Radar Reflectors - What Boat Owners should Know

What Every Boat Owner Should Know about Radar Reflectors - 5 Key Safety Tips

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) report on the tragic loss of Yacht Ouzo and her three crew near the Isle of Wight, highlighted several key considerations for the owners of leisure vessels. This article summarises what you should know.

1. Maximise the Size of Radar Reflection

One of the key findings in the report was that small vessels can easily fail to show up on the radar screens of large ships, even at close range.

Cruiser Liner at Night

The Maritime Coastguard Agency, the RNLI and the RYA all recommend installing the largest radar reflector with the biggest Radar Cross Section (RCS) that is possible on your vessel.

They also advise that extra attention should be given as to HOW the equipment is installed, its height and also what happens to its efficiency once the vessel is 'healed', in the case of a yacht.

Most small boats or yachts are constructed from wood, fiberglass or composite materials and so are inherently poor reflectors of radar energy. Radar is the primary equipment used by all commercial vessels for collision avoidance in bad weather, poor visibility and at night. When visibility is limited or when small vessels are navigating at night or in potentially busy shipping areas, skippers must ensure that everything possible is done to maximise the size of the radar reflection that their vessel produces.

2. Understand how your radar reflector will perform

Folding Radar ReflectorThe most common device used to increase a vessel's Radar Cross Section (RCS) is a passive radar reflector. This is a simple device constructed out of mathematically-designed metal shapes assembled so to reflect the incoming radar energy in the most efficient manner, back in the direction of the transmitting vessel.

There are numerous different models of passive radar reflector on the market, but it is important to note that many will only give their best results under very specific conditions, and generally, the cheaper the radar reflector, the poorer its performance.

3. Position your radar reflector as vertically as possible

Radar reflectors can be mounted in numerous ways. Many are commonly seen fixed to yacht masts using small metal brackets just above the first set of spreaders. On motor vessels they can often be seen fixed to the radar arch or navigation light mast on a cabin or wheelhouse roof.

But remember, most radar reflectors only give their best results when they are in as near a vertical positionas possible. This is easier to achieve on a motor vessel, but it can be more difficult on a sailing yacht.

4. If your vessel is a sailing yacht, take account of the healing motion when using a radar reflector

Yacht Sailing in FogOne of the simplest ways to mount a radar reflector on a sailing yacht is to hoist it on a spare halyard with two down lines, one to each toe rail. When the vessel is healed, simply take in the slack on the leeward down line as tight as possible and the radar reflector should now be hanging in as near a vertical a position as possible. (Not to much of a chore to handle if you are only tacking the boat every now and then!)

You can also mount radar reflectors to hang from a spreader with a similar down line arrangement. Gravity will keep the reflector in a vertical alignment once you have tacked the vessel, and the two down lines are there to keep movement to a minimum.

5. Position the radar reflector as high as possible on any vessel

Whether your boat is a motor cruiser, fishing boat or a sailing vessel, the higher you can position the radar reflector the better - and always try to ensure that it is kept in this optimum vertical position.


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