A Friend’s Opinion of the Usefulness of Radar

I’ve been thinking about installing radar ever since Northstar announced the Northstar BR24 broadband radar back in 2009.  I have resisted installing radar for several reasons, the low power requirements of the BR24 overcomes one of those reasons.

Recently, a friend told me that Navico has decided to discontinue their Northstar product line.  Egads! What will I do? Nothing like having the product you are interested in be discontinued to spur you into action about a decision.  One of the questions I have about radar is how useful is it?  By useful, I mean how often do you really use it or need it?  I decided to ask a friend of mine that has been sailing all of his life, including sailing to Alaska, Mexico and Hawaii.  He is a real sailor and given the choice to sail or motor, he sails when the winds are above 3 knots.

He is a summary of what he said:

He installed radar for his sailing trip to Alaska.  He installed a Furuno 18″ radardome and display that also includes a chartplotter.

He said he rarely uses it.  He turns it on when there is fog.  He mentioned three times in dense fog when it was “very” useful and in two cases may have saved him from a collision. In one situation, he avoided a tug and barge and the other was a ship.  The third instance was heading through Cattle Pass between San Juan and Lopez Islands in dense fog, but in this case he probably would have stayed in port if he didn’t have radar.  [We have an AIS receiver connected to our chartplotter so we would have picked up the tug and ship.]

He has not been worried about the power drain because he is generally motoring when he uses it.

I asked him about how effective radar is.  He said that he sees ships, larger boats and boats with radar reflectors.  He definitely sees boats that are made out of metal.  Once he motored through several small sport fishing boats and didn’t see them on the radar.  He said that he is no expert with radar and does not spend any time adjusting or tuning the system.  Its possible that he might have been able to adjust the radar to see the small fishing boats.

Since I am considering radar for our trip to Alaska, I asked him about how much fog he ran into on his trip.  Their trip to Alaska lasted 4 months.  They left in May and returned at the end of August.  He said that he did not run into much fog.  As an aside, we also talked about how much sailing he did on that trip.  He sailed about 50% of the time.  He said that they sailed a couple of times because they were low on fuel.

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