Our Boat Antenna Reviews
Your marine VHF antenna coupled to a working radio still makes up the most valuable marine electronics communication device you can have aboard your boat.
Much of the real world performance of your boat VHF radio can be attributed to the proper selection and installation of the connected antenna. You will find a wide variety of antennas available today with prices, performance, and quality of construction all over the map. To choose right you will need to know some antenna basics.
The vast majority of boat antennas contain metal elements housed inside a hollow fiberglass tube. Quality of construction and materials used varies widely here. A few are all plastic while a handful of others feature all-metal construction.
Good, Better, Best in a Marine VHF Antenna
The best will have a polished high-grade stainless steel ferrule, soldered internal connections using high quality material like silver plated brass, a well-built fiberglass exterior with an aircraft-grade finish, and be foam-filled to isolate signal radiators from vibration and moisture intrusion. You will most often see these antennas installed on expensive sportfishing boats and yachts. The Shakespeare 6225 is an example of this grade of marine VHF antenna.
A more moderately priced unit will still have silver plated brass elements, but instead of soldered connections they will probably be crimped, foam filling will give way to foam spacers, while the ferrule and fiberglass will be slightly lower grade. These are the antennas most of use should be using on our recreational boats. A typical 20- to 35-foot powerboat would do well with a Digital 529 or a Shakespeare 5225-XP.
The least expensive marine VHF antennas will have a non-metallic ferrule, crimped internal connections using lower grade materials, and a less robust fiberglass housing.
Sailboat and Small Boat Antennas
A few smaller units like the Metz Manta, Digital 222, and Shakespeare 5215 feature a design with a small cylindrical base containing a loading coil and an attached metal whip. The whip is removable on some models. These types of antennas are best suited for mounting on a tall sailboat mast or on a small boat where the whip can be removed and stored out of the way when not in use.
Another antenna, the Digital 528 doesn’t fit any specific category we have defined but is a small high-quality 4-foot antenna that would be well-suited for use at the top of a tall sailboat mast.
One other easy way to estimate the quality of the antenna you are perusing is to see what kind of antenna cable is attached. Many boat antenna models come with a length of cable already attached at the antenna base. A lower quality unit will likely use RG58 cable while a better quality antenna will be fitted with RG8X cable.
Large Vessel or Land-Based Antenna
All the antennas mentioned so far are from 3- to 8-feet tall and designed specifically for mounting on a vessel. If you have a large vessel or a marine VHF land-based station maximum performance would be achieved by choosing a larger antenna like the Digital 736.