VHF features and controls:'bells and whistles' or progress?

Discussion in 'Paddling Safety' started by JohnAbercrombie, Dec 7, 2014.

  1. JohnAbercrombie

    JohnAbercrombie Paddler

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    The other day, I was with friends and we were doing a pre-paddle radio check on the beach. One of us inadvertently turned on the 'strobe' in a newer Standard Horizon handheld. It took three people-the owner, who HAD read the operating manual, and two others with years of radio experience - both with Operators licenses, one with a ham ticket - several minutes to get the 'strobe' turned off....and that was more by accident than by clear labelling and logic from the radio designers.
    Do more 'bells and whistles' actually increase the functionality of the radio?

    For example, the squelch control, if set incorrectly, can absolutely shut down the receive function. Most radios don't have a separate squelch knob anymore.
    I WAS in a semi-emergency situation last month where one person commented on the poor reception on the VHF, and I suspect that was because of having the squelch cranked too high.
    In an emergency:
    a)You may not be able to remember the key sequence to operate a function, or
    b) Somebody else may be using your radio.

    Things to consider, I think.

    BTW, the 'strobe' on that radio wasn't a strobe at all - just an ordinary bright white flashing LED buried in the front of the radio. Absolutely IMO a case of the marketing department deliberately setting out to mislead novice buyers.
     
  2. JohnAbercrombie

    JohnAbercrombie Paddler

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    Re: VHF features and controls:'bells and whistles' or progre

    Dave- thanks for that comment; here we are in the new thread.

    About squelch - let's have a look at a couple of radios.
    First, a $100 submersible from WestMarine (I have this one).

    Squelch is adjusted with the knob next to the antenna, on top. Power turns on with the volume control, just like all those kitchen radios and old TVs that some of us grew up with.
    Notice that there is one button on the left side, the 'traditional' PTT (transmit) button.

    Next up, a feature-rich radio, the Standard Horizon 870. It's an amazing package with DSC/GPS, alkaline tray and rechargeable battery pack, etc.. (I like Yaesu/StandardHorizon stuff.)


    Notice the left side of the radio. That's where the power button, PTT and squelch (indicated) buttons are located.
    To open the squelch completely, hold down the button for 3 seconds.
    To adjust the squelch, press (and release?) SQL, then use the CHANNEL up-down buttons to adjust squelch as shown on the screen display.

    In a situation where the non-owner is using the radio, it seems to me that 'simpler is better'.
    Also, I find that - whether because I'm losing it in my dotage, or because I have a lot more 'tech devices' these days - if I don't use a device frequently, I'm depending on the device to help make things easier... i.e. not depending on my memory of the instruction manual, but on how 'intuitive' the device controls are..
     
  3. drahcir

    drahcir Paddler

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    Re: VHF features and controls:'bells and whistles' or progre

    John, thanks for starting this thread. What you say is at least 110% true and the safety ramifications are obvious. We need simple, idiot-proof vhf radios (and other gadgets) that we can 'intuitively' operate in adverse, emergency conditions. I would add one thought - the simple operation should be standardized across vendors. So when someone gets a new radio from a different manufacturer and then experiences an emergency, the radio operation is the same as his/her old familiar radio.
     
  4. Dan_Millsip

    Dan_Millsip Paddler & Admin

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    Re: VHF features and controls:'bells and whistles' or progre

    Maybe we should all lobby for Apple to design a VHF radio. :wink:
     
  5. JohnAbercrombie

    JohnAbercrombie Paddler

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    Re: VHF features and controls:'bells and whistles' or progre

    One change I'd like to see would be that the Ch16 button would override the 'Lock channel' function. I don't use the 'Lock' function anyway, but it's a potential problem in an emergency for folks who do, IMO.
     
  6. Astoriadave

    Astoriadave Paddler

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    Re: VHF features and controls:'bells and whistles' or progre

    Those are good suggestions, John and drahcir.

