Do I Need Radar On My Boat? (Top Features And Cost)

Marine radar is way better than other marine electronics such as GPS, AIS, and chart plotters. And here’s why. It not only means collision-avoidance as many boaters may think. Marine radars are S-band or X band radars mounted on ships and are used to detect other ships, objects, and land obstacles to provide distance and bearing for collision avoidance and smooth navigation at sea.

Do i need radar on my boat ? Yes, if you are boating at night or long distances. The radar combines the technologies and functions used in other electronics making it the ultimate in collision avoidance. Marine radar helping to see blind spots, grabing a waypoint, weather alert – squalls, helps to find a fishing spot.

It offers additional roles that any other piece of marine electronics cannot match. This invaluable navigation device has long since been declared as the best technology for marine collision avoidance. With that in mind and more in the article below, Do I Need Radar On My Boat?

Why You Need a Radar On Your Boat?

There are several reasons as to why having a radar on your boat is vital. Here are 5 of the main ones.

1. Help See Blind Spots

When out at sea, the weather may not be at its best, which may hinder your visibility, increasing the chances of a collision. To put it into perspective, when looking from the boat’s deck, the horizon in your line of sight is not as far.

Assuming that your eyeballs are approximately 10 feet above the waterline, the visible open sea edge from this point of view will only be 3.88 miles.

And from the calculations based on the formula, the distance (miles) to the apparent horizon is 1.23 times the root of the height of your eyes above the waterline.

Contrary to that, the radar can see past the horizon. Its horizon is over 15% further than your eye’s horizon. This is because the microwaves used by the radar are not subjected to much atmospheric deflection.

On the other hand, the human eyes are dependent on light to see, subject to deflection limiting the horizon range.

Therefore, your horizon plus that of the radar scanning the horizon gives you an additional half-mile. Moreover, since the radars are usually located higher than your eyeballs, the distance to any detectable targets is increased significantly.

Another thing is, the eyeballs may be somewhat limited. For example, the human eyes are not reliable beyond a given distance as they cannot detect even a large object peeking above the horizon. Thankfully, the radar is not limited by such factors as distance.

Do I Need Radar On My Boat? (Yes, If You...)

If a boat moving at a fast speed, with the height of the flybridge being 12 feet above the water heading towards you may not be immediately detected by the human eye.

However, your radar antenna that is possibly positioned 10 feet above will instantly pick up the target at an 8-mile range.

The radar will give you more than that- it tracks the speed and course of the target so you can make your decisions in advance in a bid to prevent collisions.

The chart plotter route or the GPS and moving from one waypoint to another may not be the most reliable.

They pose a risk as they only account for charted objects and not the uncharted ones, such as floating debris and other boats that have the potential of sending you to the bottom.

The radar is sure to keep you safe as it can see virtually through any visual obstructions and informs you what is out there so you can avoid them.

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2. Grab a Waypoint

With the information provided by the radar, you can quickly grab a waypoint for any object that is detected on the screen.

For instance, the radar screen may indicate an unknown target, and it turns out to be a floating dead whale.

You can utilize the radar’s functions and ultimately determine the object’s coordinates and relay the information to the relevant authorities as it is a hazard to navigation.

3. Helps Find a Fishing Spot

The radar is also useful when it comes to finding a perfect fishing spot. Here’s how. You may notice a target on the radar screen, moving at trolling speed or standing still. Using a binocular, you recognize it as a fishing vessel with lines in the water.

Or there could be a cluster of targets-fishing buddies- detected on the radar and are relatively motionless. This way, you will know that that is a hot spot for fish, and you will keep that in mind if you want to go for a fishing venture.

You can make use of the radar’s functions such as EBL (electronic bearing line) and VRM (variable range marker) to know the coordinates, exact direction, and distance to a target fishing boat. You can then chart the coordinates of the fishing ground for future references.

There are modern radar systems designed to link with the GPS to scroll a cursor across the screen to the target and obtain the exact coordinates for your next favorite fishing ground.

4. Enhanced Situational Awareness

The radars are undeniably very useful in both low and precise weather conditions. You can also count on it when the skies are clear and bright sunshine as it improves situational awareness by alerting you of your surroundings.

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5. Weather Alert – Squalls

You can adjust the sensitivity of your radar to indicate rain squalls from a distance. This feature allows you to analyze and assess whether they will bear down on your position.

You may be prompted to take evasive action, batten down the hatches, and initiate heavy-weather tactics you have under your sleeves to keep your crew, your boat, and yourself safe.

What Are The Top Features To Consider When Choosing A Marine Radar

The fundamental features of any marine radar unit are beam angle ad transmitter power. The unit’s ability is vital as it defines how well the radar will perform in bad weather.

The power ranges between 2 to 4 kilowatts. The higher the power is, the more reliable the radar is to see in the rain and dense fog, and the signal reaches further.

The beam angle is determined by the size of the radar’s antenna. A longer antenna will emit a narrow beam, which discriminates better between objects close to shorter antennas.

However, shorter antennas produce wider beam angles that allow the radar to scan larger areas at once than longer antennas. Often, the antennas can be customized and can be purchased separately.

Other Features To Consider

Besides the transmitter power and beam angle, here are other factors you should consider when choosing a beam. These features will enhance your experience with the radar.

1. Split-Screen Displays

This feature is most useful when navigating through buoys when leaving shores, and heading towards a distant spot. The split-screen displays allow you to control all objects near your boat and those further simultaneously.

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2. Guard Zone Alarm

Most of the marine radars allow you to set a guard zone around your boat. You can also specify a safe distance and set an alarm that goes off in danger. This feature works to set off an alarm if the radar locates a landmass or a buoy within your guard zone.

3. Echo Trail Feature

Often, the echo trail feature comes in handy as it determines how well one can navigate a detected obstacle from how well you can maintain the vessel’s bearing set. This feature is usually displayed on the screen so you can visually assess what is going on.

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4. Integrated Marine Radar And GPS/ Chart Plotters

Marine radars are usually on the expensive side. But you spare a few more dollars to get one with more features for the best experience and functionality.

For instance, some come with chart plotters and GPS units to perform to their full potential.

Integrating all these marine components will ultimately reduce the total cost and reduce complications from the visual displays.

Do You Need a Heading Sensor?

Heading sensors are electronic compasses that update the boat’s heading information faster than any GPS device can.

These devices go a long way in enhancing your radar’s performance, mainly when using MARPA to track painted targets.

Furthermore, they improve the performances of autopilots and other electronics. A heading sensor may become a necessity if you need to create radar/chart plotter overlays.

How Much Does It Cost To Install a Radar On a Boat?

Nowadays, boaters have a wide range of radar technologies to choose from. Radars are a significant investment in equipment that you will likely live with for many seasons. With this said, it is a worthy investment and a good value for your money.

You can easily add radar capability on your boat for around $1000. There are stand-alone radars that offer more menu options and features. These will cost you about $1500 and above.


A marine radar device acts as a significant navigation aid for boaters. It helps in detecting birds, boats, landmasses, and weather systems even with minimal visibility. This, therefore, makes them a necessary investment for any boat owner. They come in handy to prevent collisions that would otherwise destroy your boat and pose a significant danger to you and your crew if any. Marine radars have a direct role in safe navigation. We hope that you have found this article beneficial and that we have answered the question; do I need radar on my boat? (yes, if you…).


Hi, I’m John who owns multiple different boats and i love all kinds of water activities. From boating to fishing, from scuba diving to windsurfing, from water tubing to snow tubing.

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