Marine radio requirements for great lakes
Very highly suggested for safety reasons to have one. Marine radios operate on a "line of sight" theory. In other words, if you can't see it, the radio can't reach it. The higher the antenna, and the more watts it broadcasts at, the further it can reach.
A handheld is better than nothing, but if you could get an 8' antenna on a base mount radio that can broadcast up to 25 watts, the better.