I'm not really a gizmo gearhead. When it comes to smartphones and computers, I'm a late adopter, if not a true Luddite. When it comes to technology, I believe the adage, "the pioneers get the arrows; the settlers get the land."
But I've always had a thing for radios. My VHF marine band radio is always on my life jacket, switched on to monitor channels 16, 09 and 69. It's not just for the safety -- I like to know what's going on. "Calling all stations! This is the U.S. Coast Guard Central District..."
So I was ready to make an upgrade when I saw that 6W handheld submersible radios were now available. I would then have my old 5W for a spare, or to lend to a companion.
I happened to see on the West Marine website that Cobra makes a 6W unit with Bluetooth. That's right -- you can put your cell phone in a waterproof bag below deck and receive phone calls right over your radio. If your phone takes voice commands, you can make calls as well.
I had West Marine get one in from the warehouse so I could check it out -- and I bought it immediately. I just had to have it! First, not only is this unit submersible, it FLOATS! And it's wrapped with an orange stripe that not only makes it visible, but looks cool, like USCG government-issue. And it has some other features as well. For instance, a "say again" button will replay the last 20 seconds in case you didn't quite copy a transmission. A "burp" feature vibrates trapped water out of the speaker. It also has a noise-canceling mic.
But the fantastic thing is the Bluetooth. Pairing it to your cell phone is easy, and the radio works as well as the phone alone. When you get a call -- my wife phoned me from Denver while I was out paddling on Lake Michigan -- the radio rings, and you push a button to answer the call.
"Hi! You missed your flight? What a shame...I'm paddling two miles off shore right now..." Voice activation, which you can switch on or off, lets you talk naturally on the phone without using push-to-talk. Even in a driving wind and rain, our call was clear, so the noise canceling works, too. The only hissing sound came from my wife, when she found out I was paddling instead of weeding the back yard.
Downsides? A few. There is no longer a squelch knob -- you pre-select a squelch level from the options menu. I'm not sure I don't prefer the old analog adjustment. Second, some radios now send GPS coordinates automatically with a distress signal. I figured I would not miss this feature too much, since my next purchase will be a SPOT locator. And third, the Cobra is waterproof to a JIS-7 standard, which means it can be submerged to a depth of 1 meter for 30 minutes. Some other makes, I believe, are JIS-8. On the other hand, if a floating radio on a kayak is submerged deeper than 1 meter for more than 30 minutes, you've probably got bigger problems than a ruined radio anyway.
Not too many years ago, rechargeable batteries stopped taking a charge after a few seasons. With replacement batteries costing almost as much as a new radio, we tended to replace radios frequently. Now, the newer lithium-ion batteries last a long time. So perhaps you are overdue for an upgrade. The Cobra HH475 cost me $179.99 at West Marine, also available online. As a bonus, Cobra -- a firm I have no connection to, other than having had one of their CB radios back in my "Smokey and the Bandit" phase -- is a 50-year old company still headquartered in Chicago, with outstanding customer service. They replaced the belt clip I broke at no charge.
There is one other downside to the Bluetoothed VHF radio. If you're supposed to be doing yardwork, you're going to wish the radio, like your phone, was equipped with an "ignore call" button.