Best Fixed Mount VHF Marine Radio Reviews – Complete Guide and Best Picks for 2018
Joseph Conrad, a Polish-British writer, once noted that the sea has never been friendly to man. At most, it has been the accomplice of human restlessness.
In the light of this saying, I guess no wise boater/angler would dare venture into the deep sea minus a way of contacting the shore and other boats. That’s where the best VHF marine radios come in.
I have already discussed the best handheld VHF marine radios in another article. Today, we’ll be looking at great gadgets that allow you to transmit even further and with much more reliability.
We’ve analyzed 628 reviews of fixed mount VHF marine radios, and compared them side-by-side.
Below you will find a comparison chart.
Standard Horizon GX2200B
Cobra Electronics MR F45
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|Actual Range||Audibility||Ease Of Use||Durability|
A few things to keep in mind
As you’ll realize in the reviews below, different VHF marine radios perform differently. Performance depends on the features that a specific model offers at a certain budget.
While you don’t have to spend so much to get a radio with the must-have features, digging just a little bit deeper into your pockets might secure you several nice-to-have features that boost your chances of survival when things start heading south.
We will be discussing these features in-depth after the reviews.
Before that, here are a few key questions that should help you arrive at your ideal fixed mount marine radio;
- What is its power output?
- Does it have selectivity? How good is it?
- Does it receive weather alerts?
- Do you want a model with a GPS?
- Does it the radio allow dual station functionality?
- Are you looking for a radio with a hailer?
- Would you want a radio with Automatic Identification System?
- Does it have any active noise canceling technology?
- What is your budget?
Standard Horizon GX2200B – Best For Versatile and Lifesaving Features
Versatility and affordability rarely appear in the same sentence when discussing the best marine radios. But that’s exactly what the Standard Horizon GX2200B brings.
Currently four years old in the market since its inception in 2014, the GX2200B takes pride in being among the very first marine radios to incorporate a receiver for AIS (Automatic Identification System) and GPS (Global Positioning System).
The AIS is a lifesaving feature that alerts you of nearby vessels including their name, bearing, distance, and call sign. As you can imagine, this feature comes in handy in helping ships and boats to avoid collisions.
The GPS, on the other hand, makes navigation easier by indicating important aspects such as latitude, longitude, time, SOG (speed over Ground) and COG (Course over Ground).
Importantly, the integrated GPS also makes it possible to save up to 100 waypoints. This not only makes navigation easier and quicker, but it also eliminates doubts thereby boosting your confidence.
Another important feature of the Standard Horizon GX2200B is its 30W PA/Hailer. As I have explained in the buying guide, a hailer is a fog signal generator that allows you to communicate to other boaters in a fog to avoid a collision.
The hailer also has a ‘listen’ feature that picks up sounds from other vessels and amplifies them through your radio’s front panel speaker.
Other great features include the ability to get NOAA weather alerts and dual channel (16 and 9) monitoring function. These two features keep you posted about any adverse weather changes or eventualities so you can prepare in advance.
One thing that stands out from past users’ feedback is how easy it is to set up and use this radio. Others also appreciate its detailed and understandable English manual.
The only major complaint that we came across at the time of writing these reviews was from a boater who reported that its 3-inch display was a tad hard to see.
Cobra Electronics MR F45 – Best For Budget
The Cobra Electronics MR F45 targets sailors who want a no-frills yet reliable radio that can handle all their communication needs without breaking the bank.
The package ships with the radio, GPS cable, a detachable microphone, and an owner’s manual. It also comes with a plastic mounting bracket that allows you to install it either on the dashboard or overhead.
So, what features make it unique?
The first thing that caught our attention about this radio is its simple look and undeniable ease of use. The last thing that you want in marine radio is spending its entire usable lifetime trying to figure out what button does what isn’t it?
That’s why this radio’s seven straightforward pushbuttons and a pair of rotary knobs make a biggie feature in its profile.
Designed to boost your chances of survival in the sea, the Cobra MR F45 also features a distress call (red button) that allows you to contact the Coast Guard and other DSC-enabled ships around you urgently.
