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Old 23-11-2013, 18:26   #1
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Hand held VHF range

What kind of range do you get on your hand held VHF radios?
A few weeks ago We were on a lake in Florida on a rough day on the pontoon boat, we spotted a motor boat that had waves breaking over the rails. while towing them back to the ramp, because of a high risk of flipping the towed vessel, I called for assistance on channel 16. We got no reply. Later I checked on land and found that from hand held to hand held we only could communicate a few miles.
What are your experiences? I always hated radio checks, but see things differently now.
Thank you.
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Old 23-11-2013, 18:48   #2
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Re: Hand held VHF range

Lot's of factors but the main one in this situation is that VHF is effectively Line of Sight. If both radios are only a few feet above sea level, then 5 miles or so would be about the limit across open water. If you are calling a shore based station that has a much higher antenna or a VHF repeater on a hilltop, and you hold your 5 watt handheld properly so that the antenna is vertical, it should be good for at least twice that.
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Old 23-11-2013, 18:56   #3
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Re: Hand held VHF range

Handheld range can depend on a number of things. How high each of the radio antennas are is a big one. But by holding the unit as vertically as possible, getting as high in the boat as you can, connecting the handheld to a regular antenna mounted on the stern rail you can extend the range further than you would think. With a whip antenna (instead of the little rubber ducky thing) I can make much more than "several" miles on my ham handheld. It operates near the same range as marine VHF.
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Old 23-11-2013, 19:10   #4
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Re: Hand held VHF range

Wow, you guy's radios are much better than my Icom, if I can't see what I'm trying to talk to, I probably can't, as in maybe a couple of miles max? Of course a lot depends on the receivers squelch setting, sun spot activity etc. I assume your only going to get just so much power out of the little battery
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Old 23-11-2013, 19:13   #5
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Re: Hand held VHF range

tow boat u.s. has an automated radio check on channel 27 (or is it 26?) in many parts of the country - definitely at ponce inlet in florida.

i've checked my standard horizon handheld against it at distances up to six miles. my handheld is probably six feet above sea level, the tow boat antenna maybe twenty feet above.

it's nice to know that, when you're crossing the gulf stream to/from the bahamas, the coast guard has antennae on some very tall buildings in south florida and can pick up your calls all the way across the stream....
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Old 23-11-2013, 19:14   #6
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Re: Hand held VHF range

Thank you for the replies.
I could have done a line of site calculation before I bought the radio, I did not and was shocked by the performance.
For one thing I heard broadcasts from weather stations and the coast guard and marine police on a regular basis when out on the boat. I had never tested the radio, I had only used it a time or two. There are marinas, state parks, bridges all within 5 miles or so of where the problem occurred. Like most people here, I am used to having an antenna on the top of a 60 foot mast and having sufficient range to always be able to reach lots of people at any time of the day or night when in coastal waters. I have always thought cell phone bad, vhf good, but on that day I could have called 911 and gotten additional help, but got nothing from a VHF radio on channel 16.
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Old 23-11-2013, 19:36   #7
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Re: Hand held VHF range

might be no one is listening. it's scary how many 'boaters' no longer monitor 16 or even have their radio on, especially when they are inshore or inland. there the cell phone seems to have displaced the vhf....
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Old 23-11-2013, 20:43   #8
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Re: Hand held VHF range

decktapper, handheld range can vary with many things but if your handheld seems particularly weak, it could be that particular radio gas a problem. Weak battery, badly tweaked from the factory, or just lower power than typical. Sometimes it has an ineffective antenna to be robust & tiny, and sometimes that can be changed.

It pays to try comparing against others and if it doesn't work as well, return it or send it in for warranty work.
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Old 24-11-2013, 05:12   #9
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Re: Hand held VHF range

Also consider any obstructions where you're standing. Inside a closed pilothouse vs. belowdecks in a steel hull vs. out in the cockpit open air . . .
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Old 24-11-2013, 06:21   #10
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Re: Hand held VHF range

Quote:
Originally Posted by onestepcsy37 View Post

tow boat u.s. has an automated radio check on channel 27 (or is it 26?) in many parts of the country - definitely at ponce inlet in florida.

That would be SeaTow, in the Annapolis area, Channel 27.

For OP, in addition to other points mentioned about range comparisons... fixed VHF radios are typically rated at 25-watts on the high-power setting, and as mentioned, handhelds are typically 5-watt units. That power difference in turn also has an impact on all the other factors mentioned (antenna type and height, etc.).

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Old 24-11-2013, 06:40   #11
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Re: Hand held VHF range

Quote:
Originally Posted by decktapper View Post
T... I could have done a line of site calculation before I bought the radio, I did not and was shocked by the performance ...
A handheld VHF radio with antenna height 6 Ft, transmitting to with a receiving handheld with antenna height 10 Ft:
Theoretical Range = (1.22 x √6) + (1.22 x √10) = (1.22 x 2.449) + (1.22 x 3.16)
Range = 1.768 + 3.855
Range = 5.641 Miles
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Old 24-11-2013, 06:57   #12
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Re: Hand held VHF range

Check your handheld's power setting. Mine can toggle between 5 watts output and 1 watt output, something I learned when I finally broke down and read the owner's manual. Perhaps yours is set on 1 watt?
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Old 24-11-2013, 07:04   #13
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On a lot of lakes people pretend not to hear distress calls. Especially so if they feel that going out in conditions would be risky. So no reply isn't proof your radio is bad.

A few miles on a handheld to a yacht or shore station is average performance. From handheld to handheld it might be less than that.

If you have cell service on your lake program your phone with the local tow boat numbers. Often that's faster when you need help in a hurry.
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Old 24-11-2013, 09:27   #14
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Re: Hand held VHF range

I have three Standard Horizons of various vintages. With the newest one (an HX-850), I have done six miles from a Zodiac to the base unit (an old ICOM M-45) with a whip atop a 45 foot mast, over a low bar of land, and eight miles from the same boat's cockpit to a base unit with a 55 foot high whip, over water.

Those are just about records, at times of day when there wasn't a lot of traffic and I happened to be aware that atmospheric conditions were good. Reception of me by the base stations was reported at 1 or 2 out of 5...1 being "not sure if that's actually you". In every case, and not unexpectedly, I could hear the base units much better than I could be heard.

Handset to handset over open water and low traffic (unstepped on) conditions? About four to five miles. I consider my handheld reliable in all conditions to be heard by the rather sensitive stations of the CG to, at best, five miles for voice. DSC calls are better, but not by much, from a handheld.

Coastally, but beyond the 20-25 NM limit of base units to shore, a DSC-aided MAYDAY RELAY is possible with an intermediate boat to shore, but after that, it's satphone/EPIRB territory if the ocean occupies the bilges.
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Old 24-11-2013, 09:38   #15
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Re: Hand held VHF range

One point to remember is that handheld VHFs (and fixed units as well) only broadcast at high-power on certain channels, which includes VHF CH16. So it might be possible to reach someone on CH16 and switch to a ship-ship channel such as 69 or 72 and not be heard, since the VHF switches from 5 Watts to 1 Watt automatically.
Getting as high as possible holding the VHF vertically with an unobstructed view in the direction you'd like to contact someone in will get you the best distance. My ICOM is good for several miles transmit but reception ranges are better.
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