There is a wide range of handheld VHF marine radios on the market that can receive and transmit very high frequencies at sea and on lakes and rivers. Similar to a walkie-talkie, these radios can be carried around wherever you go on board and require no installation. The advantages, compared to a permanently installed radios, are literally in your hands. Good quality handheld radios have a built-in, long-life battery, an integrated antenna and feature fully autonomous operation (not dependant on on-board electrics). This is particularly useful should the power on board fail or if you need to abandon ship in an emergency. Such radios are also perfect for taking with you on smaller boats or in regattas. In which case, you'll need a handheld marine radio that you can 100% rely on.
These advantages notwithstanding, we still recommend buying a permanently installed marine radio for your boat if your vessel has the space to allow for one, as handheld marine radios should not be the sole means of communication on board your boat. This is because they also have some disadvantages. In terms of range, they cannot compete with marine radio installations (max 8 nautical miles compared to 20). Battery life is also not without limits, and many devices cannot be charged on board. Handheld marine radios can also be lost overboard, although buoyant handheld marine radios are available on the market that are also pretty powerful. Our test is a comparison of various handheld marine radios from big-name brands such as Lowrance, ICOM, Standard Horizon or Cobra and it will hopefully help you to decide which is the best mobile marine radio device for you.
Which handheld marine radio should I buy?
How to decide which mobile radio to purchase? This is a question that has been asked by the authors of several specialist publications in the boating sector, all of whom have come to various conclusions. We have taken into consideration their assessments, as well as our own customer's ratings and reviews, and drawn our own conclusions for you. To do so, we tested and compared ATIS handheld marine radios and VHF handheld devices for boats. We focussed on the following criteria:
Battery life, range, buoyancy, additional features such as GPS or DSC controller, AIS receiver, maximum operating time, backlight, charging options, customer ratings and price. If you want to find out more about choosing the right mobile radio device, be sure to have a look at our guide „to handheld marine radios“. - It contains plenty of helpful information about how to find the best VHF marine radios to suit your individual requirements and about registering a VHF handheld marine radio.
Our assessment categories
- Customer popularity (bought and recommended by customers the most)
- Best value for money (lowest price with best features)
- Top product (best features regardless of price)
Conclusion: The HX890 from Horizon is our clear winner in terms of price/performance. The customer favourite, however, was the ICOM M25 and was our customer's first choice. We awarded the ICOM M94 with AIS receiver and DSC the honour of test winner in our evaluation. But the Horizon Standard VHF HX-300, HX-210E and HX890E handheld marine radios also stood out with their convincing performance features.