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New boaters are often surprised by all the elements they need to get out on the water. It’s easy to overlook everything from a good fish finder to carpeting. VHF antennas are another one of those things we may overlook. But a good VHF antenna is an absolute must on the water. Unlike a handheld VHF radio, your VHF radio is only as good as the antenna that it uses to transmit signals. Let’s take a look at the best VHF radio antennas on the market.
Best Overall Choice
1. Shakespeare 5101 Centennial Marine VHF Antenna
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Pound for pound, this may be the best marine VHF antenna out there. Shakespeare makes great antennas across the board. In fact, we’ve recommended several of their products. It’s no wonder that one of theirs would qualify as the best. They’re a reliable brand that really puts the effort into quality design. Not only do they look good, but they feature quality materials. And, most importantly, they work well. At the end of the day, that’s the real test. This antenna won’t let you down.
Starting with materials, Shakespeare puts in the effort to make this model a winner. The ferrule is chrome plated brass. The ferrule is the bottom part of an antenna that connects the whip to the base. It’s a little metal fixture that protects and houses the wires. It needs to be tough and made from a resilient material. Cheap metal ferrules will corrode. Cheap composite ones may break or degrade.
The whip of the antenna is made of fiberglass. It has a high gloss finish to keep it looking good. It also adds to the durability. Inside you’ll find brass and copper elements. That means that the metal inside, the part that actually receives and transmits, is solid. These high quality materials offer the best performance.
There is no mount included with this particular model. You’ll have to pick up a separate mount. That said, it offers high quality performance that still makes it well worth the effort. Any place that sells the antenna will also have a suitable mount. There are several different models that work well with this antenna size. Once you have one, the installation process is pretty smooth and easy. Expect to take about a half hour to get this installed and running.
The 5101 model offers a 6dB gain. The whip is 8 feet in length. The reception and performance are top notch though, and that’s what really counts here. There are more expensive models that may boost signal or performance slightly. We don’t think it’s likely you’ll find yourself in a place where this antenna is not able to perform the way you need it to. For the price and the performance, you won’t find a better marine VHF antenna on the market.
Best Premium Choice
2. Shakespeare 6225 Phase III VHF Antenna
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This antenna is definitely an investment. It’s quite a bit pricier than the others we’re listing here. But Shakespeare went above and beyond for the construction of this model. If you want premium quality, this is the best VHF antenna for your boat. Just check out some of the features that this one boasts.
Start with the silver plated outer conductor. That offers top of the line performance and reliability. The inner conductor is copper. Again, you’re getting the best and most reliable materials. The mounting sleeve doesn’t shirk on the quality either. It’s made from stainless steel, so expect it to hold up well.
The cables connect with an SO-239 connector. That’s also known as a PL-259 connector. If you’re not familiar, don’t worry. All you need to know is that this is the standard, high quality connection for most radio cables. It’s easy to connect and makes a solid UHF connection when they’re in place.
Attached with a reliable ratchet mount, and this unit can stand up to the elements well. The antenna itself is made from 50-ohm high gloss fiberglass. It’s bolstered by an ethafoam spacer. That gives it extra strength and durability in the high winds you may find at sea.
The overall length is 8 feet. The gain is 6dB and the max power input is 150w. Shakespeare offers a limited warranty of 8 years on the antenna. That’s one of the best in the industry and lets you breathe a little easier. You won’t have to worry about manufacturing problems and breakage for quite a while. You’re able to remove or reinstall the antenna without worrying about moving the coax cables.
Best Budget Choice
3. Tram VHF Marine Antenna
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Getting a good VHF antenna shouldn’t break the bank. Tram is here with their 1603 model to make the most from the least. At a fraction of the cost of other models, this is a surprisingly solid effort. There’s a nylon ratchet mount and the antenna itself is fiberglass. The element inside is coax cable rather than brass and copper. It’s 5ft low-loss RG58A/U coaxial cable with a standard PL-259 male/female connector. That means a little less power overall, but it’s still a reliable antenna.
