Carrying a good, reliable VHF radio could save your life – they’re affordable, lightweight, small and easy to pack, so there’s no excuse not to take one out every time you go sea kayaking


Whenever you set off on a sea kayaking trip there are a number of basic things everyone ought to do. These days we all put on a PFD as a matter of course, and experienced paddlers will always check the weather forecast and tidal conditions, as well as letting someone who isn’t kayaking with them know what their plans are. But how many sea kayakers take a VHF radio with them?

Often more reliable, and certainly more robust in a marine setting than mobile phones, handheld VHF radios can be a life-saving inclusion in your kayaking kit.

Once you have successfully completed the VHF course and have the requisite qualifications, there are numerous models of handheld units to choose from. Here we take a look at some of the best VHF radios for kayakers currently available.

6 of the best kayak VHF radios

IC-M37E Buoyant Marine VHF Handheld

IC-M37E Buoyant Marine VHF Handheld

A versatile, sophisticated and easy-to-use floating handheld VHF radio with excellent features and good range


Recommended retail price: £219
Weight: 293g/10.3oz
Dimensions: 59.7 x 140.5 x 38.7mm
Operating time on a full charge: 12 hours
Waterproof protection rating: IPX7 (can survive in 1m of water for 30 minutes)
Wattage: 6W RF output power / 700 mW audio output
Best for: clubs, individuals and commercial users. Ideal for sailors who also kayak

With an ergonomic design that fits nicely in the hand, the IC-M37E is a highly functional, well-featured, simple-to-use VHF radio, which can be used by both sailors and kayakers. It comes with a drop-in charging unit and once fully loaded, the IC-M37E’s li-ion battery supplies over 12 hours of operating time (with 40 minutes of transmitting time calculated into that).

The package comes with an extra battery case, which takes AAAs and is ideal as a back-up if you’re planning a big day on the water, or a multi-day trip. The IC-M37E has big backlit buttons, which are easy to operate with cold hands or gloves on – one clearly marked key gives you instant access to Channel 16 / Call channel in the event of an emergency.

The LCD display is large and very clearly shows the channel you are on and the status of the radio, including the battery charge level. If the device falls into the water, the IC-M37E Buoyant not only floats (clue in the name) but also features a flashing red LED light that will help you locate and retrieve it.

It offers 6 watts of transmit output power, ideal for long-distance communication (roughly a mile more than a 5-watt radio), and the 700 mW audio output facilitates crystal clear communication.

Other features include a handy Channel History Function, which stores the last five channels used so you can recall them easily by pressing a single key, and the Dual/Tri-Watch option means you can monitor several channels at once (Channel 16 and your Call channel). An AquaQuake draining function shakes water away from the speaker grill to prevent it becoming waterlogged.

Reasons to buy

• Floats and has flashing locator light
• Large buttons are easy to operate
• AquaQuake draining function
• 6W transmit output power
• Spare battery pack included

Reasons to avoid

• No Bluetooth
• No USB charging point
• Non-adjustable power output

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Cobra MR HH500 FLT BT

Cobra MR HH500 FLT BT

A highly capable, all-terrain, feature-rich floating radio, complete with Bluetooth connectivity so you can pair it with a phone


Recommended retail price: £169.95
Weight: 262g / 9.24oz
Dimensions: 121 x 67 x 53mm
Operating time on a full charge: 8 hours
Waterproof protection rating: IPX7 (submersible to 1 meter for 30 minutes)
Wattage: RF power 1, 3 or 6 Watts
Best for: Solo and group kayakers

Boasting Bluetooth wireless technology, so you can pair the unit with your phone, the Cobra MR HH500 enables you to make and take calls while keeping your mobile completely safe and dry. A funky feature on this unit is the Rewind-Say-Again function, which allows you to record and replay the last 20 seconds of a VHF call.

With an orange-coloured core to make it easy to find, the Cobra MR HH500 floats in the event of an accidental drop or a surprise swim. The charmingly named BURP function vibrates and belches saltwater out of the speaker grill to prevent swamping and facilitate clearly audible communication.

The unit receives NOAA weather radio and weather alerts. Other features include a noise-cancelling microphone, to block out background irritation curing communications. It offers up to 6 watts of output power, but you can toggle between 1, 3 and 6 watts to save juice.