This radio also has two buttons (one on the front panel and another one on the microphone) that allow you to select channels 16 and nine instantly.
Even better, this radio keeps you connected to up to 10 NOAA weather alert channels to keep you safe from storms. Importantly, it has both audible and visual alarms to ensure that you never miss out on critical weather alerts.
We also appreciate its dual output function that allows you to switch from 1w to 25w. This feature helps in saving your boat’s battery power depending on how far you are from the shores.
The Cobra MR F45 does not offer a built-in GPS feature. This shouldn’t be a deal-breaker considering its price. But what’s even more appealing is that it does offer you a way of connecting to a standalone GPS.
Only a few users reported some reliability issues. But they were well covered by this radios 3-year warranty.
Lowrance Link-8 – Best For Clean Design And Great Price
The Lowrance Link-8 is the direct competitor of the Standard Horizon GX2200B that we saw earlier on. It offers you another chance of getting a sturdily built radio with several high-end features at a considerably lower price than the GX2200B.
One easily notable feature of this radio is its high-resolution dot-matrix display. I bet anyone who has trouble using Cobra MR F45’s screen will have an easy time with what the Link-8 offers.
This radio boasts a high-quality 128×256 resolution 1.3’’ by 2.6’’ LCD display that allows easy reading in almost any situations in the sea. This eliminates the need for squinting or having to pull out a flashlight whenever you want to read vital emergency messages.
Similar to the GX2200B, the Link-8 VHF has a hailer horn output to alert other sailors of your presence in the fog. In the same manner, it keeps you posted about other boats and ships around you in fogs to avoid collisions, injuries, and expensive repairs.
We also appreciate that the Link-8 has a dual-channel AIS receiver and plotting functionality. As explained earlier, this is a transponder system that detects and alerts you of other oncoming vessels up to 7 miles away.
It offers crucial information about those boats including their MMSI, vessel name, type of vessel, its length, and radio call design.
The Track Your Buddy function is yet another feature that you are bound to appreciate the Link-8. This feature uses the radio’s DSC to connect to your chartplotter and connect you to 3 other friendly vessels near you. This is not only for fun but for security and safety reasons.
Another important highlight of this radio is its Log Distress Calls. This works by saving about ten distress calls from other boats and up to 20 individual distress calls that can later be used for search and rescue operations.
Speaking of rescue operations, this model also has the MOB (Man Over Board) function that allows you to keep record of the exact position and time of the MOB.
Standard Horizon GX1700W- Best For Beginners
Are you buying a fix mounted marine radio for the first time? Well, I bet don’t want a model with lots of extra features that might give it a stiff learning curve.
In that case, the Standard Horizon GX1700W is our most recommendable unit. Don’t get it twisted. This radio isn’t cheap in any way- price and construction design. Rather, it mashes up all the vital features of high-end radio into a user-friendly model that you’ll use confidently right out of the box.
One key feature that ranks its profile is the ultra-thin and compact design. Featuring a depth of 3.5 inches only, this radio makes an excellent bet for vessels that have small consoles.
By the same breath, it comes ready for a bracket or flush mounting. What most people like is that you only need to connect it to an antenna (not provided) and you are ready for the waters.
It also came as a surprise to realize that the GX1700W comes with a built-in GPS and GPS compass. Well, GPS isn’t anything new to most Standard Horizon VHF radios. But getting it at the price of this radio is downright unbelievable and a real steal.
The availability of a built-in GPS in this radio means that you won’t have to purchase another one separately. It also eliminates the hassle of wiring the GPS to the radio.
Similar to other high-end GPS-enabled VHF radios, this GPS allows you to save close to 100 waypoints and use the compass to navigate to them. Do you know what this means? In my opinion, it means minimal chances of getting lost in the sea.
This radio is also Class D DSC-compliant and will, therefore, allow you to send distress calls to the Coast Guard with your position info and identity for a speedy rescue operation. Worth noting, you could also receive distress calls from other ships around you and help in saving the day.
