Radios are must when you go in the water that rises and falls at moons command. My new boat, not really new but new to me, has a radio that doesn't work, so I had to buy one. In doing that I did some research and my inside engineer kicked in which I though I caged it while sailing. A boater, a sailor to be specific, needs at least one VHF onboard. Now if you are a day sailor and stay close to coast and coastguard inhibited places you need only a VHF. If you are always in a boat infested area - and occassionally go 5-10 miles away from it, you are safe with a VHF marine radio. If you go beyond that range then you need an SSB marine radio. And remember for both the cases marine radios not the ham VHF or ham SSB - that won't practically work for myriad of reasons that I am not going to discuss in this post. But just to warn you - regular (ham/amateur) VHF and SSB radios are not legally eligible to be used in marine communication and also marine radios have some special much needed features that are not present in regular ham radios. So for yoiur sake stay away from using regular ham radios in marine communication. Back to VHF and SSB. You muct have a VHF whether you have an SSB or not aboard. Marine VHF. Now people get confused about the choice, there are many brands and many types. I chose 1 handheld for primary use and another for backup. Lets talk about the primary one as the backup one is for my 8-year old son to use in case of emergency. Why I chose handheld over a fixed one? Many reasons:
- Handheld is portable - I can walk while talking and I can work. It's less likely that when I have to make a real radio call while I have nothing important to work on. Most likely we make radio calls when we are stuck and need help. Portability is must in that case.
- Power requirement - It doesn't use batteries from ship's house bank. We all know how precious the little power storage we have onboard; we guard it like gold.
- Man overboard - advanced handhelds have DSC and GPS functions, like the advanced fixed ones, which can be used to poll a radios GPS location to find if a person ever goes overboard with the radio with him/her. Fixed one doesn't work in this scenario.
- Making calls from dock - legally marine radios can't be used on the land but dock is considered to be part of water and you can use your handheld while on dock.
- No invasive installation needed.
- Can be charged evrywhere including in your car and in your house.
These are the main reasons to use a handheld over a fixed one. Somebody may have a fixed one too alongside but thats not me, for me the fixed would be an SSB marine radio which I do not have yet. Now the questions whether the handhelds have the same performance as the fixed one. Answer is little longer than just a yes and know as it is subjective. Please bear with me with my explanation. Handhelds are getting advanced in faster speed than the fixed ones which is apparent by looking at the number of handhelds being offered by the leading brands. Modern handhelds are more capable than fixed one from the last generation. Surely the fixed ones of same era have better horsepower but in real scenarios - handhelds can match or surpass them if used properly and also brings the advantages I described in 6 points.
Only place where the fixed VHF is more useful than the handheld is inside the cabin where handhelds may not have good reception. In real scenarios though I am never inside cabin more than a couple of minutes while underway and while long cruise I will depend on an SSB marine radio (which is fixed) than a VHF.