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Last updated: February 20, 2023
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Having a set of waterproof walkie-talkies or a radio with you when you’re out for a day on the water can make a big difference. Whether you’re boating, kayaking, or paddle boarding, a set of radios can allow you to easily communicate with partners or even to call out to other vessels. For more adventurous trips, a set of waterproof walkie-talkies can even be used to get an updated weather report or to report an emergency.
In order to help you find the best waterproof walkie-talkies for your water activities, we considered a number of features. First, we looked at the waterproof rating of different walkie-talkies, since not all models are equally rugged or able to be submerged. We also considered whether radios were two-way only, or operated on VHF so you can communicate with other ships. The number and range of channels was also an important factor, since this determines who you can talk with and whether you can find a frequency that isn’t already in use. Finally, we considered the type of battery different models use and how long they last. We compiled a list of 7 best options, and the Retevis RT81 just tops them all.
More features: 4-bit password standard encryption and 32-bit password enhanced encryption
This rechargeable waterproof walkie-talkie is a UHF radio, which uses a higher range of frequencies than a standard VHF radio. That gives it a range of up to 4.5 miles during standard operation, although without any terrain in the way you can make contact even further. One of the other significant advantages to this radio is that it uses four-bit and 32-bit encryption so you can keep your communications private even while talking over a standard radio channel.
The lithium-ion battery is slightly larger than most of the other radios we reviewed, at 2200 mAh. However, since this radio operates at 10 watts constantly, don’t expect the battery to last for more than about eight hours without a recharge. The charging stand is relatively compact, but does require a 120-volt outlet for charging.
The radio is simple to operate, with just a channel and on/off dial on the top and standard push-to-talk buttons on the side. The side buttons can also be fully customized using Retevis’ computer software program that comes with the radios. There is the option to add a microphone or headphone set to the radio during use as well. Users appreciated this simplicity as well as the fact that there is no need to program the radios for use during trips on the water.
Users were also impressed with the attractive price of these radios – at $170 per set, they are more expensive than other walkie-talkies but provide much more versatility and longevity. The casing on the radio is IP67 dustproof and waterproof and users repeatedly noted that they felt professionally constructed.
More features: floats and flashes when in water, dual or tri-watch, scan functions, AquaQuake™ draining function
This VHF radio from ICOM is ideal for boaters and kayakers who operate primarily in small bodies of water or around the coast. While the antenna is long, the power on this radio has a maximum of five watts, so the range is limited to about seven miles. Still, users found that transmissions were quite clear and reliable over that distance. This lower wattage also helps to preserve the rechargeable 1500 mAH lithium-ion battery – users found that it typically lasts for around the rated 11 hours on a single charge.
The radio allows you to monitor two to three channels at a single time, which users loved. It comes preprogrammed with all standard international maritime VHF channels, so thanks to the triple monitoring feature it’s possible to communicate with other boaters while also keeping an ear to weather alerts.
A nice attribute to this radio is that it features a water-activated strobe and is designed to float. That means that if the radio is accidentally dropped in the water, it is relatively easy to spot and retrieve even in the dark.
Users found that the simple design of this radio felt more durable than some of its competitors, and that the IPX7 rating held up after more than a year of heavy use around the water. Comparatively few users complained of water damage from submergence, in part thanks to the AquaQuake draining function that allows the speaker to remove water from the walkie-talkie without damaging the internal components.
Channels: all US/ international/ Canada marine + 10 weather channels
Battery type: Li-Ion or 5AA Alkaline
Water rating: IPX7/JIS7
More features: floating, Tri-Watch monitoring of three channels at once, up to 14-hour battery life (at 1 watt)
This VHF radio from Cobra is an excellent walkie-talkie for fishing thanks to its simple features and rugged construction. The radio comes preprogrammed with all US, international, and Canadian maritime channels, as well as 10 different weather alert channels. Note, however, that the radio is specifically designed for maritime use and cannot be reprogrammed with channels for use on land.
One of the unique features of this radio is that you can monitor three different radio frequencies at once. This means that users can monitor marine traffic in their area while always monitoring the weather alert station, so a storm never moves in by surprise. The radio is also capable of variable power settings – it offers one, three, or six-watt settings. The rechargeable lithium-ion battery lasts 14 hours at one watt, but most users will get closer to six hours of runtime when operating at six watts.
