By Greg Becker
I’ve had the chance to use a lot of different types and styles of radio equipment in my 30+ years of Amateur (“ham”), aviation, and other radio activities. Icom gear has always been top shelf in terms of quality, reliability, and ease of operation. In addition to their amateur, commercial and aviation lines, Icom also makes marine radio gear. The newest addition to their handheld VHF radio line is the Icom “M24 Float ‘N Flash”, which lives up in every way to my expectations for Icom’s high standards.
Like most modern handheld radios of the genre, the M24 covers the standard US marine VHF radio channels, as well as the standard US NOAA weather frequencies. Transmit power can be quickly switched from a battery-saving 1 Watt (perfect for chatting with your in-sight buddies a few hundred yards away) to a full-power output of 5 Watts when you really need to be heard. Without putting on my radio wonk hat and “waxing technical” about microvolts and decibels, the M24’s transmit and receive specs are very respectable!
Functions of the radio are controlled using the nine front-panel keys, which illuminate when pressed. What at first glance appears to be a volume or channel select knob on top of the radio is actually a screw-in cover for the charging port. This helps the M24 meet the “IPX 7” standard, which means that the radio can withstand accidental immersion in 1 meter (about three feet) of water depth for up to 30 minutes. The fact that the M24 floats so quickly when dropped in the water keeps it well above that depth.
There are several features about this radio that really make it stand out from the crowd. The first is its size. Icom claims that the M24 has the smallest and lightest radio body in the world*. I wandered through a local West Marine and another marine dealer with the M24, and compared it side-by-side with every other handheld VHF I could find. While not a scientific study, the M24 was indeed smaller and lighter than any of the other radios I held. At about 2.3” x 5.1” x 1.4” (minus the antenna), it’s perfect for clipping onto your kayak PFD while you’re on the water!
My first immersion test was tossing the radio into the pond behind my house. When the M24 hits the drink, it floats face-up and slightly antenna down. This puts two little contacts in touch with the water, and causes an LED on the base of the radio to start blinking red. This should make recovering the radio a simple task, even in the dark. Take a look:
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As with any radio, water in the speaker and microphone grills makes it almost impossible for other folks to understand you, and muffles their audio coming from your radio speaker. The M24 features Icom’s “AquaQuake” – press two keys, and the radio emits a several-second low-frequency sound that is intended to clear the water from the grills. While in Chokoloskee, FL for the Boondoggle in February, I dunked the radio, and confirmed that everything was gunked up from the water. No one could understand me, and I could barely make out other voices on the radio. One AquaQuake activation, and all was right with both my transmitted and received audio. This is a big plus, especially for anyone who has spent time blowing into their radio grill, trying to get the water out.
On the receive side, scan options include dual and tri-frequency watch, as well as an auto-scan feature and weather alert. The spec sheet calls for about a ten-hour battery life with a typical 5% listen/5% transmit/90% standby cycle. I fired up the radio at 7 a.m. in Chokoloskee, intentionally talked more than I should have during the day, and at 5 p.m. the battery indicator was still showing three of four bars. The included charger will have the unit ready to go in 8.5 hours or so, and an optional desktop charger will top off the battery (removed from the radio) in 2.5 hours.
Price-wise, the M24 will cost you a few dollars more than some of the other what I consider “hobby grade” radios available on the market, and it’s definitely money well spent. You can find the M24 for around $140-$170 online. It is head-and-shoulders above some of the cheaper “one season and done” handhelds out there. In spite of its light weight the M24 feels solid in my hand, where other units remind me of the toy walkie-talkies I had when I was seven years old.
For more information, specs, etc., go to http://www.icomamerica.com/en/products/marine/handhelds/m24/default.aspx. The user manual can be found at http://www.icomamerica.com/en/downloads/DownloadDetails.aspx?Document=548.
The compact size, powerful audio, easy-to-use controls, and legendary Icom quality all combine to make the M24 an outstanding choice for anyone looking to add a VHF handheld to their kayak fishing safety gear!
*As of December, 2010, researched by Icom