User Tools

Site Tools


Need New VHF

04/30/17 #21192

Hi All- My handheld VHF died today. Well acutally I don't know exactly when it died but I decided to do a radio check before paddling this morning and ZILCH! Who knows how long I have been paddling with a false sense of security. Got to remember to check my gear more often!!!

Any recommendations on the latest, greatest VHF with DSC? Would love to find a small one . Any input appreciated. THANKS!

04/30/17 #21193

Unfortunately as far as I know there are no DSC handheld raídos that are small. They are all engineered to float so they are bulky.
The Standard Horizon HX870 still seems to be the raído to beat but it's not small. It has the best waterproofness and interface… me thinks. They are around $200.


Nicholas Cryder

04/30/17 #21194

I use the Garmin 650 Rhino XT - which is a full functioning GPS as well. Handy for long days out.

Reivers Dustin

05/01/17 #21199

Bought my Standard Horizon HX 851 seven years ago because of the DSC. Seems to be the most durable unit around. Replaced battery pack three years ago. Battery pack has the exposed terminals which means that when you replace it the most common failure point gets replaced (exposed terminals corrode faster). I don't rinse it, I keep in on a charge cradle in the car. I think there's a newer model out, but as folks have said before: this is the last layer of safety. So basically you never want to use it.

I foolishly bought a remote mic for it thinking I could rig the radio on my back and have access to the itty bitty hand mic on front. I didn't like this setup. I've tried radio chat with folks and it's a PITA. The only thing I care about is the little panic button. If you look up “rescue 21” it will explain the history of the DSC program.


05/01/17 #21200

I have both the HX851 and HX870… the 870 is a better unit. A much easer to use interface and upped waterproofness. Not sure you can even get the 851 any more. ……. The little red button is your friend!


05/01/17 #21203

Hi All- I know this subject gets revisited every so often which I think is a good thing. Technology is always changing and, at this point, I am bored with doing research on the latest, greatest… That said, this is one of those technologies that we can take for granted until we are in a panic situation. The problem with a lot of the current VHF's is they have so many “features” that when you are cold, scared and need help the menus, buttons , etc become a liability. The Nautilus Lifeline has some appeal because it is small and is just a PANIC BUTTON with nothing else. Their newest models no longer have VHF communication capability. Everything is a compromise.
When I bought my UNIDEN a few years back I quickly noticed that the PANIC BUTTON was not easily accesible with gloved or cold hands and modified it to have a “rip cord” that would work when needed. I mention this to encourage everyone to check their emergency gear, make sure it is accessible and to imagine trying to use it when you are in deep s–t. That should pretty much guarantee that you will never need it:).

Thanks again for all of the input.

Reivers Dustin
05/01/17 #21206

dangit forgot something. If you have HX 870 there is a yahoogroup of fanboys. just search yahoogroups for HX 870.


David Hooper
05/02/17 #21211

I have the Standard Horizon, and yes, it’s a bit bulky, but I was very happy to find that it fits perfectly into the pocket of the new Vaikobi life jacket I just got from DJ (thanks, DJ!). The antenna sticks out, but with the pocket zipper at the center of the lift jacket, the antenna still doesn’t get in the way of paddling.

Dave H.

Michael Medler

05/02/17 #21212

Anybody in this group ever push the red button? I would be very interested to hear that story. My understanding is that it will launch a slowish procedure of trying to call the phone numbers registered with your radio accompanied by radio attempts to reach you for specifics. Then followed by radio attempts to reach other craft in your vicinity to see if they can help you, then followed by mobilizing the Coast Guard. I believe it is likely that being able to communicate dirrectly with the Coast Guard might still be very important to expediting the process and directing them to you or your buddy.


Dale McKinnon
05/02/17 #21213

The issue really shouldn't be VHF or DSC. You can do both. But, which you use, if you choose one or the other, has a lot to do with the situation you are in and your respect for hypothermia. In Salish Sea waters, Channel 16 is still the best and fastest way to broadcast a call for help (regardless of who needs it). Between USCG's and Canadian Coast Guard's tall towers and repeaters, and nearby pleasure/working boats, there is a blanket of coverage throughout the entire Salish Sea to pick up the faintest calls on a handheld VHF. However, you have to KNOW WHERE YOU ARE. If you do, and you (or buddy) are getting hypothermic, presuming you are in the water, it is the best way to go. As long as you can give a fairly precise, description of where you are, the response will be swift, whether by USCG or Canadian chopper or nearby pleasure/work boat. But probably not as swift as you'd like or need it. Cold warps the perception of time and distance.

