10 Best Marine Radios + Buying Guide [2021 Reviews]

One of the most important tools you can have on your boat is a reliable marine radio. These radios are absolutely essential for any kind of offshore fishing and can be the difference between making it back to shore safely or getting yourself into serious trouble on the ocean. As any experienced angler or captain knows, there are plenty of things that can go wrong when you’re miles away from shore. Having the ability to call for emergency assistance or to communicate with others is crucial for your safety at sea or on large lakes. 

There are several factors you’ll want to consider when it comes to selecting the marine radio that’s just right for your own personal needs and demands. Some of the most well-known brands in the electronics industry produce top-notch marine radios, but there are other, lesser known companies who also put out great products that you might want to consider when choosing a new marine radio for your boat. 

In this article, we will cover some of the most important points that relate to marine radio quality and provide you with our list of the best 10 marine radios that are currently on the market. 

Quick Summary – Best Marine Radio

ON SALE $47.04 OFFBestseller No. 1
Uniden UM385 25 Watt Fixed Mount Marine Vhf Radio, Waterproof IPX4 with Triple Watch, Dsc,...
1,440 Reviews
Uniden UM385 25 Watt Fixed Mount Marine Vhf Radio, Waterproof IPX4 with Triple Watch, Dsc,...
  • Uniden's Marine Radios protect you from what lies ahead, as well as getting you out of dicey waters,...
  • With triple watch features, DSC capabilities, a range of international marine channels and S. A. M....
  • The UM385 rugged handheld mic allows you to transmit easily from the wheel while keeping your focus...

Marine Radios Overview 

A marine radio is often referred to as a VHF radio or high-frequency radio by those who are familiar with them. These radios are basically a two-way transceiver that allows you to speak directly to others who are on the same frequency. Marine radios will often have a variety of ranges depending on the quality and signal strength of the device and its antenna. 

Virtually any boat or ship that ventures out to sea will be equipped with one of these radios and will be used in the event of emergency, or if they need to communicate directly with any nearby ships or boat captains. Using a marine radio, you can keep in touch with others regarding weather in a particular area and be forewarned of storms that might move into your vicinity very quickly. You can also call for help if you happen to experience mechanical failure with your boat’s engine or even if there is a medical emergency with someone on board the boat. 

These radios can be used in virtually any type of vehicle and in stationary settings, but they are incredibly useful on the water for boat captains and ships. These radios work off of radio transmission waves. Depending on the coverage area and signal strength the radio puts out, you can detect signals from several miles away or more and communicate with other watercraft with relative ease. The waves are transmitted on a straight line frequency and can be picked up across vast distances in the right conditions and if the radio is good quality. 

Different Types of Marine Radios 

There are different types of marine radios in relation to the way the devices are built. Some operate through a simple handheld device while others might work through a mounted system that is fixed to your boat, usually in the cockpit area.

Handheld 

Most boats will have a handheld radio on board mostly as a backup to their main radio in case it happens to malfunction. These radios are very easy to use and can work from anywhere on the boat. You can also tap into a number of channels, as well as weather alert channels using a handheld radio. On large ships, it’s usually a good idea for most of the crew to have their own handheld radios in order to ensure the ability for your crew to remain in contact with each other or any nearby vessels. 

Dash-Mounted VHF 

One of the most prevalent types of marine radios is the dash-mounted VHF radio. These are much more powerful than the usual handheld radio and have much greater signal strength to send and receive transmissions as well. Some of these radios differ greatly in terms of quality and many are capable of serving as a literal soundsystem on some boats that can play FM or AM radio stations over the boat’s speakers. 

Most dash-mounted marine radios operate using the boat’s electrical system, which allows them to have much greater sensitivity when picking up transmissions, as well as being able to send signals out across much greater distances than a typical handheld radio is capable of. 

Basic Audio 

Most boats will be equipped with a basic audio model that serves more as a soundsystem on your boat that has the ability to transmit radio signals, as well as play music through the speakers. These types of marine radios will usually work based on the boat’s electrical system and will also be able to pair with your phone and other devices using Bluetooth capabilities in the higher quality models. 

