When you're on the water, other boats can present hazards for kayak fisherman. They can also be a lifeline. Cell phones are great when you find yourself in a hairy situation, but they don't always work. That's where the VHF radio comes in. It allows for on-the-water communication with other boats on the water, the Coast Guard, and you can also get weather information in case you don't notice the storm moving in on your location.
I picked up the Uniden Atlantis 250 a couple years ago. I used it almost everywhere I fished: The Columbia and Willamette Rivers, the Puget Sound, and the Pacific Coast. The Atlantis was more than useful. I remember a very foggy day on the Columbia River sturgeon fishing. It was hard to see past the bow of my kayak, but between the VHF radio and my GPS, I knew where I was and I knew if anyone was coming. Sure enough, the radio alerted me to a huge cargo ship heading my way. I barely had my anchor in the water when it appeared just 100 yards away from me, and I was most definitely in its path. Had I not had the radio, I would not have had sufficient warning.
I chose the Atlantis 250 for a number of reasons. First off, price. My limited budget at the time allowed me to get the most basic of handheld VHF radios. The Atlantis 250, for just around $100, gave me the most features. It's waterproof (JIS4 standards), comes with AC and DC chargers (and I charge the radio in my car way too often), and a backup battery pack to keep in my dry box. When it comes to electronics on the water, its always good to have a backup battery.
What I really needed, however, was a backup radio. The first time I pounded through the surf on the Oregon Coast I took a nice wave to the face. It wasn't anything too serious and the waterproof rating of the VHF radio should have more than taken care of things. It wasn't long until I heard a Coast Guard report sing through the Atlantis radio. Well, it wasn't so much of a song as it was a cackle and gurgle. The speaker had filled with water. I shook out what I could, but for most of the day I had a real hard time hearing anything. The worse part is that I was fishing in a high traffic area, and the radio was important to inform me of boats coming in and out of the area.
From then on, I put a bit more care into the Uniden radio. I protected it better on surf launches, and, as I try to do with all my gear, cleaned it when I was done fishing for the day. It worked fine enough, alerted me to weather and boat traffic. I used it to let the Depoe Bay Harbor Master know when I was coming and going.
But it was a long time later until I used it to talk to others on open water.
I was about a mile away from a half dozen other kayak anglers on the Oregon Coast. I was fishing a killer school of rockfish and lingcod, and just had to invite the others. I knew they couldn't have had as good of luck as I was having, so I gave them a call. Silence. I tried again. Silence. I switched channels. Silence. Ok, guess they don't want to fish with me. I could see them in the distance and with all the paddling they were doing they couldn't have had such good fishing as I had. Awhile later I was limited out and was ready to head back in for a beer. I started paddling towards the other kayakers and gave them another radio call to let them know I was heading back in. At this point, a half mile away, my radio call was returned with silence. I halfed the distance and at this point I could almost yell at them. It was then that they finally heard me. Later they reported that even when they did eventually hear me on the radio, it wasn't great.
Now, I understand that sitting on top of the water as we kayak fisherman do, radio range is often reduced. However, if I could see someone, the radio should be able to do its job. Most advertised ranges for radios are line-of-sight. And the Uniden Atlantis wasn't living up to its potential.
The last straw came on my most recent trip to the coast. The night before I put the radio on the charger. Grabbed it in the morning as I headed out. The battery pack was a bit warm, so I figured it had a good charge. A few hours later, as I was gearing up, I clipped the Atlantis to my PFD as I normally do and turned it on. Nothing. Switched to my back up battery pack. Nothing. Terminals were still a good gold color and I saw no oxidization. But, I also had no power.
I still fished that day, against my better judgement, but I also kept close to others.
To me, the VHF radio is just as important as my PFD. Until I get this one replaced, I won't be doing a whole lot of kayak fishing. It's safe to say, I won't be going back to another Atlantis VHF radio. If you have one of these now, I strongly urge you to find a waterproof case if you're not ready to replace it.
Clear speaker audio when not wet
packaged with DC and AC chargers
comes with a backup battery pack (AA batteries not included)
speaker fills with water, sounding horrible
transmit range is very minimal
transmit quality is sub-par
Rating out of 5? I'll give it a 1.5
About Isaac Miller: Isaac considers himself an "equal opportunity angler" and will fish anything that will take a hook. Isaac often makes live internet video broadcasts when fishing from his kayaks, giving up-to-the-second reports on conditions and tackle choices. He also blogs at 'Yak Fish, co-hosts Kayak Fishing Radio The Wild West, PR Director for Recycled Fish and is a YakAngler Pro Staffer & Associate Editor.