is typically done on channel 9. You’ll need to tune to a different channel for a private conversation.
Q: How far can a marine radio transmit?
VHF radios are meant for short-distance communicating. Typically this is about five to 10 miles away. If you’re within 20 miles of a USCG station, you should be able to communicate with it. An SSB radio can communicate up to 400 nautical miles.
Q: What marine VHF channels can I use?
Use channel 9 for pleasure boat hailing. Channel 16 is for safety and emergency use only. Channels 68, 69, 71, 72, and 78A are all for recreational use. Do not use the emergency channel unless you have an emergency. Otherwise, you’ll be subject to a $5,000 fine and the cost of the USCG actions as a result of your hoax call.
The Cobra MR HH350 FLT Handheld Floating VHF Radio is a quality radio that’s IPX7-rated and is good for short- and long-distance communication.
The affordable Uniden Atlantis 155 Handheld VHF Marine Radio is a great option with its rechargeable batteries, dual-color LCD screen, and IPX7 rating.