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Old 26-10-2014, 06:56   #1
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Radar - what to look for

I've never used radar before, but am planning to install one before we head down the St. Lawrence River next So I ask you:
  • What features are important to those of you who use radar?
  • What technical specs should I key into?
  • What features should I ignore?
  • Are there some brands that are more (or less) reliable?
At this point my main priorities are:
  • Quality/reliability.
  • Good short and medium range effectiveness.
  • Low(ish) power consumption.
  • Ease of use.
  • Cost.
Some of the features which I think are important (but I might be wrong):
  • Chart overlay.
  • Remote mirroring via wifi or bluetooth.
  • Multi-speed RPM.
  • Colour.
  • Auto-tracking.
Obviously I'll be doing a lot of research on the various systems. There seems to be a lot of brand-specific verbiage (Broadband, HD, 3G, 4G xHD, digital...). Would appreciate the real-life experience from those of you who use radar, and especially from those who have recently purchased new systems (or are planning to).
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Old 26-10-2014, 08:08   #2
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Re: Radar - what to look for

Hey Mike,
We use ours for two basic features, the first being as an alarm for either ships entering our area of travel, or squalls. and second as a double check in overlay when entering a port or anchorages.
In overlay mode, its also easier to tune for direction of the radar to boat direction and when overlaying the radar on the chart, you are sure the chart is what and where it is soposed to be..
Not so much anymore but at one time, many charts were off from a few feet to a few miles, the overlay is just a good way to "second check" the chart...
Even thou there are many other features, we have seldom used them..
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Old 26-10-2014, 08:30   #3
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Re: Radar - what to look for

Basically, you have two options: magnetron-driven or broad-band radar. Simrad/Navico/Lawrance/B&G and everyone else.

Simrad 4G has moderate range, uses so little amperage that you can run it 7/24, reads targets right up to the side of the boat, and is reasonably priced and part of a much larger, sophisticated electronics package.

Everything else is bigger, heavier, can see farther than most of us need, and eats more electrons.
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Old 26-10-2014, 08:30   #4
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Re: Radar - what to look for

We installed an 18" Radome along with an e97 Raymarine chartplotter on our 37' sailboat. They work great together- you can easily overlay the radar atop of the chart. I've heard good things about Furuno. I'd pick one that will get along nicely with your chartplotter and other networked instruments. No matter what you go with it's important to have the sensor mounted in a location clear of obstacles on any point of sail and at any angle of heel. Our Radome is mounted on a gimbal attached to an aft post. It's about 2 feet above the top of our bimini- so even if we are heeled over the sensor has a clear view of the horizon. A bonus is that the post can be used to attach an outboard engine winch. I'm not sure what kind of boat you have but for sailboats that are stored inside (mast off) having the radar sensor not attached to the mast is a plus. It's one less wire to disconnect and also prevents the sensor from getting banged around when the mast is stored for the season.

good luck with it

PS Headed out the St Lawrence from Thunder Bay? We plan on doing that the year after next. Give a shout when you come through Lake Huron!
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Old 26-10-2014, 09:01   #5
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Re: Radar - what to look for

My immediate response was "big yellow blobs" on the display...

But I see we are past that...

Personally, I think any of 'em is going to work well for ya... I have the 4kw Ray, and it seems to do all I need... Overlay of course is nice, but I tend to split screens at the helm when needing radar, more often than not...
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Old 26-10-2014, 09:02   #6
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Re: Radar - what to look for

Most of the recreational level radars are listed by distance, i.e. a 24nm or 48nm. The longer distance is useful not for the distance, but for the power to see through heavy rain, etc. Even more important is the horizontal beam width. An 18 or 19 in radar might be 5.2degs, while a 24nm might be 3.9degs. (see the difference between the Furuno DRS2 and DRS4D domes, at a cost differnece of about $150). This angle determines the horizontal resolution you can distingush (among other factors). In the wider angle case you might see a blob, in the narrower you might see two blobs, one for a tug and one for its tow.
You titled this radar and then added in chartplotter. I think the chartploter will drive the choice more than the radar. All the new radars are easier to use and have better resolution than the ones of the past.
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Old 26-10-2014, 09:13   #7
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Re: Radar - what to look for