The keys are easy to use, and one button gives you instant access to Channel 16 in an emergency. UK marina channels M1 and M2 are included on this unit. The Tri-Watch function monitors three channels simultaneously – Channel 16 and two user-selected channels.

The Cobra MR HH500 comes with a charging cradle unit, and when fully charged will offer around 8 hours of operational use. It also comes with an alkaline battery case that takes 5 standard AA batteries and can be used to replace the main Lithium Ion battery – handy as a back-up and on longer trips.

Reasons to buy

• Bluetooth wireless technology
• Great value
• BURP function to clear microphone
• Floats and is easy to find
• Rewind-Say-Again function enables call replay
• Adjustable power output

Reasons to avoid

• No USB charging point
• More complicated to use to its full capability
• Operational battery time less than other units

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Standard Horizon Floating HX300E

Standard Horizon Floating HX300E

A compact and very robust handheld VHF radio that floats face up if dropped and has a USB charging point


Recommended retail price: £127
Weight: 240g / 8.5oz
Dimensions: 59 x 128 x 33mm
Operating time on a full charge: 11½ hours
Protection rating: IPX8 (submersible to 1.5 meters for at least 30 minutes)
Wattage: 5-Watt transmit power
Best for: Solo and group kayakers and yak fishers

Powered by a tiny 1800 mAh 3.7V Lithium Ion battery, the HX300 has a really compact design and can be charged via a standard USB charging port, which means you can get juice from other electrical devices if need be.

Despite its size, this little radio packs a proper punch, and features a nice clear LCD screen with all the salient information clearly displayed, from squelch and volume levels to the battery status and channel selection.

If the unit goes in the water during a capsize or some other calamity, the HX300 will float face up and a flashing red LED automatically activates, which helps the user find and retrieve the radio, no matter how dark it is.

With a rating of IPX8 it’s more waterproof than some others – in fact, the HX300 is so robust that it comes with a promise: if the unit ever fails for any reason (including water damage during normal use in the first three years), Standard Horizon will repair or replace it for free.

The E2O (Easy To Operate) menu system lives up to its promises of being highly functional but simple enough use; the keys are nice and distinct, and easy to press even in stressful situations. Several are programmable and there is a Channel 16 instant access button.

The unit has NOAA Weather channels, a preset channel scan function, and the HX300e offers a Dual/Tri-Watch option for monitoring several channels at once. Once you have programmed the region code, UK marina channels M1 and M2 become available on this unit.

Reasons to buy

• Very compact and rugged design
• USB charging point
• E2O (Easy To Operate) menu
• Floats, and boasts water-activated red LEDs
• High level of waterproof protection
• Usable on inland waterways in Europe

Reasons to avoid

• Lower max transmit power than other units
• No charging cradle
• USB door can let in water if not shut properly

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Icom M25 Euro Handheld

Icom M25 Euro Handheld

A wonderfully small and light handheld radio with unfussy functionality that makes the ideal intro level device


Recommended retail price: £179.99
Weight: 220g
Dimensions: 56.6 x 134.2 x 30.5mm
Operating time on a full charge: 11 hours
Waterproof protection rating: IPX7 waterproof construction (submersible to 1m for 30 minutes)
Wattage: 5W of transmit power
Best for: Kayakers new to VHF radios and those who want to travel fast and light

If you’re looking for your first handheld VHF radio, or if keeping weight and size down is super important to you, then the M25 is definitely worth looking at.

With a 30.5mm slim body, and tipping the scales at just 220g, it is the slimmest and lightest floating handheld VHF radio on the market. What’s more, it comes with all Icom’s reliable smarts and high-end functionality – if you drop it in water, both the screen and a red LED light on the bottom of unit flash to help you locate it.

Despite its diminutive overall size, the screen is pretty large and easy to read, and it clearly displays all the important information you need to know (channel setting, battery level, volume and squelch settings etc.).

The operating buttons are big and bold, with an obvious blue key providing instant access to Ch16. You can toggle between high (5W) and low (1W) power by pressing a button (and the status is displayed on the screen, along with battery levels and more).

It can be charged via a USB port, which comes in very handy because you can pinch power from all sorts of other electrical devices. Once fully charged, the integrated 1500mAh lithium-ion battery provides 5 Watts of transmit power and provides up to 11 hours of usage.

The unit’s powerful 550mW (12 Ohm load) audio output means incoming voice can be heard loudly and clearly, and the M25 also has Icom’s AquaQuake draining function to clear water out the speakers.

