Also in This Issue 3 Regal 2400 7 Handheld

Reprinted from
July 2006 …
JULY 2006
  3 Regal 2400
This fun-to-drive bow rider has ample
seating and storage, but wider swim
ladders and additional handrails would
make it more family friendly.
  7 Handheld VHF Radios
A solid performer with multi-band reception
and DSC emergency calling, the Standard
Horizon HX600S takes top honors.
Family Focus: Page 3
13 PFDs for Kids
Mustang, Stearns, and Sospenders have
top-quality vests for youths that provide
buoyancy well beyond regulation.
17 Suzuki DF300
Suzuki introduces the biggest four-stroke yet
with a 300-hp V6 that weighs less and burns
less fuel than the 275 Mercury Verado.
Can You Hear Me Now?: Page 7
19 Anti-Fouling Paints for
Outdrives and Outboards
All three products failed to stop barnacle
growth. Pettit’s Alumacoat SR allowed the
least amount of slime and hard growth.
20 Mooring Chain Test
After six months, the standard Acco
Grade-30 proof coil looks good. Forget the
Campbell and Chinese proof coils.
PFD Plunge: Page 13
Also in This Issue
2 Editorial Better mileage and fewer
maintenance woes with more horsepower,
and tips on getting kids into PFDs.
22 Letters/Advisor Stepping up, bottom paint
through Jamestown Distributors, VHF output,
windlass installation, and digital charts.
24 Product Monitor Tideminders mooring/docking system and a propane canister locker.
First 300-hp Outboard: Page 17
Expensive Handheld VHF Radios:
Standard Horizon Edges Icom
With its solid performance, multi-band reception, and DSC emergencycalling capability, the Standard Horizon HX600S takes top honors.
The radios from Icom had the longest battery life.
andheld VHF radios come in
handy for a variety of tasks
aboard any boat. On small skiffs,
they serve well as the main method
of communicating—and you don’t
have to worry about the mounting,
antenna, and wiring issues associated with a fixed-mount radio. On
larger vessels with a fixed-mount
VHF already installed, handhelds
can serve as a viable backup radio or
as a means of two-way communication if the dinghy is launched. When
used as a backup, your handheld can
even connect to the boat’s main antenna via an adapter and significantly
increase your transceiver range.
What We Tested
To keep our reports reasonable in both
scope and size, as well as to make fair
comparisons, we’ve divided coverage
of handheld VHF radios into two
groups. In this review we’ll report on
upper-echelon units that sell for more
than $175. Next time, we’ll cover less
expensive radios. Our lineup includes
two units from perennial VHF leader
Icom (models IC-M72 and IC-M88),
four from Standard Horizon (models HX370S, HX500S, HX600S, and
HX471S), the Ray101 from Raymarine, and the West Marine VHF 250.
How We Tested
The first order of business was to
charge the batteries, which we did using the associated AC chargers. Next,
we ran each radio through a series
of bench tests, including transmitter
power output, frequency accuracy
and stability, and receiver sensitivity.
We used a sophisticated piece of radio
test gear, a Ramsey COM3010 com-
munications service monitor.
Maximum power output on a
portable handheld marine radio is
limited to 5 or 6 watts. A low-power
setting, 1 watt, for harbor use, is
also available. In addition to the
high- and low-power settings, most
of the radios we tested had a midpower setting. We tested only at
the max power and 1 watt. We took
transmitter power measurements
directly off the radio antenna port
located on the top of each radio.
Frequency accuracy is defined as
Below, from left to right: Standard
Horizon HX471S, Icom IC-M88,
Icom IC-M72, West Marine VHF 250,
Standard Horizon HX500S, Standard Horizon HX600S,
Standard Horizon HX370S,
Raymarine Ray101.
