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Old 20-02-2009, 16:43   #1
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The range of VHF radios

I've been getting by on a handheld only so far but want to add a regular one at the chart table before I go to the Bahamas. There are a wide range of prices and I wonder if more expensive ones work better. I don't need any fancy features or networking, just a good clear radio with good range. So will the basic radio fulfill my needs or would I be happier with a pricier model?

BTW, I already have an antenna at the masthead from the old broken radio. Hopefully it's good.
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Old 20-02-2009, 18:27   #2
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VHF marine radios are one of the true bargains available in the marine world these days.

Basically, they all work pretty well. The cheapest will have essentially equal range to the most expensive. What differs is the features offered, and options.

Icoms are the most ubiquitous, but you see lots of others, too. I'm partial to Standard Horizon radios, and believe they're often a better value.

Re: features, DSC can be useful. Even Class D DSC radios are pretty cheap these days (these have two receivers and monitor channel 70 full time rather than sampling).

I've found that the automatic foghorn feature of my VHF is very useful when sailing in fog. Others may find the hailer function useful; I don't.

Expect to pay around $150 for a good radio.

The antenna is absolutely critical. Even the best radio can't do the job unless it's connected to a good antenna via appropriate coax with good tight connections. If you've any doubt about your existing antenna and/or coax, it's best to either replace it or have an experienced radio person with the proper equipment test it for you.

Remote microphones in the cockpit are very useful. However, they're also very expensive. One alternative, since basic VHF radios are so inexpensive, is to buy a second VHF and install it in the cockpit, with a separate small antenna attached to the pushpit. This gives total redundancy and works quite well.

Bill
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Old 20-02-2009, 19:53   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by btrayfors View Post
Remote microphones in the cockpit are very useful. However, they're also very expensive. One alternative, since basic VHF radios are so inexpensive, is to buy a second VHF and install it in the cockpit, with a separate small antenna attached to the pushpit. This gives total redundancy and works quite well.

Bill
Bill,
Thanks for the great idea! I have been debating the remote microphone thing for quite sometime. I think I just found my workaround.
- Michael

Aquah0lic,
I would echo everything that Bill said, and only to add extra emphasis that the antenna is (IMHO) the MOST CRITICAL piece of the puzzle.
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Old 20-02-2009, 20:22   #4
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VHF transmissions work by line of site communication. Therefore, the higher or taller your antenna is, the further your range will be due to the curvature of the earth.
Mounted radios transmit 1 watt low power and 25 watts high power.
Your handheld will transmit 1 watt on low power and normally between 4 and 6 watts on high power.
The higher power does not actually give the radio transmission more range but it overcomes noise for a longer distance, which makes your communication heard over a longer distance.
Definitely worth the investment for the higher power.
I hope this makes some sense.
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Old 20-02-2009, 20:30   #5
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Most handhelds will give you between 1/2 & 1 mile. A masthead mount antenna on any full sized VHF will give you about 20 miles to the pilot house of a large ship (~60' off the water). I have reached land based stations over 100 miles away (evidently on a mountain). I would think that you could reach an airplane up to 200 miles away.
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Old 20-02-2009, 20:37   #6
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25 watts is still 25 watts regardless of how much you pay for the radio. VHF's have become like cellphones...you will never have any need for most of this added junk. Your antenna and antenna height will determine the range of your VHF...not the 25 watt box itself.
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Old 20-02-2009, 20:56   #7
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Quote:
VHF marine radios are one of the true bargains available in the marine world these days.
Pretty much true. When installed with the really thick cable and an antennae mounted on the masthead you should get 40 miles on a good day. they may all be the same power the install can matter as much as anything. I like the wired RAM Mic at the helm backed up with a normal install below. I've used Icom 400 series on both boats and been very happy. RAM mics from Icom in this series are about $100 extra including the cable. The Standard Horizon in the same style is almost identical if you should find it cheaper. I don't think you can pay more and actually get more than either of those. DSC abilities are nice if you can wire it up. Running the cable up the stick usually requires pulling the mast. You don't dangle a cable that far down a mast unsecured and expect it to last very long. It has to be wrapped in with all the rest of the wires.

I still have a handheld radio and I also have the old radio that came with the boat that I could connect if both should fail. The handheld is great for short distances but if I needed a VHF I want one with power and broadcasting from the masthead. VHF radio is by line of sight not bouncing off the Ionosphere. Tall mast and more power is what you want.
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Old 21-02-2009, 05:15   #8
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See the earlier discussion at:
VHF RADIO RANGE


VHF radio communication (and UHF) is by “line-of-site” propagation - that is, the corresponding radio antennaes must be able to “see” one another. The higher up that one or both antennaes are mounted, the greater the communications range (distance) they will enjoy. As the radio antenna is elevated, the distance to the radio horizon becomes greater and greater.

