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Richard W

The radar saved our boat … sort of … or at least my sanity.

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We decided to go back home on Monday as weather turned iffy and the forecast was even worse. Wind, rain, and getting stronger and wetter. The day was like in the picture below … but it was suppose to clear in the afternoon and overnight … it didn't.

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It was supposed to be an easy going two hour trip. We sailed out of the transient marina in the afternoon, filled up in another, and called Canadian Border Services Agency to report the crossing and clear the landing. As NEXUS card holders it was supposed to be an expedited clearance on water … it wasn't … we got diverted to a reporting center some 10 miles off our intended course.

It was a night after a full moon. We were actually looking forward to do some evening cruising basking in the moonlight … it did not happen. A complete overcast and it was dark when we docked at the reporting marina. By the time we left it for the final leg home it was 9 PM, windy, rainy, and pitch black.

Now, the radar … and instrument cruising. It is not easy and the unlit buoys are your worst enemy. Keeping the boat within a navigational channel and/or in deep water is not as big of a problem as avoiding these red (black) and green (black) floating chunks of metal. With our 2nm all around light we could spot them maybe 30 feet ahead and only if we looked intensely in the direction as indicated by the radar. The radar … glad we had it working that night.

BTW, the CBSA officer never showed up … we were told we are clear to go. The diversion and the wait added 3 hours to our route … for nothing ... well done Canada! We have reached our home dock by 11 PM.

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I cannot say enough about having a radar. Such a powerful tool in the darkness. I can imagine the large channel marker bouys show up MUCH better than the small buoys on our lake. But still, a great tool even for use on a lake. Nice write-up, Richard!

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Yes, plus 1 for radar. Once you have it you will never be without it again. A real life saver at night or in the fog.

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Wow, that's pretty nasty weather there. Glad you and the wife made it back safely anyway, that's all that counts.

I'm so happy I've spent the money for mine and when my son and I went out at nighttime, we tried using it and familiarizing ourselves with it but I tell you, it's not easy and will take some time and practice.

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You need to use the radar on regular trips to get use to it. Its not easy to master!

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I can imagine the large channel marker buoys show up MUCH better than the small buoys on our lake.

Interestingly enough ... yes and no, it depends.

The really large buoys marking the main shipping channel (seaway) on both, US and Canadian part of the seaway, have large floaters that are only half submerged and relatively tall superstructures. You, or the radar, cannot miss these ... they have also reflective markings. As you move away from the main shipping channel onto smaller pleasure craft routes the buoys get smaller. The ones on the US side still have significant floaters that stick above water level and reflect radar beam well.

The Canadian buoys are different, they have small floaters and relatively heavy 8-10 inch diameter 5-6 feet long tubes/pipes that stick out. The floaters are mostly or completely submerged. These are the ones that gave us most of the trepidation that night. They do not show well on the radar to start with and they often blink on and off for a few radar rotations.

My guess is that a small diameter vertical pipe does not reflect radar beam well to start with. Then, the current, the waves and wind tilt them significantly and they can become stealthy to the radar. Interestingly, the really small white plastic (?) warning/info buoys showed bigger and more consistent radar blip than these much bigger channel marker buoys.

You need to use the radar on regular trips to get use to it. Its not easy to master!

Yup ... practice, practice, practice ... reading the radar screen seems to be more of an art than science.

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Thanks Richard - nice write-up. Without an arch, I doubt I'll have radar on the current boat and our little river navigation trips don't require it, really. But there is probably a Sig in our future (the Admiral has begun to let the cat out of the bag that overnighting and extended cruising is becoming more appealing to her) so I'm favoriting a lot of these radar posts for future reference.

I am always wishing I could do an overlay of where my Navionics map *says* the channel markers are and the radar image of where they *actually* are. The river channel markers are almost always very well covered in reflective tape so a powerful QBeam can light them up as far away as 300-400 yards but every now and then there is that one stinker that is significantly out of place and somehow the odd-man-out with much less reflective tape than normal.

I'm curious - are offshore markers indicated on Navionics/Bluechart maps on your chartplotter and if so how reliable did you find the chart locations to be vs observed locations?

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I'm still learning so I couldn't tell you much but I notice how it picks up A LOT of surface material! You need to understand how to differentiate between what is a small boat and a kayak for example. At least that's the impression I'm getting.

I'm using the navigation chart so much that I rarely find the need to use the radar and there's so much concentrating that needs to be done on the navigation chart of the 741xs that until I get a really good handle on the depths (especially at low tide) and where it's actually ok to navigate through there or not when the tide is 12 feet lower than it was at high tide, then I can concentrate on the radar's functions a bit more.

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With the Garmin you can have radar, depth and chart on the screen at the same time. The time to practice is in good weather, easier to learn the system if you run it all the time. Plus some good info on YouTube about the systems.

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I'm curious - are offshore markers indicated on Navionics/Bluechart maps on your chartplotter and if so how reliable did you find the chart locations to be vs observed locations?

All the markers are represented well on either charts we use, Navionics and BlueChart. You can see some slight difference in marker positioning between the charts.

The only discrepancy we found during this two week cruise was a missing buoy on the main seaway channel ... we could not locate it visually nor by radar. Must have been removed or sunk, or our 2014 charts are no longer up to date. Yes, I heard about the NTMs, and sometimes I even read them ... :D

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Honestly, I think the radar would be great to have, but for some one like myself with an old, relatively cheap boat with no at h, it just isn't feasible to add radar. I just added my first dedicated chartplotter for Pete's sake lol! I always plan my trips accordingly and avoid night boating. I love to be out past dark, but for us that's where I like to idle or anchor for the night.

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