Here's a brief primer: There are two technologies - pulse, and FMCW or continuous wave. Pulse radar sends out a pulse of microwave energy, then waits for an echo. The time of the echo gives a very accurate measurement of the range of the object. FMCW uses the doppler effect to measure the range of objects according to reflections which come in continuously. FMCW radar is reprented in our market only by Navico, who make the Simrad/B&G/Lowrance BR24, 3G and 4G radars. The "3G" and "4G" labels are grossly misused -- just minorsoftware revisions of the original formula. The differences between FMCW and pulse radars are greatly exaggerated, in my experience. The FMCW radar is supposed to have much less range, but much greater resolution and target discrimination, especially close in. In fact, the 4G version (which I have) has range every bit as good as the 4kW pulse radar it replaced, and the resolution of pulse radars has been so much improved by DSP that I don't actually think there's such a big difference there, either. FMCW radar has a slight advantage in power consumption (less than many people think), and has no warm up time, so it's instant-on -- slight advantages. So altogether I think you can choose pretty much whatever you want, I think. The best pulse radar, according to all of the tests, is the new Furuno. I would think that the latest from Ray and Garmin will be pretty decent as well. Probably, if I were you, I would look first at the chart plotters, because you can't mix and match radars and chart plotter displays. Choose what you like there and just take the radar which goes with it. The features are pretty much the same everywhere. I have the B&G Zeus plotters which I think are really good, and the Navico (B&G branded) 4G radar. I can recommend that combination. If you like the way the Furuno plotters work (they have a quite different interface from the others, which is a bit of a love/hate thing), then just do that and get the Furuno radar. As to features -- they are just about the same everywhere. All of them do chart overlay (the usefulness of which, by the way, depends on the accuracy of heading data -- don't forget to budget for a good heading sensor). Furuno has a real ARPA module instead of the simplified MARPA others have, but ARPA/MARPA is not really all that important since AIS, so I don't think this is very important. The Navico systems allow you to see and operate the radar (and plotter) from an IPad via Wifi -- don't know to what extent others have that. I'm also not quite sure how important that is, but everyone will have his own opinion.
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Old 26-10-2014, 09:38   #8
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Re: Radar - what to look for

Dockhead, thanks for the info. That was helpful to me too.


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Old 26-10-2014, 09:39   #9
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Re: Radar - what to look for

I'm looking forward to lying in my bunk on the off-watch, and reaching up to the overhead to use the wi-fi tablet to emulate the chartplotter/radar/depthsounder much like the old telltale compasses of yore. That will be sweet. Or, to activate the FLIR to see what went bump in the night.
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Old 26-10-2014, 09:56   #10
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Re: Radar - what to look for

We have two independent systems, both pulse type. The original Sitex system likely was bought as surplus from the Ark and I installed a Garmin system last winter. We run at least one system whenever the boat is in motion. The feature which is most important to me is the electronic bearing line which I use to assess converging paths. I don't think you can buy radar without that feature so its irrelevant to your decision. I couldn't see any reason to pay the premium which the Navico based systems currently command - YMMV. Although I occasionally overlay the radar on Garmin charts I don't actually find that feature particularly useful. I do use the radar to truth our location in narrow channels where I am concerned that the chart may not be accurate but again any system will be capable of that. Both my systems use 18 inch radomes - there are times when I wish I had a wider array because that would give me better target definition at distance. The wider your array the narrower the beam width you will be able to define which translates into target separation at long distances. So for example, a tug and tow at 3 miles may appear as only a single return which will morph into 2 signals as it gets closer. It doesn't make a whole lot of practical difference but at times a wider array would be "better".
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Old 26-10-2014, 10:09   #11
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Re: Radar - what to look for