Note: Channel 16 is an international standard and works just as well in Canada for emergency communications. However, if you plan on going into Canadian waters, ever, in order to use DSC you will have to register your VHF thru the FCC, rather than (free) Boat U.S./International negotiations are ongoing to change that. But that's how it is now.

As to using Digital Select Calling, ALL handheld VHF radios with DSC have a protective gasket over the red button that you must pull off in order to push that red button. Deb Brown found out last winter that she couldn't pull the cover off because her hands got cold first. I have heard that her solution afterwards was to attach a string to the gasket which she could grab with her teeth. Numb knuckles can push a DSC button once the cover is off.

And speaking of knuckles, some people on the water do not realize that they must register to activate MMSI/DSC. If you buy a VHF with DSC/GPS off the shelf it comes with required instructions about how to register (it's free). But, some people tell themselves they will register later. And never do. Please educate yourself

Bottom line… Make sure you take your VHF with you each time you go out on the water, and keep it nearby. If you don't have one. Get one. There are reasons, here in Bellingham Bay, for having one.
toggle quoted messageShow quoted text

Reivers Dustin
05/02/17 #21223

Once registered your DSC radio will code out on Ch 70 digital to CG (all “Rescue 21” upgraded stations). It won't matter if you cannot speak. The long term goal is to not have human monitored distress. Especially for heavy traffic areas. They are getting close to having all stations upgraded (they haven't got all major lakes, rivers, etc.) All the West Coast and East Coast is live. (Canada too - and if you code in for an aid call they will find a way.)

This coded transmission is background to the user. You can continue to operate voice channels. When you push that button it tells listening stations that you are in distress, your position, direction and your speed. It continues to do this until the CG stops it or your radio dies. Because it is digital it has superior distance although VHF is line of sight. For MOB this can be restricted a lot by heavy seas.

The voice mayday initiates a response protocol. There are specific questions (nature of distress, number on board, who is wearing PFD, location, etc.) These become really irritating (in my experience) because I was asked to repeat the answers until the kid stuck on radio watch was able to fill out the right form(s). When I asked CG why so much repetition I was given a somewhat generic answer that they are budgeted 30 minutes from a validated aid call to time of departure for CG rescue. This means that while the kid is asking you all those questions does not count in those 30 minutes. It also might not include cases of nearby vessel assist. Note that they are not wasting time. They must compose a rescue mission plan, mission safety analysis, crew/vessel assignment, pre-flight of crew and vessel, etc.

If you phone call 911 dispatch it will be a similar experience. They take some time to vett the caller and verify that it is an emergency. If you are going through 911 for C.G. then the CG will process it again. As someone said on here you should put the CG phone in your memory so you can call CG direct. Don't need more middle men.

The Rescue 21 system is still sort of oriented to large vessel aid. The explosion of SUP, OC, Surfski etc. is a chink and the new portable VHF with DSC is not totally dialed in. These radios still tend to have features that only power boaters will be able to use. Note: if you don't register and get an MMSI, the button will have no function. I have no faith in Epirb, PLB, or other Sat/Nav relayed devices. For paddlers, the response needs to be minutes, not hours. An Epirb or PLB will only be better if you are basically in international waters. I don't go there in my surfski.


05/02/17 #21224

Having the misfortune of using a VHF and the DSC function in an emergency, I can attest to how useful they are. I won't rehash my ordeal but I will talk about what was useful.

When I decided to send out a general destress call over Chanel 9 the CG responded immediately. Asked some questions about my situation and general state of health. They then put out a call to all stations and all vessels in the vicinity to come and assist me if possible. A number of vessels responded including a container ship, a fishing vessel and a pleasure boat. The Coast Guard ask for my location and I was giving it to them by roughly triangulating where I was relative to various landmarks but that can be difficult when you're a mile or two offshore. I then told the Coast Guard my handheld VHF radio had DCS capability, and asked if I should press it to give them my exact location. The response I got after a long pause was…“Ummmm….. sure”. So I pressed the button and the radio goes into a series of tones and flashing and then finally settles down. I let a fair amount of time go by before calling back the Coast Guard and asking “did you get it?”. He pause for a little while and then called back that he had received the info. But he did not use the info to tell the other boats where I was, he never broadcast over the air the coordinates. I understand that it other boats had DSC enabled radios that they will have my coordinates automatically on their VHF radio but no one that was coming for me said that they have the coordinates. Since I was in radio contact with everyone that was coming for me as soon as I saw them on the horizon I could direct them to me. Besides the initial call for help, being able to direct people to where you are is a huge benefit of a VHF radio. While it's apparent that most people with DSC enabled radios don't actually know how to use them ( don't know how to use the navigate to emergency function).

