The Best VHF Marine Radio Antennas for Professionals and Amateurs

According to the Insurance Information Institute, Marine accidents killed 1,163 people and caused $197 million worth of losses in 2017. One way to avoid accidents is by practicing good communication habits while on the water. VHF radios can play a big role in communications. If you have a reliable one, it can help you avoid dangerous situations at sea. However, this fact remains: your VHF radio is only as good as its antenna. Even if you recently bought the latest, most cutting-edge VHF radio system, you won’t be able to get much out of it if your antenna is damaged, improperly mounted or not working correctly.

Fortunately, fixing the antenna problem is easy to do. Most VHF marine radio antennas are inexpensive and not hard to install. Some require a bit of soldering, but others come with snap-on coaxial cable connectors. There are a variety of different antenna types to choose from, ranging from eight-foot-long antennas for large vessels to four-foot-long antennas for sailboats and other smaller crafts.

The best VHF marine radio antenna for large vessels

Shakespeare 5101 Centennial

Shakespeare 5101 Centennial White 8' VHF Marine Antenna

Combining a 6dB gain specification with brass and copper components, the Shakespeare 5101 Centennial is an excellent choice for casual mariners. It’s an affordable, reliable VHF marine radio antenna that will likely last a long time if you take care of it properly.

Good

  • Eight feet long. This VHF marine antenna’s height makes it ideal for use in large vessels.
  • 6dB gain. The 5101 concentrates signals into a disc-shaped pattern, allowing for better range than you’d get with a 3dB gain antenna.
  • Brass and copper elements. These elements increase the effectiveness of the antenna and allow for greater sensitivity.
  • Comes with a 15-foot-long RG-58 coaxial cable. The included coaxial cable is long enough to support many types of antenna configurations. You can shorten the cable to any desired length.
  • Multiple mounting options. Shakespeare sells three different mount models that are compatible with this antenna: the 4187, 4188-S and the 4190.
  • One-piece design. The form factor makes it sturdy. You can get an adjustable mount if you need to be able to lower the antenna to go under bridges.
  • Two-year warranty. As is the case with all marine antennas in Shakespeare’s Centennial line, you get two years of warranty coverage against manufacturing defects.

Bad

  • Mounting bracket not included. Other VHF marine radio antenna manufacturers include a mounting bracket in the box, but Shakespeare does not.
  • Soldering is required. You have to solder the included PL-259 connector to the cable yourself. In other words, the connector doesn’t come pre-installed.

In a nutshell

Large vessels are more stable than small ones, which allows for the effective use of high gain antennas like the Shakespeare 5101. Its internal components consist of brass and copper elements and this also allows for greater sensitivity. While multiple mounting kits are available, the fact that you have to purchase those separately is slightly disappointing.

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The best VHF marine radio antenna for sailboats

Shakespeare 5104 Centennial

Shakespeare 5104 4' Centennial VHF Antenna

Low gain antennas are actually more effective than high gain antennas in some situations. Small vessels, for example, tend to get tossed around a lot more than large ones and as a result high gain antennas just aren’t as efficient. That’s where the Shakespeare 5104 comes in.

Good

  • Four feet long. It’s just the right size for sailboats and other small-sized vessels.
  • 3dB gain. Low-gain antennas create a broad radiation pattern that doesn’t get cut off as frequently when small vessels pitch and roll.
  • Comes with a 15-foot-long RG-58 coaxial cable. The included cable provides flexibility for mounting the antenna in a variety of different ways.
  • Multiple mounting options. Shakespeare sells three different mount models that are compatible with this antenna: the 4187, 4188-S and the 4190.
  • Convenient cord placement. The cord comes out of the side of the base of the antenna, instead of under the antenna. This makes it easier to set up and configure.
  • Sturdy construction. Shakespeare brand antennas seem to have a good reputation among both professional and amateur mariners.
  • Two-year warranty. Cheaper VHF marine radios come with a one-year warranty, but with this one you get two years of warranty coverage against manufacturing defects.

Bad

  • Mounting bracket not included. Other VHF marine radio antenna manufacturers include a mounting bracket in the box, but Shakespeare does not.
  • Soldiering is required. One of the major complaints about the 5104 is that you have to attach the PL-259 connector yourself with a soldering iron.

In a nutshell

The Shakespeare 5104 is an excellent low-gain marine radio antenna that is tailor made for sailboats and other small vessels. Sailors seem to like the fact that the coaxial cord comes out of the side of its base instead of out of the bottom of it. This design makes it much easier to install.

