In San Francisco- where I’ve sailed my whole life- fog is as much a part of sailing as the wind and water. Now, I wouldn’t trade the bay area’s climate for any other, but it makes navigation especially tricky when you can barely make out the shape of your mast while underway. With modern radar equipment you can see through not only the fog, but the darkness, rain and any other weather that might be thrown your way as well.
Fog may not be common for all venues, but all sailors can benefit from the new development of consumer broadband radar. Broadband radar differs from traditional pulse radar in the frequency of its transmissions and the manner in which the waves are sent out. Traditional radar faces one direction, sends microwaves, receives the waves that come back to the unit, and then changes direction and repeats to gain a composite picture of what’s ahead. Because the waves are so powerful, the receiver is unable to discern the waves that bounce off objects close to the unit.
Broadband radar constantly transmits and receives a less powerful signal, thus it creates a much clearer picture of what is directly around the unit.
We’ve compared the top radar products on the market, and the Simrad Broadband 4G is the best broadband radar to see what the human eye can’t.
Sr. Vice President of Navico, the parent company of Simrad, was asked to explain the 4G’s broadband system in layman’s terms during a press lunch.
He simply responded with “In layman’s terms… it’s magic!”
In slightly more technical terms, the transmitter in the Simrad 4G is always looking and always listening, at a much lower volume than traditional pulse radar. This leads to much clearer distinctions between small objects and obstructions in the water such as buoys and other sea clutter, while maintaining clarity at distances up to 36nm.
Broadband radar also has no startup time, as the transmitter does not have to power up a magnetron. As you might guess as well, no magnetron leads to much lower power consumption from the 4G when compared to traditional pulse radar units. The 4G uses only about 18W of energy while scanning, while traditional pulse radars use from 40 to 60W when in use.
Along the same thread, broadband radar emits much less harmful radiation than traditional radar. It reportedly emits 1/5 the radiation of a cell phone.
The Simrad 4G is the first radar system to use what the manufacturer calls “beam sharpening.” This process vastly improves the horizontal beam width of the radar, so the 4G’s 18-inch dome produces the same resolution at distance as a 36-inch open-array radar. Yet, with the broadband radar technology, the area immediately proximate to the dome stays incredibly clear.
One radar technician on Cruisers Forum noted that “it was really weird to get a radar return on a paddle boarder. Weirder still to see it on a common duck swimming by.”
Others on the forum said they could make out the shapes of outriggers on fishing boats when at close range.
In addition, the 4G can display two different radar ranges on a single screen, from 200 feet to 32 nautical miles. The two displays can be tweaked and adjusted completely independently from each other, showing both close-by buoys and headlands miles away on the same screen.
Now, it’s time to take a look at the two closest competitors to the Simrad 4G. They come from heavy hitters in the marine technology market, and they have some advantages if you have certain needs.
The Garmin GMR 18 scored major points with us because of its easy set-up and simple interface. All three units we tested are easy to install, but this one took the cake for simplicity. Its charts are easily understood if you are less experienced with marine instruments. In fact, some Garmin MFDs (multifunction displays) can be used interchangeably as a road GPS and a nautical radar display.
Its simplicity, though, was also its downfall. The Garmin maps look the least like professional charts, and it has the least customizable display of the three that we tested. While it may be a great upgrade for the sailor who isn’t technologically savvy, it lacks display features that all mariners could benefit from.
The final broadband radar unit we tested was the Raymarine Radome HD. If you must have the latest and wonkiest technology, this may be the radar for you. Raymarine MFDs can come with a laundry list of interesting features like touch-screen displays and smartphone integration. Unlike the Best Black Box’s iPad integration, you cannot adjust course or display settings from the iPad; it functions more like a portable display rather than a remote control.
The Raymarine and Garmin’s largest flaws are in their fundamental radar type. Though they are both HD, and produce rather clear pictures on MFDs, they are still traditional pulse radar transmitters. This leads to a warm-up period before the radar displays anything at all, and its close range radar is washed out by the power of the microwave emissions. As mentioned before, the radar waves in traditional units require far more power than the Simrad 4G.
The earlier Simrad broadband models had average performance at distances longer than 20nm, but the 4G has an effective range of 36nm. We found it performed well up to that distance, while having incredibly better close-range performance when compared to Raymarine and Garmin.
Ben Ellison, marine technology guru from Panbo, has had his expert hands on just about every piece of marine equipment and radar you could imagine. About the 4G he said,
In my view, 4G truly is a significant upgrade from the original BR24 and its 3G successor. It has more power, better range, and better horizontal resolution. Higher possible automated rotation speed will no doubt improve close-in tracking of fast targets (I only got one lobster boat to test that theory on), and the new dual range feature — if you have an MFD that supports it — is the absolute bomb.
The Garmin is a great step down for the sailor who wants the simplest HD radar setup available. If you find yourself on the other side of the technology spectrum—wanting the latest smartphone integration and all the bells and whistles, perhaps the Raymarine radar might be for you. After our tests though, in our opinion, the Simrad 4G is the absolute best radar.
Colin Speedie of Attainable Adventure Cruising, an offshore cruiser’s website, said “it has lower power consumption than conventional radar, and has very low wave emissions – attractive to us with our radome mounted on our OVNI arch. And it has what appears to be staggeringly good close range definition… We’re very tempted to make the switch to this new technology.”
The Simrad 4G simply blows its competition out of the water. No other radar is equipped with as many features for the modern sailor. Especially for those navigating tight waterways in heavy weather, the 4G’s broadband technology offers unmatched clarity within 200 feet, and strong performance at up to 36 nautical miles. The Simrad uses a fraction of the power of pulse radar systems, and emits far less harmful radiation as well.
If you are looking to upgrade your radar system onboard, there are options to vastly improve your radar capability. Salvation from the thick San Francisco-style fog is upon us, and it’s called The Simrad 4G broadband radar.