The West Marine VHF550 is built by Uniden and sold through West Marine online and at stores. It’s a mid-grade marine VHF radio with a couple exclusive features not often seen in this price range.
It can connect to a wireless remote microphone and has a basic hailer system. Functions like backlight adjustment, screen contrast, key beep on or off, and DSC calling are handled through menus.
The menu button and arrow keys step you through each menu. This can be cumbersome. Some of the menu names and displayed data are cryptic enough to require the manual by your side to decipher.
The VHF550 has a basic hailer, called Public Address in the manual, it provides 10 watts of output power. Thats enough power to communicate with other vessels close aboard.
The hailer is operated by pressing the PA button on the radio front panel, a second press puts the radio back in normal operation. Selecting PA will transition the unit to public address mode and annunciate PA onscreen. You use the microphone normally and your voice will come out over a connected hailer horn. A PA horn is on optional add-on device.
We found transmitter output power and frequency accuracy to be fairly stable through all of our testing, both were given good ratings.
Receiver sensitivity was also rated good. Receiver selectivity is average at 67 dB. Audio output was good with sound pressure levels measured at 94 dBA.
We rated the display on this West Marine VHF radio good. Channel numbers are shown in block numbers on the right side of the screen above a channel comment line.
The comment line has 12-character symbols and will scroll information too long to show all at once. It also has a transmit icon, weather alert mode icon, and 3 levels of backlighting. One thing missing is Alpha channel display.
When connected to a GPS date, time, position, course, and speed are scrolled along the comment line.
Front panel pushbuttons offer one-button control for selecting transmitter power level between 1 and 25 watts, hailer on/off, toggle between weather and communications channels, menu, some scanning options, selecting a channel group, and a quick 16 or 9 channel selection.
Volume and squelch are controlled with knobs. Channel selection is made with up/down arrow keys on the front panel and microphone.
Dual Watch and Triple Watch scan the selected channel plus 16 and/or 9 every two seconds. Memory scan looks at all channels that have been locked into memory and checks them in numerical order.
Dual, Triple, and weather alert can be combined with memory scan. All scanning options are controlled with two front panel pushbuttons.
Digital Selective Calling
The VHF550 is an SC101 radio for DSC operations. This means it has only a single receiver listening to both voice communications and DSC digital data coming in over channel 70. This radio will make distress, individual, all ships, group calls and send and receive position data. It will store up to 20 names and their associated MMSI numbers for making DSC calls as well as 20 received calls.
The VHF550 is priced right, plus it carries a 3-year warranty.