value guide: Handheld VHFs over $175
Standard Horizon
Price Source
AA or AAA Battery Pack
Battery Warranty Period (Months)
Battery Type
Standard Horizon
Nickel Metal Hydride Nickel Metal Hydride
Battery Capacity (mAH)
Lithium Ion
Nickel Metal Hydride
Maximum Charge Time
Claimed Time of Operation (single charge) (hrs)
15 to 16
Head Set
External Speaker/Microphone
M, L
Battery Replacement Cost
Tested Time of Operation (single charge) (hrs)
*Frequency Bands
DSC Capabilities
Unit Size (Inches W x H x D)
Weight (Ounces)
Tx Settings (Watts)
2.6 x 6.3 x 2.0
2.5 x 5.4 x 1.8
2.2 x 5.4 x 1.4
2.5 x 4.8 x 1.9
Transmitter Power Output and Stability
Transmitter Frequency Stability
Receive Sensitivity
Selectivity (dB)
Display Rating
Audio Output (dBA at 1 foot)
Audio Quality
*Aircraft (A), AM Broadcast (AM), Family (F), FM Broadcast (FM), Land Mobile (L), Marine (M), Multi-Use Radio Service (R).
the ability of the transmitter to send
signals out on the selected frequency.
Frequency stability measures the
transmitter’s ability to maintain
frequency accuracy over its entire
temperature operating range. Regulations mandate an accuracy of 10 parts
per million, while industry groups
typically call for half that error. This
equates to being about 1550 hertz (Hz)
off frequency in the marine frequency
Each transmitter test was done on
channel 16 at room temperature (75
F), as well as temperature extremes
near the maximum ranges of each
To reach the cold extreme, each
radio was put in a bait freezer at 15
F for four hours prior to testing. We
used a fish smoker as an environmental chamber to get the radios to
high-temperature extremes. Each
was left to cook for two hours at 122
F and then immediately run through
another transmitter-power and frequency test.
We also checked each unit’s lowpower setting, measuring both power
output and frequency accuracy. Frequency stability was rated over the
entire range of transmitter testing; the
closer a unit held to the appropriate
frequency, the higher it was rated.
Receiver sensitivity is the ability
of the radio’s receiver section to hear
a weak signal. Typical marine VHF
receiver sensitivity ratings run from
.22 to .35 microvolts, with industry
groups recommending a minimum
.50 microvolts. Each radio receiver
was tested for the minimum signal
it could receive at a specific industry
standard setting between background
noise and generated signal (12 dB
SINAD). All the radios rated Good or
better, meaning they are more than
sensitive enough to pick up very weak
incoming signals.
Another receiver standard is selectivity, the ability of the receiver to
reproduce only the signals you want
to hear, and not others, even though
they may be strong and nearby. Our
test equipment did not allow us to
test each radio for this characteristic.
Each manufacturer provided information, which is listed in the chart
under selectivity; a higher number
is better.
Display ratings were based on the
size of the channel number display,
the amount of other information
shown, the value of the channel comments, the size of the screen, and the
quality of the backlighting.
One important part of the marine
radio often overlooked is the audio
amplifier and speaker. Boats can be
West Marine
Standard Horizon
Standard Horizon
VHF 250
Lithium Ion
Lithium Ion
Nickel Metal Hydride
Lithium Ion
10 to 12
A, AM, F, FM, M
A, AM, F, FM, M, R
A, AM, FM, M
L, M
2.7 x 5.1 x 1.7
2.6 x 5.5 x 1.6
2.5 x 4.8 x 1.9
2.4 x 4.4 x 1.6
noisy places, and if you can’t hear the
output, it doesn’t really matter how
well the transmitter or receiver works.
To rate the audio system of each radio,
we measured the sound pressure at
maximum volume while generating
a 1 KHz tone with the COM3010 and
inputting the tone into the radio. Measurements were taken at a distance
of 1 foot using a Radio Shack decibel
meter. Our tester also rated each audio
system with a voice input by monitoring a weather channel and rating the
quality of sound reproduction.
A submersion test was conducted
on each radio to confirm it as waterproof. The tester turned on the radios
and submerged them in a bucket of
fresh water for 30 minutes. After
Right: We used a Ramsey COM3010
communications service monitor to record and rate transceiver specifications.
removal, we checked the radio for
proper operation immediately and
then again the next day. All of the
radios passed this test.
Since a user typically carries a
handheld radio either in hand or on
a belt clip, we elected to perform a
drop test to confirm the radios survivability. Each radio was turned on
then dropped from a height of 4 feet
onto concrete. Again, all of the radios
passed this test.
