Handheld Radio Gids

Handheld Radio Guide

Radios are part of your safety equipment on board and let you stay in contact with other vessels and the coast. Handheld radios are much more reliable on the water than a mobile phone, which has limited reception even in coastal areas, so no boat should be without a radio. Learn all about the advantages and disadvantages of handheld radios and what they are used for on board in this guide.

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What is a handheld radio?

A handheld radio is similar in appearance to a walkie talkie. Unlike fixed radios on boats, handheld radios do not require any installation on board. Handheld radios have an integrated battery and their own antenna and work fully autonomously, anywhere on the boat.

When is a handheld radio the right choice?

If you're faced with deciding whether to buy a handheld radio or a permanently installed radio system on board, we would always advise buying a radio system. If, on the other hand, installation space is an issue, a handheld radio is a better choice. Handheld radios are also useful to have as additional radios to your fixed marine radio. If possible, you should not rely on one handheld radio alone.

Which is the best VHF handheld radio?

There are many handheld radios for use on board. Our customers gave the COBRA VHF handheld radio the best rating. This entry-level radio costs less than 100 euros, giving you a reliable basic device with an illuminated display and keypad and connection option for an external microphone. As a floatable handheld radio, the standard Horizon HX300E always performs well. This handheld VHF radio has a 220 V AC adapter, 5 watts of transmitting power and squelch indication on the display. This will set you back around 150 euros. If you are looking for a model with DSC and GPS, the ICOM IC-M93D is the best handheld radio for you. This powerful handheld radio is in a class of its own and offers many other additional functions, such as active noise cancellation and an easy-to-read dot matrix display. It is floatable and has a battery life of up to 9 hours. A quick charger is included in the delivery contents. The IC-M93D, with all its features, will cost you around 350 euros.

Can I use handheld radios on inshore waters?

In inland areas (ATIS - channel group), the use of handheld radios is generally prohibited in Germany. However, there is an exception for the use of hand-held radios on vessels of more than 20 metres in length. On these vessels, handheld radios may be used for radio communication on board the vessel. In other European countries, such as the Netherlands, the use of handheld devices is permitted in inshore areas.

Can I use handheld radios on the open sea?

The use of handheld radios at sea is permitted. Some handheld radios even have a DSC controller and a GPS receiver built in, which allow you to use DSC and send a distress call in case of an emergency at sea. DSC handheld radios must be programmed in advance with your personal DSC / MMSI number, which you can obtain in Germany from the Federal Network Agency.

What are the advantages of handheld radios?

The biggest advantage of handheld radios is that they are independent of on-board power sources. If your boat battery fails or the electrical system on board is affected by a lightning strike, water ingress, a fire or simply a technical failure, a handheld radio will still work. Handheld radios have their own separate antenna and battery, which means that they are still operational, even if the electrical system on board fails. If your boat should sink and the batteries get wet, you can always call for help with a handheld radio. Another advantage of handheld radios is that they are portable. This is particularly useful, because since handheld radios are not wired on board, they can be used anywhere on the boat, whether on or below deck. They can even be taken onto a dinghy or life raft.

What are the disadvantages of handheld radios?

The disadvantage of handheld radios is that their range is significantly lower than that of fixed radios. This is due to their lower transmission power. Handheld radios transmit with a maximum of 6 watts. The range of handheld radios in maritime radio is between three and eight miles at 5 watts transmitting power. By comparison, fixed marine radios have a range of 15-20 miles, depending on the antenna used. A further disadvantage of handheld radios is the limitation posed by their battery life. It should be noted that greater transmission power has a negative effect on battery life. Also noteworthy, is that the range of a handheld radio with 6W transmitting power is not that much greater compared to handheld radios that only have 1 W transmitting power.

Summary of possible uses, Advantages & disadvantages of handheld radios

  • Handheld radios are ideal for small boats or as an addition to a fixed marine radio. In inshore areas, handheld radios are not allowed in Germany.
  • + Operate independently of on-board electrics
  • + Can be used anywhere on the boat
  • - Range up to max. 8 miles
  • - Limitations due to battery life
Floatable handheld radio

Do I need a floatable handheld radio?

