VHF Radio Waterproofing for Sea Kayaking

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As of 2009, none of the VHF radios on the market are waterproof enough to meet my standards of "kayak waterproof". The weak links for all of them are the battery cover and the silly rubber stopper plugs for headset/earpieces and remote microphones (Silly in that these are on hand held radios, so what would you need a separate microphone for? And if you did plug a mic or headset that would completely invalidate any water resistence rating.)

Warrantees that cover water damage don't do you any good when your radio quits working during a trip - let alone in an emergency. You need reliability, not free repairs. So my best solution at this time is to buy whatever model VHF radio fits well in the pocket of your PFD, then put the radio in in a bag that is waterproof. Ideally you should be able to operate the radio while it is sealed in this bag. However, if the only time your radio ever gets exposed to water is in a single emergency where you had to take it out of the bag to use it, then most radios that are rated as "submersible" (i.e. per IPX8 or JIS7) would probably function long enough at the surface of the water to get a call out for help. What submersible ratings alone won't due is let kayakers carry their radio unprotected in their PFD pocket forever without maintenance or damage.

For all hand-held VHF radios, I recommend keeping them in a talk-through waterproof radio bag such as those by AquaPac (about $30.00) or Aloksak (about $5).

The Aloksak bags look like a zip-lock baggie, but unlike baggies the Aloksak bags are designed to be waterproof. Baggies tend to hold water in, but they don't keep water out. Aloksak doesn't make any bags specifically for VHF radios (they are simply rectangular shaped, no special shape for a radio's thin antenna etc.), so my fix is to burp the air out of the bag then wrap the excess material around the radio and its antenna and hold it in place with rubber bands. It doesn't look pretty, but it works. Depending on the design of the knobs and buttons on your radio, you may be able to use the radio while it is in the Aloksak bag. Certainly talking and listening through the bag is no problem. If you can't work the controls well enough through the bag, then take the radio out of the bag when needed. My experience is that the "submersible" radios are waterproof enough to work for a while even when wet, but they are not waterproof enough to let them get wet on a regular basis unless you want to clean and lube the gaskets after every day of paddling.

The AquaPac bags are available in shapes specifically designed for hand-held VHF radios, and they are designed so you can use the radio while it is sealed in the bag. The downside is that unfortunately these bags have a bulky closure clamp. So with the radio in one of these bags you probably won’t be able to fit it in a pocket on the front of your PFD. In that case you could put it in a pocket on the back of your PFD or add double protection by also putting it in a dry bag and clipping that onto the deck of your kayak.

The AquaPac brand bags have a unique clamping system to seal the bags which are designed to be completely waterproof (at least to a few meters - always test them for airtight waterproofness before using by squeezing the bag and listening and feeling if air goes out), and they generally hold up better than other radio bags. AquaPac dry bags and Aloksak bags are available from our on-line store.

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