The clock started ticking for the
battery-life test immediately following charging. We allotted the first
hour of use to run our bench tests.
Radios were off during their time
in our environmental chambers and
then turned back on the following
day and allowed to run continuously
for the next 14 hours. We transmitted
at full power for about three minutes
every hour and received voice signals
for about five minutes every hour
until the battery died or the unit began to malfunction. Total battery test
time was 15 hours. Radios still fully
functional at that time were rated at
15+ hours of battery life.
In the final analysis, we considered
performance, cost (initial and battery
replacement), warranty (both unit
and battery), battery life, included
equipment, recharge time, display,
and audio output.
Icom IC-M72
Ergonomically, the IC-M72 tops the
field. It’s lightweight, fits into one
hand well, and is comfortable to hold
and use. The most powerful battery in
the field provides the muscle for a sixwatt transmitter, the highest output
power rating of any handheld VHF
we’ve tested. Tested battery life was
excellent with the transmitter still
pumping out plenty of power even
after 15 hours of use. One downside:
Replacing the battery will cost you
nearly as much as the radio itself:
Overall performance ratings on
the IC-M72 were Good to Excellent,
though it fell a bit short in two areas.
It scored only a Fair for transmitter
frequency stability because the transmitter went off frequency by a small
amount after emerging from the heat
chamber. It was still within design
specifications and completely usable,
Following submersion, we noticed
the battery compartment had some
minor water intrusion. According to
Icom advertising manager, Dave Kruzic, water in the battery area is not a
problem for Icom radios. “There is no
huge gasket between battery and radio
to prevent water intrusion. Where it
is important to protect against water
intrusion is where the battery contact
points meet the radio mainframe. If
you look at both the M72 and M88,
the gasket is small and only covers
this critical area. If you submerge the
radios with the battery properly fitted in place, remove from water and
shake the radio off, you should hear
a small suction ‘snap’ when removing
the battery and the contact point seal
is disrupted. It should be dry in that
small area. The rest is unimportant.”
This radio is operated with a rotary
on/off/volume control located on top,
a push-to-talk and a squelch button
on the side, and six pushbuttons on
the front panel. Controls on the front
select transmitter power, channel
changing, weather, quick 16 or 9, and
scanning. An optional microphone
or speaker connects through a port
in the top.
Bottom Line: A well-built radio
with highly rated ergonomics, good
performance, and excellent battery
life. Battery replacement cost is high.
Icom IC-M88
This expensive sub-compact packs
a load of features into a lightweight
package about the size of a bar of soap.
The M88 operates by using the rotary
on/off/volume control located on top,
a push-to-talk and a squelch button on
the side. Six front-panel pushbuttons
control transmitter power, channel
changing, weather, quick 16 or 9, and
scanning. An optional external speaker/microphone plugs in on the side.
The M88 earned Good or Excellent
ratings across the board. During the
battery-life test it was one of only four
radios still functioning after 15 hours
and it was going strong even then,
pumping out plenty of transmitter
power during our final check.
This radio shares two less-than-desirable traits with its sibling, the M72:
It has a very expensive battery ($122)
and it had some water in the battery
area following our dunk test. See the
Icom IC-72 text for Icom’s explanation
as to why water in the battery area is
not a big deal.
Bottom Line: A great performer,
but it’s expensive and so is battery
Raymarine Ray101
At about twice the size of the diminutive Icom M88, the Ray101 is the heftiest handheld in this test. It uses six
AA-size nickel metal hydride batteries contained in a sealed battery pack
that fits securely to the back of the
unit. This setup gives the Ray101 the
lowest battery replacement cost in the
group, as well as the opportunity to
quickly install standard AA batteries
should the need arise. Unfortunately
this setup also yielded the worst performance in our battery life test by
only lasting nine hours. Raymarine
communications manager Nancy
Baumgartner commented on the
Ray101 batteries. “Since the battery
is a consumable item, it is not covered
under the 3-year radio warranty. One
of the major advantages of the Ray101
is that it does not use a proprietary
battery pack; instead the consumer
can go to any retail store in the US and
buy regular AA rechargeable NiMH
batteries for a fraction of the price of
the proprietary custom batteries used
by other radio manufacturers.
