Choosing a Handheld VHF Unit

There have been a lot of discussions on survival forums about the options available for radio communication in a post-SHTF situation. Despite the availability and convenience that cellular phones offer, they are still not as reliable as radios.Β 

Most people pull out their cell phones because they think it is the fastest way to call for help. This can be true got small emergencies, but for widespread disasters, cell towers can go out of operation for multiple days. Moreover, all cell phone networks are limited by a design capacity, similar to how highways are limited by a design capacity. Once traffic hits a certain level, you end up with a massive traffic jam.

We take a look at some handheld VHF units you can try, and the factors to consider when buying one.

About Submersible VHF Radios

Β A handheld CHF marine radio transceiver should be on your checklist of essential safety gear. Even then, there was a variety of reliable offerings from different manufacturers at reasonable prices, but today’s technology has vastly improved the hand-held VHF.

Technology has also introduced many other options for communicating like cell phones. However, these devices should just be supplements instead of substitutes for a marine band VHF radio.

VHF radios allow direct communication with other vessels of all sizes and descriptions and provide dedicated and direct channels for contacting the U.S. Coast Guard and other search and rescue agencies. If you make a distress call with a cell phone, only the party you are calling can hear you and you will be hard to locate if you do not know your coordinates.

The transmission range of one is limited by an output power of 5 or 6 watts, and that is enough for several miles. In most coastal areas, boaters frequent there will likely be other vessels close enough for communication.

Factors to Consider when Buying a VHF Unit

There are a couple of points to remember when planning to buy a VHF unit. First, just how much do you want to spend? Will the unit you afford be able to resist water and provide good communication? Here are some factors to consider.Β 

Splash or Water-Resistant

You should check out whether the handheld unit if it is seriously waterproof or just water-resistant. Drop a fully waterproof unit in the water and the chances are it will still work, despite the dunking. Not the same can be said for one that is only water-resistant or splash-proof. There are, however, excellent plastic covers available for handhelds that will keep both salt spray and rain off your unit.

You should also consider the operating time of the battery and what warranty period the manufacturer is offering.Β 

Cost, Coverage, and Communication

The cost of operating a VHF is free. There are no monthly rentals or on-going call charges. The only cost is the small annual license fee, which is charged essentially to cover system maintenance. Equipment costs are low and you can get a good set, including an aerial, for under $300.

The coverage is what you have to look out for. β€œLine of sight” means that the radio waves don’t go around corners. However, by locating a repeater in a prominent location that is visible from many places, it’s possible to get excellent coverage over a wide area even from a small handheld.

Good Antenna System

Probably the most important feature of all is a VHF’s antenna system. Just like a Fresnel lens, a quality VHF antenna may intensify your transmitted signal many times beyond the actual rated power of your set.

Within the fiberglass, tube are matched and stacked antenna elements, strategically placed end-to-end for maximum low-horizon gain. The more elements are stacked, the closer the signal will hug the horizon. This allows you to talk well beyond the expected range of your VHF set, and to hear and transmit signal further than everyone else around you with physically shorter antennas.

Top Handheld VHF Units

With all the features in mind, here are some of the best performing handheld VHF units you may want to try.

Standard Horizon HX750S

This device has the most powerful transmitter of all with 6 watts in the highest setting. A low power setting of 1 watt is standard on all VHF radios to minimize interference with other vessel communications farther away when you are in a close-range situation where more power is not needed. The HX750S also offers 5 watt and 2.5-watt intermediate settings.

What we love about the HX 750S is it utilizes a high-intensity white LED on the front control panel as a visual distress beacon. It also has a built-in water temperature sensor, and it’s submersible. When dropped into the water, it floated on its side, still receiving clearly. After the one-meter submersion test, it still performed perfectly and an inspection of the battery case proved it was dry inside.

West Marine VHF 150

This is a similar radio to the Uniden MHS550, somewhat plainer, rubber-armored, black aluminum case of the same compact size and weight. The layout of the controls is exactly the same, and the West Marine VHF 150 has most of the features of the Uniden with the exception of the extra FRS transceiver and AM/FM receiver bands.

This unit already comes with a Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery, a charger, and the AA alkaline battery tray for optional power, so despite a lower price point nothing is left out to have to buy later. Battery life is estimated at 12 hours, the same as the Uniden.

It is submersible and waterproof, as tests confirm that it was dry inside after it came up from underwater. Unless you are the kind of gadget enthusiast that needs all the bells and whistles, this is a great radio for the money.

Hummingbird VHF 55S

This is a no-frills version of a submersible marine VHF radio with all the essential features of the other radios tested and the exception of an included rechargeable battery pack. Operating on 6 AA Alkaline batteries, it does not use all push-button controls and has the knobs that I prefer for on/off, volume, and squelch. These are located on the top of the case like older VHF radios and are easy to use with gloved hands since they are large and one is dedicated to squelching only. The other buttons for channel up and down, band selection, scan, and watch functions are also large enough to operate using gloves and are located below the display.

We can say that the controls are easy to use despite being a little bulky. The Humminbird VHF 55S isn’t built to float but survived the dunking while turned on and receiving a weather channel and came out of the 30-minute submersion test operating fine.

Get a VHF Unit Now!

There are so many reasonably priced and waterproof handheld VHF units out there, so there is no excuse not to get one for when you venture into coastal waters. They are more reliable than cellular phones, especially when you’re in the waters or when SHTF for a higher chance of survival.

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