The iCom M34, World's First Floating Handheld VHF

iCom's M34 floats thanks to its polymer chassis, which preserves just enough bouyancy to keep two inches of the handheld radio above the water.

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About ten years ago, I purchased a brand-new handheld VHF radio. It wasn't cheap, but it was just what I needed for my 20-foot center console, and for listening to transmissions from our Wednesday evening race committee. I used the radio for all of about an hour before I bumped into a handrail on my boat while the radio was clipped to my belt. There was a splash, a brief trail of bubbles, and one pricey radio on its way to Davy Jones's locker. It wasn't the first valuable item I've dropped in the drink (that particular poignant memory belongs to a Swiss Army knife lost when I was nine years old), and it probably won't be the last. Until now, like many others who've contributed expensive items to Mr. Jones' locker, I've attached tethers to handheld radios, stuffed them in pockets that were hard to get to, or simply gone without. Now, thanks to iCom, I'm using the first handheld VHF radio that floats, giving me a fighting chance of recovery. The IC-M34, which lists for $179, has just enough flotation to keep about two inches of the radio out of the water. Instead of using aluminum to build the chassis, iCom uses high-strength polymers (plastic) to keep the weight down. It probably has little to do with the buoyancy of the M34, but the case has an hourglass-style design, which makes the radio easy to hang on to, and puts your thumb in the proper position to operate the push to transmit (PTT) button. The IC-M34 can transmit at a full five watts, or at one watt for close-quarter communications. It also has a neat new feature which iCom likens to a TV remote control that's been programmed to ignore unwanted channels, a "favorites" setting which can be set to only scroll through pre-selected channels. I like the large LCD screen, which is easy to read even in full sunlight. The buttons are easy to use, even when you're wearing gloves. At first I wasn't too crazy about the M34's on/off button, which is recessed into the top of the radio, next to the socket for the (optional) remote speaker/microphone. Like many of you, I'm used to having knobs on the top of the radio for both on/off and volume controls, but I'm getting used to the button, especially since it makes the radio less likely to be turned on by mistake in a gear bag. The M34 also features something called AquaQuake, which, when activated, makes a vibrating sound to clear the speaker of water. Don't test this particular feature in your cubicle at work, like I did, as it makes a noise louder than one would ordinarily hear in a quiet office environment.The M34 is designed for rugged use, and uses a rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery that's good for about ten hours of listening time. iCom offers an optional battery case that uses standard AA batteries, but cautions that the M34 won't float with the AA case attached.Of course, what good's a floating radio if it can't get wet? For this reason, the M34 is waterproof to IP-X7 submersible standards (waterproof at a depth of one meter for 30 minutes).We'll be testing the M34 for the next few months on the water at NOOD regattas, while test-sailing boats, and on whatever racecourses we find ourselves on. We'll let you know how the IC-M34 holds up, how well it works, and what (if any) issues we have. www.icomamerica.com