VHF Radios

Advice to Noosa Yakkers on Handheld VHF Marine Radios

(updated November 2017 by sunshiner)

Why bother?

The Noosa Yakkers committee STRONGLY recommends that ALL members carry a VHF marine radio, particularly when engaged in off-shore kayaking. Apart from being able to talk to other craft out on the water (to get immediate information on where, and on what bait/lure the fish are biting), a VHF radio, after a PFD, is the single most vital and useful piece of safety equipment you will ever own. If you are in strife for whatever reason on the water, your best remedy will be a simple radio call to the Noosa Coast Guard on Ch22, or the emergency Ch16. Realistically, even within a group of kayakers in one locality, others are unlikely to be able to offer any real assistance to a fellow yakker suffering from, for example, severe bleeding from a fish bite or knife cut, or worse events such as a heart attack or stroke. If you are more than 300-500 metres from the nearest craft you might not even be able to attract their attention without a radio (although a loud shout for help may work).

Because VHF transmissions are “line of sight”, the kayak-to-kayak range with a handheld VHF radio is generally 4-6 km (on Ch 09 when on the high power 5 watt setting) due primarily to aerial altitude when seated in a kayak but range is also affected by ocean swell and atmospheric conditions. However, the range on Noosa Coast Guard channels 16, 22 and 80 is generally in excess of 35 km because of powerful transmitters set up on Noosa Hill, as long as your radio has sufficient power to transmit that distance (which we haven’t checked yet). Certainly we have no difficulty contacting Noosa Coast Guard by VHF radio from any of the local kayak fishing grounds.

What to buy

Buy only a genuine VHF marine transceiver (radio) that can transmit and receive on the International/Australian marine band (156.000 Mhz to 163.425 Mhz). Do NOT be tempted to buy cheap UHF transceivers. UHF radios are basically toys with low power, cannot receive or transmit on the marine band and are of very little use in a marine environment.

Although there are many handheld VHF marine radios available on the market, most Noosa Yakkers use the Icom IC-M23 handheld VHF marine radio. The IC-M23 is light-weight, user friendly, robust, "substantially" waterproof (see below), and if dropped overboard will float (aerial down) and automatically illuminates a flashing red LED light. From practical experience over several years, the IC-M23 offers excellent audio/voice reproduction when receiving and a substantial range when transmitting on high power (5 watts). The standard cost of the IC-M23 from Whitworths Marine & Leisure is $249.95 (RRP: $277) but it is frequently offered on special for $199.95. Its features and specs are detailed on their web site here.

Some Noosa Yakkers have bought the GME GX800 Handheld Marine VHF radio whose cost from Whitworths is $230 (RRP = $269) but it is sometimes offered on special for $199.95. Its features and specs are very similar to the IC-M23 and are detailed on the Whitworths web site here.

Whitworths also sell a Standard Horizon HX300E Handheld Marine VHF radio for $150. Noosa Yakkers members so far have no practical experience with this radio but the brand has apparently been in use in UK and USA for decades. The features and specs for the HX300E appear similar to the IC-M23 and the GX800, and are detailed on the Whitworths web site here.

All of the above three radios are covered by a two year manufacturer’s warranty (the HX300E has a 3 year warranty on waterproofing) and you need only to return a radio to any Whitworths store to access the warranty service.

Where to buy

While there are a number of suppliers for VHF marine radios, our experience indicates the most convenient and reputable source of supply for all three radios is Whitworths Marine & Leisure which has at least four stores in SE Qld. They also offer online sales with a $22 shipping charge to anywhere in SE Qld. You can avoid the $22 delivery if you buy the radio over the counter (for the online price), however phone the store you intend to buy from 1-2 days in advance and Whitworths will ensure they are holding one in stock for you.

Be aware that if you purchase a VHF radio online from an overseas supplier the battery charger may not be compatible with the Australian 230-240 VAC, 50 Hz mains supply, and you may need to return the radio to the overseas supplier to make a claim under warranty.

Using VHF Marine Radios

A word of warning. The IC-M23 and GX800 are claimed to have a IPX7 waterproof rating (submersion to 1 m for 30 mins) and the HX300E an IPX8 rating (submersible to 1.5 m for 30 mins). However, our experience (at least with the IC-M23) is that salt water ingress can sometimes occur after being dunked, and if not dried out properly immediately afterwards, can result in corrosion of internal electronic components. Our advice is to treat your radio as if it were not waterproof, i.e. store it in one of the waterproof compartments in your kayak when transiting the surf zone. Some Noosa Yakkers keep their radio in a waterproof “sock” bag attached to their PFD. The bag doesn't appear to impede the use of the radio, nor muffle the sound when transmitting or receiving.

If you are not aware of the law regarding use of these radios you should view this.

If you are not aware of correct two-way radio voice procedure/protocol, please read this.

And one more thing: always tether your radio to your PFD. Although the above radios float if dropped overboard, the paddling manoeuvre required to recover a radio as it floats away might not be possible in windy conditions, or in the process of playing or boating a fish.

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