Jokes about small-boat radars have historically run rampant: "Did you know you can either run radar on your bass/bay boat OR have children later in life?" and "I like having radar on my 18-foot boat. On cold days it keeps my head warm!" are two of my favorites, but they go on and on.

What would you say if I told you that Navico has announced a 24-mile, broadband radar that emits one-10th the energy of a cell phone? That's 1/20,000th of the power broadcast by a conventional radar scanner. It's true, and you will soon see it on dealers' shelves under the Lowrance, Northstar and Simrad brand names.

 

Who needs radar?

Some boaters think they have enough experience to run in the dark by "feel." I won't even get into how silly that is.

Other tech-minded boaters think they can safely follow a previous GPS trail at cruising speed with no worries. They seem to forget that GPS doesn't show you other boaters who are doing the same thing at the same time.

In fog, smoke or darkness, radar lets you see other boats and objects in your path and confirms your position relative to buoys, land masses and other objects. It can be used seamlessly with a compatible chart plotter that allows radar overlays to "paint" radar returns right on charted buoys and land masses around you to confirm that everything is working right and you are exactly where GPS says you are.

 

How can low-powered radar work?

More scanning power has always meant more reach and better detail for conventional "pulse" radars that transmit using powerful magnetrons. Navico's new Broadband Radar is based on solid-state technology similar to that used in military and commercial applications. It's billed as the first recreational Frequency Modulated Continuous Wave (FMCW) radar.

Navico lists a number of advantages for this new technology. No magnetron means no two- to three-minute warm-up wait. The unit comes on instantly when you hit the "ON" button.

FMCW radar does not have the "main bang" close-in blind spot immediately around your boat that is common with conventional radars, and Navico says you can see things less than 3 meters from the antenna.

Secret sources tell me one tester reported the new radar could see wooden stakes marking a safe trail across a shallow flat right up until his boat bumped into one of them. Another said he could see birds on radar as he spooked them and they left the water next to his boat.

The minimum range setting is 1/32 nautical mile, perhaps the most important scale for small-boat owners navigating past docks, channel markers, pilings, jetties, piers, bridges and other objects. Radar operates line-of-sight, and a 6-foot man standing on a deck level with the waterline can see about seven miles over open water to the horizon.

This makes the 24-nautical-mile range of the new radars practically overkill at the height they are likely to be mounted on the T-top of a bay boat or on an owner-modified extended seat pin in a bass boat (hey, anything is possible!).

The new FMCW radars are reported to use power 30-50 percent more efficiently, and to have an advanced clutter rejection system five times better than conventional radars, so good as to make manual tuning virtually unnecessary.

 

Crunching the numbers

The Lowrance BR24 is the least expensive model with a list price of $1,699. Northstar and Simrad models are about $300 higher. The BR24's compact radome measures 11.02 inches high by 19.27 inches in diameter, and weighs 16.3 pounds. It draws 17 watts (about 1.5 amps) while operating and 1.6 watts on standby. Its low power draw is another important advantage for small boats.

Beam width is rated 5.2 degrees (horizontal) and 30 degrees (vertical). It makes about six decibels of noise as it spins at 24 RPM. It is an X-band radar (9.3-9.4Ghz) with a nominal transmitter output of 100mW. It connects to Lowrance's new HDS series of units via high speed Ethernet. The BR24 is waterproof to IPX6 standards, and comes with a two-year warranty.

For more information, call (800) 324-1356 or visit Lowrance.com.