Best Marine CHF radio?

Looking to purchase a marine radio for my boyfriend. What brands/models do you find are the best? I googled consumer reviews and they listed a Uniden and a Cobra. Someone told me they preferred a Garmin and a 50 watt. They are very pricey and not easy to find. Is the 50 watt that much better?


  • Hello @boaterdawn, I'm no expert but I've purchased a few VHF radios over my boating career. If your boyfriend doesnt have a VHF marine radio currently, that means he would probably benefit from a handheld radio with GPS more than a fixed mount radio. Many boating authorities actually advise on carrying both a handheld VHF radio as well as a fixed mount VHF radio. Handheld VHF radios are limited to 6 watts where most fixed-mount VHF radios available are 25 watts. VHF radio antenna height is more important for communicating than the transmit power output. A 50 watt power output may give you a 10% gain in distance compared to a 25 watt VHF radio in normal conditions. The stronger power output means a stronger draw on the battery as well, shortening its battery life.

    Last time I checked, fixed mount radios for recreational boats are legally limited to 25 watts of transmitting power. With a fixed mount radio, the antenna is the most important variable when it comes to the operating range, not the wattage. Fixed mount VHF radios are entirely dependent on the boats battery so if the boat dies, so does the VHF radio. This is why a handheld radio is a good backup.

    I've had Uniden and Garmin in the past and they were great, more recently I have upgraded and was talked into going tiwh ICOM for its reliability and user reviews. Here are the two units I purchased. If you are only going to get one, I'd recommend the fixed mount VHF to start if you are only getting one but either one will be better than none. Reception and transmission are better with the fixed mount/antenna.

    Handheld VHF

    Fixed Mount VHF

    Here are some articles that might help you better understand VHF marine radios, both handheld and fixed mount.

    Selecting a Handheld VHF Radio

    Selecting a Fixed-Mount VHF Radio

    Selecting a VHF Radio Antenna

    Hopefully I didn't just confuse you with a bunch of useless information. If so, maybe give me a budget and what kind of boating your boyfriend does and maybe we can help narrow down your search.

  • Thanks. He has a 34 ft. Silverton Not his first boat. He’s been boating for 30+ years. Something was wrong with his current radio. When he mentioned having to replace it last summer is when i knew what I was getting him for Christmas

  • @boaterdawn It sounds like your boyfriend would benefit from a fixed-mount VHF radio over a handheld with that type of boat (Great boat by the way). He probably already has a good antenna on it and you would just need the radio itself. A 50 watt radio is actually for commercial and government use and requires a special license to use so I'm not sure why anyone would recommend one to a recreational boater but consider a 25 watt radio the strongest for his use. That being said, when it comes to a 25 watt VHF mounted radio, your budget will dictate what features come with the radio. The ICOM MG424 is a great VHF radio with a GPS receiver built in. Another great 25 watt VHF radio with GPS built in would be the Standard Horizon Eclipse. The Standard Horizon isn't quite as powerful but still a great unit. I've Uniden radios in the past and they have two main flaws. When the volume is turned all the way up, you can barely hear them and if you are underway you definitely won't hear it. Also the range is nowhere near what it should have been. This was a few years ago so maybe they have fixed these issues but I have been really happy with both ICOM and Standard Horizon in the past.

  • I have 2 Uniden385 VHF radios on both of my boats. The radio is affordable and works great. The weather alerts are great and I love that it has DSC position send. The comment above saying that its hard to hear underway may have been a problem in the past but it's not an issue on my boat. For the money, in my opinion, there is no better marine radio out there.

  • I agree with @Salt_Life, I have the Uniden 385 and its great. It's simple, has everything you need, has good range and it's clear. Plenty of height on a 34' Silverton for awesome range. You've got a lucky boyfriend there @boaterdawn

  • I really like the ICOM M330G because it displays your position to the USCG when you transmit. Its way better than Uniden. The quality is far superior. I had to return 2 uniden units before I even got to mount them... The Icom is easy to use and has a very clear speaker.

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