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Marine radio suggestions?

Jan 6 #25806

I will be buying 3 new marine radios for BBOP and was looking for recommendations. They will be carried by different steerspeeple, so it should:

-be small enough to fit inside most PFD pockets
-simple and intuitive, because who studies the instructions every day?
your thoughts on:
-floating vs non floating models
-GPS enabled vs verbally describing location

We have $200 budgeted per BBOP radio, but I bought a Standard Horizon HX40 from West Marine yesterday for $120, with a $20 rebate.

Brian Flannelly

Morris Arthur
Jan 6 #25811

Hi Brian,
I've been loyal to the Standard Horizon HX___ models with GPS and DSC ( I have the HX851, but now they're up to HX870.)

However, I would think that y'all would be best served by a solidly waterproof, compact model (which means you'd forego the advanced features like GPS and DSC).

Note: the Coast Guard will always want to have verbal communication… and I don't know of any local rescue that was facilitated by direct VHF GPS positioning.
Is anyone else aware of this ever happening ? i.e. the panic button on a VHF was used and it assisted the rescue ????


David Hooper

Jan 6 #25812

Hi Brian,
I have the Standard Horizon HX870. It fits into the front pocket of my Vaikobi life jacket (with antenna sticking out), floats, has DSC and GPS. I don't know the answer to Morris' question about whether DSC has facilitated local rescues, but I do know that on several occasions I've gotten notification on the big VHF on our sailboat from such distress signals. I don't know the specific CG follow-up procedure though.

A few additional thoughts:

Even if you want to give verbal description of position instead of DSC, you'd likely want GPS on the radio so you don't have to carry a separate device. Much better to give coordinates than a general verbal description “…about a mile off of Clark's Point…”
You need to register for DSC, which, if you're going to use the radios in Canada, also requires an FCC license ($168, last I checked a few years ago).

While you don't want to spend endless hours reading instruction manuals (once you're into the DSC range of devices they also have lots of other functions you likely won't ever need), it would be worth some basic training on CG radio procedures for all folks involved.

Good luck!

Jan 6 #25813

There is a new Standard Horizon HX890 which is a bit smaller, still floats and has FM radio. It has a scrabbler as well so you listen to talk raido and can chat about where the sweet waves are and keep it all to you and your buddy, or more likely keep your swim a secret.

As someone who has used a DSC enabled radio in anger I have a few thoughts.

While it would be nice to have a small radio I don’t think anyone makes one at this point and I must say a floating radio is nice for a number of reasons. I have the Standard Horizon HX870 and being able to drop your radio (alway, always, always, tethered) so you can use both hands is very helpful. Plus it helps make sure it doesn’t get an unintentional pressure test for waterproofness.

As far as DSC, it just another tool and a potentially life saving one. When I called out an SOS the coastguard responded immediately. They asked all boats in the area for assistance and several responded immediately. I asked the CG if I should pop the DSC and they responded and I quote… “um…. ok”. So I did and my radio made noises and switched to Chanel 16, I was communication on 9 after initial contact with the CG. I had to ask several min later if they received the signal and coordinates, they said they did, and that was the end of anything to do with the DSC. No one responding to my verbal location used there DSC enabled radios to find me, which is what the damn thing is all about and a bit concerning.

I gave verbal instructions roughly were i was but am not sure if people plotted it out on a chart with directionssomething like… “I’m about 2 miles south of Point wells and about 2 miles off the east shore. Roughly even with the entrance to Port Madison to the west”…. This is vague at best, and even though I was talking directly to the boats that were coming to help they kept asking for a better description of where I was. Of the two boats that arrived at nearly the same time nether could see me until they were within 100 yards and I had on a bright Think PFD, but a white ski in whitecaps. The colder I got the harder it was to think clearly. At times I had to really think very hard about what I was saying and If it was even right. I finally saw the boats and had to verbally guide them in to my location. Even that was hard as I was having a hard time figuring out if I was on the boats port or starboard side, or left or right side… my brain was in a hypothermic fog. This is a good example why a EPRB is a poor choice. … too slow and no communication.

