Marine Communications specialist, Fox Morgan takes a hands-on look at some of the best handheld VHF marine radios on the market.

This article was first published July 2022 and was price and fact-checked by Fox Morgan for accuracy on 18th October 2023

Significant improvements in a number of areas in recent years have seen the best handheld VHF marine radio move from being purely portable communications devices to something altogether more useful.

As technology has shrunk, battery life improved and screens become clearer, handheld VHFs can now offer many of the safety features that used to be available only on fixed marine radios. Features now often include frequency scanning; weather reports; GPS integration; and an ability to automatically send distress signals.

Don’t forget: if you don’t have one already, you’ll need to obtain a license to operate a VHF radio in the UK and USA and various other territories.

At a glance – Editor’s top choices

Standard Horizon HX890E – Best handheld VHF on test  – Buy Now

Icom IC-M25Euro – Best value handheld VHF radio  – Buy Now

Icom M37E  – Best handheld vhf for battery life – Buy Now

Best handheld VHF marine radio – hands-on test

Standard Horizon HX890E VHF handheld marine radio

Best handheld VHF on test

• Battery life: 27 hours on standby monitoring VTS ch12
• Waterproofing: IPX8
• Floating: Yes
• Weight: 310g
• DSC: Yes – Class D
• GPS: Yes

Reasons to buy: The easy-to-read screen and fully waterproof design make this marine radio a top choice. It also has a high-capacity battery with a rapid charger, DSC and GPS functionality.

Reasons to avoid: The higher price and the bulkier/heavier design than a basic model could be a drawback for some.

Standard Horizon HX890 handheld VHF marine radio review

Always ensure you can connect ship-to-ship or ship-to-shore with the Standard Horizon’s HX890. With features like a large screen, built-in GPS receiver and DSC capability, it’s easy to see why it would be a front-runner. The handheld radio floats with a highly visible strobe light activated when in the water and is fully waterproof with an IPX8 rating.

It comes with an additional battery tray, which can use 5 x AAA standard disposable or rechargeable batteries, in addition to the set’s main rechargeable battery.

Buy it now

Icom IC-M25Euro handheld marine radio

Best value handheld VHF marine radio

• Battery life: 29 hours on standby monitoring VTS CH12
• Waterproofing: IPX7
• Floating: Yes
• Weight: 225g
• DSC: No
• GPS: No

Reasons to buy:  This radio has an impressive battery life and USB connector. Plus, it’s good value for money.

Reason to avoid: It isn’t fully waterproof and unlike others on this list, it doesn’t have a GPS feature.

Icom M25 Handheld VHF Marine Radio Review

If you’re searching for a lightweight low-spec VHF Handheld radio that you can store in your pocket, this is the one for you. Despite not being fully waterproof, the float and flash system works well that if you do drop it in the water it’ll carry on functioning with the bonus that you’ll be able to retrieve it easily.

My favourite feature has to be the convenient USB charging port.

Buy it now

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Icom M37E handheld VHF radio

Best joint overall handheld VHF marine radio

Battery life: well over 48 hours (on standby monitoring busy VTS channel)
Extra battery tray/number and type of batts. Yes/3 x AAA
Waterproofing: IPX7
Floating: Yes
Weight: 299g

Reasons to buy: Another VHF marine radio with an easy-to-read screen and impressive battery life. It also has robust, no-nonsense casing and versatile charging options.

Reasons to avoid: Not a DSC/GPS-equipped model.

You can read our hands-on test review: Icom IC37 Handheld VHF Marine Radio Review

This handheld VHF unit is a real workhorse. It is designed for both leisure and the commercial market, so you know that the features will stand up against other models.

The Icom M37E handheld VHF comes as standard with an additional battery tray which takes 3 AAA batteries.

Charging is versatile and whilst it uses a drop-in cradle, the cradle cable is USB, so you can plug this into any power supply, 12v, 240v or portable power bank.

It has the now familiar Icom Float’n’Flash system which means it is buoyant, floating on its back and the screen automatically flashes when dunked so it’s easy to find should you drop it in the water.

Whilst it might not have all the bells and whistles of some higher spec’d models, what it does do, is perform exceptionally well at the essential core functions.

Buy it now

Cobra MR HH500 FLT BT Handheld Floating VHF Radio

Best VHF marine radio for Bluetooth mobile phone connectivity

Battery life: 10 hours
• Waterproofing: IPX7
• Floating: Yes
• Weight: 272g
• DSC: No
• GPS: No

Reasons to buy: As well as being waterproof, you can also pair it with your phone via Bluetooth.

Reasons to avoid: Some other VHFs offer better battery life.

I have been using the Conra HH500 VHF Handheld Marine Radio for the past six years. As Tech Editor here at Yachting World, I’ve tried a VHF marine radio or two, but what I like about the Cobra is that the Bluetooth connectivity with a mobile phone allows waterproof mobile phone calls.

A great feature on this handheld VHF, seen top right on the unit keypad is the rewind-say-again button, which allows you to quickly re-listen to the previous transmission as the unit records the last 20 seconds.

It charges via a drop-in holster/cradle, which has two cable options, one for 12v and the other for 240v charging. The Cobra HH500 also comes with an additional battery tray that takes 5 x AA batteries.

Buy it now

ICOM IC-M94DE handheld marine radio

First ever handheld VHF with built in AIS

• Battery life: 16 hours (on standby monitoring busy VTS channel)
• Waterproofing: IPX7
• Floating: Yes
• Weight: 367g
• DSC: Yes
• GPS: Yes
• AIS: yes

Reasons to buy: Along with built-in AIS, it has a DSC/GPS and features an easy-to-read screen.

