Reviews

Best Marine Radios (Review & Buying Guide) in 2021

Stay safe on the water and maintain communication with a marine radio.

With decades of combined experience covering the latest news, reviewing the greatest gear, and advising you on your next car purchase, The Drive is the leading authority on all things automotive.

The Drive on YouTube The Drive on Facebook The Drive on Instagram

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 August 5, 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.

Best Overall
Cobra MR HH350 FLT Handheld Floating VHF Radio
LEARN MORE
Summary
Summary

Choose from three watt levels with this handheld radio for short- and long-distance communication. It is submersible for up to 30 minutes. 

Pros
Pros
  • IPX7 rated 
  • 10 channel NOAA updates 
  • Burp feature
Cons
Cons
  • Speaker not loud 
  • Screen can fog
Best Overall
Cobra MR HH350 FLT Handheld Floating VHF Radio
Best Value
Uniden Atlantis 155 Handheld VHF Marine Radio
LEARN MORE
Summary
Summary

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.

Pros
Pros
  • IPX7 rated
  • Rechargeable batteries 
  • DC charging cable
Cons
Cons
  • No DSC
  • Lacks power
Best Value
Uniden Atlantis 155 Handheld VHF Marine Radio
Honorable Mention
Uniden UM435 VHF Marine Radio
LEARN MORE
Summary
Summary

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. 

Pros
Pros
  • Rugged
  • Submergible 
  • Memory channel scan
Cons
Cons
  • Confusing instructions 
  • Needs software update
Honorable Mention
Uniden UM435 VHF Marine Radio
Marine Radio Close Up
Amazon

Why Trust Us


Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.

Learn more

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

Handheld VHF

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. 

Fixed VHF

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. 

HF/SSB (Long-Range)

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. 

Top Brands

Cobra

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. 

Uniden

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. 

Icom

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. 

Key Features

Battery Life 

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. 

Antenna

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. 

Other Considerations

  • 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

Best Overall
Cobra MR HH350 FLT Handheld Floating VHF Radio

Have confidence in this handheld radio with its option of one, three, or six watts for both short- and long-distance communication. A standout feature is a channel watch that lets you monitor three channels simultaneously. It’s durable and ready for use on the water with its submergible design and bright orange core for visibility. It meets IPX7 standards and can stay submerged at one meter deep for up to 30 minutes, and still reliably work. A burp feature clears the water out of the speaker grill for improved performance. It also has noise-canceling to reduce the background noise. It can also give you NOAA weather updates from 10 channels. 


One issue with this radio is that the screen can fog up during use. The speaker doesn’t get as loud as other radios. 

Best Value
Uniden Atlantis 155 Handheld VHF Marine Radio

This affordable radio stands out with its appealing price and tons of included features. It’s IPX7-rated, waterproof, and submersible. A standout feature of this radio is the large dual-color LCD screen. It’s bright white during the day and illuminated red for nighttime use. Should you drop it in the water, it’ll clear the water out of the speaker with a vibrating tone for better sound. It comes with rechargeable batteries and a DC charging cable. When using your radio, you can choose from 1- or 3-watt power. 


Unfortunately, this radio’s power ability is lacking, so you won’t be able to communicate as far as you would with others on this list. It also doesn’t have DSC, so it can’t function as an automatic safety beacon should you get into trouble.

Most Durable
Uniden UM435 VHF Marine Radio

Have your marine radio match your boat’s interior perfectly with either all black or a light grey and white color scheme for the radio housing. It has a fixed design that gets mounted into the cockpit. However, it stands out because it’s waterproof, submersible, rugged, and reliable. This helps it to continue to work despite heavy waves, splashing, rain, and the high moisture environment of being on the water. It works with all US, international, and Canadian marine channels. You’ll like the usability features, including the triple and dual watch, memory channel scan, digital selective calling, and position send or request. 


One issue with this unit is that the instructions can be confusing. This can make it challenging to learn how to work this radio. You may also need to update its software to get it to work. 

Best Long Distance
Midland 50 Channel GMRS Two-Way Radio

You can easily communicate with your team when you use this pair of camo-themed walkie-talkies. They come with a charging cradle that fits both radios, plus charging cables and earpieces. The radios can achieve 50 GMRS channels. They are splash-resistant with JIS4 waterproof protection. What’s nice about these radios are the privacy codes to eliminate unwanted conversations. You can communicate with people up to 36 miles away. There are also 10 available NOAA weather stations. Each radio has a bright orange backlit display with large-scale information displayed. They also have a sturdy antenna on the top.


