Radar visibility tips

• Realize how hard it is for the lookout on a big ship to see you, both visually and on radar. Be proactive in helping the lookout find you.

• Install a good radar reflector to improve detection in most situations. However, it will not eliminate blind zones and it does not relieve you of your responsibility to help the lookout see you.

• Install a VHF radio. The radio is useful for announcing your presence and location to nearby ships. If you get no response from the ship, you are alerted that nobody is on duty and you are on your own. You need at least one radio. Two would be better; one dedicated to monitoring channel 16 so you can maintain a proper radio lookout at all times and one for chatting. A third radio dedicated to channel 13 would allow you to monitor bridge voice traffic.

• Carry a simple GPS unit so you can announce your position by latitude and longitude. A sophisticated chartplotter would be better because it will tell you what navigation aids and landmarks are nearby.

• Install radar. You cannot accurately judge distance or speed by eye. Radar allows you to determine risk of collision. It is much easier for you to detect a big ship than for the big ship to detect a sailboat. Radar enables you to determine your range and bearing relative to the ship so you can alert the ship’s lookout and provide your relative location. Finally, a GPS chartplotter is great for navigation, but it does not tell you about anything that is not on the chart or if charted objects have moved or been removed.

• Install an AIS receiver. An AIS receiver supplements radar in determining risk of collision with big ships and provides the name of the ship, making it easy to contact them by radio.

• Install an AIS transmitter. An AIS transmitter informs big ships of your position, speed, identity and risk of collision. However, in busy areas the big ship might filter out sailboats, so you cannot depend only on AIS.

By Ocean Navigator