Nov 29, 2020 > Electronics & instruments
I’ll be able to sleep tonight with the Echomax EM 230 Radar Reflector
When you’re anchored near a busy shipping channel in the dark, you want to be seen on radar
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Product review Echomax EM 230 Radar Reflector
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REVIEWED BY Chris and Rossella 1 review, 1 follower
Bavaria 35 Britaly
Radar works by sending out a wave of energy and then detecting objects using the reflected energy which returns to the receiver. Older radar units like the one we have on Britaly use a magnetron (fairly similar to what you would find inside a microwave oven) as a transmitter and use the time taken for the reflected energy to return to calculate the distance of detected objects. Newer solid-state 'broadband' units work in a different way and use frequency to determine distance, but let's not go too far down that rabbit hole... What matters to us as sailors is that different materials have different radar signatures. Steel gives a good return, so a steel boat will give a good return on radar, unless it has been designed in such a way as to reflect the waves off away from the transmitter (Which is why military vessels tend to be angular, as this makes them more 'stealthy'). GRP gives a very poor return, which is kind of handy, because radome enclosures are often made of GRP. If the RF energy couldn't escape the enclosure, we would never see anything with radar! What might come as a surprise, is that a 40 ft GRP (or wood) sailing boat can actually be pretty easy to miss on a radar screen. The hull can effectively be 'invisible' to radar. The engine block will give a return, but this a relatively small lump of metal in the grand scale of things. There may be a little ping off the mast too, but unless you have a radar reflector fitted, this kind of boat is pretty stealthy, despite its large size. A boat owner could sail for years and not know this, as a 40 ft boat is generally quite easy to see, so the owner would never see any evidence of his/her invisibility on radar as other vessels may always see this vessel with the Mk1 eyeball, so a near miss would never occur. However, if this vessel was ever caught out in fog, any ships in the vicinity would be relying primarily on electronic navigation aids for collision avoidance... Discovering that your boat is not visible on ships' radars is one lesson you don't want to learn the hard way. This is why SOLAS regulations mean that having a radar reflector on board is obligatory (There is an "if practicable" get-out clause in there, but good luck with defending that if you ever found yourself in a sticky situation and didn't have a radar reflector fitted). We have attached a PDF document which outlines the SOLAS requirements for leisure boats. There aren't many requirements, and most of them are common-sense things. The radar reflector requirement is something that could be missed though and if you walk around a marina you will probably find boats without radar reflectors fitted. This video covers our old provisional radar reflector - which was cheap, quick and easy to install, and served its purpose, which was to allow us to meet the legal requirements for us to get out on the water. What it didn't do was give me confidence that Britaly would be visible to ships on their radar screens. If you are sleeping at anchor in a little backwater anchorage where ships never venture, this isn't a problem (unless you hit fog on your way back home, and you have to pass through an area frequented by ships) . If you are anchoring solo inside a channel which is also used by ships, this doesn't make for a relaxing night's sleep, and this is why I used our Echomax 230 for the first time in this anchorage in the Swale. While I was at it, I filmed this video (I was a very busy man on that trip to Belgium!)
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