The best options for low-visibility situations
We are always searching for ways to make our low-visibility and nighttime travel easier—not only on our eyes, but also on our psyche. The stress captains go through when moving the boat from point A to point B during the day is nerve-racking enough, but add lowviz conditions such as heavy rain, fog or darkness, and the pucker factor goes through the roof. Using a combination of equipment specifically designed to “see in the dark” makes that stress level a little more livable, so why not look into the new and improved ways of making our lives easier?
While on an overnight shift from Key West, Florida, to Isla Mujeres, Mexico, I was able to track various cruise ships in the Gulf of Mexico and adjust course with minimal changes miles before the ships were even within eyesight. The targets showed on the radar at long range, but as they came within range of the automatic identification system, the vessel name, destination, course and speed populated as well. This combination, coupled with a thermal camera to look for floating debris, allowed us to chug overnight while staying safely informed of our surroundings even in pitch-black darkness.
No other piece of equipment covers as much usable viewing range as the radar. For the average sport-fisher over 45 feet, the most popular choice is a 25 kW, 6-foot array unit. This combo is capable of a 96-nautical-mile range, and is handsdown the most useful low-visibility tool in the arsenal. Other vessels do not need any type of equipment for you to see them; landmasses, range and day markers are easily detected.
The downfall with this type of radar is heavy rainfall and rough seas. Dense rain squalls and storms or big seas can often hide targets within them, making it dangerous when stuck in persistent heavy weather. All radars have a control to tune down these types of conditions, but radars are infinitely more precise with calm weather and clear skies.
Recent additions to the radar field are solid-state radars, which replace the magnetron unit with broadband transmitters that have some built-in benefits such as lower power usage, Doppler processing, increased sensitivity, no warm-up time, and a much longer run-time life than magnetron units. This technology lends