Navico's Broadband Radar in the Real World
|Broadband Radar comes into its own in close, targeting an inflatable and moored boats when set at a range of 200 feet.|
If your knowledge of radar performance is based on experience with older, fully analog scanners, fuggetaboutit! The modern incarnations of the 18-inch radomes, so favored by sailors because of their compact size, are somehow defying the limitations that used to dog this class. I say "somehow" because the magic going on under the domes is a complex stew of software, digital signal processing, and tweaked subsystems that isn't accurately reflected in once fairly definitive specifications such as horizontal beam width and transmit power. In fact, there are no comparative specs whatsoever for new radar-branding terms like Digital, High Definition, Ultra HD, Super HD, and the like. And the magnetron-free Broadband Radar introduced by Navico last winter, the BR24, which is available under the Simrad, Lowrance, and Northstar brand names, is off-the-charts different.
Across the board, all the modern 18-inch radomes work better than their predecessors-and Broadband is truly different-but you can't really grasp how much better, and how they diverge from each other, until you see a lot of them in real-world action. Which is pretty much what I did all last summer.
The original project was to test the novel Navico Broadband Radar BR24 solid-state radome. Two months later, I'd mounted it at 22- and 14-foot heights on my 37-foot Downeast cruiser, Gizmo, as well as just 5 feet off the water on an outboard-powered catamaran, and I'd monitored its target output on both Lowrance HDS-10 and Simrad's NX45 multifunction displays. I'd also equipped Gizmo with Raymarine's new "Digital" RD418D radome connected to a C140W display, figuring that it would provide an ample performance comparison between its traditional magnetron vacuum tubes and Navico's new-fangled solid-state circuitry. But when I saw how well it compared and how much help both radomes provided in this season's abundant Maine fog, I had to also try the latest radome/multifunction display combinations from rival manufacturers Garmin and Furuno.
As Labor Day fades away, Gizmo is earning its name rather splendidly, sporting four radomes, including Raymarine's spanking new 18-inch HD, and four multifunction displays, including Simrad's brand new MFD, the NSE 12. I'm not done testing yet, and I've already learned way more than can fit into one article. So let me focus now on the BR24, which has some especially noteworthy qualities for power-conscious sailors. In January we'll look at the overall radome feature/performance competition. But in the meantime, here's a teaser: Some 18-inch domes now offer display and tracking aids normally seen only on ship radars and/or useful 3D radar overlays never seen until recently. For ongoing testing notes, log on and visit my electronics blog (www.cruising
|When it's set at 1/8th of a nautical mile, it's easy to spot boats moored in the harbor at Rockport, Maine, with Simrad's BR24 radome and the new NSE 12 display.|
The BR24 demonstrates its very unusual nature in the few first few seconds it takes to switch from dead off to Standby, and the second more it takes to Transmit and paint targets. Navico reasonably calls the feature InstantOn, and any sailor who's struggled with the shut-it-down-to-save-juice/keep-it-on-for-safety conundrum will appreciate it. Modern magnetron radomes do go from Standby to Transmit nearly instantly, but they typically take over a minute to warm their tubes into Standby mode and consume about 15 watts just sitting there and about 25 when transmitting. The BR24 draws about 18 watts transmitting and 7 watts in Standby, by my measure, and it's reasonably prudent to shut it down most anytime, thanks to InstantOn.
A side note for power misers: Unfortunately, the mighty MFDs that display modern radar can take over a minute, even 2 minutes, to boot up, depending on chart types, attached gear, and software. Two trends, though, are making it less battery draining to leave MFDs running. The pleasingly bright screens on both the Lowrance HDS and the Simrad NSE series use more power-efficient and cooler-running LED backlighting instead of cathode tubes. And both the NSE and Furuno's NavNet 3D MFDs have sleep modes that reduce power use sharply but can switch back to life instantly.
Broadband Radar is easy on power, not just because it lacks a magnetron to heat but also because its transmissions peak out at a measly 0.01 watt. That's why the BR24 radome qualifies for a Federal Communications Commission Safe Distance rating for humans of zero feet; in publicity material, Navico calls it a "huggable radar" and says that it "can be mounted safely in locations impossible with other pulse radars."