    I do use the lock function whenever I am on a day trip locally, typically using dual or triple watch so an inadvertent hit on a button does not disable the watch. On my ICOM, if another user comes up on 16, I can respond directly from the watch status without disabling the lock. I think that works on any of the watched channels.

    Somewhere remote, I usually watch 16 only, and do not lock it, because it is a simple one button action to bring 16 back. I must confess, on a multi day trip, I do not watch any channels, to conserve battery charge, unless there is an arranged time to contact someone.

    I doubt there is much hope of standardization of the interface, but do agree simpler is better. Who uses all those oddball bells and whistles, anyway?

    My ICOM does not have a squelch knob, instead there is a small button below the mike key which brings up the squelch setting on display. This is actually pretty convenient if I need to adjust the squelch during a contact.
     
  7. GeroV

    GeroV Paddler

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    Re: VHF features and controls:'bells and whistles' or progre

    John,
    you've illustrated both the WestMarine and Standard Horizon radios, and mentioned that you have the WestMarine. Would you recommend that as a radio to someone getting their first radio? What has been your experience with it?

    Thanks,
    Gero
     
  8. JohnAbercrombie

    JohnAbercrombie Paddler

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    Re: VHF features and controls:'bells and whistles' or progre

    Gero-
    I have a couple of older Icom handhelds (M3A and M88).
    For me, the M3A is strictly a backup radio as I wouldn't operate it outside a bag. I take it with me on kayak camping trips for listening to the WX forecasts. The M3A will run on AA batteries, so I can 'save the charge' on my other radio for emergencies.
    I was pretty irritated when my M-88 failed because of a corrosion problem, and I bought the WestMarine radio as a quick replacement. (I did repair the M-88;there's a thread here at WCP somewhere with details.)

    I keep the WestMarine VHF85 in my PFD 'radio pocket' and it goes paddling with me most days I'm out. I don't hesitate to jump in the water, practice rolls, etc. and it's still going strong after 2-3 years. It hasn't seen much 'on air' use; I switch it on before I go out to check the battery charge, and a few times I've checked the WX at a lunch stop. I don't monitor 16/9/69 when paddling, so my experience with that radio is a bit limited. It does get a fresh water rinse after each use, and the knobs seem to need an occasional 'workout' under fresh water to loosen up. It holds a charge well - months?.
    I'd buy another one; IMO it's a good basic radio and the price is right.
    Westmarine is reputed to have a good warranty program, though I haven't put it to the test.
    I certainly wouldn't buy another Icom M-88 (or any Icom marine handheld, I think) after my experience with mine, at the prices they charge.
     
  9. GeroV

    GeroV Paddler

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    Re: VHF features and controls:'bells and whistles' or progre

    John,
    thanks for your response. Have you had a chance to use the HX870 from Standard Horizon? It looks like a nice radio and the GPS seems to be a nice/useful feature. I've spent many dollars in my lifetime getting something only to upgrade a little bit later, so for certain things I consider making a bigger investment from the getgo to avoid the 'upgrade'.

    Thanks,
    Gero
     
  10. Astoriadave

    Astoriadave Paddler

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    Re: VHF features and controls:'bells and whistles' or progre

    I have to stick up for ICOM. I have owned an M-88 for many years, lots of use, both RX and TX. No corrosion issues of any kind. It rides unsheltered in a pocket of my PFD, and gets a fresh water rinse every day or so when out. Otherwise, no special treatment.

    ICOM radios are more expensive, for sure, but this one is my fourth ICOM handheld, the first two having been sold when I upgraded to the M-88. The first two were strictly alkaline power and not waterproof, mandating use in a waterproof protector. Never found one of those I could trust. They all eventually leaked. For sea kayaking, a waterproof handheld is mandatory. Embarrassing aside: current M-88 is the second one for me. They don't float.

    Standard/Horizon is also a quality line, and I could not claim ICOM is any better. West Marine typically runs high compared to other providers of electronics, etc., in case you are looking to buy a radio, Gero.
     
  11. GeroV

    GeroV Paddler

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    Re: VHF features and controls:'bells and whistles' or progre

    Dave,
    thanks for your input. I do want to get a radio as I'll be looking to get out onto larger bodies of water when the winter passes and I'm certainly taking safety seriously.

