Re: Choosing/spec'ing VHF radio?
The FCC mandates that all NEW VHF transceivers have a built-in full Class D DSC capability. So, unless you're talking about a used radio, that's a given.
Re: brands, Icom is certainly very popular. Lots of companies make good VHF radios. I tend to prefer Standard Horizon; mine is the GX5500, same as the Coast Guard decided upon.
This model does not have AIS capability. I don't care, because I think most inexperienced boaters -- and a few experienced ones -- tend to exaggerate the value of AIS. It's risen to almost magical proportions. I wonder how mariners have been able to make out for several centuries without it :-)
To use the DSC capability, you'll need to hook up a GPS to the radio, with GPS sentences taken either from a chartplotter, a standalone GPS, or other device (like a laptop with a hockey-puck GPS attached).
You'll also need an MMSI number to plug into the VHF and, possibly if you get one, the HF radio as well. Tip: if you plan to travel abroad (Canada, Mexico, Bahamas, etc.) DO NOT get the MMSI number from Boat US or other organization. Get one from the FCC only. If you get an HF radio, you'll need license(s); these cost upwards of $200, so be sure you apply for all transmitting devices at the same time (VHF, HF, radar, EPIRB, satellite, etc.) to avoid multiple charges. The FCC will automatically issue you an MMSI number with your license application and this is the one you should use to program into the radio(s).
A loudhailer function is marginally useful. An automated foghorn can be very useful, particularly if you sail in northern waters.
The RAM mic is a useful addition for some (I have one). Depending on your boat and your preferences, however, you can buy a simple waterproof VHF radio to install in the cockpit, with a small antenna on the pushpit or radar arch, for just about the same money as adding a RAM mic, and have total redundancy.
A waterproof handheld VHF is also a good idea. I have several (ham and marine) and like the Standard Horizon HX851 with the built-in GPS very much. It floats, too :-)
You must have a VERY good benefactor if he/she is willing to spring for an HF transceiver as well. Now you're talking real money :-)
Last edited by btrayfors; 02-10-2013 at 12:56 PM.