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Marine Electronics Journal Blog

Best marine VHFs for 2018--part 1

Sitting in on many safety at sea sessions at boat shows and marine trade events, I’ve often heard experts point to VHF radio transceivers as essential onboard safety equipment, right up there with PFDs—personal flotation devices—and emergency signaling beacons. VHF’s vital role in protecting lives and property is easy to understand when you consider the benefits of DSC---Digital Selective Calling and the ability of properly installed VHFs to pinpoint your location if rescue is necessary. VHFs are very inexpensive insurance.

Unfortunately, many boaters opt for their cellphones instead. Cells are terrific for personal calls close to shore, but don’t rely on them farther off the coast or where towers are few and far between. They also don’t provide DSC or a direct link with the Coast Guard.

Click HERE for an excellent description of VHF put together by BoatUS.


Below are six VHF models, both fixed mount and handheld, that come highly recommended---we'll tell you about several others next week. The lineup is part of an exercise that Marine Electronics Journal does every year. We call it the Best & Brightest Boating Electronics—it works like this:

We ask manufacturers to identify the one model they produce in a particular category that they consider to be their Best & Brightest—not necessarily the most technically advanced or newest but rather the one they rate highest in the product line for one reason or another. Could be the functions and features it offers, or maybe it breaks new ground in maximizing effectiveness or utility, or maybe it’s the most popular as measured by sales to boaters.

There are 17 categories in all­, ranging from autopilots and fishfinders to vessel monitoring systems and multi-function displays---MFDs. Last week we rolled out the best underwater AIS—Automatic Information System—equipment. 


Icom M330/M330G

Introducing Icom’s new fixed-mount marine VHF radio, the M330. Ideal for small spaces, the M330 is filled will all the features and functionality you have come accustomed to. Performance is not comprised in this small, easy-to-install radio. This new Class D DSC marine radio has a modern look and is available in two colors, black and white. Optional GNSS/GPS version available.


Simrad RS20

The versatile Simrad RS20 Class D DSC VHF radio is ideal for a variety of boats from small RIBs to larger cruisers, and is designed to match the low-profile style of modern Simrad glass bridge displays and accessories. The RS20 features a white dot matrix LCD screen with inverted light mode, four backlit mic buttons and an easier front-mount installation with snap-on edge bezels. The RS20 has a new startup wizard for easier radio set up, improved scanning features, a Favorites shortcut for customizing users settings and a My Channels list, which enables users to only scan desired channels. The layout of RS20 controls are designed for left-hand operation, allowing for right-hand control of the helm.


Standard Horizon HX870

The HX870S floating class D DSC VHF handheld features a 66 channel WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) GPS receiver, allowing the radio to transmit a DSC distress call with your vessel’s position or navigate to a waypoint. The new oversized full dot matrix LCD (1.7 x 1.7 inches or 2.3 inches diagonal) and easy-to-operate icon/menu system makes this an exceptionally intuitive handheld: DSC calling, position sharing, waypoint and route navigation, and navigation to DSC distress call can all be performed with just a few simple steps. The HX870 is ideal for everyday use or adding to your ditch bag. It has an IPX8 submersible waterproof rating of 4.92 feet for 30 minutes, and a three-year waterproof warranty.


Raymarine Ray70

The Ray70 is Raymarine’s premium, all-in-one communications solution that includes a built-in 66 channel GPS, AIS receiver, second station expandability, and a built-in 30-watt loudhailer output. The Ray70 is expandable to dual-station control using the optional RayMic handset.  Full control of all of the Ray70’s features is available from the RayMic, in addition to intercom calling between stations.


Garmin VHF 210 AIS

Communication and situational awareness are critical on the water. The fixed-mount VHF 210 AIS radio displays AIS on the chartplotter to enhance communication, situational awareness and collision avoidance. Designed to complement the latest GPSMAP chartplotters and MFDs, it’s easy to install and use—just plug and play via the NMEA 2000® network to compatible Garmin chartplotters and MFDs. It provides standard Class D Digital Selective Calling functionality (distress calling and direct calling with user-programmed MMSI---Maritime Mobile Service Identity). With 25 watt transmit power, the VHF 210 AIS gives all fishermen, sailors and cruisers confidence at their fingertips in an emergency situation and may improve their chances of a rapid rescue. Pre-programmed with US, Canadian, and international marine channels, plus 10 NOAA weather channels. 



ONWA’s KV-280 VHF marine transceiver is equipped with all international channels, including the US and Canada. An independent key for Channel 16 and Channel 9 is provided for quick access to priority international distress channels. It has a high transmission power of 25 watts and low transmission power of 1 watt. The LCD display features adjustable contrast and dimmer control and the keypad is backlit for easy nighttime use. There are 20 user-programmable private channels for communication with friends or a group. Standard NMEA 0183 interface for connection to onboard systems, which enables GPS latitude and longitude and time display. KV-280 is Class D compliant with DSC transceiver.