If I haven’t seen the boats I would have told the coastguard to repeat my location as I was not long for coherent conversation. While the DSC really didn’t come into play in my situation, it did work! And I feel it is a huge jump in safety giving the precise location of the party in distress and if the people that receive the alert know how to use their radio, it can direct them right to you. In my case I directed them verbally.

DSC is too valuable not to have on a radio. It lets everyone in the area and the CG know your exact position. If you have an enabled radio on a larger craft or small, learn to use the “navigate to reported position” function. Your radio can literally guide you directly to a person or a vessel in distress. This goes for handhelds as well assuming they have a GPS chip in them like the HX series radios. Well it might not be possible in anything other than flat water and a skiing, it’s good to know and understand the function. I have a friend with a sailboat that printed out the relevant info in using the

“Navigate to reported position” function and has it taped just above his VHS… this is an excellent idea.

Bill in Seattle.

Larry Bussinger

Jan 6 #25815

Mine always had a hard time picking up a GPS signal anyway and the operation of all the gizmos takes time to learn, impossible to remember when you need it. Stick with simple. My opinion.

Larry Bussinger

Duncan Howat

Jan 6 #25817

Generally ICOM hand helds are the best. The IC M25 with speaker mike is solid. May be a touch more than others but simple and very long lasting.

Reivers Dustin
Jan 6 #25818

I have ranted about DSC, but now agree more with Morris. It's great tech, but CG has high turnover (personnel transfers, etc) and is not that used to it. Voice is best. My experience is similar to Bill's. I had to talk the CG in until they could hear me w/o the radio. Visibility sucks and it was REALLY hard to talk. And they so wanted to talk. And talk. I had a tough time dealing with conditions and told the CG dispatch: can't talk, but I'm here.

For club use: I would not get DSC/GPS. PRO: The registration would kill any theft or abuse issues (they know where the radio is and where the owner lives). CON: that program with DSC (Rescue 21) doesn't exist everywhere. A false trigger of DSC costs money.

Also, Vancouver BC coastguard has high quality radio direction find (RDF). RDF takes a longer time, but they can find you. This is one reason they try to keep you transmitting. I thought maybe Port Angeles also has RDF- not sure. Vancouver also has very large antennae array. That station has one hell of a reach for talk/listen.

The CG told me, if every small vessel had a radio- there would probably be no loss of life. Good on you for getting radios. Note there are some crappy ones out there. What was that one brand? “Lexan” or something. Icom and Standard Horizon are good. Don't save too much money. It's like saving a lot of money on the brakes on your car.

Nicholas Cryder
Jan 6 #25819

I think we're drifting from the original question Brian asked… but to finish the thought about hi-vis rescue; I keep a marine flare in my back pocket of my life vest. The flame and the smoke are a potent visibility tool, even in high wind (giant smoke arrow “I AM HERE”).

But to Brian's question, I recently picked up this little guy and am just thrilled with it: Great battery life, ultra simple / compact… always with me.

Nicholas Cryder

Michael Gregory
Jan 6 #25820

It is likely that assistance will be needed most often on bad weather days, right? Likely, the person will be in the water and has failed to remount their boat. No worry though, a radio/phone is available, right? Hmmm, well possibly. So, you make your call, the message is relayed to a rescue team and they scramble to get you. Now, the water is cold cold cold and re-entry was failed. How long can a person hold out in bad conditions? 30 min or longer - maybe not? How long will the rescue team take to get to you? Possibly longer than one can survive.

So, have a radio, by all means. However, do not count on the rescue team to arrive in a timely fashion on white horses.

So, having a radio is good. Having a stout leash is good. Re entering your boat is paramount. Remounting in mild conditions is a good start. Wind and waves add a whole different complexion to remounts but, these are, of course, the conditions that get us in trouble. Practice with a buddy nearby and increase the degree of conditions incrementally.

Happy Paddling,

Ryan P.
Jan 7 #25828

Another safety tool is the See Rescue Streamer. It was invented by a friend of mine and is used by the Military. Seems small enough to fit in the back pocket of your vest.

vhf_discussion_2020.txt · Last modified: 2020/09/16 21:50 (external edit)