Ray101 also allows flexibility for
the users to upgrade their batteries to
the bigger capacity battery. Upgrading
to the bigger capacity battery would
instantly increase the battery life and
make the radio up to date to the latest
battery technology.”
Two rotary knobs are mounted on
the top of the unit: an off/on/volume
control and a squelch control. The
side-mounted, push-to-talk switch
is too hard to press, in our opinion.
Seven front panel pushbuttons select
transmitter power, scanning options,
channel change, weather, panel backlighting, and quick 16.
Left: A few drops of water got inside of
the Icom IC-M88’s battery compartment
after our dunk test, but a gasket protects the battery-to-radio connection.
Overall performance of the Ray101
was Good. We found water in the battery area after the dunk test. It did not
penetrate the battery compartment or
the area where the battery-to-radio
connections are located as they are
protected with a small gasket.
Bottom Line: Too big and heavy for
our liking, plus it has a rather short
battery life.
Standard Horizon HX600S
The HX600S is the product line
leader for Vertex Standard. It features
multi-band and digital-selective-calling capabilities—one of only two
radios with the latter feature. If it is
sitting in its charger and the charger
is wired to a GPS unit, the HX600S
will transmit vessel position data
along with the MMSI number when
making an emergency Digital Selective Call (DSC).
The HX600S has a top-mounted
volume control and side-mounted
pushbuttons for on-off, squelch, and
push-to-talk. Eight front-mounted
pushbuttons control transmitter
power selection, channel changing,
weather, scanning, and band choice.
It can receive signals on the Marine,
Aircraft, AM, and FM bands. It transmits on Marine only. An optional
headset, microphone, or speaker plugs
into a jack on the top of the unit.
The HX600S was the only radio to
achieve Excellent ratings across the
board and pass the drop and submersion tests with no glitches or caveats.
Battery life was also Excellent and
rated at 15+ hours. Battery replacement cost, at $65, is the lowest of
any unit that requires a specialized
Bottom Line: Excellent performance
coupled with features like multi-band
technology and DSC capability make
the HX600S our top pick.
Standard Horizon HX500S
Identical in looks to the HX600S,
the less expensive HX500S operates
only on the Marine band and does
not have DSC capabilities. It has a
top-mounted volume control and
Above: Standard Horizon packs a smorgasbord of features into its
HX471S. Here, the radio is set on the Aircraft Band, which would allow a
boater in trouble to monitor aircraft search-and-rescue communications.
side-mounted pushbuttons for onoff, squelch, and push-to-talk. Seven
front-mounted pushbuttons control
transmitter power selection, channel
changing, weather, and scanning.
An optional headset, microphone, or
speaker plugs into a jack on the top
of the unit.
The HX500S performed very well
in our testing, earning mostly Excellent ratings. It passed the drop and
submersion tests. Though it uses the
same battery as the HX600S, it did
not perform quite as well, lasting 13
hours. When we ended its battery-life
test, the HX500S was not dead—it
simply stopped transmitting just
seconds before it would have been set
aside for another hour. The HX500S
has a cutout circuit that will lock out
the transmitter when the battery voltage drops below a certain point. It still
had life and could transmit, just not
for the sustained 3 minutes we used
during our testing. Battery replacement cost on the HX500S is $65.
Bottom Line: Rugged construction,
very good overall performance, and a
reasonably priced replacement battery
make the HX500S a good choice.
Standard Horizon HX370S
Though the HX370S shares the same
control layout as the more expensive
HX500S and HX600S, it is bigger and
heavier. It also has a larger display
screen. The HX370S has a top-mounted on/off/volume control and sidemounted pushbuttons for push-totalk and squelch. Seven pushbuttons
on its face control transmitter power
selection, channel changing, weather,
and scanning. An optional headset,
microphone, or speaker plugs into a
jack on the top.
