Radar in the 21st Century

Radar in the 21st Century
Radar in the 21st Century

Navigating through the acronym fog.

By Ben Ellison — March 2002

 More of this Feature

• Part 1: Radar
• Part 2: Radar
• Part 3: Radar

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Honestly, now, are you confident that your radar is properly set up? Are you conversant with all those screen acronyms? No? You’re not alone; frustrated engineers say that radar is particularly susceptible to the "80/20 rule," the notion that 80 percent of operators use only 20 percent of a device’s capabilities.

I’ve reviewed the current state of radar and am optimistic that we can improve on that ratio. Much of the knob-twiddling required to maximize radar imagery has been reduced by automation, and several technologies now make that image easier to interpret. On the other hand, even low-end units offer display and integration features that deserve study.

The gut technology of Radio Detecting and Ranging hasn’t really changed much since its desperate development during WWII. A spinning magnetron fires pulses of variable length and rate, measures their echoes, and displays the crude results. What has changed are the controls applied to the basic imaging. The dreaded Tune control, so critical that some skippers would ban its use by crew, is now entirely absent or only requires occasional troubleshooting. Likewise, Gain, Sea Clutter (sometimes termed STC), and Rain Clutter (FTC) often have alternative Auto settings. Last summer I watched a Raymarine representative put all these once-touchy settings to manual zero, then to auto–and, ba-da-bing, up came clean, uncluttered target images at every range. Certainly a wise user should be able to evaluate effectiveness and apply manual adjustments as necessary, but this level of automation is great news.

Next page > Radar continued > Page 1, 2, 3

This article originally appeared in the February 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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