    I'd likely order online to get the best price - regardless of what radio I end up with. Having input from you, John, and other users will certainly help me in making an informed choice, recognizing that everyone will have their own preferences.

    Gero
     
  12. JohnAbercrombie

    JohnAbercrombie Paddler

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    Re: VHF features and controls:'bells and whistles' or progre

    Gero-
    I haven't used the HX870; I simply used it as an example of a 'feature-rich' radio to contrast it with the simpler WestMarine VHF85. It would be worth your while, IMO, to download the operating manuals for the radios on your 'short list' and spend some time with them. Some of the details can be important, depending on your requirements. For example, with the HX870, using the battery (AA) tray automatically restricts transmission to 1W. This is probably a smart thing, IMO, but it is a detail found in the 'fine print' in the manual.

    I have a Garmin GPS for kayaking, and I also usually carry an ACR PLB in the inside pocket of my PFD, and deck compass on the boat - lots of technology, but no multi-function devices. With the VHF handhelds, I want to keep their battery power for emergencies or WX reception, not for running a GPS module or compass.

    I was quite a fan of Icom before the M-88 failure. I had Icom radios on my sailboat (VHF and HF SSB) and the two VHF handhelds. I've also used an Icom ham transceiver in the past. When I needed a remote mic setup for the sailboat VHF, I switched to a StandardHorizon (base) VHF and it seemed like a good piece of gear.
     
  13. GeroV

    GeroV Paddler

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    Re: VHF features and controls:'bells and whistles' or progre

    John,
    Good points, thank you. I downloaded the HX870 manual onto my iPad and it is a little intimidating- but interesting. I was thinking of the onboard gps more in terms of being able to give coordinates than using it to track my route. I've actually considered using the waterproof garmin from my bicycle to mark my routes, in addition to using maps.
     
  14. GeroV

    GeroV Paddler

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    Re: VHF features and controls:'bells and whistles' or progre

    One other question I have is whether any of the solar chargers that you can get at places like REI would be able to recharge batteries on an extended trip for these radios.

    Thanks,
    Gero
     
  15. MOEisME

    MOEisME New Member

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    Re: VHF features and controls:'bells and whistles' or progre

    Regarding the question of charging from solar... yes.
    Although exactly how to charge will depend on the radio.

    Most of these radios (including the iCOM & Standard Horizon) come with a 12V charging cable for use with boat & vehicle 12V power sockets (cigarette sockets). I'd have to research whether it is possible to plug one of these radios directly into a 12V solar panel... many devices require a minimum amount of power, and lithium charging systems can be fussy.
    Of course, the best option would be to use a complete 12V solar charging system including solar storage battery pack. This would collect the solar power & allow you to plug-in & charge devices any time of day or night. Most come with USB ports for personal electronics too.

    If you do consider a solar system, I would strongly recommend the Powerfilm rollable panels. They are marine grade, waterproof, easy to strap down to canoe & kayak decks, and use thin film solar cells that will outperform similarly-powered crystalline cells in any weather condition. That is to say, a 7W Powerfilm panel will produce more Watt-Hours/Day, any day, than a 7W Goal Zero panel. Especially in overcast conditions.
    Voltaic's V72 battery pack is a great match for Powerfilm, and will support all these VHF radios (plus USB devices).

    Hope that helps.
    Please feel free to contact me with any specific charging questions.
     
  16. BluenosePacific

    BluenosePacific Paddler

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    Re: VHF features and controls:'bells and whistles' or progre

    Power and improper use are the two leading contributers to communication breakdowns in rescues at sea.
    Back to the OP, if you bought three $100 radios instead of one $300 radio with all the bells and whistles on it you'd be three times ahead for the same amount of money. Just buy one simple radio and two extra batteries and use them.
     