Aside from the different mounts and handheld device style radios, you can also choose between radios with differing strengths in terms of signals and capability to pick up other radio transmissions. Some of these radios are made specifically for use in commercial vessels, as well as radios that are designed to operate at significant distances for long-range ocean travel. Others might operate using Bluetooth and connect to your phone or other devices you might have on board. 

Whether you’re fishing or just out enjoying the beauty of the ocean or lake, having a marine radio will give you a way to connect to the outside world if you run into any type of trouble. You’ll also be able to hear other transmissions from other boaters and anglers who might be in need of assistance. 

Marine Radio Button Manual

Marine Radio Buyer’s Guide 

Now that you’re preparing to purchase a marine radio, there are some key points you’ll want to have a deep understanding of and pay close attention to when it comes to shopping for your next radio. These characteristics might differ in terms of importance based on how far out you plan to go in your boat or ship, as well as other factors that should be based on your own specific needs. 

Transmission Range 

One of the main areas of concern that any captain or angler will have when it comes to marine radios is the ability to connect and receive transmissions no matter how far out into the ocean you plan on going. If you are mostly a casual angler who ventures out to roughly 10 miles in a typical outing, you won’t need to purchase a long-range radio that’s capable of picking up and receiving transmissions across dozens of miles. 

The most important thing you’ll need to have in relation to transmission is the ability to pick up and connect with emergency services, as well as the ability to communicate and hear alerts that are related to the weather. A small storm can quickly turn deadly if you are caught at sea in a small vessel and being able to receive warnings well ahead of time is crucial in staying safe while you’re out on the water. There are a number of different channels that are specifically used to communicate regarding emergency or weather-related transmissions. 

Output 

The marine radio’s output ability is arguably the most important part of its capabilities. The output can be measured in watts, so the more watts a marine radio is said to have means that you can usually expect that particular radio to have a very strong output in terms of power. The marine radios with the highest output ability are typically going to be dash-mounted models that will be featured in your cabin or cockpit. If you intend to add more speakers or other components to your boat later on, it’s best to select a marine radio that offers a high level of output. 

Input 

The input capabilities of your marine radio refers to its ability to take in information and data. This is also an important component as you will need to know how much or not you can plug in certain types of speakers or Bluetooth devices to the radio itself. Most modern marine radios have Bluetooth pairing capability and work with any type of iOS or Android devices to control your favorite playlist and a range of other settings while you’re on the boat. 

Waterproofing

As with any other type of electronic device you have on your boat, it’s important to know just how much water resistance a marine radio model offers compared to competitors products. Certain brands might advertise that they are waterproof, but are known to malfunction if they become significantly wet. It’s very important to know if a marine radio is actually waterproof or if the device is simply water resistant. 

You can typically look up the device’s waterproof rating to gain a better understanding of how much water the unit is capable of withstanding. Look for a marine radio that boasts a waterproof rating of at least IPX7 and IPX9. These ratings mean that the device is capable of being fully submerged down to a few feet under the water and will still function once it’s out of the water again. 

IPX stands for Ingress Protection with the X referring to water as opposed to dust.

  • IPX0: No special protection from water.
  • IPX1: Can resist water that drips vertically onto the product.
  • IPX2: Can resist water that hits the product at a 15° angle or less.
  • IPX3: Can take water sprays of up to 60°.
  • IPX4: Is resistant to water splashes from any direction.
  • IPX5: Can resist a sustained, low-pressure water jet spray.
  • IPX6: Can resist high-pressure, heavy sprays of water.
  • IPX6K: Can resist water jets of extremely high pressure.
  • IPX7: Can be submerged up to 1 meter in water for 30 minutes.
  • IPX8: Can be submerged deeper than 1 meter.
  • IPX9K: Resists high-pressure, high-temperature sprays at close range.

Channels and Frequencies

There are standard frequencies, also called channels, that you should be aware of, such as the international calling and distress channels.

