Gear Test—Radar

JHH5II-11917As most of our regular readers know, we just completed a 10,000 mile, eight month voyage to the Arctic and back on Morgan’s Cloud, our 56-foot McCurdy and Rhodes aluminum cutter. A voyage that constituted a gruelling test of all the gear on the boat.

In the last post of this series we covered our electronic navigation gear. In this one we will take a look at our radar and how it performed.

As far as we are concerned, radar is the most important piece of electronic gear on the boat, ahead of GPS, plotter and autopilot. We can perform all the functions of the other gear manually, but our eyes can’t see through fog at all, or see well at night, or measure distances from the boat accurately. Only radar can do all three.

The Good

Reliable

Our Furuno 1832 has performed flawlessly for 15 years and an amazing 7000 hours of operation. This is the smallest of Furuno’s commercial range and that target market shows in the ruggedness of the unit. Commercial fishermen just don’t put up with crap that does not work. We have had three 1800 series Furuno radars over the last 26 years and have never had a failure.

Configurable

The unit has two buttons that can be set to any function you wish. We have one set to cycle through heading up, course up, north up and true motion (although we only use the first two), and the second to offset the range and bearing markers over a target, a very useful function since we don’t have automated target tracking.

Sensitive

When properly set up and adjusted, the sensitivity on this radar, particularly at close ranges, is truly amazing. We often see flocks of birds at half a mile and can accurately measure the distance to a mooring buoy or awash rock when deciding where to drop the anchor.

Incidentally, I think that many of the complaints about the sensitivity of traditional pulse radars (as apposed to broadband) are because many operators do not understand the importance of cycling through the ranges regularly. The reason is that as you shorten the range, the radar automatically shortens the pulse width, which increases sensitivity to small targets. For example, with our radar set on the three mile range, where it is using long pulse, we might miss a small fibreglass boat at half a mile. But when we change to the .75 mile range, the same target will be strong.

Our standard practice in poor visibility is to leave the radar on either the three or six mile ranges, depending on the circumstances, but to cycle through the ranges from 12 miles to half a mile at least once every 10 minutes and more often in congested waters.

The other common mistake is turning the gain down too far, or the sea and/or rain clutter controls up too far, in an effort to get a noise free screen. Yes, it’s nice and tidy that way, but you risk missing a small target.

Before a war starts, let me be clear that I’m not claiming that broadband radars don’t have an advantage in close range sensitivity and target separation. All I’m saying is that a traditional pulse radar properly used and adjusted can be perfectly adequate in this regard.

The Not So Good

Terrible Manual

Furuno really need to go out and hire a native English speaker who can actually write! Their manuals are, or at least were when ours was written, abominable and very difficult to understand.

Magnetron

In common with most radars, the magnetron must be replaced every 2000 to 3000 hours. We are on our third, and they are not cheap. By the way, if you are disappointed with your radar’s performance, check the age of the magnetron. I’m told by technicians that very few recreational sailors replace them when they should.

Verdict

Highly recommended.

Replacement

The 1832 was discontinued some years ago, and Furuno stopped supporting it a year or so ago, so we will need to look at a replacement. Right now we are thinking of going with the successor to the 1832, the 1835.

(A note on our reason for replacing a piece of gear that’s still working: we just don’t want to be in some obscure place with a busted piece of vital kit, no parts available at any price, and be faced with installing a whole new model, and learning how to use it.)

Yes, I know, the 1835 is not broadband; or the all singing, all dancing, iPad controlled, newest thing. But for us, the devil we know and the track record of reliability trump the newest features every time.

We will probably add the ARP11 automated target plotter too since there are still many fishing boats out there that don’t transmit on AIS. ARP is also a quick and easy way to determine if the target you are seeing on radar is an ice berg or a vessel.

Free Standing Unit

By the way, while we may interface the new radar to our navigation computer, so as to be able to display the radar overlaid on the chart, we would never consider an integrated display being fed by a radar antenna without a dedicated radar display. Just too much like putting all our eggs in one basket. And in our experience, the more things you ask a machine to do, the less it does any of them well and the less reliable it gets.

Comments

If you have any first hand experience with radar to help us, and others, with our upcoming replacement decision, please leave a comment. Do keep in mind that we are interested in reliability rather than whiz-bang features—I suggest that if you are serious about getting, and staying, “out there”, you should be too.

Likewise if you have any questions about our experience with radar, please leave a comment.

Further Reading

{ 43 comments… add one }

  • Michael April 14, 2012, 3:12 pm

    John,

    What is your take on mounting the radome on the stern as opposed to the mast?

