Re: Choosing/spec'ing VHF radio?
I suggest that a handheld VHF without DSC is the first radio that you should have. The reason for going without DSC is that the MMSI is associated with the vessel, and not the radio. It would be a pain to get a good handheld, and then have to leave it behind because you are sailing on OPBs, or upgrade your boat. A good (5W+) handheld is also more useful than a RAM if you ever have to ditch.
After getting a good handheld, I would then look at a fixed mount VHF for communication over longer ranges. The fixed mount unit will also integrate with a GPS to provide DSC. AIS would be nice to have, but you can always buy a standalone AIS receiver, or transceiver.
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USCG Licensed OUPV Captain, ASA 101/103/104/105 Certified Instructor - Also certified in Recreational Marine Electrical Systems