New radar tech­nol­ogy means less tun­ing and a com­pet­i­tive edge

Ev­ery cap­tain turns to radar when the weather sours or if they need to make a new port overnight. And, when on the hunt, noth­ing gets you to the fish faster than a good bird-tracking radar ar­ray. Your radar also has tricks to spy on com­peti­tors too, and it’s a sel­domdis­cussed fact. But if you aren’t us­ing your unit to its fullest ca­pa­bil­ity, you’re al­ready be­hind the eight ball.


To gain a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage and learn more about po­ten­tial sea­way traf­fic prob­lems, you need two things: one of the new dig­i­tal radar sen­sors, which will likely talk to the mul­ti­func­tion dis­play you al­ready have, and a head­ing sen­sor to al­low your radar im­age to be over­laid on the chart plot­ter.

The head­ing sen­sor tells your chart plot­ter the com­pass head­ing of your radar sen­sor, and that in­for­ma­tion is used to align the re­turns to your chart screen. With­out the head­ing sen­sor, some radars won’t over­lay, and if they do, the tar­gets won’t be spot-on be­cause the chart plot­ter won’t know ex­actly where the radar is aimed.


There is no secret to lo­cat­ing birds with radar, but up un­til re­cently, it could be done only with long-pulse mag­netron-based radars. Ad­just­ing the gain for bird hunt­ing was a tricky mat­ter of ex­pe­ri­ence, and to some, it ap­peared

to be witch­craft. Typ­i­cally, that was done by con­sid­er­ing sea clut­ter, at­mos­phere and range, and then re­lax­ing sea-clut­ter fil­ters and in­creas­ing gain to cloud the screen un­til it looked like paint splat­ter. Once that was done, div­ing flocks of seabirds would show up as brighter or more-dense clut­ter in the al­ready chaotic screen.

That’s all changed.

New high-en­ergy, highly fo­cused dig­i­tal beams are re­flected back to the sen­sor and painted on your chart plot­ter. The radar still has to bump up the gain and re­duce the sea clut­ter, but now all the main play­ers in recre­ational ma­rine radar — Fu­runo, Garmin, Ray­ma­rine and Sim­rad — have cre­ated soft­ware to make the elec­tron­ics do that job. Just se­lect bird mode or what­ever trade name the brand has ap­plied, and the chart plot­ter will au­to­mat­i­cally an­a­lyze sea clut­ter, sea state, pre­cip­i­ta­tion and other con­di­tions to set the radar for bird hunt­ing in­stantly. It works so well, many cap­tains can’t out­per­form the au­to­matic ad­just­ments.


In mar­lin and sail­fish tour­na­ments, you’re not just tracking traf­fic, but keep­ing an eye on the com­pe­ti­tion too. Cap­tains don’t want to talk about it, but they are. With th­ese new highly ac­cu­rate radars us­ing dy­namic tracking, the sur­round­ing ves­sels are not only painted, but their di­rec­tion of mo­tion is also re­flected on the screen with a bread­crumb trail. Mini auto radar plot­ting aid, or MARPA, is the tech­nol­ogy, and nowa­days, all of the new high-en­ergy sys­tems use it to in­crease the radar’s value.

Garmin’s GMR Fan­tom 6 radar names its tracking Mo­tionS­cope, and it taps Dop­pler ef­fect to show a tar­get’s mo­tion. The sys­tem ad­justs for your boat’s mo­tion when a head­ing sen­sor is present so the true mo­tion of the tar­get is clear. It’s ideal for tracking other ves­sels or bird flocks — in Garmin’s case, with Auto Bird Gain, that gives you hands-off op­er­a­tion.

Sim­rad’s Halo Radar tracks tar­gets with an au­to­matic Bird Mode. Fu­runo’s sys­tem is called Fast Tar­get Tracking and is featured in its X-Class radar se­ries. Ray­ma­rine uses MARPA in its HD-color and su­per-HD-color radars.

This elec­tronic magic trick lets you keep tabs on your fel­low com­peti­tors from miles away. Watch them as they work an area. Are they stay­ing put, or are they jump­ing around at high speed, run­ning-and-gun­ning to sev­eral dif­fer­ent spots? In some cases, as a boat cir­cles on a dou­ble­header or stops to leader a fish, the radar trail will shorten. That’s the time to tap the screen and place a way­point on your plot­ter. It will align per­fectly with the chart if you have a head­ing sen­sor. Ev­ery time you no­tice them stop­ping, tap in an­other way­point. A clus­ter of way­points tells you they are on a hot bite, and now you have the spot for later. Don’t crowd them, but you might be able to beat them to the spot the next day. It’s a stealthy ap­proach, and you can use it from well over the hori­zon if your sen­sor is high enough.

You can ques­tion the moral­ity of filch­ing spots with radar, but if you saw them with your eye­balls, you would do the same thing. Most all win­ning cap­tains have this tech­nol­ogy at their fin­ger­tips, and us­ing it cor­rectly is just good hunt­ing.

Ad­just­ing the gain for bird hunt­ing was a tricky mat­ter of ex­pe­ri­ence, and to some, it ap­peared to be witch­craft.

Fu­runo’s X-Class radar uses MARPA tech­nol­ogy to show a tar­get’s di­rec­tion of travel. In this case, a flock of birds to port is mov­ing par­al­lel to the ship’s head­ing.

Most dig­i­tal radars be­gan only as smaller radomes de­signed with shorter range and ex­tremely de­tailed close-up tar­get res­o­lu­tion. Now Ray­ma­rine’s Su­per HD (left) has the power to spot birds over 20 miles away and note their di­rec­tion of travel. Find­ing...

Sim­rad’s new high-fre­quency high-power radar is called Halo; it is one of the first to have au­to­matic Bird Mode, and can also track speed and di­rec­tion of tar­gets.

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