The 5 Best Handheld Marine Radios of 2022 

By June 29, 2022
In this guide, you’ll learn about marine radios, and when (and why) they are needed for boats and other water vessels. We also include some information on terminology, and five of the very best marine radios available on the market today.

Buying Guide: Choosing Your Marine VHF Radio

A marine radio also called a VHF or Very High Frequency (VHF) Marine Radio is a simple device that allows you to transmit or receive audio signals on radio frequencies. 

In the age of mobile phones and cellular coverage virtually anywhere on land, radio is still the best and most reliable way to communicate when out on the water. 

Within this guide, we’re exploring the best handheld marine radios of 2022 to allow you to ensure you’ve got the best chance of contacting others, even in an emergency. Before diving in and making a purchase, you need to understand what makes a marine radio suitable for your needs, so we’ve collated the most crucial buying considerations below.

Handheld Marine Radio

Buying Considerations

So, now that you know what these products do, how can you make sure you end up with a feature-packed handheld marine radio? The main buying considerations (and considerations we’ve evaluated for our reviews) are explained below.

  • Water resistance. Well, you’re going to be on a boat, so you need it to be water-resistant. Not just in emergencies, either, there are plenty of circumstances where your radio could come into contact with water. The IP waterproof rating is a standard system to see how water resistant an item is. The higher, the better. Some radios even have buoyancy in case they are dropped in the water.
  • Ease of use and display. If you need to contact someone in a hurry you don’t want to spend 10 minutes working out how to use your radio. It should be simple, with a clear display and easy presets.
  • Battery (and backup battery). The battery should last a long time. Whether you are using your marine radio as a backup system on your boat or it is the main way to communicate, you don’t want to risk this running out. Many of the best handheld marine radios also come with a system whereby you can add an AAA or AA battery if the inbuilt battery runs down to empty.
  • Extra features. Many marine radios now have extra safety features such as an automatic distress signal, or a flashing light that is used when they come into contact with water, designed to help you to locate it should you drop it. Some can also play standard AM/FM radio signals, too.

With all this in mind, we’ve listed five of the very best handheld marine radios below for your consideration, as well as giving them product nominations to help you choose the model most suitable for your own needs.

The 5 Best Handheld Marine Radios of 2022 

Best Handheld Marine Radio Overall

Standard Horizon HX890 Handheld VHF

An exceptionally good handheld marine radio with a great variety of accessories

Standard Horizon HX890 Handheld VHF

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What we like

  • Lots of safety features.
  • Comes with a range of accessories.
  • Long battery life.

What we don’t like

  • Expensive.

A heavy-duty and professional marine radio that is great for virtually any vessel.

As well as getting an exceptionally good handheld marine radio, you also get a variety of accessories including the battery tray, wall charger, charging cradle, 12V charger, a cable to connect to your PC for updates, and a belt clip.

This has the power and range provided by a 6-watt design and a high-capacity battery that lasts for 11 hours (some users report getting far more than that). There are also a number of ways to choose how to charge this.

The option to use a WAAS GPS receiver and a route navigation feature add to the quality of the radio, but it remains simple and straightforward to use with a dot matrix display and a simple button setup.

Emergency features include a Man Overboard feature and a strobe light that kicks in when the radio comes unexpectedly into contact with water.

This rugged and durable marine radio is the best overall on this list and while more expensive than some, it has the features to match.

What we like

  • Lots of safety features to help in an emergency.
  • Comes with a range of accessories.
  • Very long battery life as well as multiple ways to charge.

What could be better

  • The price. For a lot of hobbyists, this will be too much of an investment.

Best Submersible Marine Radio

Uniden Atlantis 275 Handheld Two-Way VHF Marine Radio

Best for those who want a submersible handheld two-way marine radio.

Uniden Atlantis 275 Handheld Two-Way VHF Marine Radio

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What we like

  • Easy interface.
  • Waterproof and buoyant.
  • Suitable for US/Canadian and International seas.

What we don’t like

  • Short battery life while you are transmitting.
  • No spare battery option.