Total antenna height is 38 inches, so just over 3 feet. That makes it shorter than some, but ideal for smaller boats. It features stainless steel hardware, including the L bracket. It operates with a 6dB gain. The antenna, of course, covers all marine frequencies. It comes with 15 feet of coaxial cable for set up as well.
Installation is easy with Tram. The nylon ratchet makes adjusting very simple. The mounting hardware means small hole installation is a breeze. All the hardware you need is included. The engineering of this model is better than you would expect. Especially for something so affordable. Is it going to blow you out of the water with its performance? Maybe not. But it is going to offer reliable and solid performance, and that’s what counts. Reception is fantastic. Don’t be surprised if you’re actually pulling in new weather band channels. Potentially several more than you had access to before you installed this one.
One thing to be aware of is exactly how you mount it. The stainless steel bracket is great, but watch where you put it. You don’t want to mount this on an aluminum rail, for instance. Putting two dissimilar metals together can cause trouble, after all. Especially if you’re boating in salt water. You may want to consider a rubber buffer between this and aluminum if that’s how you’re mounting it. Or find something else to attach it to. It can be a bit of a hassle, but it’s worth it in the long run.
4. Shakespeare 4 Foot Centennial Marine VHF Antenna
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Shakespeare’s 4 foot Centennial is a solid marine VHF antenna. It features brass and copper elements inside. There’s a 3 dB gain, which is ideal for marine use. The antenna itself is fiberglass, but it’s solid construction. It features a smooth polyurethane coating as well. That helps it stand up to the elements, including the sun. No turning a dirty yellow color like untreated fiberglass will over time. You can expect it to last for years if it’s maintained well.
There’s a chrome-plated brass ferrule with standard 1inch-14 thread. You can mount it with a standard style 4187 or 5187 ratchet mount. Those are not included, though. Keep that in mind.
The sound quality of Shakespeare is why so many of their antennas made it onto this list. Like the earlier models, this one is well above par. You can tell these are just well made antennas. Especially when you compare them to lower quality options head to head. Solid construction and solid performance really makes Shakespeare a standout.
Some people might wonder why you’d ever want a shorter antenna. Well, if you’re ever gone under a short bridge and busted your old antenna, you won;t wonder. Sometimes having 8 feet or more above the boat isn’t really a good idea. In those cases, this 4 foot model is a solid choice. If you don’t want a giant antenna, Shakespeare has you covered.
One thing to be aware of here is that the connector isn’t attached. You may have to bust out the solder gun to get this properly attached and installed the way you want it. That’s not technically always a bad thing, though. With the connector unattached, it makes wiring in tighter spaces a little easier. But it could be an aggravating step. Especially if you’re not prepared for it ahead of time.
5. Metz Manta 6 VHF Marine Antenna
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The Metz Manta 6 foot antenna is a solid marine VHF antenna. The stainless steel whip design is durable and long lasting. It features fully soldered connections and stainless steel housing as well. The cap is UV resistant so it can withstand a long life on your boat. No worries about the elements causing it to wear out and crack like with a cheaper model. There’s also a nickel-plated brass whip post. The L bracket for mounting is also included.
The Metz model features lightning protection and also a lifetime warranty. It covers the base coil, but you do need to have proof of purchase to qualify. This one won’t cover a resold antenna. This is the only brand you’ll find that offers a warranty of this kind as well. Metz really stands behind their products.
It boasts a 250 watt power rating. There’s also an internal ground. Of course, it also comes pre-tuned to the marine band frequencies. The frequency range is 156-163 MHz.
Things To Look for in the Best Marine VHF Antenna
The best marine VHF antennas have to check a few boxes. Not all marine VHF marine radio antenna are created equally. And not all are suitable for every boat. Where you have your antenna mounted could be as important as output power or antenna length. Things like horizontal angle are important as well. Here are a few things to consider.
