The 8 Best Handheld VHF Transceivers
We spent 43 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top selections for this wiki. Handheld marine and aviation VHF radios will serve as your emergency lifeline the next time you leave land, whether by plane or by sea. We've come up with a selection of transceivers that includes basic and sophisticated models that vary in range, power, battery life, display and price, most of which are incredibly easy to program and use. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best handheld vhf transceiver on Amazon.
VHF Vs. UHF
Understanding the nuances of each type of device can help lead you to making a decision between the two that will best suit your needs.
If you are in the market for a handheld radio transceiver, chances are you've seen the handful of models in either the UHF or VHF frequency ranges. Understanding the nuances of each type of device can help lead you to making a decision between the two that will best suit your needs. In order to understand those nuances, you must first come to terms with the differences between UHF and VHF ranges.
UHF stands for ultra high frequency, where VHF stands for very high frequency. In the case of radio signals, ultra is higher than very. That means that the distance between peaks in a waveform for ultra high frequency signals is less than that of very high frequency signals. Specifically, wavelengths in the very high frequency spectrum will range anywhere between 1 and 10 meters in length, where waveforms in the ultra high frequency spectrum will range between one decimeter and 1 meter in length.
That difference in length is crucial, because it correlates directly to the behavior of each frequency range. Because an ultra high frequency signal has such smaller wavelengths, it has an easier time moving through solid objects like wood, steel, concrete, and other obstructions. VHF signals, thanks to their increased wavelength, can travel greater distances than UHF signals, but each time they pass through a window or a wall, the strength of that signal is significantly reduced.
This is essentially why VHF transmitters are preferred in open areas like the sea or the sky where there are very few obstructions to speak of. Even on hilly ground, VHF is preferable, as longer wavelengths have a tendency to hug the earth. UHF signals, on the other hand, are preferable in urban environments or anywhere that significant obstructions may abound. In these environments, you need a signal that can travel through materials without losing too much power.
So, if you know that the majority of your radio needs are going to take place in the middle of a city or town, or inside a building of any kind, it's probably a smart idea to reach for a UHF transceiver. If, on the other hand, the bulk of your radio needs are outdoors in rural settings, on the open water, or even in the air, a good VHF unit is the way to go. You can still use a good UHF unit outdoors, especially if the distances across which you need your signals travel are short and the terrain is relatively flat, but if it's in your budget, it'd be smarter to reach for that VHF model.
The Right Handheld VHF Transceiver For You
Choosing a handheld VHF transceiver isn’t going to be the hardest decision you've ever had to make, as many of the models on our list are likely to suit your needs rather well. There are some features on certain models, however, that might make one seem that much nicer to you than another.
One of the most basic features that you'll find on the majority of handheld VHF transceivers is some kind of LCD monitor.
One of the most basic features that you'll find on the majority of handheld VHF transceivers is some kind of LCD monitor. If you're on a very tight budget, there are models out there that eschew the monitor entirely in favor of low-cost and increased battery life. Often, the programming and channel settings on such stripped-down transceivers will be rather simplistic, and you'll likely have to refer to your user's manual to know which number or channel corresponds to what radio frequency.
If you choose to go with a model that has some sort of LCD readout, what exactly that read out displays can make a world of difference in your usage. Some models stop at simply conveying channel information and battery life, while others allow you to actively program the transceiver right there on the screen. These kinds of features are especially helpful to individuals on boats or in planes whose hands and eyes are often too busy to go diving around through menus trying to find the right channel for a certain task. A programmable transceiver will offer users fast access to their most frequently used channels, so that they can navigate their radio by little more than muscle memory.
Beyond those considerations, you want to look at things like battery life, charge time, and the power output of a given transceiver. Longer battery life, shorter charge time, and more power are obviously all good things to have, but you need to compare these numbers to your practical needs to make sure that you're not overpaying for a given model or missing out on other valuable features in the name of one of these others.
You Can Never Be Too Prepared
If you live in a predominantly rural area, and you're investing in a VHF transceiver as part of an emergency preparedness kit, then you ought to be commended. Not everybody has the foresight to keep the right materials around to protect themselves and their loved ones in the event of a natural or man-made catastrophe. A VHF transceiver will allow you to communicate with others in your vicinity, and to stay up-to-date on weather and news reports that could mean the difference between life and death. And purchasing a handheld unit is that much smarter, as you can take it with you if you need to evacuate.
It may be smarter than to invest in the materials for a good bug out bag one at a time.
When assembling a survival kit for emergency scenarios, you can go the simple route and grab a fully assembled bug out bag that contains everything one to four people would need to survive for several days. The downside to these bags, however, is that they take a one-size-fits-all approach to your survival. It may be smarter than to invest in the materials for a good bug out bag one at a time.
To that end, you want a large, strong backpack, perhaps even a camping pack with an external or internal frame that can hold all of your materials. Additionally, you want several strong flashlights, food rations, potable water or at least water purification tablets, and any tools like knives, compasses, or paracord that could come in handy.
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