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VHF Radio Course – What type of radio to buy?

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Hi everyone – can I thank the club for organising the VHF radio course a few weeks back, we spent a very enjoyable Sunday learning together. Paul and Scott from Sea Voice were great teachers, and…. we all passed!

I am now thinking about a VHF radio and have a few questions please. The course providers recommend the iCom models and I know some of my colleagues own these. Do you have recommendations for other makes or models? The Cobra ones seem to be the best value. And – if you were buying from new would you spend the extra for DSC?

Thanks everyone, and look forward to seeing you up in Scotland over Easter.

My own choice would be the icom M71, waterproof, very durable, easy to operate and the battery lasts for ages.  If you buy from icom direct they can price match and will programme channel 0 open for rx only, meaning you can listen to the rescue services but not transmit on that channel.  Often quite entertaining when on a long paddle.   DSC generally shortens battery life considerably as it continuously does all sorts of other stuff in the background too, most of which isn’t really necessary.

I’d rather have a radio that I know will still have power when I need it even on a multiday trip and have a totally independent means of signalling help should I REALLY need it..  My understanding of DSC (although someone may correct me) is that as it’s a VHF signal it still requires line of sight and for the signal being strong enough to be picked up.  If you think about the places we paddle, close to high cliffs, narrow bays etc. you can see that line of site can often be a problem.

If things really hit the fan I would prefer to rely on a Personal Locater Beacon (PLB) which uses the 406 MHz distress frequency which is monitored by the Cospas-Sarsat satellite system and gives your GPS position should you need URGENT help.

As the PLB is not doing any other job I know that it will not have a flat battery when I most need it (it’s guaranteed to last for at least three years), and I can also use my radio as much as I need to without worrying about the battery running out.Having a PLB as well as VHF radio may seem over the top, and depending on the type of trips you intend to do you may feel you’ll never need it, however that is a personal choice.

A good compromise could be a basic hand held VHF that’s cheaper than the icom and a PLB as belt and braces.

I hope this helps.

Kind regards Brian

My two pennies worth on VHF and DSC.
I can only back up the thoughts of Brian Green on hand held VHF radio units that have combined DSC.
Many years ago I regularly used VHF during scuba diving adventures, all be it without an official licence. A club visit to the Crosby Coastguard station confirmed the preference of an unlicensed radio user to a casualty due to a lack of a radio.  Mobile ‘phones where not even thought of then.

When I started kayaking, I very soon realised just how vulnerable I was and Irene and I did the course with Paul at Seavoice.  As Brian has said, the VHF signal is  line of sight, and the majority of my Kayaking is likely to be done very close to shore and cliffs. With this in mind, I decided that the better option for me would be a VHF and a PLB.

Neither have yet been needed, but both are very comforting to have.  A mobile phone is certainly something that is very handy. There are blank VHF locations of which I believe The River Conway has some.  A 6 watt VHF without an additional long aerial,(unlikely to have on a kayak) has limited range, but the Coastguard have (I think) repeater beacons around the coast that give considerably better range.

Whatever you get, keep it handy and accessible

My personal preference is non dsc vhf with a separate PLB.   PLB lasts 8 years and will get message out if help is needed. They are small and reasonably priced.   Dsc on handheld devices appear to just eat battery, normally appear too bulky for pocket, and just don’t have the range.I have an icon which is great. Think ruth has a standard horizon which is equally good  Mike

I agree wholeheartedly with Brian.

On the recent course, Paul was no doubt extolling the virtues of DSC and I know some LCC members have such short range hand-held VHF radios, but I think DSC is more suited to bigger vessels that have the luxury of large battery capacity. For sea kayakers undertaking multi-day trips, it’s better to keep things simple to ensure your battery lasts. Exactly as Brian says, a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), separate to your radio, covers a lot of safety requirements. My radio has been programmed for CH Zero and also for the American weather (WX) channels, useful if you’re going on one of the future club trips to Alaska or anything else on that side of the pond.
Best of luck,    Pete Thomas

Hi all,
All good stuff what Brian and Bob have contributed to hand held VHF radios and total agree that the addition of a PLB is a great combo for safety and rescue.
After using a few like for like brands and models of radios suitable for sea kayaking, such as Standard Horizon HX300E, we found the ICOM range by far the best quality and durability for sea kayaking.  With the ICOM M25 been the best choice for our activities.  We have also had Handheld VHF’s with DSC facility, but found these radios to be much larger in size, more easily damaged during deep water rescues and take up a lot of space in your buoyancy aid.
Another feature of the ICOM range is the ‘AquaQuake drainage function’, very useful when the audio speaker is damped out with sea water.
Anyways all good fun.  Mark