Free and Clear (Broadband Radar)
Heading back to the inlet, we turned on Simrad’s 4G Broadband Radar. Navico, which owns Simrad, Lowrance and B&G, is so far the only maker of solid-state marine radar. Broadband is significant because it eschews the high-voltage magnetron technology of conventional radar, opting instead for a solid-state frequency-modulated continuous wave (FMCW) transmitter, a low-power frequency swept signal.
Approaching the breakwater of the inlet, we immediately experienced 4G radar’s most important benefit: Every boat, marker and crab pot buoy in close range was visible on our MFD screen. With solid-state radar, there is no “main bang,” a blind spot in magnet-based radar that typically covers a radius of 80 feet.
This is why I believe solid-state radar is the most significant of the new “see everything” technologies for recreational boaters, because most of them spend most of their time in close-quarters cruising situations. As we approached the inlet, two personal watercraft blasted by, and on screen we watched them in our wake, driving the point home.
Inside the inlet, Wood played with the unit’s split-screen function to show the true worth of this radar. On the left side of the screen, he turned the new “beam sharpening” function off and adjusted it to create a return similar to that of traditional radar. On the right side, he turned on the beam sharpening, which improves the system’s “azimuth resolution,” or the horizontal beam width of the broadcast signal. Without it, a dock jutting into the water looked like a solid blob. With it, we could distinguish each separate piling and even deadheads — remnants of an old dock — barely jutting out of the water. It made for a remarkably detailed image of everything within a half-mile of the boat.
With a Simrad NSE or NSO multifunction display you can set the radar to dual range mode, setting one window to close-quarters and another for long range out to 36 nautical miles — more than enough coverage for the majority of recreational boaters.
But what’s great about 4G is that it’s an excellent option for operators of small boats. Firstly, the 4G dome is a mere 19 inches in diameter, so it won’t dwarf a small hardtop. Secondly, 4G draws 30 percent less power than magnet-based radar. And it has significantly fewer emissions, so it’s safer in close quarters.
As we neared the dock, Wood called to my attention the function that made my decision to keep the captain’s name out of print an easy one: MARPA. The acronym stands for mini automatic radar plotting aid; the function allows you to track other boats. Select one with the cursor and it will automatically provide its bearing, speed and closest point of approach. While MARPA is for collision avoidance, if you have it, no boat within range can hide. It’s great for cruisers traveling in tandem but scary for charter captains. So we’ll give ours a break. Because with these technologies, nothing else on the water will remain a secret.