Ranking the Best Marine Radar Systems of 2023
Raymarine RD418HD HD Color Radome
Raymarine Quantum 2
Ian Fortey Updated on January 2, 2023. In Boatsby
Marine radar used to be a pipe dream for most boaters. A cool sounding gadget, but totally impractical. How could any regular boater use it? Why would they ever want to? It was for commercial freighters and ocean liners. But you can’t stop progress. These days marine radar has come home. There are plenty of small, portable, affordable units.
Radar is one of the greatest inventions ever in terms of boat safety. Navigating in rough seas and fog was far more treacherous before it came along. Now, with radar, a clear path can always be found. Unseen obstacles and oncoming vessels need not be a danger or a surprise.
If you’re a serious boater, you want to have the best marine radar you can get. But what makes for the best marine radar? Let’s take a look at some of the best marine radars on the market. Then we’ll go over what features you need, and why you need them.
1. Raymarine RD418HD HD Color Radome
With a range of 48 nautical miles, the Raymarine Color Radome operates on 4 kW of power. This kind of radome antenna operates on plug and play technology. It’s easily compatible with a lot of other hardware. Compared to the typical 24 nautical miles, this has a great range.
The Raymarine color radome scanner features an adaptive digital receiver. That means you’re going to have a clear picture no matter what. It easily adjusts to changing weather and sea conditions. It also takes environmental changes into effect quickly and easily as well.
The multi-level target display operates in 256 colors. It even features a bird mode. That means it can detect a flock of birds at a distance. Why is that important? It can show you where a school of fish is that the birds are feeding off of. That can save a lot of time hunting down fish. Just let the gulls and pelicans do it for you.
Dual range mode lets you scan near and far simultaneously. At 21 pounds, it’s not an overly huge unit, either. That means this is ideal for a smaller boat. It features everything you want in a compact shell. It won’t stand out and look awkward on your boat, either.
For the features and the price, Raymarine has hit it out of the park with this marine radar.
2. Raymarine Quantum 2
The Raymarine Quantum marine radar is definitely at the head of the class. It will set you back more than the RD418HD but it’s worth it. It features CHIRP pulse compression and Doppler collision avoidance. Raymarine’s advanced tech can instantly highlight moving radar contacts. Once it does, it can color code them for easy tracking at a glance. It will tell you if they’re coming towards you or moving away.
In high-traffic areas, Raymarine’s Quantum takes a lot of guesswork out of navigating. A quick glance can let you know what’s a potential danger. At the same time, it shows you what’s moving away.
Raymarine’s Quantum also features MARPA tracking. This is used by the U.S Coast Guard. It keeps an eye on dangerous targets. That way you can avoid collisions.
Additional features include TrueTrails target history. This can show you the path other vessels have taken. The CHIRP pulse compression can show you anything even in the thickest fog. And it can identify it as close as 18 feet away.
It has a 24 nautical mile range for traffic detection and immediate awareness. That means it’s on and ready instantly.
Installation is easy and the unit is lightweight. Raymarine boasts it’s actually 50% lighter than similar units. All in all, if you want one of the best marine radars and price is no obstacle, give this a try.
3. Furuno Defender
With some marine radars costing over $5000, the Furuno Defender is a welcome change. At a fraction of the price, it still offers reliable functionality. The price is definitely not the only bright spot here. For people who don’t want to get too complicated with technology, this is a breath of fresh air. The Furuno Defender can be hooked up to a smartphone.
The 4kW power output gives you a 24 nautical mile range. That makes it ideal for smaller boats and casual sailors.
The Defender operates something called DRS4W radar. It is compatible with all iOS devices. All you need to do is download their app in the app store. It’s free and very user friendly.
Once using the app, you gain a lot of functionality. You can slip between day mode and night mode. Target distance is also available. You are also able to set up a guard zone around your boat. This means that if the radar detects anything within that zone, your phone will alert you.
The unit is sturdy and can handle winds up to 70 knots. You’re also covered in high heat or freezing cold. It’s also sturdy and waterproof to meet all your needs.
4. Garmin GMR Fantom Marine Radar
The Garmin GMR 18HD+ offers great performance at a reasonable price. The power output here is 4kW, and it provides a range of 36 nautical miles. The images are clear and precise. That includes close up as well, with range detection as close as 20 meters from your vessel.