The Uniden Atlantis 275 is an excellent, powerful, yet compact marine radio that is a popular solution for those who don’t want a mounted option. 

It’s always easy to view and see which channel you are tuned to. It has a large 25mm (h) x 40mm (w) screen, which is pretty large for a handheld model. It’s also got a paper white backlight for use during the day, and a red backlight to help you see at night.

All of the main US and Canadian channels are programmed into the Uniden Atlantis 275 already, so you will be ready to use it quickly.

Best Submersible Marine Radio. This is best for those who want a submersible handheld two-way marine radio as the rugged design and IPX8 rating mean it can be fully submerged in water without getting damaged.

What we like

  • Easy interface and it is always simple to see the readings on the front of this radio.
  • Waterproof and buoyant so it should be protected even if submerged.
  • Suitable for US/Canadian and International seas, with NOAA Weather Alerts inbuilt.

What could be better

  • The battery can drain much more quickly if you are transmitting.
  • No option to replace the battery with AA or AAA in an emergency when you run out of rechargeable battery life.

Best Handheld Marine Radio With Noise Cancelling

Cobra MR HH350 FLT Handheld Floating VHF Radio

Great model of handheld marine radio with noise cancellation feature.

Cobra MR HH350 FLT Handheld Floating VHF Radio

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What we like

  • Easily portable.
  • Comes with a battery charger.
  • AA batteries can be used as a backup.
  • Battery life is impressive.

What we don’t like

  • Low waterproof rating compared to other models.

The Cobra MR HH350 is a great model of handheld marine radio, especially for those who are going to be using it to speak a lot as well as just receive messages.

As you’d expect, this comes with all of the channels used internationally as well as in the US and Canada, and you can choose between 1, 3, and 6 watts to alter the range of your radio.

The clever Tri-Watch feature also gives you the ability to monitor channel 16 to see if there are any emergencies, but also monitor other channels as required for your communication. Another safety feature is the fact that this can be easily seen, with the bright orange design, and IPX7 standards mean that if it is submerged up to one meter, it should survive.

It also has a hilariously named “Burp” feature which vibrates so that the excess water is removed from the speaker.

Best Handheld Marine Radio With Noise Cancelling. The noise cancellation feature makes it great for clearly getting your message across, whatever conditions you are in, and even if you have a noisy motor behind you.

What we like

  • Easily portable with a wrist strap and a belt clip.
  • Comes with everything you need including a battery charger.
  • AA batteries can be used as a backup, but the battery life is impressive.

What could be better

  • IPX7 rating is very good, but some competing models are even higher in their water protection rating.

Best Affordable Handheld Marine Radio

Uniden Atlantis 155 Handheld Two-Way VHF Marine Radio

One of the cheaper options on the list but still a reliable one.

Uniden Atlantis 155 Handheld Two-Way VHF Marine Radio

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What we like

  • Three-year warranty.
  • Excellent safety features.
  • Compact and portable design.

What we don’t like

  • Limited 3-watt range.
  • Small size.

All that marine equipment can be expensive. The Uniden Atlantis 155 is a way to save some money when buying your two-way radio, and it can still prove to be a reliable accomplice.

Like the more impressive Uniden models, this has a fairly large display and a paper white backlit design for the day, and a red display for viewing at night.

The product is very small and compact, and this means it can also be a great backup choice for any watercraft that already has a mounted system, but wants a handheld alternative. Plus, if you’re on a small boat, you’ll know that space is at a premium.

This receives US, Canadian, and international channels and also NOAA weather channels and important alerts. It has up to 3 watts of power, which may not provide as much range as some competing models, so bear this in mind when buying.

Best Affordable Handheld Marine Radio. This is one of the cheaper options on the list, so if you don’t want to spend a fortune getting your marine radio it is worth considering.

What we like

  • A full three-year warranty.
  • Excellent safety features and connection to all mainstream channels.
  • Compact and portable design.

What could be better

  • Doesn’t have the greatest range due to the 3-watt limit.
  • The buttons can be a little hard to control due to the small size.