Channel
number
Frequencies (MHz) – RXChannel Description (United States)
0156.000
1156.050Ship-to-ship/shore, commercial and safety
2156.100
3156.150Illegal for public use
4156.200
5156.250
6156.300
7156.350
8156.400
9156.450Calling , commercial and non-commercial.
10156.500
11156.550
12156.600
VTS – San Francisco offshore
Pilotage
13156.650Bridge-to-Bridge safety
14156.700VTS – San Francisco Bay and Delta
Pilotage
15156.750
16156.800International distress, safety and calling
17156.850
18156.900
19156.950Landside facilities: harbormaster, marinas.
20157.000
21157.050U.S. Coast Guard Only
22157.100U.S. Coast Guard—public working channel
23157.150U.S. Coast Guard Only
24157.200
25157.250
26157.300Public correspondence
27157.350
28157.400
31157.550
M1/37A157.850
60156.025
61156.075Illegal for public use
62156.125
63156.175
64156.225Illegal for public use
65156.275
66156.325
67156.375
68156.425Non-commercial
69156.475Non-commercial
70156.525Digital Selective Calling
71156.575Non-commercial
72156.625Non-commercial ship-to-ship
73156.675
74156.725
75156.775
76156.825
77156.875
78156.925Non-commercial
79156.975
80157.025
81157.075U.S. Government Use Only
82157.125U.S. Government Use Only
83157.175U.S. Coast Guard Use Only
84157.225
85157.275
86157.325
87157.375
88157.425
M2/P4161.425
87B161.975Automatic Identification System 
88B162.025Automatic Identification System 
L1155.500
L2155.525
L3155.650
F1155,625
F2155,775
F3155,825

There are also some great guides out there to help you understand how to use your new marine radio.

10 Best Marine Radios 

1. Uniden Fixed Marine Radio

ON SALE $47.04 OFFBestseller No. 1
Uniden UM385 25 Watt Fixed Mount Marine Vhf Radio, Waterproof IPX4 with Triple Watch, Dsc,...
1,440 Reviews
Uniden UM385 25 Watt Fixed Mount Marine Vhf Radio, Waterproof IPX4 with Triple Watch, Dsc,...
  • Uniden's Marine Radios protect you from what lies ahead, as well as getting you out of dicey waters,...
  • With triple watch features, DSC capabilities, a range of international marine channels and S. A. M....
  • The UM385 rugged handheld mic allows you to transmit easily from the wheel while keeping your focus...

Serious offshore anglers and boat captains are well-aware of some of the more premium brands when it comes to marine radios. Uniden is easily one of the best companies in the business and they are known for producing stellar products that outperform most of the competition on the water. The Uniden Fixed Marine Radio is easily one of the best marine radios you’ll find on the market today. 

This system is a serious, heavy-duty marine radio that is designed for long-distance offshore travel and lets you stay connected to the channels that are most important. This has the capability to pick up international channels that pertain to weather alerts, as well as emergency services and response teams. One of the main characteristics about the Uniden Fixed Marine Radio is the overall rugged durability that it offers users. 

It’s a VHF radio that can pick up AM/FM transmissions and also is compatible with a wide range of different receivers and GPS units. The unit can be purchased in either a black or white color depending on your own personal preference. It comes in as one of the best marine radios in terms of safety as the unit is capable of sending SOS messages and digital select calling. This setting allows you to make emergency or distress calls with one single push of a button. 

This unit is incredibly durable and fully waterproof, meaning you can rely on it to keep you connected to the outside world if an unexpected emergency happens while you’re out at sea. 

2. Standard Horizon Eclipse Gx1300 Marine VHF Radios

Bestseller No. 1
STANDARD HORIZON Eclipse-Series VHF Radio,White,Small
61 Reviews
STANDARD HORIZON Eclipse-Series VHF Radio,White,Small
  • Affordable Ultra Compact Class D Fixed Mount VHF Radio
  • Meets ITU-R M493-13 Class D DSC (Digital Selective Calling)
  • Replaces older Eclipse+ and Eclipse DSC Models

If you’re willing to invest a sizable amount in your marine radio to purchase a premium dash-mounted model, there are a select few brands in the electronic industry that produce incredible products that are specially designed to function many miles away from the shore. Standard Horizon is one of these brands and is one of the most common types of marine radio brands that you’ll find among charter boat captains and commercial fishing vessels. The Standard Horizon Eclipse Gx1300 Marine VHF Radios has as many features and as much capability as any other marine radio on the market today. 

This is a full-featured VHF marine radio that offers everything from digital selective calling to being able to be paired with specialized antennas that greatly increase your receiving and transmission range. It offers access to a wide range of channels that are operational around the coastal waters near North America in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, as well as international channels that are useful in emergency or weather monitoring. 