As designed, DSC enable radios send out a signal all vessels in the area that there is an emergency with your coordinates displayed. There is a navigate to emergency function that you can press and have your radio guide you with its internal GPS to the location of the emergency. Well it seems that it might take a while for the Coast Guard to get its act together, having this function broadcast to all vessels in the area is a huge benefit, or at least will be when people learned how to use it.

In the end I directed people to me with the VHF radio. I can talk to several boats coordinate with them tell them if I was up there port or starboard bow, how far away they were …etc. This was invaluable not only the same time looking for me but none of the boats could see me until they were within 100 yards of me, maybe even less than that. I had a white boat out in whitecaps.
Even my bright Think PFD was only visible close.

So, while I think DSC is a fantastic addition to radio and has a enormous potential to help locate you, by far the most important thing is the radio itself. Being in direct contact verbally with people who are coming to get you or look for you is huge. As far as I know the Coast Guard never launched any sort of vessel to assist. I they just left it in the hands of the commercial and private vessels that coming to my aid.

As a sidenote, I usually take my phone and my radio with me, sort of a double back up. That day I forgot my phone so I only had my radio. I was only wearing 1.5 mm top and 2mm bottoms. I always wore a 3/2mm full suit but had sold it the previous week and was waiting for a replacement that arrived in the next day.
That two-piece set up was nowhere near warm enough to give me time to try getting on the boat again before getting too cold.

I have since then and since my original write up of the whole series of events figured out what my problem was. To make a long story short I figured out that it was cold water vertigo. I've become very sensitive in my old age to getting cold water in my ears are becoming very dizzy. I didn't realize it at the time but after having my head underwater a number of times I was fairly dizzy when trying to remount. I Woodland perfectly in the bucket everything feel good and I would just slowly tip over unable to keep myself up right. If I had had my one piece suit on I would've had a lot more time to sit in the water thank about what was going on and have time for my vertigo to dissipate. But with my skimpy two-piece outfit I was freezing in no time. I firmly believe I fired have my 3/2 suit on I wouldn't be writing this. When I Paddle a downwind in Coldwater I know where ear plugs. Hopefully this will keep something similar from happening again.

So, things can add up, mistakes, Coldwater vertigo issues that I never thought about being an issue paddling a ski, equipment failures… etc. It sucks when it all happens at the same time.

If I did not have that radio I wouldn't be alive. If you don't have one get one. They're not that expensive and the second you need one either for yourself or to help someone else the cost will seem insignificant.


Reivers Dustin

05/03/17 #21229

excellent posting William. There is a DSC test protocol posted on I plan to test my radio … er, real soon. I've joined that yahoogroup for the Standard Horizon HX 870 and the general discussion is finding a lot of areas of improvement. Most portable VHF don't have DSC. And those that do seem to be pimping themselves as a wonderful GPS tool. I can't be playing with my radio for navigation crap. There's lots of other sexy stuff like wireless mics and crap that mean zero to paddlers. All these features are junk in the trunk that gets in the way when there's trouble. I've noticed that one of the group members is a Standard Horizon senior management. Thats cool.

I dropped a scud missile on those guys by saying that I'm a paddler and theres hundreds of guys like me. We need a day use, portable panic button the size of a pack of gum. It needs to speak directly with the boat or helicopter pilot. That is all it should do. One caution for HX870 users: the unit polls GPS while off which drains battery. They did this because the GPS lock time from a cold boot is somewhat long. For example if you don't turn your older model radio on until you need it, your radio will take quite a while to “find”. Note that this trade-off is typical mindset of powerboat use: they think you have this thing sitting in a charge cradle in your ditch bag on your nice bayliner or whatever.