Best Handheld Radio for Kayaking

Retevis RT55 Ship to Shore Radio

A reliable radio with all US, Canadian, and international marine channels.

Retevis RT55 Ship to Shore Radio

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What we like

  • Drains water quickly.
  • Floats.
  • Lets you listen to three channels at once.

What we don’t like

  • Low quality display.
  • No backup battery system.

A reliable radio with all US, Canadian, and international marine channels, and a powerful 1200 mAh li-ion battery that can last most of the day.

For your safety, the Tri-Watch function means you can watch the important channels such as 9 and 16 simultaneously, along with your current channel. It’s easy to access the coast guard and to hear announcements.

The NOAA weather scan and alert is another safety function that provides you with alerts of potential severe weather. 

Best Handheld Radio for Kayaking. Though the Retevis RT55 doesn’t have the highest waterproof rating, it is a model that you can get wet, and when kayaking, this is almost inevitable. You can also use the awesome Aqua Quake feature which vibrates and creates a sound to “shake” the speakers clear, allowing you to hear the audio clearly.

What we like

  • Drains water away quickly should it get wet.
  • Floats, and is submersible for brief periods.
  • Listen to three channels at once to ensure you always get safety alerts and messages.

What could be better

  • The display is not as good as some other models, particularly in low light.
  • No backup battery system.

Why Do You Need a VHF Marine Radio?

The main reason for a marine radio is to communicate via radio frequencies, allowing you to hear alerts from the coastguard and other boats in the area, and communicate your own status at the same time. 

Other forms of communication are less reliable, but having a marine radio is considered the most robust and reliable, so it is still the standard across the seas (and other bodies of water). 

The published government guidance says that recreational boaters don’t have to have any form of radio, but it is probably a good idea to make sure you always have a system for contacting others and getting help if you need it. 

Handheld vs Fixed Mount Marine Radios

Handheld vs Fixed Mount Marine Radios

Large craft tend to have fixed panel mount radios which are permanent and sit in one place, they often have an external antenna and generate plenty of power,  which means a longer range.

Handheld VHFs may be used as a backup to your fixed radio, or as personal radios for crew members to use as they walk around. Plus, if you have a smaller craft and you don’t have the luxury of a mounted panel then handheld marine radios can be your savior.

How Marine Radios Work

VHF marine radios both transmit and receive on a collection of pre-programmed frequencies. These are what make up the “channels” we will explain below. 

Much like how you would have tuned an old-fashioned television, you can tune to certain frequencies to hear and send messages. The fact that these are within channels makes it much quicker and to quickly communicate with vessels around you, and the VHF radio hand is also totally uniform around the world.

The radio spectrum used for marine communications is allocated for that use to avoid interference while communicating with other vessels on the sea from other forms of radio.

A basic set of rules for communicating and distress codes such as “Mayday” are used to help people quickly get the message across if they are in trouble.

Marine Radio Channels

The channels of a marine radio are crucially important. These most important channels allow you to communicate with the right services and others who are out on the water as required and to hear vital information and updates.

Channel 9: This is the primary channel for calling on and establishing contact with other craft or the coast guard.

Channel 16: Emergency and distress calls should be carried out on channel 16.

Channel 22A: Restricted for the US Coast Guard’s use. Don’t use this channel unless you establish contact with the USCG, but once you have made contact on other channels such as 9 or 16, they may advise you to switch to Channel 22A. You may also get important announcements on this channel.

There are also some etiquette tips to know when you are using your handheld marine radio. For example:

  • You should always be monitoring channel 16 if you’re not conversing with someone else while on your boat, which can allow you to receive important messages.
  • Don’t tie up the main channels, 16, or 9. Switch to another working channel when you need to communicate with someone, but only once you’ve established contact.

The Final Verdict

There’s something for everyone on this list, with the Standard Horizon HX890 Handheld VHF providing a great option for virtually every boater, and more affordable models such as the Uniden Atlantis 155 Handheld Two-Way VHF Marine Radio, too. The Retevis RT55 Ship to Shore Radio can “shake” itself clean, which makes it a good option for kayaking or other scenarios when the radio might get wet.

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