Choosing the Best Marine Radio
Living is easy in the Summertime, and having reliable communication when on the water will help ensure that your days are safe and worry-free. A marine radio is a vital piece of safety equipment for every boat, and you have options when it comes to choosing the best marine radio for your circumstances – and a lot of questions to answer. Do you need a fixed mount radio, or will a handheld model be a better choice? How important is GPS? Are marine radios waterproof? Fortunately, our team is here to teach you about your options when it comes to radio styles and features, and to help you determine the best marine radio for you.
What are the different types of marine radios?
There are two main types of marine radios: fixed mount and handheld. A fixed mount radio includes a base station with a screen and a separate corded microphone. This type of radio is wired directly to your boat's distribution circuit or battery and should be mounted in a location where it's easy to access and easy to see the screen, but which doesn't interfere with your view of other systems. Your fixed marine radio will also need an antenna, which should be mounted at the highest location possible, away from electrical equipment; see our marine accessories for VHF antennas and other items.
A handheld marine radio is one single piece and looks more like a walkie talkie. Like a mounted radio, it operates on the VHF band, but it has an antenna built in.
Deciding which style is the best marine radio for you will depend on your boat, your location, and other factors. Mounted radios require more power and cannot be moved around the boat; they also need a separate antenna for effective long-distance communication. When installed correctly, however, a fixed mount radio has excellent range – essential in an emergency situation in the open water. Handheld radios are portable, but they have a battery that must be kept charged and may not be able to transmit a signal quite as far as a fixed mount radio. That said, a handheld radio is carried with you and can be a lifesaver. Look for a radio that's water resistant and able to float so that it's easy to find and can still be used if it ends up in the water – with or without you. This type of radio is not dependent on power from your boat's battery, and it can also better pinpoint your exact location via GPS and Digital Selective Calling (DSC) if you are separated from your boat.
Are marine radios waterproof?
All Cobra marine radios are fully submersible and waterproof. While it's a good idea to install a fixed mount marine radio in a relatively dry location, these radios will still work even when underwater. Our handheld marine radios also float, so you can find them quickly if they fall in the water.
How far can a marine radio transmit?
The VHF signals transmitted by a marine radio travel in a straight line, so how far a marine radio can transmit depends on its power, plus its antenna length, height, gain, and tuning. Transmit powers up to 25 watts are allowed on mounted marine radios, which equals a distance of somewhere between 20 and 80 miles, depending on the type of boat, where the antenna is mounted, and who the radio is communicating with (another boat or a well-equipped shore station). A 5-watt handheld marine radio can transmit approximately 20 miles to a well-equipped shore station or 7 miles to another handheld radio.
If you'd like to learn more about marine communications, check out this study guide from the BoatUS Foundation.
Do I need a VHF marine radio license?
According to the FCC, you do not need a VHF marine radio license to use a radio on a recreational or pleasure craft operating in the United States. If your radio has DSC capability – which all Cobra marine radios provide – you must obtain a maritime mobile service identity (MMSI) number and program it into your radio before you transmit using this service. DSC operates like a "mayday" button, automatically broadcasting a distress call with your location (if you're using GPS) to nearby vessels.
Can I use a marine radio on land?
While any VHF marine radio can transmit to a well-equipped shore station, they cannot be used on land without a marine utility station license and a ship station license. The FCC does permit limited use of marine radios on land near areas of boating activity when communicating with an offshore vessel.
Instead, use a walkie talkie or all-terrain radio to communicate when on land. When traveling, you may want to use a recreational CB radio to stay in touch.