5 Tried & Tested Radar Techniques for Ship Navigators

Radio Detection and Ranging, also abbreviated & commonly known as Radar have been one of the most useful tools when it comes to improving the safety of ship navigation on water. The days when the sailor would be the one switching the device on/off, at their discretion, are long gone. You no more have to struggle with old timers who would smirk at a younger officer in the team on seeing him/her using a radar. If the radar comes with a reliable ARPA, it was a real luxury on the navigation bridge of the vessel. Credit goes to the manufacturers, IMO performance specs and honest feedback from the maritime fraternity, the radars you find in the market today are way more user-friendly.

Marine technology has improved significantly and the modern version of radars are nowhere near to what you would use a decade ago. The original equipment needed manual plotting techniques sheets plus chinagraph pencils which did nothing but tested the patience of the navigators, making it tough to track multiple targets at the same time.

The majority of radars currently are loaded with an ARPA (Automatic Radar Plotting Aid). So when not being used for coastal navigation, radar is used for collision avoidance.

There are marine standards every boater, angler, and sailor needs to follow. One of the most important ones is – all available means must be used to keep an appropriate lookout and that includes the using a radar device. Another requirement to keep up with the starboard side of a narrow channel or fairway also stresses the use of radar.

So if you have a radar dome or array on your vessel, here are five important radar techniques that would help you in ship navigation. Let’s take a look:

1. Conditions on water no matter a lake, ocean, or whatever water body you are sailing through are ever-changing in nature. Talk about the changing weather conditions or vessel traffic density – things can change anytime to any level. That’s the reason a navigator needs to adjust radar settings to their requirements as well as regularly monitor the settings throughout the watch. It’s commonly termed as tuning the radar.

For instance, if it’s raining during the Chief Mate’s watch and the sky seems clear during your watch, you need not apply rain clutter. It is applicable to other radar controls as well. Only a handful of navigators know about this, yet using the clutter control incorrectly can hide targets or hinder the tracking process. In the same manner, range scale depends on traffic conditions plus traffic type experienced and then, on your own ship’s speed.

A few marine radars have settings preset depending on the type of the situation and expected use, make sure you are aware of such settings. It’s fine if such presets have some names, yet you got to be careful when they have numbers, such as Picture 1 on your previous ship’s radar might be different than Picture 1 on your current ship’s radar.

2. Generally, most ship owners maintain uniformity in the equipment on ships across the fleet. That is great when you sail on such kinds of ships. When not, ensure that you are pretty familiarized with the equipment on the ship before taking over your first watch. Gather detailed information so you are confident enough for your watch. Info can be collected from other navigators in your circle, your predecessors, or user manuals that come along with the radar domes and arrays.

Similar to other marine navigation electronics, a radar can also fail sometimes. So you need to know everything from how to reset the equipment to what to do when nothing is working as and when needed. These days, you will hardly see a radio officer onboard, or any electrical officer at sea in many cases. Given that, one should know where are all the spare parts of the radar kept, how they are installed, and should be ready to do some minor maintenance tasks such as replacing the magnetron, etc.

3. One more setting to watch out for when using an open array radar or other model is the speed input into the radar. All mariners must know that COLREGS puts stress on the aspect of the boat for estimating the risk of collision and the required action to be taken. It needs ships’ speed through water (STW)/log input.

Below is a quick setting for collision avoidance with the help of STW:

That would be useful enough the only purpose on a bridge was to avoid a collision. Yet there’s also a necessity for situational awareness in the case of coastal navigation. It is also mandatory in ascertaining set & drift speed through the ground via GPS input. Monitoring a vessel in the wrong way at such a critical time might be the main reason for several collisions even by the expert ship handlers.

In some cases, the log speed might make the illusion of a vessel passing differently to a VAIS, while a GPS speed would provide the precise information of which direction of VAIS the vessel will pass from.

4. Situations on the water can change anytime and develop quickly, especially in coastal waters or areas of dense traffic. This is definitely a word of caution in lieu of safety of the vessel. The bridge team must be informed when a navigator is changing the settings. In addition to this, when you are a junior navigator of the team, you must revert the settings back to original immediately after your observation.

The info regarding change of settings must be kept in mind while a pilot is using a radar never alter or modify the radar settings as they might not be fully familiar with all aspects of your equipment and they can get confused or disoriented while viewing a different picture than what they are used to or they are expecting.

5. Most bridges come fitted with minimum two marine radars. Normally, one of them is an X-band radar while the other one is an S-band. Ensure you know the basic difference between both of them and what settings are appropriate for a situation. You shouldn’t navigate with two radars at once and using same range scale on both of them.

At times, navigators may be more comfortable in conning a boat from one location, which often leads to over-dependence on radar even when the second radar can do better for the case.

Owing to the operating frequency, an X band radar would offer a clearer viewing screen. That’s the reason it is often used in target detection as well as collision avoidance. On the other hand, the S-band radar provides the navigators with a better image given its radio waves are able to penetrate through rain and fog.

Keep these useful radar techniques in mind the next time you plan to buy marine radar for sale online or from an offline store. Radars play a key role in defining your safety on the sea. So never compromise and make sure you pick a model like GMR 624 xHD2 Open Array Radar or Garmin Fantom radar for best results.


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