This is a feature everyone wants to know about when they buy an antenna. Does it have a good range? Well, that’s a hard thing to answer. No one antenna will give you a definite range in the product details. Why? Because it depends on a lot of factors. First and foremost is how you mount it. The higher up an antenna is, the greater range it has. That’s why antennas are always posted at the top of everything. Houses, office buildings, and boats. An antenna on the ground will have a much lower range than the exact same antenna on top of a building. A taller antenna is typically better than a short one.
If you want to maximize range, make sure your marine vhf radio antenna is mounted at the highest possible point. So if you have a sailboat, you want that antenna on top of the mast. If you have a fishing boat, up on the roof of the cabin is where you want it.
Antennas are often described according to their dB rating. This is also known as antenna gain. In simple terms, gain refers to an antenna’s ability to focus energy. That focused energy improves its ability to transit. Or at least makes it seem that way.
When an antenna has a high dB rating, it focuses energy like a disc. The disc is around the antenna itself. Think of it like a plate spinning on a chopstick. The antenna is a straight shaft. But the energy field is radiating out like a plate. The signal that receivers pick up is stronger as a result.
A lower dB antenna is less tightly focused. If a high dB signal is like a plate, a low dB signal is more like a ball. It still radiates out, but the signal also travels above and below the antenna.
It may seem like a high dB antenna is best. At high enough levels, the signal is transmitted at a nearly flat line like a laser. But is that best? Your boat is on water, which moves. That means your antenna is rarely perfectly vertical. A high dB signal may therefore be broadcast right into the water or into the sky. If the seas are rough, the signal bounces a lot. A lower dB gain is ideal, then. No matter how your boat moves, the signal still transmits.
Signals transmit on a line of sight basis. That means anything in the way will disrupt your signal. And at higher gain, the signal is narrower. That makes it potentially more likely to be obstructed.
For that reason, a 3 dB gain is good for a boat. Higher gain, like 6 dB, may work, but it could be spotty. Something like 9 dB would be counterproductive.
What we see when we look at an antenna is essentially a case. It houses and protects the important, functional parts. This includes the electrical element. That element is what gives off and also receives signals. It can be made of things like copper, brass, or even coaxial cable. Coaxial cable is a cheaper option, but brass and copper elements perform better.
For the antenna itself, you’re looking at either fiberglass or stainless steel. Shorter stainless steel antennas are less affected by wind. They are also more durable. A fiberglass antenna can be cheaper, however. Also they will be longer. But fiberglass may not be as durable. At the very least, you want heavy duty fiberglass construction.
Fiberglass can be more durable if you get it coated. Look for brands that coat the fiberglass with polyurethane.
The pieces that join and mount your antenna are worth paying attention to as well. A high quality chrome plated brass ferrule is better than nylon ones. Stainless steel hardware is always a safe bet.
A nylon ratchet mount may be fine for masthead mounting of the antenna, of course. But look for things like higher quality silver plated brass elements inside. Better antennas will always have these higher quality materials. They are extremely durable and have the high quality features you need.
Mounting Marine VHF Antennas
This may seem like an insignificant thing. If there is no mounting kit you’ll need to find those extra materials. That’s an extra step and an extra cost you may want to avoid.
The longer the wire used in your antenna, the more it will damage your signal overall. You lose strength with length. A small gauge coaxial cable can lose 3 dB for every 49 feet. That’s another reason why copper is better than coax cable. But also another reason to be wary of going too big with an antenna. Thin cable, something like rg 58 cable, may not be the best choice if you want a more powerful antenna.
In general you want thicker cable rather than a longer antenna. It’s a balancing act to get the perfect set up. But if you have more than 100 feet of cable, you may only get 80% efficiency out of it.
Thicker coaxial cable, or copper/brass elements are better for improving signal strength.
The Bottom Line
There are plenty of great choices out there for VHF marine antennas. Whether you want a shorter antenna, two antennas or whatever, find what fits your boat best. If you’re unsure on installation, ask for help at your local marina. Or look up some handy videos online. A VHF radio can be a lifeline for a boater. And that means you want to make sure you have the best VHF antenna you can get.
As always, stay safe and have fun.