Other great features include the ability to connect to a second station via a remote access microphone and JIS-8 1.5M submergibility.
Uniden UM380 Class D Marine Radio – Best For Affordability
Uniden is not a new name in the world of CB radios and VHF marine gadgets. What we have for you from this American-based manufacturer is one of the most affordable marine radios on the market.
Other than its unbelievable price tag, what surprised us are the high-end features that the UM380 offers. So, why should you go for this radio?
It has an impressive design. I like the way this radio’s front panel has been designed. It is neither overly complex to intimidate you nor too simple to give it a cheap look.
This radio has a large amber backlit display that allows easy visibility even in low light conditions. This display’s performance gets a good boost from the backlit buttons that make it easy to use the radio even in dark conditions comfortably.
We also like that the Uniden UM380 comes already connected to the Specific Area Message Encoding weather alert channel. This channel keeps you posted about the local weather and that of the locations ahead of you thereby allowing you to prepare beforehand.
In addition to this, we like that this radio allows triple channel monitoring. This means that you’ll be getting important updates from 3 channels simultaneously without leaving the working channel.
In case the worst happens, it’s quite impressive that this radio is also fitted with a Class D DSC button that makes it easy for rescuers to locate where you are with ease.
Perhaps the only downside is that you’ll need to buy the antenna separately. But remember most marine radios don’t include antennas in the package. This is partly because your ideal antenna depends on a few factors including the size of your boat, your budget, and whether or not your boat has a mast.
Buying a fixed mount VHF marine radio
Mount fixed or handheld radio?
Fixed mount marine radios aren’t so different from their handheld counterparts. Regarding performance, however, fixed mount radios take the lead in that they allow you to transmit and receive signals from up to 30 miles away.
This is a considerable distance as opposed to the 6-mile coverage that most handheld units offer.
I don’t mean to despise portable radios though. Some of their features, including Man Over Board (MOB), waterproof-ability, floating, and the ability to be used both in the sea and on land make them indispensable.
If you are wondering whether to go for a fixed or handheld unit, I would advise you to go for both. However, if your budget does not allow, a fixed mount radio makes more sense regarding coverage.
Power output Vs. Coverage
Coverage refers to how far a radio sends and receives signals. Needles to mention, a radio that allows you to make a call or receive alerts across a long distance is undeniably the best. It also allows you to sail deeper into the sea with minimal worries.
As I have just hinted, fixed mount radios offer a longer transmission and reception range than handheld units.
Coverage in radios depends on their maximum power output. Generally, radios that offer the highest output will send signals longer than low output models.
However, do know that coverage is also determined by the type of antenna. Let’s dissect antenna in-depth.
Often viewed as just another piece of wire, the type of antenna that you use for your VHF radio speaks volumes about how far the signals will reach.
Chris Catoe, sales manager at Shakespeare Antenna Group, confirms that an antennae’s performance depends on the type of material used for its construction.
It can either be coaxial cable (a blend of coax, copper, and brass), or pure copper and brass. He continues to state that an all copper-and-brass antenna offers the best range.
Besides the construction material, antenna gain and height are other key considerations when choosing the ideal antenna.
As a rule of thumb, the height of the antenna should always be less than half the total length of the boat. This is to say that a 24-32-foot boat will do quite well with an 8-foot antenna.
About the dB-gain, antennas vary from 3db to 8db. Higher-dB antennas (6-8 dB) offer a greater range than lower-dB antennas.
Catoe says that while a 3-dB tends to offer a larger signal pattern, the signal tends not to leave the horizon when the boat pitches. However, he recommends these sticks if your vessel has a tall mast where you intend to mount the antenna.
How many antennas does your VHF radio require?
Generally, a radio requires just one antenna to transmit and receive signals. But this changes slightly for radios that feature the Automatic Identification System (AIS).
A radio with this function will require only one antenna if it is receive-only. On the other hand, you’ll need two antennas if the AIS function allows you to transmit as well.