The Garmin GMR has dynamic auto gain. That means even in poor weather you can expect a good image. It can be easily paired with a heading sensor for increased functionality. Hook it up to a multifunction display and you are ready for MARPA tracking. The unit is compact in size so it will fit nicely on any boat. Installation is also fairly easy.
The Dynamic Sea Filter adapts to changing sea conditions. That ensures you don’t lose signal or clarity regardless of what’s going on. Radar images are overlaid on the chart plotter. That means you have improved navigation capabilities.
5. Simrad Halo 20+ Marine Radar
The Simrad Halo 20+ has a range of 36 nautical miles. It uses pulse compression technology and features beam sharpening. The dual range mode lets you see at a distance and also close up. With 60 RPM operation you can see close up almost instantly to 1.5 nautical miles.
The Simrad features VelocityTrack Doppler technology for collision avoidance. This will help you keep track of any hazards on the open water. You can steer clear of other vessels and objects well ahead of time. It operates in several modes. These include harbor, offshore, weather, and bird modes.
It also features MARPA target tracking. This lets you follow 10 targets simultaneously. If you’re using dual range, it doubles to 20.
Unlike some systems, the Simrad is ready instantly. There is no warm up period during which it has to build up. If you plan to stay close to shore, the Simrad Halo may be the best marine radar for you. The speed and accuracy help you identify close range targets. This can be done faster than almost any other marine radar out there.
6. Furuno 1815 Color LCD Marine Radar
The Furuno 1815 4kW marine radar features an 8.4 color LCD display. This means you don’t need to worry about having to try to integrate boat radar into your GPS or chart plotter. It’s an ideal unit for fishing boats. Or just pleasure boating. The radome antenna is small and won’t take up a lot of space. The installation is simple and easy to understand. Also, the controls are highly intuitive. Mastering the functioning will not take much time at all.
Details are displayed clearly and in full color on the display. Fast Target Tracking lets you follow up to 10 targets at one time. True Trail mode also displays the path objects are on. It then compiles that data over time so you can see where an object is and how it got there. The range extends up to 36 nautical miles.
Things to Consider
Not every marine radar is built the same. There are several factors that can affect which one is best for your boat.
Radar System Range
Marine radars come in different ranges. Think of it like binoculars. Depending on the lens and prism type, some can see a great distance. Others have a much more limited range. So then the question becomes what range do you need and why?
If you’re a casual boater, you may not need any great range. If you tend to stay near shore, a limited range will work perfectly for you. It can still show hidden hazards and vessels in fog.
If you’re interested in more serious boating, a greater range is needed. If you plan to do boating a good distance from shore, this will be helpful. Likewise, if you’re an explorer and want to head to unfamiliar waters. A long range boat radar will eliminate any surprises.
An average range is 24 nautical miles or 26 nautical miles. Even up to 48 nautical miles. 36 nautical miles is rather rare, but it’s a sweet spot in the middle. The best marine radars need to have range plus clarity.
As you can imagine, a more powerful marine radar is typically a better marine radar. A more powerful engine goes faster. A more powerful shower cleans better. It’s just how things work. Power is different from range, although range is definitely affected by power.
A low-powered marine radar will have trouble getting through severe weather and fog. Heavy rain will slow it down as well. These obstructions absorb radar, making it less functional. More power will help it cut through them.
Power for a marine radar is measured in kilowatts (kW). The typical range for a marine radar starts at 4 kW and goes up to about 25 kW. A 4 kW radar has a maximum range of about 48 nautical miles. At 25 kW you’ll get a maximum range up to 96 nautical miles.
There are lowered power marine radars you can get as well. Some down as low as 2 kW. These only have a maximum range of about 24 nautical miles.
The ability of your marine radar to function can be tweaked by more than just power. For instance, a taller antenna can help improve range and power as well.
Types of Marine Radars
Not every boater is aware that marine radars come in different types. They perform the same basic function but operate slightly differently.
Pulse Radar: These are the older style of radar system. They create microwave pulses with high powered magnetrons. It’s rather similar to how a microwave oven works. The pulse are released in short bursts of voltage. Though older, it’s still reliable radar technology.
Solid State Radar: Solid state is the newer style of radar system. It’s also called broadband marine radar. Solid state uses something called Frequency Modulated Continuous Wave technology. This is sometimes abbreviated to FMCW.
Solid state marine radars use less radiation than pulse radar. That’s another thing people don’t often consider. Radar does release energy that could potentially be dangerous. Keep in mind that it’s unlikely you’ll be exposed to a dangerous dose, however. It would take a long time.