The HX370S performed well in our
testing, earning all Good and Excellent ratings. It did, however, trail most
in the group in audio output. Submersion testing went well. The battery
separated from the radio during the
drop test, however. After we picked it
up and reinstalled it, everything was
operating normally. Battery life on the
HX370 was rated at 15+, though upon
reaching hour 15 it was fairly weak.
We don’t think this radio had much
left at that point. Battery replacement
is $65.
Bottom Line: A decent overall performer; it’s just a little big and heavy
for us.
Standard Horizon HX471S
Even though the HX471S is the smallest and lightest radio in our test, it’s
also packed with features like multiband and DSC capabilities. This radio
receives voice traffic on the Marine,
Aircraft, Family, AM, FM, MURS,
and Aircraft bands. It can transmit on
Marine and Family radio channels.
During a DSC emergency call, it will
transmit the vessel’s MMSI number
and—if configured properly—will
relay position data in lat/long.
HX471S has top-mounted volume
and squelch knobs and a side-mounted pushbutton for push-to-talk and
backlighting. Front-panel pushbuttons control transmitter power output
selection, channel changing, weather,
scanning, band choice, and a quick
16. An optional headset, microphone,
or speaker plugs into a jack on the top
of the unit.
The HX471S performed well in our
tests, earning mostly Good ratings.
We noted no problems during the
drop or submersion tests. Battery life
on this radio was rated for 13 hours,
well beyond the manufacturer’s 10to 12-hour claim. One thing to keep
in mind: When this radio dies from
a low battery, it is completely dead
and will require a charge before it
will come back to life. Recharge time
on the HX471S is the fastest in the
group—three hours. Battery replacement is $83.
Bottom Line: This radio has a ton
of features packed into a small package. Performance was middle of the
West Marine VHF 250
In addition to full marine-band capabilities, the multi-talented VHF 250
can receive signals from the Family
radio, AM, FM, and Aircraft bands.
It can transmit on Family radio channels too. Other features include a diecast metal case and a top-mounted
adapter ready to accept an optional
head set, speaker, or microphone. A
scrambler is optional.
The VHF 250 is controlled with a
pair of top-mounted knobs for on/off/
volume and squelch, as well as seven
front-panel pushbuttons for selecting
the operating band, channels, weather, scanning, or quick 16 or 9. On the
side is an easy-to-operate, push-to-talk
switch and a backlit on-off switch.
Overall performance of the VHF
250 was Good, but the audio system
was weak compared to the competition. Testing took its toll on this radio.
The internal connection between the
unit and the antenna failed and the
antenna mount was noticeably loose.
In our battery-life test, the VHF 250
lasted 14 hours, well beyond its 10hour claim.
Bottom Line: Lots of features in a
reasonably priced package. A weak
antenna mount holds this one back.
In this price range, you have plenty
of options when choosing a handheld
VHF. No unit stands out as a clear winAbove: The Standard Horizon
HX600S fared well in every aspect
of our evaluation.
Above: The push-to-talk button on the
side of the Ray101 was harder to press
than any other test radio’s button.
ner in every category. Certain radios
excel in particular areas, while others
provide all-around good service.
We rated the Standard Horizon
HX600S our top pick because it performed well—with no hiccups—and
had a bevy of added features, including the ability to listen on several
voice bands and transmit a DSC call
in an emergency. It is certainly not
the smallest, lightest, or least expensive handheld out there, but when
viewed as an overall package we
think it’s the best.
If you’re looking for a radio with the
longest battery life, we’d opt for an Icom
radio, either the IC-M72 or the IC-M88.
Both had plenty of juice left at the end
of our grueling battery life test. Technology enthusiasts trying to stay on the
edge should look at the Standard Horizon HX471S. It packs all the features
one could want into the smallest and
lightest package we’ve tested. n
Standard Horizon, 714/827-7600,
Icom, 425/454-7619,
West Marine, 800/BOATING,
Raymarine, 800/539-5539,
Reprinted from Powerboat Reports © 2006 Belvoir Media Group, LLC. Powerboat Reports is published monthly (12 issues)
by Belvoir Media Group, LLC, 800 Connecticut Avenue, Norwalk, CT 06854. Subscriptions are $29 annually. 800-829-9081.