Note: Most fixed mount VHF marine radios don’t include the antenna in the package. So, remember to inquire about the most compatible model and add one to your cart alongside the radio.
Dual Station Capability
Most (not all) marine radios today have this function. It simply allows you to operate two stations from the same radio simply by installing a second command mic elsewhere inside the boat.
This is a great feature especially if you don’t like the idea of having a handheld radio in the cockpit.
Unfortunately, radios that offer this function tend to be a little bit pricey. As an alternative, you might consider installing a second fixed mount VHF radio altogether.
The latter option is, in my opinion, the best considering how cheap these gadgets are these days. Consider the Uniden UM380, for instance.
Moreover, it ensures that you are connected in case the other one dies when you need it.
Multi-channel watch function
Most marine radios allow you to monitor at least two channels simultaneously. All marine radios are required to be able to maintain a constant watch over Ch 16 which is primarily used for distress, safety, and urgent calls.
The market is full of radios that allow dual and even tri-channel watch. These models allow you to monitor two other critical channels including Ch 13 which is used for internship navigation safety and another weather channel to keep you posted about any eventualities.
Digital Selective Calling
A VHF radio’s main intention is to save you in a distress situation. I bet nothing does that better than a DSC-enabled model.
Digital Selective Calling technology improves the way you call for help during a marine emergency in a few ways.
First, it allows you call for help to a fellow boater directly through Ch 70 thereby avoiding Ch 16 which is becoming more and more crowded as years pass by.
Second, it sends a distress call directly to the Coast Guard with relevant details such as your MMSI number, location, and the nature of the emergency.
Even better, any other DSC-enabled vessel around you also gets this information. This results in a speedier and more reliable response.
DSC-enabled radios are easily identifiable thanks to a red button labeled distress. To make a distress call, you only need to press this button for 5 seconds.
Not many people know of this feature despite its great importance in a marine radio. A hailer has three very important functions.
When sailing in close quarters, it functions as a Public Address system by allowing you to communicate your intentions to nearby vessels on time. This puts you out of harm’s way by preventing collisions and accidents that could lead to expensive repairs.
Another very important feature of the hailer is its foghorn. Needless to mention, this feature simply alerts other boaters of your presence in the fog.
On the same note, a hailer has a ‘listen’ feature that allows you to listen to another boat’s signals in a fog without having to stick your head out of the window.
In its ‘listen’ mode, the hailer’s speaker horn temporarily functions like a mic by picking up distant voices from other vessels and amplifying them through the radio’s front panel speaker for you.
Lastly, you could also use the hailer to communicate with your crew.
Of course, I don’t expect you to overlook this one. Getting weather alerts on time could be the difference between life and death.
That being said, you seriously want a radio that gets warnings from both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME).
Owning a boat is a great experience especially if you are free to enjoy some of the world’s best waterways. However, we all know that life at sea is pretty much unpredictable, and a great day can turn into a nightmare in a snap.
That’s why a VHF marine radio will always be the most important emergency tool that you need to pack before heading out to the water.
Mind you, having a marine radio isn’t always about your safety. As DSC-enabled radios prove, these radios also mean a lot to the safety of other sailors near you.
The choice of the best marine radio, whether fix mounted or handheld is subjective. It depends on your budget, the type of your vessel, and how far you venture at sea among other things.
All in all, an ideal marine radio should keep you off danger by alerting you on expected weather changes, curbing the risk of collisions and accidents, and offering a reliable way of calling for and getting assistance.
After a thorough consideration of the features and performance of the models that made it on our list of the best fix mounted VHF radios, we found the Standard Horizon GX2200B as the overall winner.
This is a professional grade radio and valuable addition to your safety gear arsenal. Among other things, we like its durable feel that suggests that it will hold up quite well even in the fiercest sea conditions.
We also appreciate that it incorporates 4 of the most vital lifesaving features: GPS, AIS, Hailer, and NOAA weather capabilities.
Even better, this radio sets up in a snap, and it’s super easy for everyone to use including the first-timers.