The device offers a bright LCD screen that can easily be read during the daytime or night. This model is the newest from Standard Horizon that is meant to replace the brand’s older Eclipse models. It is very easy to operate and features a very straightforward design and user control panel. This particular device is also very lightweight and features a very simple mounting bracket that can be installed on most sections of your boat’s cockpit or cabin area. 

3. Cobra MRF45D Marine Radio

Bestseller No. 1
Cobra MR F45-D Fixed Mount VHF Marine Radio – 25 Watt VHF, Submersible, LCD Display, Noise...
  • MAXIMUM COVERAGE – This VHF marine radio allows operation of channels in the US, Canada, and...
  • STAY INFORMED – Be the first to know of incoming hazards or changing weather conditions with...
  • SAFETY FIRST – Scan channels to find conversations in progress and have instant access to Channel...

It’s essential to have a marine radio that is very easy to use and offers a straightforward design and user control panel. The Cobra MRF45D Marine Radio comes in as one of the top choices in this respect and features all of the necessary emergency distress calling and weather alert capabilities that you need for long-distance offshore fishing. This is a solid quality marine radio that comes in at a somewhat more reasonable price than the Standard Horizon while still offering much of the same features. 

The radio offers a quick and clear connection to emergency channels, as well as other boats in the nearby area that can help you maintain a line of communication in the event that you need help or assistance. The unit offers three-channel maps that cover the waters outside of the United States and Canada, as well as Mexico. You will also have access to all of the NOAA weather channels and can set the device to provide you with constant weather alerts the moment they are sent out. 

The radio is rated as being IPX7 waterproof, which means it can be fully submerged up to 3 feet below the surface and still work. The screen is not quite as brightly lit as some of the other models, but the radio’s controls are very simple and easy to understand. The radio is a 25-watt model that also includes a noise cancelling microphone to help your communication with other boats. 

4. Lowrance Link-6 DSC Marine VHF Radio

Bestseller No. 1
BAOFENG BF-F8HP (UV-5R 3rd Gen) 8-Watt Dual Band Two-Way Radio (136-174MHz VHF & 400-520MHz UHF)...
  • Upgrades from our Previous Generation UV-5R: Twice the Output Power (8 watts up from 4 watts...
  • High / Med / Low Power Settings (8W, 4W, 1W); Frequency Range: VHF: 136-174 MHz(Rx/Tx). UHF: 400-520...
  • The BF-F8HP was designed in the USA and because not everyone is a radio-expert we really wanted to...

It’s no secret in the fishing industry that Lowrance is one of the premier brands when it comes to producing top-notch electronic equipment. They are best-known for making fish finders, but the company also offers gadgets like the Lowrance Link-6 DSC Marine VHF Radio. This is a worthy addition to our list of the best marine radios for a number of reasons. The only major downside to this particular model is that it is quite a bit more expensive than most other brands and models that we will mention on this list. However, the communication clarity and transmission capability make the Link-6 DSC Marine VHF Radio one of our top picks. 

You won’t find the same built-in GPS that the Uniden features, but the device can be connected to your other navigation equipment to allow you to have location capability when transmitting distress signals and calls. It offers access to as many as 16 different channels that include NOAA weather alerts and emergency contacts for waters around North America, as well as some international areas. 

This Lowrance model is a larger, heavier unit than most of the others that we will include in our list of the best marine radios, but it can be solidly mounted to any part of your cabin or cockpit. One of the most convenient features that the Link-6 offers is the ability to save up to 50 individual contacts that you can send transmissions to directly with just a few pushes of some of the buttons on the display. You can also order the unit in black or white coloring depending on your own preference. 

5. Standard Horizon GX1700B Marine Radio

ON SALE $79.49 OFFBestseller No. 1
STANDARD HORIZON GX1800W White 25W VHF/Second Station
  • Replaces GX1600/GX1700 Explorer Series radios which will be discontinued
  • Second Station RAM Mic compatible
  • Compact Rear Case Design

Having a GPS built into your marine radio is a much better way to make sure you are able to send precise signal directions to emergency responders and other boaters in your near vicinity. The Standard Horizon GX1700B is another great model marine radio that has this capability already instead of you having to connect it to your navigational equipment. The unit comes with everything you need for your boat except an antenna. 

