VHF Radios models come and go about as quickly as cell phones. So my standard advise about which radio to buy is to go to your local marine supply store (West Marine and Lummi Fish Supply are common in the NW) and ask for a knowledgeable sales person to help you. Tell the sales person you are using it for kayaking. After he/she shows you each radio, test that you can turn it on, adjust the volume, and change channels.

In general, ICOM and Standard Horizon have been and still are the two most common brands for kayaker's handheld VHF radios. Both have flaws (waterproofness and complexity), but both make models that will do the job as long as they are working and you remember how to use them. Buy the extended warranty plan. I almost never buy extended warranties for products, but for my kayaking VHF it pays back. $150-$250 is the price range for what we need. I look for the highest waterproof rating, floating, and simplicity. Simplicity is getting really hard to find, but when you are cold and stressed out you want the radio to be simple to turn on, turn volume up so you can hear it over the wind, change the channel and talk – everything else it does is a distraction (well maybe the ability to automatically send your GPS location with a one touch distress signal would be good, but I don't need three different ways to scan etc.). Years ago radios had a knob for the on/off switch which also controlled the volume, another knob that selected the channel, and a third one for the squelch that you mainly just needed to check that it was in the zeroed position. That was simple, but none of the new radios I know of work that way. For my next radio I will look for one with a control scheme that comes as close as possible to mimicking my smart phone, that way it will be like something I'm used to working with.

As for waterproofing, I used to keep my VHF in a special talk through bag. In recent years I've given up on that in favor of having the radio more accessible (in the front pocket of my PFD). I rinse the radio after paddling in salt water, and open the battery compartment to clean a lube the gasket several times a year. When practicing rescues and rolls, I put it in my day hatch. With this care I get two or three years of use before the radio dies from water leakage. See above comment on extended warranty plans. Of course the warranty won't help will you are on the water so depending where I'm going I'll carry my phone in a waterproof case that lets me use it, stay with others that have radios, or carry a spare radio.


Posted 11 October 2021 at 19:40 by Terry

Be aware that you will get the full transmission power from the li-ion battery. The alkaline battery tray is a must have, but you will usually get less transmission power from the unit. Read your manual carefully.

Posted 04 September 2017 at 10:53 by Paul Mocha

Regarding the one touch feature to send a distress signal with a VHF radio – I’m preparing to kayak in Canada which from what I’ve read entails registering with the FCC and obtaining a license in order to obtain the necessary identification number. The paperwork is daunting. The process for kayaking in the US looks relatively simple and worthwhile. I’d love to help the DSC option in Canada but process will be too time consuming at least for this upcoming trip.

Posted 25 March 2016 at 10:16 by Dave Desertspring

Thanks for updating your comments. Most of these radios that I’m familiar with come with a proprietary battery pack, usually a Li-ion battery that is rechargeable. For a few extra bucks you can get an accessory battery pack for your radio that accepts AA batteries. Even if they aren’t rechargeable, regular AAs are easier to come by in remote areas. Just carry spares in a dry box, inside a dry bag. Most of the retailers don’t have these accessories in stock, so allow some extra time to get one mailed before your trip.

Leave a comment

All comments are held for moderation. Your comment will appear shortly.