    Thanks.

    Michael

    Reply
    • Colin April 15, 2012, 8:10 am

      Hi Michael

      I can’t speak for John, but our own experience might provide one example.

      I’ve previously had the radome mounted up0 the mast on all the boats I’ve owned or been in charge of, and had few complaints.

      On our Ovni we opted to fit the radome on the stern arch, partly because we wanted to keep weight and windage low on a centreboarder, and partly because it’s easier to service – like John we’ve had to replace a few magnetrons over the years.

      To me, there’s not a huge amount of difference, but where we have noticed any is very much in the way one might expect, i.e. mounted up the mast you lose some definition at close range, mounted on the stern you lose some definition at longer range, all related to the height of the radome.

      On balance, I prefer the lower mount, largely because we’ve tended to use radar at closer range in fog or at night for finding our way through shipping or for navigating into anchorages, where close range definition is of more value. We can still pick up squalls at maximum range (16Nm) so that’s a reasonable trade-off in my view.

      Best wishes

      Colin

      Reply
    • John April 17, 2012, 8:45 am

      Hi Michael,

      Like Colin, we prefer a pole mount. See this post for our reasoning.

      Reply
      • Michael April 17, 2012, 11:21 pm

        Colin and John,

        Thanks for the wisdom. While the rig is off we have the resources to move the radar and had been on the fence with regards to placment. I think we will give the stern a go.

        Thanks again,

        Michael

        Reply
  • Tom April 14, 2012, 11:08 pm

    John – Replaced a Furuno 1832 with an FR8062 w/ 4ft open array abt 4 yrs ago. Included the ARP11 module and interfaced it with a Furuno GPS compass. Made the choice because at the time it was the smallest cheapest commercial set. Use it cruising the coast of Maine through heavy fog for most of the summer. Completely reliable and highly recommended.

    Reply
    • John April 17, 2012, 8:54 am

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for the tip. Looks like a great system, but a bit large for “Morgan’s Cloud” as well as rather beyond our budget.

      The GPS compass sounds like a great idea because of its inherent stability that, it would seem to me, would not only improve ARP performance but also would be a big step up as an input for an autopilot. How have you found the actual performance?

      Reply
    • Tom April 30, 2012, 11:30 am

      Interesting you asked about the GPS compass. It’s a Furuno SC-50 and has made a huge difference to both the radar and especially the autopilot. Liberation from years of fighting fluxgate compasses has been bliss!

      Reply
  • Victor Raymond April 15, 2012, 11:10 am

    John,
    Excellent article. Thank you. I had always assumed Furuno to be the best. It is the brand the USCG and other federal agencies use who depend on a quality radar for their work and survival.
    My question is whether one should choose an open array or radome given a choice for the type of targets, conditions and environment sailboats are likely to find? Obviously, for a variet of reasons, the open array needs to be mounted aft and lower but as Colin suggests this not a big compromise for either type.
    I have used ARP function on several Raymarine units and it is addictive when you need to track many targets simultaneously.
    The concept of changing ranges to “exercise” the radar is a novel idea for me but not as a practice.
    However I do plan to go digital with my next radar to have the ability to use multiple and simultaneous screens displaying the same or different radar data.
    Thanks again
    Victor

    Reply
    • John April 17, 2012, 11:16 am

      Hi Victor,

      Thanks for the kind comments and the ARP recommendation.

      Just to clarify, the reason for cycling the ranges is not to “exercise” the radar, but because the radar’s pulse width is optimized for each range. So if, for example, you just stay on three miles you are missing out on a lot of close in target sensitivity and separation capability that will kick in on the shorter ranges.

      Reply
  • Alex April 15, 2012, 11:27 am

    I certainly would take in considaration that digital radar uses less electricity and needs no time to start functioning when switsched on. This is important for those who want to be self supporting with solar and wind energy.

    Reply
    • John April 17, 2012, 11:17 am

      Hi Alex,

      A really good point in favor of broadband radars, Thanks.