This radio boasts Dual/Tri-watch functions, enabling you to scan several channels at once, and it can be programmed for use on European inland waterways.

Reasons to buy

• Lightweight and easy to carry
• Floats and flashes
• USB charging point
• AquaQuake draining function
• Charges in just 3 hours
• Easy to use

Reasons to avoid

• No Bluetooth connectivity
• Lower max transmitting power than some others limits range
• No spare battery pack
• No charging cradle
• USB door can let in water if not shut properly

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best kayak vhf radio

Icom IC-M94D Euro Buoyant Handheld Marine VHF with DSC & AIS

Icom IC-M94D Euro Buoyant Handheld Marine VHF with DSC & AIS

A highly featured and extremely capable piece of kit with AIS, DSC and GPS, the IC-M94D is top-notch safety device and a brilliant communicating tool


Price: £389.99
Weight: 357g / 12.6oz
Dimensions: 60.9 × 145.8 × 43.8mm
Operating time on a full charge: 10 hours
Waterproof protection rating: IPX7 waterproof construction (submersible to 1m for 30 minutes)
Wattage: 6W RF Output power
Best for: Serious explorers and safety-orientated paddlers who kayak anywhere near shipping lanes

A pioneering as well as a premium product, the IC-M94DE is the first marine VHF handportable radio to come equipped with an integrated AIS receiver, as well as offering DSC and GPS, thereby supplying an excellent level of security and safety to paddlers who pack it.

AIS (Automatic Identification System) enables ships the world over to identify one another and transfer important information to each other, and to stations based on the coast. The impressive IC-M94DE has an integrated AIS receiver, and vessel traffic information is displayed on the large, clear screen.

The AIS target call function allows you to easily set up DSC (digital selective calling) messages, and S.O.S. calls can be made with the rear panel distress button. The unit also has an integrated GPS receiver. Keys are easy to use, and there’s an obvious Ch 16 key.

On full charge the BP-306 high capacity 2400 mAh (typical) Li-ion battery (supplied), will provide an average of 10 hours operating time. The IC-M94DE floats and the LCD screen, keys and rear panel Distress button all flash to help you locate the radio when it’s in the water.

A Man Over Board (MOB) distress signal is automatically transmitted if the distress button is pressed while Float’n Flash is working. The high-power capacity speaker delivers a loud 1500 mW audio output, with excellent acoustic sound clarity.

After submersion, the AquaQuake feature clears water-logged speakers and prevents audio distortion and degradation. This model supports 4-digit channels and has Dualwatch and Tri-watch functions, so you can monitor several channels at once.

The IC-M94DE also has a navigation function, which will guide you to up to 50 stored destinations (such as favourite fishing spots).

Reasons to buy

• Integrated AIS receiver
• DSC and GPS
• MOB distress signal
• Class-Leading 1500 mW Audio
• Floats and flashes
• AquaQuake draining function

Reasons to avoid

• Slightly larger and heavier than most others
• More expensive
• No USB charging point
• No extra battery pack

Buy Icom M94DE from Amazon UK

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Buy Icom M94DE from Gael Force Marine

best kayak vhf radio

Standard Horizon HX890e Floating DSC VHF

Standard Horizon HX890e Floating DSC VHF

An intuitive handheld radio with a large screen, a multitude of excellent features and DSC capability for extra security on the water


Price: £246.95
Weight: 310g / 11oz
Dimensions: 66 x 138 x 38mm
Operating time on a full charge: 9 hours
Waterproof protection rating: IPX8 (submersible to 1.5 meters for at least 30 minutes)
Wattage: 6W transmit power output (selectable 6/2/1 W)
Best for: Adventurous kayakers

With an impressively large display screen for a handheld VHF radio (43mm tall), and a mega-bright backlight, it’s easy to read all the relevant details on the HX890e, and all the important data is displayed, along with your position.

The radio boasts a brand new and easy to operate menu system, and tasks such as position sharing, waypoint and route finding, and navigation to a DSC distress call can all be performed with just a few button presses. There is a clear Channel 16 button for use in an emergency.

The HX890e also boasts full DSC (Digital Selective Calling) capabilities, so your exact location and identification information can be quickly transmitted in an emergency by pressing the Distress Alert button on the rear of the radio.