Handheld radios, unlike fixed radios, can sometimes fall overboard. For this reason, some manufacturers have developed floatable handheld radios. These radios are waterproof to IPX7, which means they can survive being submerged in water up to a depth of one metre for 30 minutes before water ingress occurs. To ensure floatability of handheld radios, they must be lightweight, which usually comes at the expense of battery life. You should therefore think about what is more important, floatability or long battery life, which depends on the radio's intended use. If you are able to charge your handheld radio on board, shorter battery life will work just fine. If you need to charge your handheld radio while ashore, or if you have limited battery capacity on board, you should put battery life first, rather than floatability.

What battery life do handheld radios have?

Handheld radios are operated with an integrated battery. Their runtime is therefore limited and they must be charged regularly. Typically, the battery life of a handheld radio is between seven and 20 hours. Battery life of handheld radios depends on the size of the radio. The larger the radio, the more space for the battery to be installed in it. Furthermore, battery life is influenced by the transmission frequency of the handheld radio and whether a GPS receiver is installed in the handheld. Floatable handheld radios usually have a shorter battery life due to their lightweight design. Weigh up which of the two features has priority for you.

Which type of display is right for my handheld radio?

Handheld radios have either a seven-segment LCD display or a dot-matrix display. With a 7-segment LCD display, each number is shown using up to seven dashes, making the numbers square and limiting the display options. A dot matrix display uses small dots instead of dashes, allowing other patterns to be displayed and making the numbers rounder and easier to read. Dot matrix displays differ in the quality of their screen resolution by the number of pixels used.

Example of a 7-segment LCD display

Example of a 7-segment LCD display

Example of a dot matrix display

Example of a dot matrix display

Distress Button

Distress Button

Handheld radios with DSC and GPS

Some handheld radios have an integrated GPS receiver which can be used to display position data and for navigation. Handheld radios with GPS also have a DSC function that guarantees fast help, especially in the event of an emergency at sea. With one press of the distress button, an emergency call with information on your boat, skipper, distress contacts and the exact GPS position is sent out to the appropriate coastal authorities as well as other boats with DSC in the vicinity. To use the DSC function, a so-called MMSI number (DSC number) is required. In Germany, this can be applied for at the Federal Network Agency. This MMSI number can also be used to contact other boats with DSC radios. In this case, the MMSI number functions almost like a telephone number.

What features does a handheld radio have?

Handheld radios are now equipped with a range of functions by various manufacturers. We would like to give you an overview of which features are available on the market so that you have all the information you need before buying a handheld radio and can decide which of these features are important to you.

1 Illumination

An illuminated display makes it easier to operate your handheld radio. Some handheld radios also have illuminated buttons. Look for the "Float'n Flash" function on floatable handheld radios. If it comes into contact with water, this feature automatically causes the handheld radio to flash, making it easier for you to find it if it goes overboard.

2 Charging

When buying, pay attention to how the handheld radio is charged. All handheld radios can be and are charged at 12 V. A corresponding charger is included in the delivery contents. In addition, USB chargers and cigarette lighter chargers are available for some radios. A 220 V AC adapter or a quick charger can also be a useful addition.

3 Other features

Other features that may be of interest to you when purchasing a handheld radio include the ability to connect an external microphone, the type of battery, a key lock function, a preferred channel function, a low battery alarm or noise cancellation to improve voice quality.

Summary of the functions & features of handheld radios

  • Floatable handheld radios are practical, but have a shorter battery life
  • The battery life of handheld radios varies depending on the size of the radio, transmission power, floatability and whether there is a built-in GPS receiver. It ranges from 7 to 20 hours.
  • Compared to the classic 7-segment LCD display, a dot matrix display has better display options
  • Handheld radios with DSC and GPS provide quick help in an emergency, but consume more battery power.
  • Before buying, consider how features such as lighting, quick charge and noise cancellation are important to you.