Reasons to avoid: The masses of functions result in a shorter battery life. It is noticeably heavier than lower specified models, and it doesn’t come with 12v cable as standard.

You can read our hands-on test review: Icom M94DE VHF Marine Radio review

The Icom IC-M94DE is the flagship model from Icom and is chock-full of features – two of those key features are its DSC and AIS functions. It is the first handheld VHF radio to offer AIS functionality too so this is a rare beast indeed at the moment.

The VHF is buoyant and when it detects water, it automatically flashes the screen light on and off.

The AIS function is easy to access and switching between alternative screens is quick and effortless.

The M94D features a waterproof rating of IPX7 (1 meter for 30 mins) and it offers a battery life on standby of 16 hours (charging in 3 hours). Also of note is the sizeable screen, making it easier to read than some smaller units.

Buy it now


Standard Horizon HX210

Battery life: 29 hours (on standby monitoring busy VTS channel)
Waterproofing: IPX7
Floating: Yes
Weight: 278g
FM radio: yes

Reasons to buy: The easy-to-navigate buttons and menu, neat form factor, and clear display make the Standard Horizon Hx210 a good option.

Reasons to avoid: It unfortunately isn’t a DSC/GPS-equipped model and it’s not the loudest or clearest on test.

The Standard Horizons rival to the Icom 25E offers a great alternative handheld radio at a good price vs weight vs battery life vs function basic level.

You can read our hands-on test review: Standard Horizon HX210 handheld VHF marine radio reviewed

The HX210 is charged via a cradle and uses the conventional two different cables for 12v or 240v power supply.

A useful feature is the FM radio tuner. The waterproof to IPX7 and floats faceup with a small strobe light activated on immersion is also a nice touch.

Buy it now

Cobra HH600 DSC handheld marine radio

Best handheld VHF marine radio for phone connectivity 

Battery life: 10 hours
Waterproofing: IPX8
Floating: Yes
Weight: 329g
DSC: Yes
GPS: Yes

Reasons to buy: We like that you can pair and use smartphone through it. It’s also fully waterproof and has great safety features.

Reasons to avoid: Some other VHFs offer better battery life and charge options.

The Cobra MR-HH600 is a floating handheld VHF radio with built-in GPS, allowing you to view exact coordinates, and also transmit your location. A great built-in function is the ability to pair your smartphone via Bluetooth and make phone calls, all while keeping your device safe and dry in a locker.

Along with others on the market, this radio features a flashlight with emergency strobe function.

The HH660 is able to float and features a waterproofing standard of IPX8. The radio unit is a DSC-equipped VHF allowing you to transmit identity and location details and has the ability to automatically record the last 20 seconds of VHF calls so you can always play back what you missed.

It is GPS-equipped and can show your coordinates, and is also equipped with a MOB button to allow marking and tracking of a casualty’s position in the water.

Buy it now

standard horizon HX 40 - Best handheld VHF marine radio:

Standard Horizon HX40E Ultra Compact handheld marine radio

popular handheld VHF radio with sea kayakers and paddlesports

Battery life: 20 hours
Waterproofing: IPX7
Floating: No
Weight: 230g

Reasons to buy: The built-in FM Radio, easy to read menu and battery save function make this a great small form handheld VHF marine radio.

Reasons to avoid: Despite having waterproofing, it’s not fully waterproof. There is also no GPS.

Do you struggle to store your handheld VHF marine radio? The VHF from Standard Horizon is small – 5.2cm x 9.5cm x 3.3cm (2.05in x 3.74in x 1.3in) – and weighing only 230g without the antenna it’s about the size of a standard pack of cards. What that means is it will effortlessly slip into your pocket.

It has an easy-to-navigate menu and can save 10 channels as presets, as well as having CH16 available at the press of a button.

While it’s waterproof, the radio doesn’t float unless you opt for the SHC-29 floating case, which enlarges it.

The radio has a battery-save function to give the most from its 7.4v lithium polymer battery, while the less battery-cautious owner can take advantage of the built-in FM radio.

Buy it now


Frequently asked question:

How do I get an MMSI for my portable VHF radio?

Every new piece of VHF radio equipment you buy or acquire should be registered with Ofcom in the UK and with the FCC in USA. You should also have a licence to operate radio equipment.
When you register your equipment you will be assigned a new MMSI for each new piece of equipment. You must not input a false number in your equipment as this is a criminal offence.

Glossary of VHF radio and associated tech terminology

AIS – Automatic Identification System

A system that transmits a vessel’s particulars by VHF signal to other receivers within VHF range. This includes the MMSI, vessel name, speed, course over ground and sometimes other info too. Units also give a CPA or closest point of approach which aids in navigation where there’s high traffic and collision avoidance.


Unique letter/number vessel identification number issued in the UK by OfCom.


Coastguard Yacht and Boat Safety Scheme form.


Digital Selective Calling, using VHF ch70 for automated distress alerts. Requires a unit to be GPS enabled.

Dual watch

A function allowing you to monitor CH16 and one other channel at the same time.

Tri Watch

A function allowing you to monitor two self selected channels plus Ch16.


Global Maritime Distress and Safety System.


Global Positioning System.


Globally recognised universal Distress signal.


9-digit Maritime Mobile Service Identity provided in the UK by OfCom.


Press to transmit.


Search and Rescue.


Safety signal. Origin French – sécurité – safety.


Radio working that uses the same frequency for transmitting and receiving.


A radio control that suppresses background interference.


Radio messages.






UK Coastguard.


Very High Frequency.


Vessel Traffic Services.