Marine Radars and Their Use in the Shipping Industry

The marine radar is equipment that is perhaps used the most on the ship’s bridge by the OOW in carrying out a safe navigational watch.

What is Marine Radar?

A mandatory aid to navigation, the radar is used in identifying, tracking (with integrated ARPA) and positioning of vessels (including one’s own vessel) among other things in order to adhere to the COLREGs so as to safely navigate a ship from one point to another.

The marine radar is classified under the x-band (10 GHz) or S-band (3GHz) frequencies. The x-band, being of higher frequency is used for a sharper image and better resolution whereas the S-band is used especially when in rain or fog as well as for identification and tracking.

Tracking ship devices are compulsory as per COLREGS (International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea).

SOLAS Chapter 5, Regulation 19 states that “All ships of 3000 gross tonnages and upwards shall, in addition to meeting the requirements of paragraph 2.5, have a 3 GHz radar or where considered appropriate by the Administration a second 9 GHz radar, or other means to determine and display the range and bearing of other surface craft, obstructions, buoys, shorelines and navigational marks to assist in navigation and in collision avoidance, which are functionally independent of those referred to in paragraph.”

The entire SOLAS Chapter 5, Regulation 19 can be read here.

With the help of ship radar, accidents can be prevented at sea with the use of the various inherent functionalities of the radar (determining the CPA and the TCPA, EBL, VRM etc).

However, even while the ships are docked in the port, with the help of these radars, the coast guard, VTS and the other authorities can use them to monitor the traffic in the small radar range.

marine radar
Representation image

The ship radar has a screen (referred to as the Plan Position Indicator) that displays all the targets that are present within the radar range. Since all the objects are clearly visible on the screen, navigating and monitoring the position of the ship becomes really feasible, hence the term ‘aid to navigation.’

Further reading: Introduction to Radar Watchkeeping And Solas Requirements 

Main Features of the Marine Radars

The main features of the marine radars can be explained as follows:

  • The parabolic radar antenna transmits and receives electromagnetic waves; as far as a target being displayed is concerned, that is basically the wave that bounced off a certain object that paints itself on the PPI (Plan Position Indicator)
  • The frequency and the time taken by the flashes to return (reflections) to the radar receiver of the ship helps to find out whether the route of the boat can be continued with or not. The transmission and receiving of the pulse travels twice the distance in going and hitting the target and back; therefore, the target displayed on the PPI is basically halved with regard to its range
  • On the PPI, the reflections can be seen so that identifying the actual distance of the objects can be even easier. The same paint on the PPI can be also be checked for the determination of the bearing of the target

Related Reading:

5 Effective Radar Techniques For Ship Navigators – Part 1

5 Effective Radar Techniques For Ship Navigators – Part 2

How Does Marine Radar Works 

The term “Radar” is an acronym for Radio Detection and Ranging”. The marine radar works on the basic principle of electromagnetic waves. The radar antenna sends the high-speed electromagnetic waves to establish the location, which is the distance, the velocity and the direction the wave travelled along with the altitude of the object, moving or stationary.

Electromagnetic energy travels through air at a high constant speed, equivalent to the speed of light (300,000 kilometres per second). 

The object may vary from ships, boats, terrain, weather formation, cost etc.

Let us understand how does the marine radar works:

The radar system out electromagnetic waves as a high-speed, signal which will travel several miles in the direction of radar facing. If there are no objects in the direction of the wave, the radar screen will show blank.

If there is an object, which will reflect the wave back to the radar, the computer set up of the radar will determine the distance between the ship and the object along with its location. Hence, it can be said that the radar basically reads two things – The position of the object and the direction of the same.  

Position of the object: The radar antenna is continuously rotating on top of the ship sending and receiving signals. Hence, the radar is sweeping the signals all around the ship. As the radar pulse waves are reflected by an object, it will travel in the same direction and will be received by the radar detecting the position of the object. When the pulses are received back, the computer screen will log the position.

Marine Radar Working

Distance from the ship: As the radar antenna is constantly sending and receiving signals from the object on the way of the electromagnetic signal, the received signal is sent back to the computer unit, which calculates the time taken for the signal to reflect back to the radar. Once the computer knows the time, it will calculate the distance by using the speed and time formula.

Distance in Radar

Marine Radar Diagram

The basic components of marine radar are shown in the below diagram:

Marine Radar Diagram

Uses of Marine Radar 

  1. To calculate range and bearing of a target and thereafter use the information to determine speed, course etc
  2. Integration with other shipboard equipment (such as ECDIS) to derive precise data
  3. Navigating own vessel and her course with regard to collision avoidance
  4. Fixing the ship’s position using terrestrial objects such as lighthouses, buoys etc
  5. Differentiating between targets in high traffic density areas
  6. Determination of the weather, to an extent
  7. Use by VTS in controlling coastal traffic
  8. Usage of features such as parallel indexing to ensure safe navigation
  9. Alleviating workload on the OOW on the bridge
  10. Used extensively in pilotage that covers the above aspects

Related Reading: 15 Things to Consider While Using Radars On Ships

The marine radar is a much bigger subject than is laid out in the article which only skims the surface of the operation and the uses of the radar.

As an OOW, it is important to be thorough with the radar and study its operation and features extensively along with the limitations of the radar.

A good book to start with is Shipborne Radar and ARPA by Capt. H. Subramaniam.

The most important point about marine radars is that the screens used to view the position of the objects are either LED screens or monochrome screens.

With such perfect screens, the clarity of the objects is highlighted even further. Also since these screens are waterproof there is no threat of interruption to the ship radar system in times of rough weather.

The tracking ship system has further been developed to include even boats. This means that even boat owners can be assured of their vessel’s safety while on the water.

One major advantage of marine radars is that the power and electricity consumption by them is far too less. This means that the marine radars are not just user-friendly but also help the shipowner to regulate the cost of power and electricity.

Radar has been a major instrument to help marine navigation since the past six decades. Over the years, radar technology has developed to include not just aircraft but ships as well.

Marine travel and safety thus have become very feasible. It can be hoped, that in the future more such tracking devices will be developed so that several marine accidents and casualties can be prevented.

Related Reading:

Disclaimer: The authors’ views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Marine Insight. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Marine Insight do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendation on any course of action to be followed by the reader.

The article or images cannot be reproduced, copied, shared or used in any form without the permission of the author and Marine Insight. 

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About Author

Shilavadra Bhattacharjee is a shipbroker with a background in commercial operations after having sailed onboard as a Third Officer. His interests primarily lie in the energy sector, books and travelling.

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  1. Can someone please answer this question for me?
    “List three types of equipment that can be comsidered for use in navigation applications and briefly explain their principles of operation”.
    Thank you!

  2. This article is good but deosn’t bring a lot of new information on the use of marine radar. To me the most interesting aspect of that safety equipment is the massive change in the technology with SOLAS solid state radars. For now only with S-Band but very soon with also X-Band an the revolution this will bring to the industry. A shame you do not touch the subject.

  3. 1. Compass
    2. Log
    3. Sextant & Chronometer

    Plenty of information available on principles of operation.

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