The radio is designed to float if it’s dropped in the water, and the orange color band on the back makes it relatively easy to spot and retrieve. While the radio is rated to IPX7, some users found that repeated exposure to water eventually led to the speaker failing. Users also reported issues with the construction of the knobs and clips in many cases.
That said, users were overall quite happy with this radio and found the buttons and display simple to navigate. The buttons have clear functions, so there’s no need to consult the manual whether for daily use or in an emergency. Plus, users liked that the radio comes with a microphone for hands-free use.
This rugged and durable-looking two-way walkie-talkie from Dewalt is designed for use on the water or anywhere else. The radio is rated up to IP67, meaning that it is resistant to both dust and submersion in water. Plus, Dewalt built the radios to withstand drops up to six feet – and users found that the radios could indeed bounce back after numerous drops.
The radio offers an incredible 2,662 channel combinations using multiple frequency dials, although some users found that this added more confusion than benefit for using the radios in simple situations.
The radio’s battery is relatively small at just 1000 mAH. While Dewalt rates the battery life for up to 12 hours, in reality it is only rated for about 1.5 hours of sending and receiving. So, depending on your trip and communication needs, this radio may not last particularly long before requiring a recharge in the cradle.
Users did find that the 25-mile range was a roughly accurate claim, and most were impressed by the ability of the radio to transmit across terrain features. For boaters, this long range also means that the radio can be used to communicate with someone on shore. Kayakers especially appreciated the voice-activated transmission feature, which allows you to start a transmission without having to push the talk button.
One thing to watch out for with maritime use of these radios is that they do not have access to NOAA weather alerts, which are among the most important radio bulletins for many people on the water.
More features: up to 35-mile range, built-in flashlight; up to 9 hours with NiMH battery or up to 23 hours with 3AA Alkaline batteries; NOAA weather alerts
For kayakers and other non-boaters who don’t necessarily need a full-fledged VHF, this basic walkie-talkie set offers an ideal and inexpensive solution for keeping in touch with partners.
The radio offers 22 channels to choose from so you won’t be talking over other groups using their own radios. Plus, the radios have an incredibly long 35-mile range under ideal conditions like a sunny day on the water – meaning that you can even use these radios to communicate with someone on shore. The radios also have access to NOAA’s weather alerts, so you’ll never be taken by surprise when a storm moves in.
Users appreciated the simple interface of these Motorola radios. The buttons are self-explanatory and pair well with the small display to offer additional customization options, such as changing the backlight or sound levels. If you accidentally drop the walkie-talkie into the water, it floats and a flashlight turns on so that you can easily retrieve it even in the dark. The flashlight can also be used in lieu of a headlamp if you find yourself out on the water after dark.
Importantly, this walkie-talkie is capable of accepting AA batteries in addition to the included NiMH battery. On AA batteries, the radio lasts up to 23 hours – more than long enough for even multi-day trips – and the batteries can be replaced on the go or picked up at most dockside stores. With the NiMH battery, you can recharge using a micro-USB port – which means that most portable batteries can be used to recharge these walkie-talkies.
Although the radios will stand up to the water, users do note that the construction feels flimsy compared to other waterproof radio options.
What stands out?
Built-in water-activated flashlight
AA batteries or micro-USB rechargeable NiMH battery
More features: floating, separate receiver for CH70, noise-canceling function, USB data port, NOAA Weather Channels & Weather Alert
This VHF radio from Standard Horizon doubles as a fully functional marine GPS unit. The GPS allows you to set waypoints and routes to help you navigate through the water, as well as to get your location in coordinates directly from the radio. Even better, the GPS and VHF functions combine so that you can see up to nine ships that are in close proximity to you at any time. Note that there are no base maps as there would be on a true GPS, though, so you won’t be able to see your surroundings without a paper map as well.
The display allows you to easily identify what channel you are on, although users found that the plethora of buttons on the interface of the radio could be somewhat confusing to use. The radio comes preprogrammed with all of the major US and Canadian maritime VHF channels as well as NOAA’s weather reporting channels, but a USB connection allows you to further customize the channels and buttons via your computer. In all, this VHF supports up to 66 channels.