The distance to the visible horizon can be calculated (visible dip):

D = 0.97 x ?Hf -or- D = 1.76 x ?Hm
Where:
D = Distance in Nautical Miles
?Hf = Square root of Height of eye in Feet
?Hm = Square root of Height of Eye in meters.

Because a radio signal is slightly refracted, the Radio horizon (range - or radio dip) is calculated:

D = 1.22 x ?Hf -or- D = 2.21 x ?m

Note: The above radio range calculation also applies to Radar, which explains why Radome mounting height is more important than Power (Watts) in determining maximum Radar range.

To calculate radio range, we add the two (D1 transmit & D2 receive) antennae ranges together, thus:

Range = D1 + D2
or
Range = (1.22 x ?Hf Transmit) + (1.22 x ?Hf Receive)
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Old 21-02-2009, 06:00   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by btrayfors View Post
it's best to either replace it or have an experienced radio person with the proper equipment test it for you.
Shakespeare sells a VHF antenna & radio tester that could save you a few bucks here, and you get to keep it.

Shakespeare ART-3:

http://www.shakespeare-marine.com/ac...menupick=art-3
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Old 21-02-2009, 06:40   #10
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Thanks for all the input guys. What I'm reading here is that even the cheapest base radio at WM will probably suit my needs just fine. Good tip on the tester. Thanks.
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Old 21-02-2009, 07:33   #11
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FWIW, WM Radios do not seem to endure. A good inexpensive alternative with RAM Mic Capability and Loud Hailer functions is available from Defender. See:

GX3000S Class D Marine DSC Transceiver

Note that the actual pricing is quite a bit less than the MAP.
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Old 21-02-2009, 07:41   #12
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Yes and no. Not all VHF radios are the same, although the requirements (25 watt max, channels) are the same. In great measure, you get what you pay for although there is a point beyond which the returns don't match the costs. At the low end, things like reliability (a cheap dead radio costs far too much... ), signal quality (a poor mic makes you hard to hear), audio quality (poor circuitry and speakers make the other station hard to hear), and feature setup (not much point in having a piece of gear that annoys you) all figure into it.

Additionally, good DC wiring practice helps any radio do its best. Ditto for the antenna and cable; if the radio works well but the antenna is a mess... Not Good.
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Old 21-02-2009, 09:04   #13
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Everybody is right. More dollars buy you more features, many of which you may not want. Brands are not that important; A nearly equal percentage of each brand are returned for replacement or repair, and that percentage is minimal. Quality of construction varies with price, but does not have any GREAT effect on longevity!
Antenna height is more important than price. Some writers (at www.thehullthruth.com) go spastic about the superiority of one brand over the other, but its really just "ford vs. Chevy" jingoism. Read up on the difference between DSC SC-101 and DSC Class D features. I think all of us are agreed that a real Class D radio is worth the extra bucks. I too favor Standard Horizon Radios, just like the kid that stole my last one. Now my radio is locked up in the cabin, and an expensive RAM mic hangs on a hook in the cockpit when in use. I splurged and got one with a numeric key pad for dialing in MMSI numbers. It returns to its nest in side at the end of the day.
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Old 21-02-2009, 09:14   #14
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If installing a second vhf at the helm, instead of installing a second antenna, you can just install an antenna switch (manual or electronic), using the same, masthead antenna for both radios.

Another option would be to install the antenna switch, with an antenna lead to the helm, and attach that to your handheld. Even at 5 watts, that antenna at the top of the mast would give much better coverage than you usually get from your handheld, and it might be sufficient for your needs, without the bother of installing another full sized radio at the helm.

DGC
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Old 21-02-2009, 09:48   #15
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"even the cheapest"
Don't think so. I was given a VHF "base" radio that had failed, was repaired by the brand name store that sold it as a house brand, and failed again. It needed further repairs to cold solder joints (which plague all sorts of cheap electronics) and now makes a great spare.
Cheap, yes. Cheapest, maybe never. Stick to a brand name with a good reputation.

Also, if the antenna and able are more than five years old, it might pay to spring for replacing them also. With one of the better grades of antenna and cable, again from a brand name, and spend extra time on the installation, taking care to strain relieve the cable and waterproof the fittings, with silicon grease inside them and coax seal (butyl tape) over them. One teaspoon of salt water allowed to marinate inside the antenna/cable fittings, and the finest radio on earth won't be able to transmit at all.

You might also want to pick up an 'emergency antenna', a little one with a dozen feet of cable attached, that you can plug into the radio and stick in the cockpit in case you lose the mast, or the main antenna/cable fails for whatever reason. Inexpensive insurance.
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