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The Latest Developments in Marine Radar

The latest crop of solid-state marine radar systems offer enhanced bird modes, target detection and good looks.

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Fishing boat in the fog
Many anglers believe so much in the safety afforded by radar that they dare not venture to sea without it. Gavin Zeigler / Alamy Stock Photo

It’s hard to imagine running to and from the fishing grounds at night or in a fog without radar, especially as waterways become increasingly crowded with boats and ships, as well as obstacles such as offshore wind farms, aquaculture operations and more. 

Radar is so important nowadays that I wouldn’t go fishing without it, no matter what the visibility. And the latest crop of solid-state marine radars reinforces that conviction. 

Not only do the newest systems offer higher definition and more information when it comes to target returns, they are easier to use and interpret. On top of that, radar scanners are more compact and streamlined, making them suitable for boats as small as 20 feet. Let’s look at some of the cool features you’ll find on the latest marine radars, including both dome and open-array systems.

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Compact Style

For decades, the appearance of open-array radar scanners barely changed. But now, at least one company has introduced a more compact, stylish and aerodynamic design. The open arrays of Raymarine’s new Cyclone solid-state radar series reflect fresh—some might say radical—aesthetics. Reminiscent of an aircraft wing, the relatively thin scanner is more aerodynamic, allowing it to start and run at boat and wind speeds up to 100 knots. 

Raymarine Cyclone
Radar systems such as Raymarine’s Cyclone offer greater safety in foggy conditions that limit the captain’s ability to see. Courtesy Raymarine

Designed to fit onto a wider range of vessels, the new scanners—available in 3-, 4- and 6-foot arrays—are only 13.2 inches tall and weigh 51 pounds. Profiles are so low, these scanners spin beneath the arrays of many conventional radars. To enhance the sleek appearance, Raymarine also created a waterproof cable gland within the scanner’s pedestal to conceal electrical connections by running them down into the mounting surface.  

Not to be outdone in style, Garmin introduced two color options for its new GMR Fantom 18x and 24x solid-state radars. The exteriors are now available in either black or white to complement the color scheme of your boat. 

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Doppler Developments

Doppler technology continues to proliferate as more new solid-state radars become available. You now find Doppler features—in one form or another—in radars from every major electronics brand. Furuno provides one example: the compact DRS2DNXT 19-inch radome, which comes with the same features and modes as the larger 24-inch NXT dome, including Furuno’s NXT solid-state Doppler technology, known as Target Analyzer. 

Furuno screen with normal definition
Normal Definition: This display from the Furuno DRS2DNXT with RezBoost off illustrates how this dome radar normally shows distant returns. Courtesy Furuno

With Target Analyzer, stationary or slow-moving echo returns, such as land masses or boats approaching your vessel at a velocity of less than 3 knots, appear green. Target returns shift to red when an object approaches your vessel at a speed of 3 knots or faster, independent of your own speed, thereby alerting the captain to possible collision situations. 

Furuno RezBoost
Better Definition: With RezBoost on, the DRS2DNXT display above offers sharper returns and better separation of distant targets. Courtesy Furuno

Garmin’s Fantom 18x and 24x solid-state dome radar series represents another example of Doppler application, which the company calls MotionScope. This feature highlights targets moving toward you in one color, such as red, so you can navigate around them. It also paints targets moving away in another color, such as green. 

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The Doppler mode in the Raymarine Cyclone series displays in a three-color palette, one color each to indicate targets traveling toward you, away from you and stationary. 

Furuno Target Analyzer
Red Menace: With Furuno’s Target Analyzer, targets turn red when they approach at 3 knots or faster. Courtesy Furuno

High Resolution

Newer solid-state radars offer improved target resolution. For instance, Raymarine’s Cyclone series combines advanced dielectric radar technology with post-processing to remove sea and rain clutter, and replicate chartlike images on the radar screen.

Furuno’s DRS2DNXT incorporates RezBoost to better define onscreen targets. This capability is critical with a smaller dome that emits a wider beam width than an open-array radar. As a result, dome radars tend to display distant targets as elongated echoes. But Furuno’s RezBoost feature sharpens the target returns, achieving the equivalent resolution of a larger antenna array. 

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Today’s new radars can also pick up echo returns at an amazingly broad spectrum of distances. Garmin’s Fantom 18x and 24x dome systems detect targets from 20 feet to 48 nautical miles out, and do so in fog and rain.

Bird Mode

Perhaps no other radar feature is more appreciated by anglers than bird mode, and for this reason more and more radars, even dome systems, incorporate it, including Furuno’s DRS2DNXT. The bird mode in this system automatically adjusts gain and clutter to better detect flocks or even individual birds feeding on baitfish beyond visual range. 

The Raymarine Cyclone also offers an enhanced bird mode for locating flocks of feeding seabirds and the fish under them. A press of the bird-mode function key optimizes gain to see birds at a distance, usually in blue or green. 

Dual-Ranger

Simultaneous dual-range capabilities are increasingly common in radar systems. The Garmin 18x and 24x domes both offer this feature, giving you the ability to see targets both near and far at the same time. You can also overlay one or both radar ranges on a chart plotter, eliminating the need to toggle between chart and radar views. 

The RangeFusion technology in the Raymarine Cyclone goes a step further. As with Garmin’s dual-range feature, you can view short and long ranges (up to 96 miles) on a split screen. Or you can merge short- and long-range pulses into a single high-clarity radar screen that requires only one pane to view yet optimizes the radar returns for ranges.

Spin Cycle

An increasing number of radars offer user-selectable high-speed rotation. Both the new Garmin dome radars and Raymarine Cyclone series let you advance the rotation speed of the scanner up to 60 rpm. 

Why is this important? The higher the rotation speed, the faster the refresh rate on the display, and that helps detect moving targets more quickly, such as boats approaching at high speeds. This gives you more time to avoid the threat.

Today’s radar systems offer greater safety and bird-finding capabilities than ever before. And with radar becoming more compact, there is no reason to head seaward without it. 

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