The radio itself is incredibly solidly built and is rated to IPX8, meaning that it can be submerged at depth without breaking. However, submergence is hardly an issue since the radio floats if you accidentally drop it in the water – an important protection against losing it. Note that users do warn that the radio is relatively large compared to other options.
The battery lasts for 8–10 hours depending on use, but users did have a few complaints with the charger. First, there is no way to charge a spare battery without the radio, so the radio must be out of use while it is charging. Second, there is no charge indicator light on the charger cradle, so it’s hard to tell when the radio is fully juiced.
Channels: all US/ international/ Canada marine + 9 weather channels
Battery type: 1150 mAh Li-Ion
Water rating: IPX8/JIS8
More features: floating, NOAA weather alerts, bright LED display, up to 10-hour battery life
This versatile long-range waterproof walkie-talkie is designed to give you the most transmission power possible in the smallest package. This is one of the smallest maritime VHF radios on the market, thanks to a relatively small 1150 mAH lithium-ion battery and a small display. Users found that the display is still easy to read thanks to a very well-illuminated backlight feature.
The small battery size can be good or bad depending on how you plan to use the radio. If you are in a lake or near shore, you can use the radio on its one-watt power setting and still receive most transmissions. At that setting, the radio will last up to 10 hours before requiring a recharge. However, if you are further out, you may need to turn on the “power boost” to enable six-watt transmission and receiving, which can limit the battery life to just a few hours.
The radio comes preprogrammed with all standard maritime VHF channels as well as NOAA radio channels, so most users won’t need to do any additional programming on this radio. Keep in mind, however, that these radios are designed to be used on the water only and cannot be used for land-to-land communications per FCC rules.
Note that while the radio is rated to IPX8, which should be fully submersible, users repeatedly noted that this walkie-talkie faced damage from repeated submersion. Uniden’s customer support is relatively responsive when it comes to dealing with water damage, but non-functional radios can be dangerous in some conditions at sea. Some users also had issues with the construction of the clip that holds the battery in place.
What are its best features?
Multiple power settings
Preprogrammed with standard maritime channels
What could be improved?
Cannot be used on land
Issues with construction and waterproofing
Things to Consider
Now that you’ve learned more about the seven best waterproof two-way radios on the market today, how do you choose between them to find the set that’s right for you? In our buying guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about how to choose the perfect set of walkie-talkies for your water activities.
Walkie talkie type: How do you intend to use it?
Walkie talkies can be split into two main categories: two-way walkie-talkies and VHF radios.
Two-way walkie-talkies are the perfect solution when you want to be able to stay in verbal contact with a partner who also has a walkie-talkie. This could be useful if you’re kayaking, for example, and need to be able to maintain communication even if the wind is making it hard to hear or you can’t see each other. Two-way walkie-talkies can also be useful for talking to someone on shore, such as to let them know when you’ll be home.
While two-way walkie-talkies can have extremely long ranges, like for the Motorola Talkabout Radio, they are mostly good for communicating with others who also have a walkie-talkie. They operate on different frequencies from VHF radios and typically have a limited set of channels.
If you need to contact ships or call for help while you’re on the water, it’s unlikely that anyone will be monitoring the channels that walkie-talkies use.
VHFs, on the other hand, are the standard for marine communication. They’re used by most ships, the Coast Guard, and shore-based monitoring and reporting services. That means that a VHF radio can be used to contact another ship, to contact a bridge operator, to call for help in an emergency, or even to get a radio weather report. But, since they are used universally, VHF radios are typically not a good choice for having a personal conversation with a partner – every ship in the area will hear you and you’ll be blocking up otherwise important radio channels.
The channels on walkie-talkies and VHF radios are essentially the same thing – different frequencies over which to transmit – but they serve somewhat different purposes. On walkie-talkies, there are multiple channels available primarily so that multiple groups using walkie-talkies in the same area aren’t trying to talk over one another. If you primarily plan to use your walkie-talkies in a busy area, such as a popular inlet, you will likely want to opt for a walkie-talkie with more channels like the 32-channel Retevis radio.