Your vertigo description covers something that has bugged me for years. When LG and I helped that younger fella on a big downwinder that was just what he was going through. He clearly had no sense of balance, but was a fantastic paddler just minutes before that. It has always bugged me seeing that and not understanding. Thank goodness for radio at that time. No other boats around because is was a really big day. And talking the C.G. boat in made all the difference. I'll always feel bad about that day. A really great young paddler was soured on the sport. Its the reason I'm nervous about downwinders. Something my dear old mum used to say, “you learn to care after you screw up”.


05/03/17 #21230

I think those Nautilus LifeLine dive raídos were close to perfect. Maybe a little light on watts (under 2 I think) but were simple, had DSC and marine VHS channels, were small and in a real waterproof housing. 2 watts should be fine in the Sound as there are so many repeaters. They stopped making them and on Ebay “new” ones and old alike are going for nearly double what they cost originally $299. I contacted the company asking if they were going to make them again and they said no. There were some licensing issues or certification issues with the FCC and CG if I remember correctly. Some BS about not being registered to a vessel when used as an emergency locator for lost divers. DSC is not intended for personal use… its registered to a specific vessel. That said I don't understand how the new ones work as they apparently send out a DSC signal but have no VHF function and are now OK with the CG and FCC… I assume.

The whole vertigo thing had me baffled for some time. It never settled well with me why I couldn't stick a remount in moderate conditions, it just didn't make sense. It should have been easy. A couple of months after my adventure I told an old whitewater paddling friend about what had happened and he asked me “what about your cold water vertigo?”……….Two years before I was getting ready to do an early season self support kayak trip on the Middle Fork of the Salmon. I hadn't paddled whitewater in some time so I was out on Lake union brushing up on my rolls. Three on one side then three on the other… It was April and the water was in the mid 40°’s. I almost didn't make the last role and then could hardly stay upright in a fat creek boat in flat water. If there wasn't a sail boat right next to me to hold on to I most likely would have just fallen over. The spinning was really bad, like the worst teenage drunken spins…so bad I nearly threw up. After i did a little research (thanks internet) An figured out what had happened, so got some ear plugs and went out and did the same rolls… zero vertigo issues, just a cold water headache. The Middle Fork trip fell threw and I didn't think about my ears again. Why?… i never thought about it as a concern while ski paddling I don't know. I just kind of forgot about it totally and it wasn't until Gary reminded me that I had cold water vertigo that things clicked. In the sound my head went under a few times and kinda deep-ish, not that different than rolling. While I don't really remember being dizzy while I was in the water and remounting, things are moving around a lot and I think light dizziness was easily masked by everything around me moving.. It doesn't take much imbalance to go from success to failure during a remount. In the end I still don't really know what kept me from sticking my remount but when I was reminded of my cold water vertigo it all started to make sense to me for the first time. It fits what happened to me even if I don't remember feeling dizzy……. Well, at least that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

So, it's earplugs for me in the sound now.. always.

As I mentioned, suspect if I had not had on a two piece and had some time to get my shit together, chill a little (no pun intended) and try again in a few minutes I might have been successful. My two pice came untucked and with every swell flushed dramatically. It's a tight top and I had water squirting out the neck with every passing swell. So it essentially was doing nothing to keep me warm. I will never hit the sound in anything other than a full suit or at least not a two piece. I bought a 4/3 this spring and did a moderate DW with Jim Schulz. It was a new suit and really a bit much for the temp out. The sun came out on the paddle (nothing for months then on my paddle) and I started to fry. I hopped in the sound mid paddle to cool off. It took a long time to even feel the cool water, It felt impervious to the cold. If I was wearing that suit when I got in trouble I could have remounted 15 minutes later with no 'I'm too cold now' issues and over my vertigo.

For those of you who paddle in a two pice set up or farmer johns and a dry top…. hop in some time and see how long you can be in the water before you become too cold to remount. It's not long, and even less if you are in conditions and you are flushing ether a little or a lot with each passing wave.

I hope people can glean something from my less than stellar experience. It's not something I like to think about kinda embarrassing to talk about… even my not too hungry of an ego can bruise. But I hope people can learn something from my experience and if I helps avoid even one incident, it's more than worth the ocasional ego bruise.

vhf_dhc_2017.txt · Last modified: 2020/09/16 21:50 (external edit)