What is a VHF system?
VHF stands for Very High Frequency, for radio waves from 30 MHz to 300 MHz. VHF radios provide two-way communication and have a maximum range of up to 60 nautical miles. Owning a VHF radio is vital for marine safety. They are much more reliable than mobile phones and are the fastest link to rescuing agencies like the Coastguard, towing services or the harbourmaster. They can also be used to communicate with other boaters, listen to weather information and alerts, calling a race committee or communicating with a lock/bridge operator.
Channels & Frequencies
VHF Radios operate on Channels, which are international frequencies. Channel 16 (156.8 MHz) is the international calling and distress channel. Channel 10 is frequently used by HM Coastguard and Channel 9 is often used by pilots.
What is DSC?
DSC stands for Digital Selective Calling and it is the standard for sending distress alerts over terrestrial VHF marine radio systems. It is a big part of the GMDSS system (Global Maritime Distress and Safety System), along with Navtex, SARTs and EPIRBs. The Coastguard strongly recommends that small craft used for leisure purposes have DSC radios, as all UK Coastguard stations are GMDSS DSC equipped.
Operating on Channel 70, DSC is a tone signalling system that sounds like the dialing tone on a phone, but relays other information, such as your vessel’s identification number, call purpose, position and the channel you want to speak on.
Learn more about DSC in this short video...
There are many internationally accepted conventions for how you should use a marine radio. These include listening for 30 seconds before transmitting, to not interrupt another station, using Procedure words (pro-words) such as “Over”, “Out” and “Received”, and using the NATO phonetic alphabet (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie etc). There are also inland shipping operating conventions, such as the Basel rules in Europe.
Fixed Marine VHFs
There are a large variety of Fixed Marine VHFs available on the market, so it is important to know what you need from one, so that you spend your money wisely. This marine radio buying guide will outline some of the different sets available, so you can make an informed decision.
Budget Fixed Marine VHFs
Cobra F80 VHF Radio
Also featuring Rewind-Say-Again, the F80 has Class D DSC capability. It has been built to survive for 30 minutes under water and is pre-programmed with all international channels.
COBRA F57 Fixed VHF Radio
This is a powerful radio that has a large LCD display and is perfect for long or short range communication. It features Rewind-Say-Again, which replays missed VHF calls and automatically records the last 20 seconds with a digital voice recorder - ideal for noisy conditions. The F57 also has instant Channel 16 access for emergency situations.
The F57 radio is available in a white version.
Middle Level Fixed Marine VHFs
Icom IC-M323 Fixed DSC VHF
With an easy-to-use Icom marine user interface, the M323 is a power marine transceiver that is reliable and great value for money. It features a high-def display, built-in DSC watch function and is waterproof to IPX7 standard.
Cobra F77 Fixed VHF Marine Radio
Featuring Cobra's Rewind-Say-Again, the F77 also has a built-in GPS receiver, so you can simply connect the radio to power and it will know your location. It also has instant 24 hour access to national all hazards and weather information.
High End Fixed Marine VHFs
Icom IC-M423G VHF/DSC Marine Transceiver
The M423G has a built-in GPS receiver that will show your current position and time and can be used for DSC calls. It also has active noise cancelling to reduce up to 90% of background noise. The user interface is very intuitive and it is supplied with a high grade speaker microphone.
Standard Horizon VM3500E Fixed DSC VHF
With a huge alphanumeric LCD display and flush mount capability, the VM3500E is a popular choice. The custom channeling option allows you to change the channel name and the current position, date and time are displayed, once interfaced with a GPS receiver. The large 56mm internal speaker allows it to be heard over engine and background noise.