HMS puts the world’s first marine VHF hand portable radio with integrated AIS receiver, DSC and GPS through its paces and discovers that there is definitely more to this game-changer than meets the eye …


Notice the large digital
display of the IC-M94DE.
The distress button feature is neatly recessed in the rear face of the set.

The introduction of Icom’s new IC-M94DE is a landmark in terms of maritime communication, so when PBR was given the opportunity to evaluate one of the very first to roll off Icom’s assembly line, we grabbed it. 

By anyone’s standards, the IC-M94DE’s combined use of cutting-edge technology is quite outstanding. In fact, as previously reported, this particular hand-held VHF, which combines transceiver, GPS, DSC and AIS all rolled into a single, highly compact unit, is unique among its peers. One can only imagine, therefore, how much this product will likely be the envy of the other manufacturers operating within this sector of the comms market. But let’s get to it …

Notably, the IC-M94DE boasts an additional watt of power over its hand-held counterparts, which means that this Icom’s 6W output provides the user with at least 6 miles of range. For a VHF of this type, that represents impressive reach. In addition to the radio offering a highly versatile and effective means of general communication, an IC-M94DE is an immensely useful item to have within your boat’s emergency grab bag. As Icom themselves are keen to point out, if your vessel suffers a critical failure (perhaps a flooding of the engine bay and/or battery compartment), besides the loss of engine power, the first thing to go down will likely be your on-board electrics. This in turn will mean your ship’s radio will also be disabled, with the result that you’ll have no means to call for help. However, with the IC-M94DE in your grab bag, not only can you immediately activate the Digital Selective Calling function at the flick of a switch, but you can also continue to monitor what other vessels are within your immediate sea area, regardless of weather or visibility. By knowing who is in your proximity, it’s possible to be much more selective and effective in terms of your communications with those other vessels that might be able to render aid. 

What else do we like about this new addition to Icom’s range? Its large, clear display for one. In fact, the backlit display screen forms the unit’s entire upper face, while at the same time, the design doesn’t compromise the VHF’s ergonomic qualities. It feels right in the hand and remains suited to being clipped on your person for added accessibility and personal safety. (The flexi, rubber-coated aerial is not going to hurt you either if you happen to poke yourself in the face when the set’s affixed to your life jacket!)

The location of the DSC recessed button is good too, positioned as it is at the upper point of the unit’s back face. Small details of this kind are noteworthy as they reveal intuitiveness on the part of the designer/manufacturer. 

We found that the IC-M94DE’s super-long battery life represents another great plus in its technical armoury. In fact, the supplied BP-306 high-capacity 2400mAh (typical) li-ion battery provides up to 10 hours of operating time. This is another ‘no-compromise’ feature that makes the set well suited to both professional and leisure users alike. 

Now, I’m increasingly being accused of being a bit deaf in my starboard ear, so it won’t surprise you to learn that the IC-M94DE’s high-power capacity speaker with its mega 1500mW (typical audio output) was a transceiver feature particularly helpful to my ‘on-board’ receiver! After all, as everyone knows, every radio operator longs to utter the words ‘Receiving you loud and clear!’

Another particularly likeable function to mention that makes this portable Icom a high-scoring set in our view is its navigation function, which guides you to a specified waypoint – and it is possible to assign up to 50 favourite fishing spots or destination waypoints. This is impressive, I think you’ll agree, and forms a great backup to one’s chief nav aids. (Likewise, for owners of SIBs and other small, stand-alone craft, in this unit you pretty much have everything you need within the palm of your hand!)

Lastly, what about this … If, say, you were suffering with cold hands and you happened to fumble and drop the set overboard, as we discovered, the IC-M94DE not only floats, but its LCD screen, keys and rear-panel Distress button even flash to help you retrieve it from the water. Ingenious. (NB: Pressing the Distress button while Float’n Flash is working will also transmit the MOB distress signal.)

All in all, this is a thoroughly likeable and practical, well-thought-through product. Icom are to be congratulated on making such a worthy contribution to the world of maritime communication with the launch of this outstanding, all-encompassing hand-held VHF. 

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