Gear: Standard Horizon Handheld HX870 Radio

These HX series handhelds are full-fledged DSC radios with all the direct/group calling and position polling features found on fixed radios.

I was impressed with Standard Horizon’s original HX850, and I’ve been happily using the slightly upgraded HX851 model for several years. It’s a fine handheld 6-watt VHF (if you don’t mind the size), plus it’s always ready to place a DSC distress call and/or navigate a liferaft.

But wow, look what they did with the new HX870 model (shown above far left). The screen is at least twice as large, the interface seems usefully updated with soft keys and icons, and the battery is substantially larger.

Despite the change from 1,380 to 1,800 milliamp internal lithium-ion rechargeable batteries, the HX870 still floats. In fact, this new model can even turn itself on and start its strobe light if it falls in the water (with or without you). Another improvement from the HX851 is a 66-channel GPS, instead of 12. The 870 also still comes with AC and DC chargers as well as an alkaline battery, tray all at the same $250 list price.

These HX series handhelds are full-fledged DSC radios with all the direct/group calling and position polling features found on fixed radios. However, a general problem with the non-distress DSC features on a radio like this is figuring out how to use them, which is a reason the new interface seems promising. I only tried the sample briefly, but it was easy to figure out how the left/right arrow keys scroll you through the bottom icons, which you can choose with a soft key. My thumb also liked the central cluster of channel and volume keys, though it took a bit to figure out how to press the squelch button on the left side and then use the volume buttons to set it. An MOB icon represents another new feature.

The easy-to-see and understand graphics seem to extend deep into the system menus, and the big screen is good for navigation graphics like the compass screen (see above right) which could be taking you to a waypoint or the position of a DSC distress call. GM (Group Monitor) is yet another new feature and while the 870 manual is not yet available, I’ll guess it means that you can track multiple vessels at once if they share a group MMSI.

Standard Horizon is no longer the only manufacturer offering a VHF/GPS/DSC handheld, but the company seems determined to lead the pack. For instance, the HX870 is also a true Class D DSC radio—meaning it has a separate receiver always monitoring DSC channel 70—while the Icom M92D and others are not. All in all, a very impressive bit of handheld electronics.

Editor’s Note: For more of Ben Ellison’s insights into marine electronics, go to



At The Helm: Man Overboard!

Imagine this simple scenario: the boat’s powered up, sailing close-hauled in a building breeze under full sail. I come on deck as the skipper during the watch change to make sure the new crew is comfortable and the boat is properly set up for both the current conditions and more


Contrasting X-Yachts & Moody Cruisers

One of the most fascinating things about sailboats is the different ways that sailors, naval architects and builders will approach a single design problem. The result has been a bewildering array of rigs and hull forms over the years, and in the case of the two boats we’ll be more


Cruising Charter to Croatia

As is the case with so much of the Mediterranean, to sail in Croatia is to take a journey through time. Centuries before the birth of Christ, Greeks traded amphoras of oil, wine and grain across these waters. During the first millennium, the Romans built lavish palaces and more


Alicante Announced as an Ocean Race Europe Stop

The Ocean Race Europe, a new event in offshore sailing, will include Alicante as one of four stopover cities. This European offshoot of the former Volvo Ocean Race will include the biggest change to the racing rules under the new title—fully crewed IMOCA 60s will join the more


Preparing for a Doublehanded Race

A few months ago we took a look at the development and attraction of doublehanded racing (Two to Tango, June/July 2020). Hopefully, that served to whet your appetite. If so, the question becomes: “How do I get started? The good news, as we explained in Part 1, is that if you are more


A Key Approach to Passagemaking

How you approach offshore sailing is key to the success of each passage. In addition, some of the most valuable, even crucial attitudes and skills may not be either learned or valued in everyday life on shore and may even fly in the face of talents that are greatly admired and more


Point of SAIL: Mary Crowley of the Ocean Voyages Institute

In this episode of Point of SAIL, Principal Editor Adam Cort talks with Mary Crowley, founder and executive director of the Ocean Voyages Institute, a not-for-profit based in California that has been both educating sailors and working to preserve the health of the world’s ocean more


Tracking and Catching Plastic Waste

Plastic waste—in the form of everything from plastic soda bottles to abandoned fishing nets—constitutes a major threat to the health of the world’s oceans. Giving the immense size of an ocean, though, actually finding all the plastic floating around out there in a time-efficient more