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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.
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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



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