      Reply
  • Alan Teale April 15, 2012, 1:41 pm

    I am with John all the way on the value of radar, and like him put it ahead of the other electronic aids to navigation. A few comments: first, I think there is confusion in places in this thread concerning digital v. pulse radar. Many pulse radars are digital, the Simrad HD range being an example. John’s radar is pulse. Some folk incorrectly use “digital” and “broadband” interchangeably. Broadband indeed has quick start up. Broadband is also relatively low current draw, although modern digital pulse radars are not heavy current users. The 4kW Simrad HD, for example, is 30W. And an added bonus of broadband radar is that it won’t fry the brain of anyone unwise enough to use the scanner as a mirror. Broadband also appears to outperform pulse radar at very short ranges, but it doesn’t yet do the longer ranges as well as pulse. But for me the the decider between the two technologies is the ability to detect weather, and in this arena pulse far outperforms broadband.
    As an aside, we may all have our favorites, but as far as scanners (or antennas as professionals seem to call them) are concerned, I believe all those used in the common makes of pulse radar are made by JRC.
    John asked for help with his replacement decision. All I can say is that our experience of the various items of Furuno equipment, including pulse radar, that we have has been good. Reliable, robust, good clear displays and intuitive operation. It is very likely that their 1835 will prove to be a sound choice. Perhaps just one thing to consider John, is the selection and number of pulse frequencies. The Simrad 4kW HD is arguably slightly better endowed in this department, but the display would be a problem for you. That said, the pulse length point is somewhat arcane.

    Reply
    • Alan Teale April 16, 2012, 4:48 am

      One other point that might be worth adding concerns the power choice with pulse radar. Around Europe at least, 2kW units are by far the most common in leisure use. But in my view for the sort of work that John and Phylis do 4kW is a far better option. Certainly as far as capability for amps goes, 4kW offers much better value. A 4kW pulse radar uses a lot less than twice the power of a 2kW unit, and is much more of a tool than a toy. Alan

      Reply
      • John April 17, 2012, 11:35 am

        Hi Alan,

        I agree, 4kW with 24″ closed antenna is the best performance/power use/price trade off for us.

        Reply
    • John April 17, 2012, 11:21 am

      Hi Alan,

      Great comment, full of good information, thank you.

      Also, thanks for sorting out and explaining the difference between pulse and broadband and that both can be digital. I was sloppy in my usage and, as an ex-electronics technician, should know better. I will change it in the post.

      Reply
  • Michael Bowe April 16, 2012, 3:27 am

    Great post about the Furuno, how is your Radome mounted and does it need to be gimballed off the mast or mounted perpendicular. Amazon has these for less money what do you think?

    Thanks,
    Michael

    Reply
    • Colin April 16, 2012, 1:44 pm

      Hi Michael

      Like you I’ve often wondered whether gimballed mounts offer any appreciable advantage, especially in terms of cost effectiveness. They look like just another thing to go wrong to me, but as I have no experience of them, perhaps someone can put me right?

      Best wishes

      Colin

      Reply
    • John April 17, 2012, 11:44 am

      Hi Colin and Michael,

      We can incline our radar when sailing on the wind using a motor boat trim tab actuator. Operating, as we do, in the foggiest part of the North Atlantic, we would not have it any other way. The blind spots on either side without this feature when healed are just too dangerous.

      Having said that, I don’t like the automatic gimballed mounts for the same reason Colin said–too complicated. Also, the constant movement cycle bends the cable, which can’t be a good thing.

      Reply
  • Victor Raymond April 16, 2012, 11:42 am

    Co-incidentally Steve Dashew does a short review of the Simrad 4G radar here. http://setsail.com/simrad-4g-bb-radar-test-aboard-wind-horse/#more-23319

    Reply
    • Colin April 16, 2012, 1:49 pm

      Hi Victor

      Interesting report – I’m certainly interested in the concept of Broadband radar, especially now that they seem to be ironing out some of the earlier bugs. It does seem to offer a great deal to the owner of a smaller boat, where power and weight considerations are high on the list of concerns.

      Beyond that, as Alan suggested earlier there’s a big advantage in a 4kW set over the standard 2kW sets that most of us can mount.

      Best wishes

      Colin

      Reply
      • Victor Raymond April 16, 2012, 3:31 pm

        Colin
        Near the very end of Furuno’s 12 page online (PDF) brochure touting al l the advantages of the new 4G radars, they suggest that if you plan to sail more than 20 miles offshore pulse radar is still your best bet.
        I will wait to see what John and Steve do as I am in no hurry (yet) to upgrade. Steve will probably tote both since he has the space and weight is no consideration. I will be curious to see I’d John goes with a radome or array in the end. Perhaps some day we will see systems that combine the best of both 4G and pulse with a small array mounted on top of a radome. That way nobody is left out.
        Cheers
        Victor

        Reply
  • TomT April 16, 2012, 12:38 pm

    Can you comment on your radar’s ability to see ice?

