Wednesday, September 29, 2010

VHF: handheld vs remote?

If you were in trouble and needed to send a Mayday, which radio would you want to use?  The one in your hand with the 4" antenna 6' above the water (if you're standing) and 5 watts of output power, or the mounted one with a much longer antenna mounted 40-50' above the water and 25 watts of output?

This decision is the one that we examined on Eolian.  See, our VHF is mounted inside, right at the companionway.  This keeps it out of the weather, but accessible.  Well, unless the weather is inclement and we have the companionway closed.  And then there is the fact that Jane just doesn't like to hear the constant chatter on the radio.

So I was considering getting a handheld that I could keep next to me at the helm.  With the volume turned down, I could still hear it, while sparing Jane from the noise.

But then the question above raised itself.

It turns out that our West Marine VHF has the ability to connect (via bluetooth) with a remote speaker/mic that has essentially all the functions of the main unit repeated on its faceplate.

We bought one.  I can keep it back at the helm with me and turn the volume on the main unit all the way down.  And when I transmit, I am using 25 watts, delivered to a 3 foot antenna mounted  65 feet above the water.

Sometimes you can have your cake and eat it too.


  1. We have an old Horizon fixed mount VHF aboard our boat in addition to a VHF handheld for the cockpit or the dink. I would eventually like to replace the fixed mount VHF with a newer radio that will except a remote mic option for the cockpit. I would still keep a second VHF radio aboard as a backup incase the primary radio failed for whatever reason. I would also have a spare VHF antenna installation maybe mounted to the railing as a backup as well.

    S/V Sailor Dance
    1990 Caliber 33
    Long Island Sound

  2. Indeed there is definitely a place for the second radio. And it should be a handheld which could be carried aboard the life raft.

    I like your idea of a spare antenna too. One lightning strike could take out the primary installation, from the tip of the antenna all the way to the DC negative wire from the radio. How about a twinlead J-pole that you could haul up on a halyard?

    (Thankfully, lightning is an extremely rare event here in the PNW.)

  3. Neat technology. If I had the weather and 16 on in the early AM while the crew was sleeping I would be unpopular. I also need it a the helm for talking with bridge operators and marinas, though low power would do then.

    Mostly, we use the hand held for ship-to-tender talk. We cruise in areas where a cell phone isn't viable, and of course they are never water proof. I can carry the hand held on my hip, while I walk the beach.


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