Unfortunately, the battery life on these radios is a bit short, so you will be recharging them often. The earpiece isn’t effective, and the sound quality can suffer.

Most Portable
Standard Horizon Floating Marine Handheld VHF

This compact and portable handheld radio is perfect for use on your boat. It weighs less than a pound and is IPX7-rated waterproof. If you happen to drop it in the water, it’ll float and will also automatically trigger the water-activated emergency strobe light. On the front of the radio is an oversized full dot matrix display. You’ll appreciate the easy-to-use menu system. It can achieve 1-, 2.5-, and 6-watt power output. Other nice features are the programmable function keys, speaker mic jack, and high-capacity battery. A charging cradle is also included, so it’s easy to ensure your radio is always ready for use. 


Unfortunately, you may be disappointed with the range of this handheld radio. It’s much shorter than fixed radios. The microphone is susceptible to water and can cause it to malfunction. Thankfully, the warranty is great, and the company will replace it. 

Honorable Mention
Midland MicroMobile GMRS Two-Way Radio

This high-powered marine radio has 15-watt power GMRS channels and eight repeater channels. You’ll be able to communicate in a 50-mile range with an external magnetic mount antenna. DCS privacy codes let you communicate without unwanted interruptions. It also has NOAA weather alerts and 10 channels to scan through. It comes with an integrated microphone with all of the control buttons and a backlit display. The front of the radio unit has a USB charging jack. You’ll like how this radio comes in a complete kit with a magnetic mount antenna, microphone, microphone holder, power adapter, and quick-start guide. 


One downside of this radio is that it doesn’t have a digital display on the radio unit. This means you’re limited to the handheld microphone portion for knowing any information. However, this reduces the size of the radio unit, making it compact. 

Honorable Mention
Midland GMRS MicroMobile Two-Way Radio

This two-way radio is a 5-watt walkie-talkie with 15 high/low GMRS channels. You’ll be able to communicate with people that are up to 40 miles away when there’s little to no obstruction. It has 142 privacy codes to give you plenty of channel options, so unwanted transmissions are prevented. You’ll appreciate the key lock to prevent button-pushing. The radio comes with a mounting bracket, magnetic mount antenna, and handheld communicator. This radio stands out because it’s cross-compatible with all Midland FRS.GMRS walkie-talkies. It also has 10 NOAA weather channels. 


Unfortunately, this radio isn’t waterproof, making it less than ideal for installation on the exterior cockpit of a boat. However, it can work on boats where the installation is in the inner cabin.

Honorable Mention
Icom M330-11 VHF Radio Fixed Mount

You’ll never struggle to see this marine radio with its oversized display and buttons. Everything is backlit for day and nighttime use. It comes packed with features, including a built-in Class D DSC and a dedicated CH70 receiver. It also has a port for integration into your external GPS and other navigation devices. You’ll like this radio’s functionality with its tag screen and favorite channel functions. This radio will look nice with the included flush mount kit. An attached handheld communicator has buttons on it for convenient communication. The large backlit screen is easy to read and bright enough to see during the day and night. 


One drawback of this radio is that the support and diagram that comes with the radio is lacking. This can make getting the radio to work challenging.

Honorable Mention
QYT KT-8900 Mini Dual Band Mobile Transceiver

This dual-band mobile radio has a simple design and sleek look in black. One standout feature is the backlit screen and buttons that make this radio easy to use during the day and night. It has a built-in cooling fan to improve the radio’s functionality. It also has a programmable cable jack and external speaker port, making this unit perfect for integrating into your boat’s system. This fixed mount radio will come with everything you need to install it into your boat’s cockpit for a streamlined look. It has a 25-watt power output and 200 memory channels. 


The downside of this radio is that you need to have a programming cable that works with Microsoft XP or Windows 7/8/10 to install the necessary drivers.

Honorable Mention
Standard Horizon GX1400 Eclipse VHF Radio

Install this fixed mount VHF radio on your boat and appreciate its ultra-compact design. It comes with an attached microphone that has talking control buttons for easier communication. The radio unit itself has an oversized, backlit, full dot-matrix display for quick and easy reading. It comes with DSC test call and Auto DSC channel capabilities. Connect it to a GPS receiver, and it will display your location and relay it to a compatible GPS chart plotter. You’ll appreciate the programmable soft keys and the automatic polling of up to four ships. The entire unit is durable, with an IPX8 waterproof rating. You’ll find the menu easy to operate and the owner’s manual informative. 


Unfortunately, this radio doesn’t come with a GPS receiver, so you won’t have full functionality until you buy one.

Tips

  • 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. 

FAQs

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. 

Final Thoughts

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.