Let’s start with the basics. There are so many brands of radar on the market today – you should visit a marine electronics dealer first. This can be accomplished by going to boat shows where electronics are displayed, or visit your reputable marine electronics installer / dealer. Also, there are some very good electronics catalogs and online information available. Understand that online and catalog dealers are there primarily for box sales and sales support. Technical support is not very likely from these purchases.
Radar needs to be reliably installed by legitimate installers who know the standards set forth by the ABYC, NMMA, NMEA, FCC, and Coast Guard, and who will apply the standards during installation. A reputable installer will know these regulations and install radar accordingly. However, you need to be ready with some answers to some basic questions. That way the appropriate radar selection for your boat will be an easier process.
1) What is the size and description of the boat you have? Do you have a radar arch? What space limitations do you have for a display screen? Also, what space is available for a radar antenna? Bring a picture of your boat if possible. Oftentimes this is a real timesaver in the determination of what’s best for your boat.
2) What are your intended boating habits? Do you travel where there are shipping lanes, or do you just day cruise and go fishing? Are you intending to navigate in daylight only or do you have a need to travel at night? Might you get caught out in fog or thunderstorms during your activities? Then you can decide how powerful the radar needs to be to meet the radar display range criteria as well as important option functions as MARPA (Marine Advanced Radar Plotting Aide) which is used to track multiple targets in order to plot course and avoid collision based on others vessels position, direction, and speed.
3) Is your cockpit enclosed or an open bridge? This answer will help you to determine what type display to choose. CRT screens tend to be best in enclosed spaces because they can be adjusted to be seen in dark or dimly lit areas. The LCD screens tend to do better in sunlight and daylight applications.
4) Do you need more than one display for other locations on your boat? This answer may determine the layout for integration of other items such as Chartplottters, Instrumentation, GPS, and Fishfinders.
5) How far do you need to see a radar picture? This answer can determine how high the radar array needs to be mounted above the boat’s waterline. Then you will know what mounting method will be compatible with seeing distance over the horizon. Don’t confuse the primary function of radar – (collision avoidance) with its secondary function, navigation. If your visual needs are just in the local harbor – you may only need a small Dome 2Kw radar. However, if you are navigating open waters, you may need a more powerful radar. The short range applications are generally handled by a Dome type antenna with a greater beam angle – 5 to 7 degrees. The open array type Radar antennas do best for long range applications and, in general, have a 2.5 to 3 degree beam angle. The open array antennas tend to be more powerful in terms of Kilowatt ratings.
6) Do you intend to integrate your radar with other navigation equipment such as a chartplotter or GPS? Multiple functions are offered on some radar systems that allow expandability of a system so that you can multitask. Onboard computer systems are now an option for radar integration with a full charting overlay of radar navigation functions!
7) Do I have a compass or GPS which has a serial output string that can be used to set the compass rose of the radar screen? The new radars require 10Hz output update rates to satisfy the radar manufacturer’s standards – so you may need to buy a new electronic compass or GPS with your new radar! GPS will not only set the compass rose but also the lollypop! Not to worry though – you can always integrate that GPS with the autopilot you were thinking of buying later.
8) Who will be using the radar? Statistically, about 80% of all marine purchases have the input of both a man and a woman. This may include sons, daughters and relatives – not to mention crew members! Everyone who will be using the radar should have some say as to which radar’s features are most useful relative to the intended usage. Understanding radar manufacturer’s features and the radar keypad, touch-screen menu, ease of use, can be very important when making the purchase and installation decisions.
New technology radar systems – through multi-tasking of display units, can determine your boating pleasure - - and more importantly - - the safety of your boating experience. Features such as windows within windows, chart overlay display, inserted views, tilt view, are very impressive, but they can be difficult to see when you are dropping off 6 foot waves in the real world. Something else to think about! My advice: Generally speaking, buy the biggest radar your budget can support!
Web sites of interest: http://www.raymarine.com http://www.furuno.com http://www.northstar.com
Lary George, Continental Sales, PO Box 15331, Ft Wayne IN 46885, firstname.lastname@example.org is a Manufacturers Rep in the Great Lakes Region