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dockhead View Post
Here's a brief primer: There are two technologies - pulse, and FMCW or continuous wave. Pulse radar sends out a pulse of microwave energy, then waits for an echo. The time of the echo gives a very accurate measurement of the range of the object. FMCW uses the doppler effect to measure the range of objects according to reflections which come in continuously. FMCW radar is reprented in our market only by Navico, who make the Simrad/B&G/Lowrance BR24, 3G and 4G radars. The "3G" and "4G" labels are grossly misused -- just minorsoftware revisions of the original formula. The differences between FMCW and pulse radars are greatly exaggerated, in my experience. The FMCW radar is supposed to have much less range, but much greater resolution and target discrimination, especially close in. In fact, the 4G version (which I have) has range every bit as good as the 4kW pulse radar it replaced, and the resolution of pulse radars has been so much improved by DSP that I don't actually think there's such a big difference there, either. FMCW radar has a slight advantage in power consumption (less than many people think), and has no warm up time, so it's instant-on -- slight advantages. So altogether I think you can choose pretty much whatever you want, I think. The best pulse radar, according to all of the tests, is the new Furuno. I would think that the latest from Ray and Garmin will be pretty decent as well. Probably, if I were you, I would look first at the chart plotters, because you can't mix and match radars and chart plotter displays. Choose what you like there and just take the radar which goes with it. The features are pretty much the same everywhere. I have the B&G Zeus plotters which I think are really good, and the Navico (B&G branded) 4G radar. I can recommend that combination. If you like the way the Furuno plotters work (they have a quite different interface from the others, which is a bit of a love/hate thing), then just do that and get the Furuno radar. As to features -- they are just about the same everywhere. All of them do chart overlay (the usefulness of which, by the way, depends on the accuracy of heading data -- don't forget to budget for a good heading sensor). Furuno has a real ARPA module instead of the simplified MARPA others have, but ARPA/MARPA is not really all that important since AIS, so I don't think this is very important. The Navico systems allow you to see and operate the radar (and plotter) from an IPad via Wifi -- don't know to what extent others have that. I'm also not quite sure how important that is, but everyone will have his own opinion.
Dockhead, You've said this before and I was puzzled then, so I thought I'd ask now. It seems to me that instant on would be a really big advantage. Say you set up the radar to do a sweep every few minutes or so. With the FMCW radar, it's consuming NO power during the "off" periods. With pulse radar, it's consuming much higher standby power to keep the magnetron warm. In this scenario at least, the FMCW wins hands down WRT power use. I agree that in continuous on, the difference is likely not as great. Am I misunderstanding something, or is this just not a typical use case?
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Old 26-10-2014, 12:53   #12
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Re: Radar - what to look for

Thanks for all the info folks, most especially the primer Dockhead. Exactly what I was looking for. The instant-on capability of frequency-modulated continuous-wave (broadband) sounds like a real plus, but their cost does seem a lot higher compared to some Garmin packages I've found. I do like the idea of mirroring displays via wifi. This might be important for my boat's set up.

Seems that I should be making my decision based mostly on plotter attributes, and price. Thanks!
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Old 26-10-2014, 13:23   #13
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Re: Radar - what to look for

On the subject of radar, we have a Raymarine HD digital, 4Kw. It works well but I must admit I haven't delved into all the options. A coupe, of things I've noticed but aren't sure what they do...
Duel scan mode... I dont think I have this on as I think it needs to be off for chart overlays...what is it?
Also, adjust range..what does this do? Limit the range and save power or just limit the range shown on screen?
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Old 26-10-2014, 13:39   #14
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Re: Radar - what to look for

If your cruising plans include the Bahamas you'll want a Garmin chartplotter for the integrated Explorer charts. Otherwise you'll be buying the paper copies or getting them through the Garmin app anyway.
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Old 26-10-2014, 20:32   #15
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Re: Radar - what to look for

I'm pretty sure cmap charts are the explorer charts for the Bahamas. The B&G, Simrad, Lorance , as well as Furuno chart plotters can all use cmap charts.


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