Sunday, February 27, 2011

VHF-FM Marine Transceiver

The costs of getting ready for this trip just kept mounting, so I initially put having a VHF on the back burner, with the intent of relying on the SPOT and cell phone if I needed assistance. The VHF would make more sense when I got into rivers and canals, like the Mississippi or Erie. However, three things changed my mind. There are portions of the Florida Circumnavigation where cell phone coverage is spotty or absent, and I was still without a way to get reliable weather reports. Having no advance warning of changes in weather or rapidly developing storms when being forced into open Gulf waters or on routes with no access to alternative safe havens was just not safe. So, out came the wallet again.

I selected the Standard Horizon HX208S VHF for several reasons. It was reasonably priced, rechargeable, and submersible. The speaker is loud and clear, the displays are large and back-lighted, light weight, has dual watch, channel scanning, and the full range of weather channels. It is submersible to 3 feet for 30 minutes, which is another way of saying, to me anyhow, that it is water resistant, so a VHF dry bag is smart. It has a rechargeable Li-ion battery and comes with chargers for both AC and 12-volt cigarette lighter plug-in. Unfortunately, there are several sections along the coast where you won’t have access to either a wall outlet or a cigarette lighter for several days to a week. Having an optional battery pack was critical, and the radio provides for that with the optional FBA-40 battery case. The Li-ion battery is good for something over 13 hours. That’s fine for day sailing or an out-and-back fishing trip, but leaves you high and dry if you need communications for extended periods without normal recharge capability. The Li-ion battery case unclips and pull out, and the auxiliary battery case with six AA batteries replaces it.

On the cost end, I found the radio cheaper than West Marine with a Google search, but West Marine agreed to match the price. They also had the VHF dry bag in stock, which has a nice lanyard that can be secured to a strong point in the canoe, or used to hang the radio around the neck if you expect to need fairly frequent access to it. They did not stock the auxiliary battery case, but special ordered it for me, and it arrived before the radio did. The proof is in real-life usage, but I feel confident now that I have what I need.

I used the Standard Horizon portable radio daily when I worked as an ICW bridge tender for seven years. The radio is great, but there is one caveat that‘s not unique to this brand. The radios frequently come with a belt clip. Radios were replaced on a much too regular basis after the radio clip slipped off the belt when the bridge tender bent over, tried to run, or rubbed against something. To be safe, you may want the radio either in your hand, or somehow secured so you don’t hear that ominous splash. Even if it is submersible, you don’t want to have to go diving for it.

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