The GX1700B is specially designed to reach out to long distances, but can also be proficient when it comes to signalling boats that are close-by your position. The display is slightly more advanced than other devices on our list as it offers on-screen navigation through along with a compass on the screen itself. 

The unit is very lightweight and easy to install on the wall or dashboard of your cockpit or cabin. The controls are also very well-marked and easy to use. Best of all, this marine radio comes with a 3-year warranty from Standard Horizons that will cover any defect that might occur. The price is also reasonable, but one of the only known potential downsides to this device is the clarity of the transmissions. Many users report that the speaker is known to have more of a crackling sound when receiving transmissions. 

6. Standard Horizon HX890 Submersible Marine Radio

Bestseller No. 1
Standard Horizon HX890 Black Handheld VHF - Floating 6 Watt Class H DSC Two Way Radio
  • HX890 comes packaged with all the accesories including the rechargeable Li-Ion battery, Alkaline...
  • 6W transmit power output (Selectable 6/ 2/ 1 W) | 700mW Loud Audio and Noise Canceling Function for...
  • DSC (Digital Selective Calling) ITU-R M.493 Class-H Operation | W2.60’’ x H5.43’’ x...

Our list of the best marine radios wouldn’t quite be complete without listing some of the top handheld radios that are currently on the market. There are a huge number of different brands and models, but you can mostly rely on the same select companies that are known for making the best dash-mounted models to also produce the best quality handheld devices. Our top pick for these handheld marine radios is the Standard Horizon HX890 Submersible Marine Radio. 

This small radio offers many of the same features and capabilities that you might find in most dash-mounted models. It has a very clear, well-lit display screen that is very easy to distinguish between the different data and other items you’ll need to pay attention to. These make great backup radios for large commercial boats, or can serve as a go-to radio for smaller boats in the event that they have a dire emergency. The radio has the ability to function after being fully submerged, but can also float if it is dropped into the water. This is the main reason why so many kayak anglers and boaters prefer using a quality-made product like the Standard Horizon HX890 Submersible. 

The battery life is another great selling point that you’ll find. It offers 11 full hours of operating time and utilizes a rechargeable Li-Ion battery that connects to a standard 110V wall charger port. This handheld marine radio operates using WAAS GPS receiver and is equipped with DSC, as well as the ability to connect to more than 60 channels, as well as the standard weather alert and emergency channels. 

One of the only obvious downsides to the Standard Horizon HX890 Submersible is that it is much more expensive than almost any other handheld radio you’ll find on the market today. That higher price is a clear indication that this is one of the top quality products, however. It’s one of the most feature-rich options you’ll find in the industry and is well-worth the investment if you’re looking for a great handheld version of a marine radio. 

7. Cobra MRHH350FLT Floating VHF Long Range Marine Radio

Bestseller No. 1
Cobra MRHH350FLT Floating VHF Radio (Renewed)
12 Reviews
Cobra MRHH350FLT Floating VHF Radio (Renewed)
  • This Certified Refurbished product is tested and certified to look and work like new. The...
  • Floating - Never lose your radio. Floating design and orange core makes retrieving radio easy if...
  • 6 Watt VHF - Select between 1, 3 and 6 Watts for short and long range communication.

If you’re searching for a handheld marine radio that’s also capable of floating, but don’t want to spend the money to get the Standard Horizon model mentioned above, the Cobra MRHH350FLT Floating VHF Long Range Marine Radio is a great alternative that offers many of the same capabilities and features. This radio is a bit smaller and fits more easily into your hands without feeling large or bulky like most other handheld versions. 

Cobra offers this particular handheld radio in different watt output options that range from 1,3, or 6 watts. You can access up to 16 different channels that also include the main emergency response and NOAA weather alert channels that are used by boat and ship captains on the ocean. The radio will work after being submerged in water for a short while, but it is also capable of floating, which is a major advantage to have in rough weather. 

You can order this particular radio in eight different models that are very similar from the Cobra brand. Each model differs in price as you will gain better and more features with the most expensive of the eight models that Cobra currently makes. One of the only main downsides to this particular model is that the battery life is a bit shorter than the Standard Horizons radio. 