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The most rugged VHF marine antenna for professionals

Shakespeare 5226-XT Galaxy

Shakespeare 5226-XT 8' Galaxy Antenna

If you’ve gone through several inexpensive VHF marine antennas and you’re looking for something a little more long-lasting, the Shakespeare 5226-XT Galaxy might do the trick. It’s somewhat on the pricey side, but that’s because its surface is covered with a special weather-resistant coating. The internal components of the antenna are a notch above what you get with a typical one, as well.

Good

  • Extra rugged reinforced radome. This antenna is coated with smooth polyurethane and Shakespeare says that it is built to last for about five to ten years.
  • Comes with a 20-foot-long, extra thick RG-8/X coaxial cable. RG-8/X is bulkier than RG-58, but it’s also more durable and provides for better antenna performance.
  • Eight feet long. If you have a large vessel that you plan on taking out in rough conditions, the 5226-XT could be your best option.
  • 6dB gain. It’s twice as sensitive as a four-foot antenna.
  • Brass elements for better reception. Shakespeare’s Galaxy-class marine antennas are a cut above their Centennial line, mainly because of their internal components.
  • Multiple mounting options. Shakespeare sells three different mount models that are compatible with this antenna: the 4187, 4188-S and the 4190.
  • Five-year warranty. Instead of the standard one or two-year warranty, you get five full years of warranty coverage.

Bad

  • Expensive compared to other VHF marine radio antennas. It costs more than twice as much as a typical entry-level VHF marine radio antenna.
  • Mounting bracket not included. Other VHF marine radio antenna manufacturers include a mounting bracket in the box, but Shakespeare does not.

In a nutshell

If you often find yourself navigating choppy seas, you may want to give the Shakespeare 5226-XT a hard look. It’s more rugged than most VHF marine radios you’ll find because it’s coated with polyurethane. Its internal components are a cut above the competition as well, and this allows for improved sensitivity.

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The most user-friendly VHF marine radio antenna for casual mariners

Tram 1607-HC

Not that handy with a soldering iron? The Tram 1607-HC’s snap-on connector may pique your interest. Another nice thing about this VHF marine radio antenna is that it comes with a mounting system. In other words, everything you need to install it is in the box. However, there is one notable downside to consider: the fiberglass base is sturdy enough for calm weather, but it may be a bit too flimsy to stand up in turbulent conditions. It may be all you need if you’re a casual sailor, but professionals may want an antenna that’s a bit more durable.

Good

  • Adjustable mounting system included. You don’t need to buy anything more than what’s provided to get started. Everything you need comes in the box.
  • No soldering required. The connector snaps onto the included cable.
  • 38 inches long. Its short length makes it ideal for sailboats and other small-sized vessels.
  • Affordable price point. The low cost is another one of the 1607-HC’s most significant benefits.
  • 3dB gain. 3dB is the standard gain specification for antennas that are designed to accommodate the needs of small vessels.
  • Comes with a 20-foot-long RG-58 coaxial cable. You get more than enough length to set up the antenna in a variety of different ways.
  • One-year warranty. If you notice a defect, you can return the 1607-HC for a refund or exchange.

Bad

  • The base may not be sturdy enough to withstand rough seas. If you plan on encountering rough weather, you may want to invest in a stainless steel mounting system.

In a nutshell

Ease of use is the Tram 1607-HC’s main selling point. Many VHF marine radio antennas require you to use a soldering iron during installation, but the 1607-HC’s unique snap-on connector allows for greater user friendliness. Another nice thing about the 1607-HC is its low price point. If you’re new to sailing, it’s not a bad option.

The best low-cost VHF marine radio

Tram VHF Marine Antenna

Tram VHF Marine Antenna

The best thing about the Tram VHF Marine Antenna is its super low cost. Despite its low price point, its features are surprisingly competitive. You may expect a small-sized antenna like this one to offer just 3dB of gain, but actually you get 6dB. That means that you can potentially get great performance out of it, depending on how you mount it. Another nice thing about this antenna is that it comes with a stainless steel mounting kit. Since the PL-259 connector comes pre-installed, you won’t have to solder it to the RG-58 coaxial cable yourself.

Good

  • Inexpensively priced. This entry-level marine antenna from Tram is one of the least expensive ones you’ll find.
  • 38 inches long. The small size of this antenna is convenient in some situations.
  • 6dB gain. Even though it’s small, it has a surprisingly high gain specification.
  • No soldering required. The included 15-foot-long RG-58 coaxial cable comes pre-assembled, with its PL-259 connector installed at the factory.
  • Mounting system included. The stainless steel mount that comes in the box provides additional value.
  • Corrosion-resistant components. As long as you maintain it properly, you’ll be able to keep it rust free.
  • One-year warranty. The one-year warranty that Tram puts on all of its antennas shows that the company is willing to stand behind its products.