    Reply
    • John April 18, 2012, 7:54 pm

      Hi Tom,

      As you can see from the photo at the top of the post, radar does pick up ice quite well, as long as the piece has a reasonable amount of surface above the water in relation to the sea state. The problem is that because from 75 to 90% of the mass of a piece of ice is below the water, radar can miss a piece that is plenty big enough to sink us. For this reason we always heave-to at night when there is ice around.

      Reply
  • Myles Powers April 16, 2012, 3:44 pm

    Glad to see there are people who pass on the latest greatest throw away last years model mentality. I’ve become the owner of a working Furuno 1830. But, being new to this, exactly how can I determine if the magnetron is due for replacement? Believe it or not Furuno still sells a replacement (old part number 000-101-732 is replace by 000-148-728)

    Also, successfully connected NMEA-183 output from old Stanard Horizons 180i chartploter. Cool stuff.

    Myles

    Reply
    • John April 17, 2012, 11:30 am

      Hi Myles,

      Good on you for preserving a good unit. Do be aware that Furuno have officially discontinued support for that radar. Yes you can get a magnetron, but may have a lot more trouble sourcing other parts, particularly if you need them in a hurry.

      Reply
  • Alan Teale April 16, 2012, 6:20 pm

    At the end of the day, pulse and chirp (aka broadband, 4G or FM radar) are different technologies with overlapping capabilities, but their own areas of excellence. In an ideal world one would have both. If that is not possible, it comes down to what is most important to the navigator concerned. If it is getting into his marina berth in zero visibility or finding the mate’s bobble hat within a 20 metre radius then chirp will probably be his choice. If it is seeing a container ship doing 28 knots on a collision course with time to spare to finish his cup of tea, or seeing an approaching squall at night with time to take effective action, then he will probably go with pulse. My sense is that, start-up time and power consumption aside, chirp doesn’t really do anything that a good 4kW digital set cannot do, albeit at a higher cost in amp hours. But there are things that pulse can do which are beyond the capabilities of chirp. For what it is worth, I was recently told by a senior employee of Navico, which brought chirp to the marine leisure market, that if he were setting off to sail the world and had to make the choice, it would be pulse.

    Reply
    • John April 17, 2012, 11:27 am

      Hi Alan,

      Another great comment clarifying a complex decision. You are obviously an informed insider, making your thoughts doubly valuable, thank you.

      Reply
  • John April 16, 2012, 7:11 pm

    Hi All,

    Thanks for the comments, questions and suggestions. Sorry for my silence, we have been offshore for the last couple of days.

    I will be back up tomorrow (Tuesday), and will respond, after a good night’s sleep.

    Reply
  • Martin April 16, 2012, 9:52 pm

    Appreciate this informative thread, and the quality of the contributions. Looking to acquire my first radar, my number one priority is to use the radar as a “sentry” when I sail solo and need to sleep (on longer trips, I cannot survive on 20min cat naps alone).
    Will any type of radar be more reliable on sentry duty?
    Range wise, I am happy to be alerted at a shorter range (eg. 4nm), but must avoid false alarms because that defeats the purpose (uninterrupted sleep sessions). So would any technology make a more reliable sentry? Any insights appreciated.

    Reply
    • Colin Speedie April 17, 2012, 6:13 pm

      Hi Martin

      Most up to date sets can do pretty much what you want, but it might be worth considering what power demand you can support. If for a small boat, the low power draw of a Broadband set would sway me towards it. Set it sweep every ten minutes and you’d have a valuable feature that wouldn’t take too many amps. But if you’ve a bigger boat with amps to spare then more power (4kW and up) is the way to go.

      Best wishes

      Colin

      Reply
  • Michael B April 26, 2012, 3:00 pm

    Alright you sold me on this unit and the ARP11 plus alarm buzzer! Now I need a low cost depthfinder/ sonar solution that works well with the 1835, since I already spent too much money on the 1835! Any suggestions?

    Reply
    • John April 26, 2012, 4:47 pm

      We have had good luck with our Nexus sailing instrument system that includes a depth sounder.

      Reply
  • Michael B April 26, 2012, 5:00 pm

    John,
    Any ideas about lower tech “Fish Finders” that can work for cruising?

    Thanks,

    Michael

    Reply
    • John April 26, 2012, 5:37 pm

      Sorry, no experience at all, but generally I believe in using the gear designed for the job, not adapting something else that has a different primary function.

      Reply
  • Don Joyce May 10, 2012, 4:39 pm

    John,

    We just switched from our beloved 1832 to the 1835 because we could interface AIS to enhance our ARPA views

    Reply
    • John May 10, 2012, 10:19 pm

      Hi Don,

      Sounds like a good endorsement, thanks.