8. Standard Horizon HX40 Handheld VHF Marine Radio

ON SALE $99.06 OFFBestseller No. 1
Standard Horizon HX210 Handheld VHF Radio,black
  • Package length: 8.382 cm
  • Package width: 17.78 cm
  • Package height: 23.368 cm

If you’re wanting to purchase a Standard Horizon handheld radio, but aren’t ready to spend a sizable amount to do so, the Standard Horizon HX40 Handheld VHF Marine Radio is a great option. That handheld radio gives you much of the same basic features that you’ll find in the HX90 Submersible, but without the hefty price tag. 

It doesn’t offer DSC and also isn’t capable of floating, but what this handheld marine radio does give you is crystal clear communications with other boaters in your vicinity. It’s also one of the most compact and lightweight models that Standard Horizon makes and can easily fit inside your pocket, which is recommended when you’re facing a major emergency situation and might need to get into a liferaft. 

The radio operates using a 7.4 Lithium Polymer battery and will still function after being submerged up to a few feet under the surface. You’ll have access to all the major weather alert channels and emergency response features that you might with most other handheld radios, but for a more reasonable price. 

9. Icom IC-M73 01 Handheld VHF Marine Radio

Bestseller No. 1

Icom is another well-known brand name in the electronic industry that makes some of the best quality marine radios you’ll find of any other company. The Icom IC-M73 01 Handheld VHF Marine Radio is a great pick for anglers or boaters that are looking for a premium-quality handheld radio that packs in most of the essential features you look for on the water. The only major downside is obviously the price tag. 

The radio is rated as being IPX8 waterproof and can still function after being submerged at no farther than 5 feet underwater for up to 30 minutes. This radio is also very easy to operate and has simple, easy-to-understand controls and buttons that anyone can use in the event of an emergency. One of the most talked-about features with the Icom IC-M73 01 Handheld is that it features Dual/Tri Watch, which allows you to stream multiple channels at one time to shorten the amount of time you might need to connect to nearby boaters or emergency crews. 

The radio also boasts the ability to operate up to 18 hours before you’ll need to recharge the lithium ion battery pack. This radio is known for having crystal-clear output and transmissions that are very easy to understand, which is key in emergency situations. 

10. Uniden MHS126 Handheld VHF Marine Radio

ON SALE $9.00 OFFBestseller No. 1
Uniden Atlantis 275 Handheld Two-Way VHF Marine Radio, Floating IPX8 Submersible Waterproof, Large...
  • The Atlantis 275 comes with 6 Watts of Big-Ocean Power in a compact Submersible Floating Handheld...
  • With the Largest LCD screen in its class 25mm (h) x 40mm (w), and Paper White Backlight display for...
  • Built to throw in your pocket or tuck away on deck, its compact size is never far away when you need...

Our list of the best overall marine radios wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the Uniden MHS126 Handheld VHF Marine Radio. This is one of the most popular models produced by Uniden and it is packed with all of the major features you’ll normally look for in a good handheld marine radio. The obvious drawback that most people have with this radio is the price, but it’s a worthy purchase if you’re looking to get your hands on the absolute best quality product available. 

You can purchase this radio model in either 1, 2.5, or 6 watt versions that all operate using Lithium ion batteries. This radio will also give you access to all of the major channels around the United States and Canada, as well as other international channels as well. It has a large, prominent screen that can be easily read and features an LCD screen that has plenty of lighting for use at night. 

This radio is IPX8 rated and features the ability to float, as well as a battery-save mode for dire emergencies. It also has other features like dual or triple watch and memory scan mode. The handheld radio also has a small light output that you can use as a flashlight or SOS signal to emergency responders. Overall, it’s probably the best handheld marine radio on the market, but we’ve placed it at No. 10 due to the higher price that most users are likely to be driven away by. 

Last update on 2021-10-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Donny Karr
 

Donny Karr is an avid outdoorsman and writer whose work has been featured in magazines and websites for nearly a decade. He enjoys bass and crappie fishing in the lakes around the southeastern United States, as well as trout fishing in the streams and rivers of the Appalachian mountains. He enjoys keeping up with the latest news and gear items in the fishing industry and is always looking forward to his next outdoor adventure. Donny has written for Georgia Outdoor News, The Outdoor Trip, Man Can Outdoors, Global Fishing Reports, and Bassmaster.