Radar is a great layer of safety that can enhance just about any boat. But it is not for everyone. Is it right for you? There are certain instances when you most certainly need radar. These are if boat at night or if you are in an area prone to fog. Either of these can significantly impair your vision. Fishermen also use radar to find birds. So if any of this describes you, then seriously consider buying a radar.
You might be wonder what exactly radar does. It is an acronym and stands for Radio Detection and Ranging. A Radar has a flat antenna that spins. It emits a signal, then listens back for that signal. The signal bounces back at varying times based on what it may be bouncing off of. For example, if it bounces back off a buoy the radar will display a blip or target on your display that you can see. You may not know it is a buoy, but you will know it is a hard object that you should likely avoid. Perhaps it is a boat, or even a lobster pot with a radar refelctor on it. The radar will do a pretty good job at showing you what is actually around the boat. Depending on height and power output they can detect objects for 40 miles or more around your boat.
Tip - A GPS/Chartplotter shows you what SHOULD be around the boat in regards to land, buoys, and other fixed objects. A Radar shows you what IS actually around the boat including land, bupys, other vessels, etc. They should both be used to get you full situational awareness.
If this areticle was written years ago we'd be discussing nothing more than output power. Output power and array width were the two defining criteria for performance. In recent years this has changed with the advent of Solid State technology. All of the manufacturers have their buzzwords and marketing points. We are not going to get into that as it is already well discussed on the manufacturer sites. What you need to know is this new type of radar has some great benefits. Namely, they use less power, they come on instantly, they emit little to no dangerous radiation, and their signals can be manipulated better to present a better radar image to users. There is no real downside to these new radars. You'll see terms like Doppler, Broadband, and CHIRP. Yes, CHIRP is a term for radars too! Garmin calls them Fantom, Simrad & Lowrance calls them Broadband or Halo, Furuno calls them NXT, and Raymarine calls them Quantum. These new style radars are a major leap in technology and cost about the same as the previous analog radars, so we recommend them when buying new.
What size do you need? For basic navigation ANY radar will do. Domes typically start at 18" in diameter and go up to 24". If you just want to pick your way through the night in a relatively obstruction free area then get an 18" dome. A reason to jump up to 24" is if you want a slightly wider array to help see smaller objects. This would be helpful in an area with lots of obstructions and channels. Not all manufacturers rate by size. For example, Simrad uses the 3G dome as their basic, and the 4G dome as their better dome. Both are in the same housing. Bottom line is that most manufacturers will have a basic dome, then a larger or more powerful dome. If you will be relying heavily on radar always opt for teh better dome.
Dome vs Open Array. There are just a handful of reasons to get an open array. One primary reason is for fishermen. Fishermen use radar to find birds that are otherwise too far away to see. If they can find a group of birds feeding over the water then they will find the fish there too. Open array radars cost nearly 3 times what a dome costs, but it is short money to work as such an effective tool for fishing. Another reason to get an open array is if you have the room, and can benefit from the performance gains. An open array has a much wider antenna than a dome, so it can pick targets apart much better. An open array will ALWAYS have a better radar image than a dome no matter what the technology is. A large cruisng boat, say a 50' Sea Ray for example would beneft from an array. They obviously have the room to fit one, and the enhanced radar image will make centering on channels or seeing other distant boats much easier. An added benefit is resale value. Some people simply feel a larger boat should have an open array. It looks better, and fits the "look" of the boat better in most cases. So if it fits, you can afford it, and you want the absolute best image, then get an open array.
What brand to get? Radar is almost universally proprietary. In other words, if you have a Garmin display, you will need to get a Garmin radar. There are few Stand-alone" radars available anymore. A stand-alone system is a radar display and a dome or array. This display does nothing more than radar. What is most common these days is to buy a Chartplotter or Networkable display that you'll use for your chartplotter and fishfinder, then simply add a compatible radar dome or array to it.
What is radar overlay? Years ago a new technology called radar overlay was born. This is a useful feature where the display will show both the chartplotter and the radar overlayed on top of each other. It requires the use of a heading sensor to stay perfectly alighed, otherwise the layers would not make sense. There are many opinions on when radar overlay is useful. At BOE we feel that if you are truly in a low visibility environment then it is best to bring up one window with a chart and one with the radar. The reason is because faint radar objects can often get lost on the chart and not noticed. We feel radar overlay is incredibly useful during the day when a user is trying to learn how to use a radar. You can still see your full screen chartplotter, but the radar image is overlayed on top. So if you see a buoy or boat you can see exactly how it will show up on the radar. Then, next time you are out at night you'll have more trust in distinguishing what you are seeing on the radar.
How to mount a radar? We got lots of questions about how to mount a radar. A few things to keep in mind. First, the higher it is, the further it will see to the horizon. So elevating it never hurts. Next, you want it parallel with the surface of the water when you will be using it most. For example. If you have a displacement trawler, you will have no bow rise when underway, so your radar should be level with the water. If you have a planing hull boat then you will have bow rise while underway. If you think you'll be using the radar while underway mostly, then match the mounting angle with the degrees of bow rise so that your radar is level when underway. If you think you'll slow down to displacement speeds when relying on your radar then mount it level to the water when your boat is at rest. If you think you will do a little of both, then split the difference between the angle at rest and the angle while underway. If you tilt your radar forward a couple of degrees then you will pick up objects closer to the boat, ahead of the boat. This may be helpful if you are using the radar exclusively for close-in navigation. Radars can be mounted directly to hardtops or arches. They can also be mounted on posts or platforms. You will want it higher than the boat occupants, and higher than any obstructions, especially ahead of it. An example would be a spotlight or a liferaft. Mounts are available to raise radars as high as 14", taller custom mounts are available. Wedges are also available to tilt it forward. If you are not using a mount, be sure the radar is within a fe feet of the front edge of the top and sides. If it is too far away from an edge there willl be a blindspot close to the boat.
TIP - If you mount a radar, especially if you raise it, be sure to make sure your anchor light is taller than the mount. The anchor light needs to be visible from 360 degrees.
Still have questions? Call us anytime for personal advice on your radar needs.