Bad

  • The included mount may be too small for some boats. You may have to purchase a different mount if the included one doesn’t fit.

In a nutshell

The Tram VHF Marine Antenna is small and inexpensive, yet it boasts an impressive 6dB gain specification. If you’re a casual sailor and all you want is a basic VHF marine antenna that works, it could be your best option. In the box you’ll also find a rust-resistant, stainless steel bracket and a RG-58 cable. The PL-259 connector comes pre-installed.

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Buying guide for VHF marine radio antennas

Key considerations

Antenna height

Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to antenna length. If your boat is under 24 feet long, you’re actually better off with a three to four foot antenna. As a general rule, you should avoid using antennas that are more than half the total length of your vessel.

Antenna gain

High-dB, eight foot antennas are ideal for vessels that are at least 24 feet long, since they create a long, elliptical-shaped signal pattern. Large boats get thrown around less by waves and are more stable compared to smaller vessels. Smaller boats are constantly rocking around. This rocking motion interferes with the elliptical pattern created by high-dB antenna, so a smaller, lower dB antenna is actually more effective.

Mounting system

Some VHF marine radio antennas come with mounting kits, while others require you to buy one separately. There are several different kinds of mounting kits you can buy. Adjustable mounting kits let you fold down your antenna when you pass under bridges. Fixed mounting kits are sturdier, but they aren’t as convenient.

Material components

Consider your communication needs before you buy. If you want the best performance, it may be worth it to invest in a high end antenna. The cheapest marine radio antennas contain only coaxial cable. Higher end antennas combine coaxial cable with brass and copper. The most expensive– and most efficient– antennas are composed entirely of brass and copper.

Coaxial cable type

Are you good with a soldering iron? If not, you may want to go with an antenna that comes with a pre-assembled coaxial cable. Otherwise, you’ll have to solder on the PL-259 connector yourself when you install it. The main downside of pre-assembled coaxial cables is that you’re pretty much stuck with the factory length. The less cable you use, the more efficient your antenna will be. If you assemble your coaxial cable yourself, you can cut it to whatever length you need.

Durability

Some VHF marine radio antennas are coated with polyurethane. This makes them a bit more weather resistant. Another durability feature to consider is the thickness of the supplied coaxial cable that comes with the antenna. Generally, the thicker the cable, the more durable it will be. RG-58 is the standard type and it’s about 0.2 inches in diameter. RG-8/X is slightly thicker, at 0.24 inches. RG-59 is less common and it measures 0.22 inches around.

Price ranges

Budget

The least expensive VHF marine radio antennas start at about $30. Most antennas in this price range are under four feet in length. They are typically not as durable as mid-range and high-end antennas.

Mid-range

You’ll start to see higher quality internal components and better ease-of-use features in VHF marine antennas at the $50 price range. Brass and copper add to the bottom line but improve antenna efficiency.

High-end

VHF marine antennas that cost $100 or more have more durability features and even better internal components than mid-range antennas. Manufacturers of premium antennas typically back up their products with multi-year warranties.

Frequently asked questions

Q: How often does VHF antenna technology change? Will my antenna become obsolete soon after I buy it?
A: No. Antenna technology doesn’t change much at all. In fact, at this point, there probably won’t be any type of antenna technology discovery that will cause older antennas to become obsolete. You should be able to use your antenna until it wears out without having to worry about upgrading to stay abreast with technological changes.

Q: How long can I expect my VHF antenna to last after I purchase it?
A: That depends on the type of materials that it’s made from, the quality of the manufacturing, how well you maintain it and a wide variety of other factors. Cheaper VHF antennas can last for about five years. Higher end ones can be used for several decades before they wear out.

Q: Are multifunction VHF antennas better than single function VHF antennas?
A: While multi-function antennas do exist, most experts recommend the use of dedicated antennas for each piece of communications equipment that you use. If you decide to go that route, be sure to give each of your antennas adequate spacing to avoid interference.

Tips

  • Placement is key. The higher up you can mount the antenna, the better performance you can expect to get out of it. Also: don’t forget about interference. An AIS antenna or another VHF antenna can reduce performance. Metallic objects can also lower an antenna’s efficiency.
  • Don’t forget to maintain your antenna properly. Maintenance is usually a simple matter of washing it with soap and water on a regular basis. Try to avoid using abrasive cleaners because these can dissolve your antenna’s protective coating if it has one. Try to avoid scratching up your antenna, as well.
  • Running into antenna problems? Enlist the help of a friend. You can send some test calls to your friend to test your antenna’s range. This will give you a good idea of what kind of performance you can expect to get out of your antenna in real life situations. If the range is shorter than what you’d like, try mounting the antenna in a different place.

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