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Black Box VHF Radio

The power is in your hands.


A VHF microphone with controls is handy where space is limited, as in a tower. This one is a Commandmic, an ICOM option.

In a bid to reduce the electronics space crunch on many boats, two marine radio makers have decided to market VHF radios with controls located in the microphone instead of the transceiver faceplate. This recent redesign of the venerable VHF has turned it from a space grabber into a space-saving modular piece of electronics where only the hand mike with a full set of controls remains at the helm station. The transceiver chassis, located in its own black box, can be mounted anywhere. Installing one of these units in place of a conventional VHF radio leaves a large chunk of valuable panel space available for chartplotter, radar and myriad other uses.

The least expensive system, as we went to press, was the Standard Horizon Phantom PS1000. It's priced under $200 and is simply a VHF radio with the faceplate controls removed. The radio package ships with the black box transceiver and a CMP25 RAM+ microphone. An optional 23-foot extension cable placed between the microphone and the black box maximizes the potential distance between the helm and the mounting location of the transceiver's black box.

The RAM+ microphone connects to the rear panel of the black box with a multi-pin connector and offers all the controls usually found on a VHF radio as well as a speaker and microphone. Switches abound on this handful of microphone with power, volume, and squelch controls located on top, a push-to-talk and high/low power switch on one side and a DSC distress switch on the other side. The microphone's front panel has a large display screen showing channel numbers and comments as well as various informational icons. Front panel pushbuttons include up/down channel selection arrows, scan, dual watch, weather, plus several other functions. Installing this unit is easy. Just mount the black box in an out of the way location, connect the power wires, and twist on the microphone extension cable. The other end of the extension cable has a bulkhead mount for panels up to 1/4-inch thick and connects directly to the RAM+ microphones.

Another option in remote mount radios, though quite a bit more expensive, is the Raymarine Model 240. This modular marine VHF radio is patterned after the voice communications systems found in large commercial aircraft. Pilots talk using a hand mike plugged into a bulkhead, change channels with a small control head on the center pedestal, and listen to incoming calls on an overhead speaker. All of these components interface with a black box containing the guts of the radio located below in an electronics bay. Raymarine's version has three main components: The telephone-style handset, which contains all the radio controls, a microphone and a speaker; a large external speaker with volume control; and the black box (which is actually gray) housing the transmitter and receiver. Supplied cables connect all the components. With the main electronics box located in an out of the way space only the microphone hangs near the helm. The speaker can be mounted in an overhead area near the helmsman.

The Standard Horizon Phantom PS100 is priced under $200.

All of the Raymarine 240 controls including the display screen are located in the handset. Rocker style pushbuttons change channels and squelch levels. Another rocker on the side controls radio volume. The push-to-talk switch is on the side, too, just above the volume control. The handset can be used like a traditional microphone or held to the ear like a telephone. A DSC distress call button is under a plastic cover on the back of the unit. Seven other pushbuttons located on the face control functions like transmitter power, scanning, quick select 16 or 9, and the selection of weather channels. The Raymarine 240 can also function as a hailer and automatic foghorn when connected to an optional hailer horn. By adding a second handset the radio can provide intercom capability between the two handset locations.

These two radios are the first of what will probably become a flurry of new remote-mount marine VHF radios, as more boaters discover the space-saving benefits.

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