  17. Bluefoot

    Bluefoot Paddler

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    Re: VHF features and controls:'bells and whistles' or progre

    I came across a website that shows the HX870 and HX851 displays side by side. There is an early review on the HX870, but some of the comments which followed seemed a little cheesy to me. (Perhaps I am cynical having heard that people get paid for making glowing product comments.)

    Here is the link:

    http://www.panbo.com/archives/2014/11/s ... house.html

    A local Calgary distributer tells me the HX870 will be priced around $270 when they get it. The HX851 is around $250.

    Given the current Canadian dollar I am surprised there would not have been a greater price difference.
     
  18. Tsunami

    Tsunami Paddler

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    Re: VHF features and controls:'bells and whistles' or progre

    I have to bring this topic up again.
    Some good info in this thread already.
    I have my HAM radio license, though I don't Ham it up much ;)
    I am looking into what would be my best money spent on a VHF purchase. Hopefully I can find one not too much money. And you know, Waterproof...
    I just started searching and found one I like but their are a lot more out there yet to find that will probably fit the bill.
    http://radioworld.ca/hx300-p-10590.html?osCsid=e1ee4e8d909b2e9cb545f1d6dfbb690b

    I have a portable rechargeable USB battery, though not waterproof, thats able to recharge my phone. Dont know if it would recharge this radio I linked to but with USB capability it stands a better chance. Still need to download the manual and read up on it, like I said I just started looking.
    Solar waterproof batteries are cheap on ebay and just clip on deck while paddling. Might just be good to have anyway.
    With the Powerfilm rollable panels MOEisME mentioned being over five hundred bucks thats not in the budget.

    I know Astoria Dave uses an ICOM M-88. I would like something that floats though, lol.
    Like BluenosePacific said Just buy one simple radio and two extra batteries and use them.
    Would be the best bet for me I think, for now at least.
    When I was test fitting for a new kayak at Ocean River the sales guy tried to show me one they sell for 125 bucks but they were sold out so I'll have to drop by again to find out what model it was.
    Something small to fit in my PFD pocket would be perfect.

    Just found this thread, would be nice to see it updated.
    http://www.westcoastpaddler.com/community/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=5844

    Just listening to the weather report during the day leaving the radio on while paddling how long do one set of batteries last?

    Tiger Tsunami.
     
  19. Astoriadave

    Astoriadave Paddler

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    Re: VHF features and controls:'bells and whistles' or progre

    Bluenose has it right. Get a simple radio that floats and know it well.

    On usage, when day tripping, I often leave it on dual or tri watch, 16, 13, and 9. 16 for emergency calls, 13 for shipping because I paddle on the Columbia and I like to know what's coming, and 9 is an alternate hailing channel. Battery handles this fine, and there is enough juice left for TX for an emergency if needed.

    One day I left the radio off. That was the day after two guys stuffed their double up a blind alley and got stranded. I did not even know they were missing, yet was in their vicinity and would have run up the blind alley, because it was about the only place they could be, if alive. They got heloed out a day later, OK but cold and hungry after two nights out, one separate from their double. Immersion clothing saved their asses. Idiocy and unfathomable lack of awareness of the geography within 2 miles of their launch point stranded them up a shallow, brush clogged backwater on a falling tide. Oh, and no chart or radio or cell phone, all back in their van.

    On a multiday trip, I am a battery miser. Only listen to the WX once in the morning before launch, and use TX sparingly, at a preset time when party has split, to coordinate rejoining and return to camp. Works for about 5 or 6 days on one battery pack. I should have a spare but I don't.

    If my ICOM floated, it would be perfect. All I need is US, CDN, and INT channel mixes, dual and triwatch, easy access to PTT and squelch, one hand operation of the above, and the WX channels, used rarely. The marine weather comes to me on the main VHF band. Scan is useless, wastes battery capacity. 5W off the rubber ducky is enough. The 6W units provide a miniscule bit of added power, not needed. Location and elevation far more effective in enhancing TX range.
     
  20. Tsunami

    Tsunami Paddler

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    Re: VHF features and controls:'bells and whistles' or progre


    Perfect!
    Thanks Dave :big_thumb

    Tiger Tsunami-Islay.