      Reply
  • Jacques Landry October 9, 2012, 3:58 pm

    Good day John.

    I know this post is older but it is now that I am dealing with the radar issue. I agree with your choice of the 1835 and understand all your reasons. However I have little space and can’t fit two screens so have decided for a single device (with a wide screen: Raymarine C95) that does all: GPS, chart plotter, radar, AIS and other data. I will keep the old Garmin GPS/plotter, that this is replacing, as a spare just in case!

    My question is about radar placement. I understand the pros of stern mounting the device but am worried about safety. Yes it can be mounted high enough so it is safe in the cockpit, but what about when someone is on deck, like when getting into port in a foggy/dark situation with someone at the bow looking forward ? They would be in the path of the radar !? But maybe this is far enough ? Unfortunately, they will be looking toward the stern quite often, thus into the radar !

    I also had a thought about the amount of movement the radar sees (which reduces it’s ability to see!) when mounted at the stern versus when mounted in the center of the boat, on the mast ! The up and down movements at the stern can be like riding a bronco in choppy weather (my boat is smaller at 38ft) while on the mast, above the keel is a lot more stable. Maybe Matthew could do a little simulation for us !

    A final thought is that the wifi enabled device may look like just another gimmick, but it can be an interesting option as you can use an iPad as a “second station” down below. Raymarine offers an app that provides all functionality of the radar using an iPhone or an iPad ! Since we all have one of these it is a cheap solution, and it is entertaining for anyone down below !

    Evidently, if I had the space (and the budget) I would go for separate units for all the reasons you mention, but that will come later if ever I change the boat!

    Reply
    • John October 11, 2012, 7:17 am

      Hi Jacques,

      On Radar safety: If memory serves the Furuno manual for our radar says that the safe distance is over 1 meter separation from the scanner. Having said that, we try to remember to switch the radar to standby before anyone goes forward.

      On scanner placement: I much prefer the scanner to be mounted on a pole aft, rather than the mast. You can find my thoughts on thathere.

      Reply
  • Jacques Landry October 9, 2012, 4:33 pm

    Dear John,

    I found an answer about the safety of radar emissions. In short, it would not be a problem for the person at the bow, but could be when that person is walking back to the cockpit as the distance from the radar would be quite short. I agree that the boom would be more dangerous at that time than the radar waves! You can read the report here :
    http://www.panbo.com/Pulse_Radar_Safety_courtesy_Navico.pdf
    You will note that the report was requested by Navico in support to their claim that their broadband radars are safer, but it sounds ok.

    Reply
  • Matt January 28, 2013, 5:22 am

    Couldn’t agree more with you statements in this article. As a professional mariner I have work on a lot of different vessels with a lot of different radar sets and have yet to find a radar set that beats furuno. From the 2kw I have used on small yachts to the 50kw sets we have onboard the 525′ tug and barge I am currently working on they just cant be beat.

    While I find the radar/chart overlay feature in a MFD can be extremely handy especially on a small fast moving boat, trying to use a one display for multiple tasks is a accident waiting to happen. There are just to many function that have to be used quickly with minimal distraction in both radar and chartplotter to have them combined, not to mention the advantages in having redundant systems. All of those soft keys and sub-menues can be confusing and lead too you having your head down looking at the screen instead of up and looking out at your surroundings. I’m saying this not as a luddite but as a person who was born in the 80′s and grew up with technology! It is my belief that the manufactures put all of those bells and whistles in there in order to compete with other manufactures not to make navigation any easier or safer. This leads to units that you need a degree in computer engineering to operate. You cant go wrong with the KISS method, the more complicated any task is the more likely something will go wrong.

    Reply
    • John January 28, 2013, 9:35 am

      Hi Matt,

      Thanks for a great comment filled with many good points. I agree with you entirely about the dangers of complicity that pull the operators head into the boat, when he or she should be looking around at the real world. I wrote a post on the subject some years ago.

      Reply
  • Philipp August 1, 2013, 3:09 pm

    Hi,

    I just bought a 1835 Radar. I think it is great unit. Just as an FYI: It uses the same Radome as the 1832. So you should be able to still get parts for that no problem

    Kind regards
    Philipp

    Reply
    • John August 2, 2013, 9:04 am

      Hi Philipp,

      Thanks for the tip. Good point, although it seems that Furuno don’t make the parts for our scanner any more. I think the old and the new are compatible, but use different parts.

      Reply

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