In reporting a story on VHF capabilities and second-station and wireless-remote mics, the sources to whom I spoke mentioned the importance of carrying a handheld VHF for that battery-powered redundancy. If the boat goes through a wholesale power loss, it could be your only line of communication. If you think about what you’re looking to get from this handheld VHF it stands to reason that you would also want the unit to have a built-in GPS (or at least a separate handheld GPS) and also some replacement batteries.
“No matter how good the [fixed-mount] radios are, if you lose power they’re not going to work,” says David McLain, national sales manager for ICOM America (www.icomamerica.com). “And that’s why you have to have that handheld is for backup. A lot of people don’t really think about that until something happens to them and then it’s, Oh crap I should’ve had a handheld. With that being said, AA batteries are a huge backup. But what people don’t realize is that when you do go to alkaline batteries it takes your power from 5 or 6 watts to 2 watts.” McLain swears by the rechargeable batteries in the handhelds. “I boat on the Chesapeake and my season is about six months long,” he says. “I have a handheld and charge it at the beginning of the season and that’s it. It holds a charge. I have had it since before I even came to work at ICOM, for about 12 years. I leave it on the boat, and I don’t use it that often.” While we don’t recommend relying on McLain’s battery backup plan, it’s good to hear reports of battery performance like that. But just in case, carry spares.