Topic: Radar Reflectors

There seems to be a big question buzzing round as to whether radar reflectors are effective or not.

Seems to me that since the question still remains, it's better to hedge your bets and have something rather than nothing, but not spend a fortune. So hows this for a cheap and cheerful solution?

Re: Radar Reflectors

Hello Panthablue,

This radar reflector issue has been on my mind as well.  Here is what I've been thinking and I'd be very curious what others thought. 

The whole concept of hanging a bulky thing in your rig somewhere which doesn't work very well anyway and is going to be hard to find a place to mount it on a small boat and has a significant windage as well as vibration issues and then on top of all that..........only helps avoid a collision if the guy in the other boat happens to see the blip on the radar screen and takes a corrective action........seems like a bad idea. 

First of all, I'm uneasy with depending on the other guy to see me and then get out of the way.  I'd rathe go with self-reliance if possible. 

Here's my idea:  Wouldn't it be cool if they made a small, simple little radar detector that used almost no electrical current unless activated and would start some sort of alert tone if it picked up a radar signal.  I would think that you could be pretty relaxed with something like that because all of the boats that are big enough to run over our contessas and not even know they did so and therefore would not stop to help are all going to be using radar. 

Does anyone know of such a device?  If there is one, I haven't found it online yet or in the WM catalog.

I hope I didn't change the topic too much on this post.........I just wanted to throw this out there to see if anyone else was thinking the same thing.



3 (edited by Ian Malcolm 2012-10-19 23:38:54)

Re: Radar Reflectors

Probably the best bet for a radar reflector on a small yacht is a Firdell Blipper.  It is one of the very few on the market designed to provide a consistent reflection no matter what the direction over a wide range of angles of heel and pitch.   They are easy to mast mount, and the rounded profile has the minimum windage possible for the radar cross-section they offer, and is largely free of snagging problems.

Simple 'raincatcher' corner cube reflectors are unreliable as there are large nulls centered in line with each plate the reflector is composed of  and unless the reflector is rigidly mounted on a stable platform directly above or below an identical reflector rotated 45 degrees,  the rapid fluctuations in response can cause your reflected signal to be filtered out by the radar's anti-clutter circuit.

Active sensors are all very well, (and are commonly available) but in inshore traffic zones with any significant level of commercial traffic, you are likely to be on somebody's radar most of the time so you will soon start ignoring the alert. 

Failure to fit an adequate radar reflector is like jaywalking at night in a Ninja suit!

Re: Radar Reflectors

What about Echomax?

They make the best of the passive reflectors and have recently been moving into active reflectors.  Basically, if a radar signal hits the antenna, the active reflector broadcasts a much stronger reflection.  I think they are a great idea, particularly for our small boats.  Pity they are so expensive.


Re: Radar Reflectors

The Echomax figures look pretty good, but they over-emphasise the peak performance (RCS) of their passive reflectors.    e.g. the Echomax 1, claiming a peak RCS of over 8 sq m, has significant arcs with a RCS of less than 0.5 sq m (see, which is about what you'd get with a small garbage bag full of crumpled foil!   As the four low RCS arcs are each at least 20 degrees wide, if you are holding your heading to +/-10 degrees, an approaching vessel on a bearing in the center of the arc has a much reduced chance of spotting you at reasonable range.   

Firdell market their reflectors on the consistency of the RCS, not the peak.

The Echomax active target enhancers are great, but of course they rely 100% on power being available.  The current consumption is fairly negligible so why don't they offer an internal battery backup option?  Otherwise you'd better be pretty anal about the wiring and its maintenance if you mast mount them.    I think you'd still need to carry a couple of flat-packed corner cube reflectors for emergency use or use them in conjunction with a good passive reflector.

6 (edited by Virago Deb 2012-11-10 12:32:11)

Re: Radar Reflectors

Your "visability" has a lot to do with improvements in radar technology over the years.  On the vessels I work on, we can see sailboats with no radar reflectors miles away using current shipboard technology, though a reflector may make you visible earlier depending on how high up in the rigging it is - radar signals are still dependent on height of eye (the higher the radar the better and the higher the object being observed the better).  What we have trouble "seeing" (indeed, virtually invisible) are kayaks and canoes - small craft with no metal and no flat faces that get lost in the waves.  Radar gets "cluttered" by large waves and heavy rain.  I mounted an aluminum, multi-facetted old-school reflector on my backstay just above the the fitting where it splits, then asked our local ferry if they could see me.  They said my return was as strong as the navigation buoy near Virago at the time, and that's pretty good.  However, they could also see another sailboat near me with no reflector.  I chose to put one up for sailing coastal waters at night even though I know Virago is visible to radar without it.  Hedging my bets I suppose - maybe a bigger blip or seen a bit earlier in really foul weather.  The earlier comment is true that radar only works if someone is looking at it, which we all hope they are!  I used the reflector I did because I got it for free - that's how much thought I put into that decision.

Another option that seems to be getting more popular is AIS which is a system that displays the location and motion of ships emitting an AIS signal.  One can buy an AIS receiver that allows you to see other vessels with active AIS signals which is handy for "spotting" ships before you can actually see them.

Re: Radar Reflectors

I was shopping for a Firdell Blipper at Landfall Navigation and it says that they have been discontinued.
It appears as though the company has stopped making them.  Does anyone know about this?

Re: Radar Reflectors

Firdell Radar Reflectors Ltd were still in business as of the start of this financial year and a number of suppliers appear to still stock the Blipper 210-7.  I suggest you contact Firdell.