Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Choosing a VHF Radio for Thistling (Hint: it's this one)

With the Thistle Class now allowing radios as part of our racing, many sailors are buying radios for the first time and trying to figure out what to get.  By nature I'm a researcher.  I love figuring out the best type of anything to get for the best value.  Combining that with some real world experience from Mike Ingham in other classes with years of using radios and we found the perfect solution for every Thistler.

There's a few features you want in your VHF radio:
  1. It should be submersible
    • Many radios say they are 'waterproof' but are actually only rated for spray.  Check the JIS rating for any radio you consider.  Only JIS-7 and JIS-8 are rated for submersion - something very likely to happen in a Thistle capsize.  Avoid anything with JIS-6 or lower.
  2. It should float
    • We Thistlers tend to be cheap.  And if your precious new VHF goes overboard, you're going back to get it.  Actually, you are required by the Racing Rules of Sailing to recover anything that goes overboard, so that's all the more reason to have a radio that floats and you can retrieve.
  3. It should have backup power options
    • Some radios have a great feature.  It's a replacement battery back compartment that holds AA batteries instead of the main rechargeable battery.  Keeping that on your boat will save you when you left your radio on overnight or forgot to charge it before the event.
  4. It should have multiple charging options
    • You want both AC and DC charging methods so you can take care of it on the way to a regatta or overnight if you're camping
  5. It should be affordable
    • VHF radios come in all price ranges.  The sweet spot for value to performance seems to be right around $100.  Considering the safety and added value to your sailing compared with any of your other expenses it's a no brainer.
  6. It should be easy to mount
    • Almost all VHF radios fit this requirement, but having a radio that can be attached multiple places on your boat is important.  I've tried up on the 45s, in the very back of the boat, and on the starboard side of the centerboard trunk, behind the thwart (which seems to work best).
So Which Radio Should You Buy?
After researching a lot of radios I decided on the Uniden MHS126.  It holds the JIX8/IPX8 standards, which is the highest possible waterproof rating and will survive 30 minutes submersed at 5 feet.  It floats and has a blinking LED to aid finding it in the water.  It has the spare batter back we keep onboard in a water-tight bag.  It charges in cigarette outlets or AC wall plugs.  It current sells for $105 and the included clip make it easy to mount in many places on the boat.

After getting the radio and using it a while I am extremely satisfied with it.  I already know of 3 other Thistlers who bought the same radio for the same reasons.

You can get it on Amazon or your favorite retailer: Uniden MHS126 Radio on Amazon

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