VHFs have become a boater’s MacGiver tool. Beyond simple communications, modern VHFs are equipped several useful and safety functions. Among them is DSC-Digital Selective Calling
-which allows you to instantly send a distress alert to the Coast Guard or other rescue authority anywhere in the world. DSC also allows you to make or receive distress calls to other DSC-equipped vessel or shore station. Look for AIS
also. Short for Automatic Identification System, AIS assists in navigation while boosting your situational awareness by displaying the appearance of any AIS-equipped vessels in your vicinity along with their name, course, speed and other information. Many VHFs have built-in GPS and some offer an option for multiple handsets. Below are a half-dozen of the best on the market. Next week we’ll show you a few handhelds in addition to describing the rest of the fixed-mount VHFs.
The lineup is part of an exercise Marine Electronics Journal does every year as part of our Buyers’ Guide. It works like this: We ask the top manufacturers to identify the one model they produce in a particular category (17 in all) 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.
Last week we took a break from the Best & Brightest list to reveal which electronics took top-dog honors at the annual NMEA product awards competition. Take a look.
Icom’s new mid-tier Class D DSC fixed-mount VHF marine transceiver, the M510, is a tech-laden powerhouse. At nearly half the depth as the previous M506, the M510 is as intuitive as it is space saving. Command and control using your smartphone via Wi-Fi or create a second hard-wired station using the rear mic port connected to a COMMANDMIC. Features include Wi-Fi calling, color display with day/night modes, optional AIS and hailer. Simple user interface and a choice of control allow boaters to easily communicate while on the water.
The Furuno FM4800 is a marine VHF radiotelephone with built-in Class D DSC, GPS receiver, AIS receiver, multi-station intercom, and 30-watt loud hailer with listen-back capability. The ultimate marine electronics multi-tool, the FM4800 offers a long list of useful features in a compact and discreet package. The unit can be mounted on its lightweight bracket, either desktop or overhead, or it can be flush mounted. With its built-in GPS receiver, the FM4800 does not require an external GPS source to enable its DSC functionality. The unit can be used as a backup source of GPS positioning for other onboard electronics. Its built-in AIS receiver can be used to overlay AIS targets with networked GPS plotters or MFDs, such as NavNet TZtouch/TZtouch2/TZtouch3, or the GP1871F/GP1971F combo units.
Garmin VHF 215 AIS
Communication and situational awareness are critical on the water. The fixed-mount VHF 215 AIS radio displays AIS data on the chartplotter to enhance communication, situational awareness and collision avoidance. The radio is designed to complement the latest GPSMAP chartplotters and MFDs. 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). With 25-watt transmit power, VHF 215 AIS gives all fishermen, sailors and cruisers confidence at their fingertips in emergency situations and may improve their chances of rapid rescues. It’s preprogrammed with US, Canadian and international marine channels plus 10 NOAA weather channels.
Navigate safely with the Simrad RS100-B VHF marine radio, integrated with a Class-B AIS transceiver and GPS. The RS100-B is a modular VHF system that’s expandable and customizable to suit any boat and any on-water communication needs. The standard package includes one wired handset and one external speaker. This setup is expandable up to eight handsets (four wired and four wireless) and four external speakers, ideal for use as an onboard intercom with Simrad HS40 wireless or HS100 wired handsets. All primary functions are accessible from the handset with channel scan and favorites, alphanumeric keypad, clear audio, handset station naming and 60-second audio rewind.
Raymarine’s Ray73 radio is communications central for any boat with built-in VHF, AIS receiver and loudhailer capabilities. Built on a full-sized marine radio chassis, the Ray73 comes with oversized controls and a big screen for easy operation offshore. The Ray73 also supports optional wired or wireless RayMic controllers for true multi-station control and intercom capability. When connected to an optional hailing horn, the Ray73 can generate automatic fog signals and work as a public address announcement system.
The Onwa KV-290 is fixed-mount VHF/DSC marine transceiver that has an ATIS function, 70 programmable user channels, Favorite Channel and receives the Weather Channel. The dedicated VHF has built-in Class D DSC along with an optional built-in GPS module to display current position data. It meets the IPX7 waterproofing standard (1 meter depth for 30 minutes). If submerged it has a vibration water draining function to move water away from the speaker housing. The transceiver has Dual/Tri-Watch. Dual-watch monitors channel 16 while you are receiving on another channel. Tri-Watch monitors channel 16 and the call channel while receiving on another channel.