So much more than a simple safety device, the HX890e is a powerful tool for nautical navigation with a built-in compass, and up to 250 waypoints and 20 routes (with a maximum of 30 waypoints per route) can be stored. There is a USB port for downloading data, but it can’t be used for charging.

The screen displays the distance and direction to the destination, and waypoints are indicated by dots on the compass rose graphic. The 66-channel GPS receiver allows you to lock on to a position quickly and accurately and, with location details displayed on the screen, you can share your position.

If the unit falls in the water a strobe light is automatically activated, even when the unit is turned off. The strobe can be reconfigured to flash on and off, flash SOS, or set to stay on continuously. It has an MOB (man overboard) function, and even features an FM radio.

The 1800mAh high capacity Li-ion battery is charged via a cradle, takes around 3 hours to get to full capacity and then offers about 9 hours of operating time. A SBT-13 Alkaline battery case for 5xAAA batteries is also included.

It’s possible to select a power output level of 6W, 2W or 1W. Other features include the ability to continuously track and display position information of up to nine pre-selected vessels, and 700mW loud audio and noise cancelling-function for when you’re transmitting and receiving audio.

Reasons to buy

• Excellent display
• High wattage for good range
• Robust and highly waterproof
• DSC capabilities
• Great for navigation
• Spare batter case included
• Easy to use

Reasons to avoid

• Quite chunky
• More complicated than some models
• No USB charging capability
• Data port can compromise waterproofing if not properly closed

Buy Standard Horizon HX890E on Amazon UK

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best kayak vhf radio

What is a VHF radio?

The acronym VHF stands for Very High Frequency, a radio frequency that works particularly well in marine environments because there are typically no obstacles to contend with, and in such circumstances transmissions sent via VHF have a far greater range than those send via UHF (Ultra High Frequency).

Most small boats and yachts have a fixed mounted VHF unit as part of their arsenal of communication and safety equipment, but VHF radios are also available as small, handheld, lightweight units, perfect for paddlers.

These are easy to carry and reasonably cheap to buy – especially when you consider that it could very well save your life if you get into serious trouble while on the water.

The British and U.S. Coastguard both recommend that sea kayakers carry them, as does British Canoeing. Handheld VHF radios have multiple channels, and can be used for comms between paddlers, but coastguards all over the world constantly monitor channel 16, so this is the internationally recognised channel for emergency situations.

How to operate a VHF radio

Although they’re not complicated to operate, it is essential to know what you’re doing when using a VHF radio to avoid unintentionally signalling for help or interfering with an active emergency involving other paddlers, sailors, rowers, boaters or seafarers. For this reason it’s compulsory to complete a course and get a license before you can purchase and begin using a VHF radio.

The Short Range Certificate is the minimum qualification required by law before you can operate a VHF radio of any description. In the UK, these courses can be done with the RYA.

You must be a minimum of 16 years old, the course takes 10 hours (online or with an instructor) to complete, and culminates in an exam, which must be done in a classroom. You can find out more information and download a course brochure here.

5 things to consider when using VHF radios in a kayak

1. Range

The higher the wattage of the transmit power on a unit, the bigger the range, but VHF signal is still essentially limited by line of sight, and will only travel as far as the horizon. This is especially important for kayakers, who sit low in the water. So, while a handheld VHF radio used by someone on the deck of a boat might be capable of transmitting across several miles, that same unit will not transmit as far when operated by a paddler positioned at sea level.

2. Back-up

While it is highly recommended that sea kayakers carry a VHF radio when venturing out on the water, during bigger paddles, and especially when kayaking in some remote areas, it’s also wise to pack an EPIRB (Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon) and/or a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon).

3. Maintenance

Keep your VHF radio charged and test it before each paddling trip. If you’re using a unit that recharges in a cradle, keep the contact points clean and free of corrosion. Rinse the radio with fresh water after it has come in contact with salty water. If you have a unit that comes with a back-up battery pack, make sure the batteries are full of charge.

4. Use the lanyard

A lanyard is a simple but crucially important extra that comes with all the best handheld VHF radios – so attach it as soon as you get your unit, and always use it; having a floating model won’t do you any good if you’re separated from it in the water after a capsize.

5. Use proper radio protocol

Make sure you don’t use Channel 16 for general comms – this is the all-important safety channel. Avoid gatecrashing channels used locally by guiding or fishing companies. Use proper protocol during all comms, finishing each transmission with ‘over’.

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