A GPS tracker is handy for finding directions on land or at sea, but if you're taking your boat out on the immense ocean, you'll need a VHF radio as well. This essential gadget not only keeps you in constant contact with the Coast Guard, it's the main conveyor of information on the high seas, connecting you with ports and other ships. With a $700 price tag, Uniden's Mystic handheld GPS/VHF marine device is pricey, though you can get both as separate $400 units. However, the convenience of having communication and navigation capabilities in a single feature-packed device is well worth it. The Uniden Mystic's two-tone black-and-gray housing consists of almost all high-impact plastic, save for a thin rubber grip lining each side. Measuring 6.8 by 2.8 by 1.5 inches and weighing close to one pound, this is one hefty handheld, but it can still be worn using the included belt clip. A removable, 6.25-inch rubberized antenna brings the Mystic's total height to more than a foot.
Below the Mystic's large (2.2 by 7.5 inches) monochrome display are 12 evenly spaced VHF and GPS function buttons, including a four-way cursor button for changing channels, scrolling through menus, or panning maps. The display provides two levels of backlighting, as do the function buttons, and it's readable under all lighting conditions. We'd like to see a color display, but that would add $200 to the price. The Push To Talk button sits on the upper-right side of the radio, and a Distress button, complete with a protective red cap to prevent accidental activation, is positioned on the left. On the top of the unit, you'll find the external speaker/microphone jack, the on/off/volume switch, and the squelch-control knob. The Mystic's claim to be waterproof and submersible to JIS-7 standards (30 minutes in one meter of water) proved accurate in our test. The Uniden Mystic has all the features you'd expect in a quality handheld VHF radio, including triple-watch channel scanning; one-touch connection to emergency channels (16 and 9); access to all U.S., international, and Canadian marine channels; and multiple SAME (Specific Area Message Encoding) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather channels. You can also save an unlimited number of channels for automatic scanning. The Mystic supports DSC (Digital Selective Calling), which allows you to instantly send a distress alert, or Mayday, to the Coast Guard, relaying your position, vessel name, and type of emergency. DSC also allows you to receive distress alerts from other boaters, and you can place private ship-to-ship calls to other DSC-enabled radios.
The Mystic's GPS features include 32MB of internal memory for storing street maps from the included CD or optional BlueNav marine maps ($140 for North America); storage of up to 500 waypoints with icons; GOTO (straight line) route creation; and a built-in compass. The device boasts nine navigation screens, including satellite status, map position, compass, and speedometer, as well as a cursor mode that displays information (such as points of interest and street names) relative to your cursor's position on the map. In addition to Magellan's MapSend Streets & Destinations USA software, the Mystic includes a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, a drop-in charging cradle, a nine-pin serial data cable for PCs, and cigarette-lighter and AC power adapters. Most handheld VHF radios are limited to a range of about 5 miles at high power (5 watts). We had no problem communicating with a land-based radio while positioned 3 miles from shore. The closer we got to the 5-mile mark, the more garbled the transmission became, though this is usual for line-of-sight communications. The weather-channel reception remained clear and sharp as far out as 10 miles and was equally clear on land.
The Uniden Mystic's GPS receiver was strong and precise, establishing a lock on five satellites within 30 seconds and navigating us to our favorite waypoints with a high degree of accuracy. Unfortunately, the U.S. Coast Guard would not let us test the distress-call feature.
The Mystic's battery life varies, depending on factors such as backlighting and mode of operation, and Uniden gives a rated time of 10 hours. We were please to find in our tests that the Mystic provided 20 hours of juice with VHF and GPS enabled, a weather station under continuous monitoring, and backlighting turned off.