VHF channels are country-specific and many of them have pre-determined purposes. For example, one channel may be designed for talking to bridge operators, while another channel may be reserved for emergency purposes. All of the VHF radios we reviewed offer access to all of the standard US, Canadian, international, and weather channels.
Keep in mind that you’ll need to find out what the various channels represent in the area where you’ll be using the radio.
The display isn’t a huge component of walkie-talkies, and in fact some two-way walkie-talkies like the Retevis radio don’t even have a display. The purpose of the display is primarily to show you what channel you’re operating on and the remaining battery life of the radio, so this information should be easy to find on your radio’s display. Also, make sure that if your walkie-talkie does have a display, it also has a backlight so that you can read the display in the dark. All of the walkie-talkies we reviewed (except the Retevis walkie-talkie) have a backlight.
Battery type and life
Most waterproof walkie-talkies run on lithium-ion batteries, which are rechargeable and have a relatively long lifespan. However, if you are out for a long trip by kayak or in another vessel where you do not have access to an electrical outlet to recharge your battery, you may prefer a radio that uses AA or AAA batteries like the Cobra and Motorola radios.
The lifespan of the battery is also a major consideration, since your radio needs to have enough juice to work when you need it. The battery lifespan of most of the radios we reviewed is around 10 hours, although when running on AA batteries the Motorola walkie-talkie can last up to 23 hours.
All of the waterproof walkie-talkies we reviewed are rated to at least IPX7, meaning that they can be splashed or fully submerged up to three feet underwater without sustaining any damage. Some radios, like the models from Uniden and Standard Horizon, are rated to IPX8 – meaning that they can be fully submerged at depth and continue to work afterwards.
Note that some radios, in addition to being fully waterproof, are also able to float. This design feature, found on the Uniden, ICON, Cobra, and Standard Horizon radios, is extremely helpful in case you ever accidentally drop your radio in the water.
The price of waterproof walkie-talkies can vary widely depending on the type of radio, the features it has, and whether it comes as a single radio or as a pair. For example, the Standard Horizon radio is relatively expensive for a single radio at $200, but that’s in part because it has a built-in GPS unit. VHF radios are typically around $100 per individual radio, while it’s possible to get a pair of two-way walkie-talkies for as little as $70.
Most waterproof walkie-talkies – including all of the walkie-talkies we reviewed – will be rated to at least IPX7 as an indication of their waterproofness. This rating means that they can be fully submerged up to three feet deep and won’t sustain any damage. Radios that are rated to IPX6 are not technically waterproof, but they can take a lot of splashing before they will sustain water damage.
No, you do not need a license to use a walkie-talkie, as long as it is rated for Family Radio Service as most commercially available radios are. These channels are available for anyone in the public to use and are not regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. While some VHF radios do require an FCC license, VHF radios designed specifically for marine use come with only channels that do not require a license to operate pre-programmed into them.
Whether you need to program the channels on your two-way radio depends on the model you choose. Most basic walkie-talkies don’t require programming – you simply flip the radios onto the same channel to talk across them. VHF radios may be more complex. Most waterproof VHF radios come with all of their channels preprogrammed to common maritime channels in the US, Canada, and further abroad. However, some VHF radios that are not designed for use on the water may need to be programmed for your local radio channels.
A longer antenna can help improve the performance of a two-way radio, although this may have a limited effect if the power of your radio does not change. A longer antenna primarily helps your radio signal to overcome terrain, so your signal can spread more widely in a hilly area. On the water, though, the power of your radio signal will have a much larger effect on performance than antenna length.
Our three overall favorite waterproof two-way radios on the market today are the Retevis RT81, the ICOM IC-M25, and the Cobra MRHH350FLT. The ICOM IC-M25 will allow you to monitor two or three channels at a time and features a water-activated strobe. The Cobra MRHH350FLT radio is an excellent walkie-talkie for fishing thanks to its rugged construction and simple features, preprogrammed with maritime channels. Still, we feel the Retevis RT81 is the overall best waterproof walkie-talkie thanks to its relatively high power for moderate-range transmissions, adaptable computer-based customization and programming, and support for encryption to allow private conversations.