Digital Selective Calling

(Compliments of the US Coast Guard)

Digital Selective Calling (DSC), allows boaters to instantly send an automatically formatted distress alert to the Coast Guard or other rescue authority anywhere in the world . Digital Selective Calling also al- lows boaters to initiate or receive distress, urgency, safety, and routine radiotelephone calls to or from any similarly equipped vessel or shore station, without requiring either party to be near a radio loudspeaker . DSC acts like the dial and bell of a telephone, allowing you to “direct dial” and “ring” other radios, or allowing others to “ring” you, without having to listen to a speaker . New VHF and HF radiotelephones have DSC capability .

All DSC-equipped radios, and most GPS receivers, have a data interface connector . The interface allows most models of GPS to be successfully interconnected to DSC-capable radios, regardless of manufacture. The Coast Guard recommends that you interconnect your GPS and DSC-equipped radio . Doing so may save your life in an emergency situation .

Users of a VHF-FM marine radio equipped with Digital Selective Calling will also need to obtain a Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) number . These are available from BoatU .S ., Sea Tow, the FCC and the United States Power Squadrons® . More information on Digital Selective Calling is available online--click HERE

When properly registered with an MMSI number and interfaced with GPS, the DSC radio signal transmits vital vessel information in an emergency . With one push of a button, your DSC radio sends an auto- mated digital distress alert containing your MMSI number, position, and the nature of the distress (if entered) to other DSC-equipped vessels and rescue facilities .

If your vessel is equipped with a DSC-capable radio, and you have obtained and registered an MMSI number and it is properly connected to a GPS receiver, you need only press the red DSC Emergency
Call Button for 5 seconds . Your vessel information and position will automatically be transmitted, including the nature of the distress (if entered), and a DSC reply should be received . Upon receipt of this acknowledgement, your radio should automatically shift to Channel 16 to continue voice communications with rescue assets . If no reply is received, switch to Channel 16.


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Comments | Leave a Comment
Page 1 of 3 ( 13 comments)

Jp:(8/11/2018 5:28:29 PM) "I have a 2018 Yamaha f40 la and Humminbird helix 7 di , I would like to leverage the nema 2000 capability of the helix 7 to display engine info, what do I need , Humminbird does have a gateway and lowrance makes a Yamaha nema cable, but I'm reading connectors are proprietary . How can I get what is needed?

Since these products are not NMEA 2000 certified there is little assurance that they will share data with each other.

1. Here is the link to see all NMEA 2000 certified products:

2. The NMEA 2000 cables and connectors are from many manufacturers: Here is the link for approved cables and connector manufacturers:

AC/DC grounding distance:(8/2/2018 1:29:35 AM) "What about the grounding points of AC /DC systems? can they be grounded at the same point?
If one system has both AC and DC can they both be grounded to a common buss-bar that has only one conection to the hull?

Here's what Ed Sherman, electric tech guru at the American Boat & Yacht Council, said:

The ultimate goal should always be to tie ac and dc grounds together on board at a single point. In ABYC Standard E-11, it is described as “the engine negative terminal or its buss.” It is most commonly done at a buss."
Hard-Over with Brushed APilot Pump:(12/18/2017 5:37:05 PM) "Jim.
What do you mean by ...."Garmin GHP 20 with SmartPump...Because it is a brushless system, it is fail-safe and won’t execute a hard-over turn the way a brushed pump can."

Thanks for the note. Since the description came from Garmin I contacted the company for an explanation. Here's what one of their engineers told me:

On brushed DC actuators, a single-point failure in the drive circuit (shorted wire or blown component inside the controller) could cause the motor to run full speed in one direction and take the rudder all the way to one rail. A brushless actuator relies on timing-controlled commutation, so a short or component fail would cause the actuator to stop moving rather than moving at full speed.

Hope this helps,

trawlerdeejay:(10/13/2017 3:46:51 PM) "Excellent article. I had no idea what the differences were between o183 and 2000, Thank you so much."
Darryl:(3/27/2017 10:17:15 PM) "Putting the MSRP with each unit reviewed would have been helpful. If each unit was actually tested, the reports on each unit would have been helpful too.

Thanks Darryl---we generally don't mention prices due to confusion over so many variations---MSRP (mfg. suggested retail price), MAP (min. advertised price), MRP (min. resale price) and then there are internet prices on some websites that go their own way. But your point is well taken--buyers need to know if something is in their price range. We'll work on it.
There is independent testing of some of these products on sites like but the information we receive from manufacturers rarely cites the results of any shootouts they may conduct against the competition's products. "
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