Solid state radars are easier to install than pulse. They don’t need to warm up the way a pulse system does, either. They have improved range even using the same power. And they also have a better target resolution.
Most marine radars have a beam width of 5.2°. A narrower beam width is going to provide you with a more detailed image. This is especially true of an object that is far away. It’s like focusing on something with a flashlight beam. But there is a downside. Narrow beam width tends to miss things as well. The narrower your beam, the more likely it is to skip important objects. So you need to have a happy medium. Too wide and resolution suffers as well.
Marine radar systems work in conjunction with other technology. On its own, radar won’t do much, right? You need to see the data it collects on a screen. That means tying it into your GPS or chart plotter.
Some radars come with their own GPS and chart plotter hardware. But most boats will already have a GPS or chart plotter on board. It’s more efficient to tie them together. But you need to make sure your radar actually works with what you have. If not, you’ll need to have some extra technology on board.
Just as with anything else on your boat, you need to settle on a budget for a radar. Even a “cheap” radar is an investment. Some kinds of radar systems can get well over $5000. For that kind of money, you want to make sure you’re getting quality technology.
Cheap radar systems do exist. But never forget that you get what you pay for. If you find a bargain radar, always research it. Check reviews across several sites. Especially if it’s a brand you have never heard of. If you can’t get some reliable history and reviews, you may want to skip it.
The way that you boat can dictate how you use marine radar system. As we covered, weather can affect how radar systems work. But if you do boating at night, for instance, that has an effect as well. Early morning boating can benefit from high powered radar as well. If you have a fishing boat, you can get a marine radar system that is also a sonar. That way you have the benefit of a fish finder.
Casual boaters will probably just need a simple marine radar system, if they need one at all. But if you’re a real gadget head, then maybe a more intense system is needed.
Choosing the place to mount your radar is as important as the type of radar. If you mount it wrong, it will limit function. Improper mounting makes blind spots. If the radar is obstructed by other parts of your boat, it can render it useless. Your radar should come with a mounting kit. This will always be the best way to mount it. If it doesn’t, you need to do a little homework. Find out the best way to mount your specific model.
At the very least, radar needs to be mounted above the passengers on the boat. This keeps you out of range of the electromagnetism that is being used. You want to look for the highest possible point on the boat. That way the radar can operate at a full 360 degrees.
Everything on a boat needs to have a degree of waterproofing. That just makes sense. But electronics can be touchy. You wouldn’t want to dunk your GPS or radio, right? The radar is the same way. It needs to be waterproof, however. It’s going to be exposed to sun and surf.
Radar units have specific waterproof ratings. You want something rated IPX6 at least. The IPX scale rates devices based on their water resistance. It runs from IPX0 to IPX9K.
An IPX0 has no water protection at all. At IPX6 it can resist high-pressure, heavy sprays of water. This is ideal for a boat radar. It should be enough to keep it safe in rough seas. It is rare you would find anything above IPX6.
IPX7 means it can be submerged for 1 meter for up to 30 minutes. It is unlikely you would find a radar system that has this rating or above.
Not every radar system is the same size. If you have a small boat, you need a small radar. Not for technology reasons, but for practical ones. Large radar units will be harder to mount if you don’t have the space.
Check the dimensions before you buy. Make sure you have the open space to mount it safely. Likewise, a heavy radar unit could pose an installation and safety issue. Some of these units weigh around 20 lbs. If these are not securely mounted, they could be a danger if a storm tears them free. Mounted in a high space, you don’t need a 20 lb radar hitting you in high winds.
Shane William Savell on May 25, 2021
Hi, looking for small boat 30foot or do, radars with PI lines. Parallel index lines. Any comments. Cheers. Sav
David L on October 25, 2022
Something for your readers to consider. Will a radar pick up whales in the water. The answer is a resounding no! How then do some radars detect whales. Answer – the same way they all do. They won’t reflect off a whale, they will reflect off the hole in the water a whale makes. This explains why whales come and go on radar. When near the surface they make a “visible” hole in the water. When they dive – they disappear!
The radar horizon for an antenna is about 7nm at sea level and increases to about 12nm for a 100 foot antenna. The power out on a radar is not the critical factor when selecting a product. Your range is obviously extended when detecting targets which are higher than sea level. EG the mast of a merchant ship.
The statement above “The ability of your marine radar to function can be tweaked by more than just power. For instance, a taller antenna can help improve range and power as well.” is misleading, when you say a taller antenna I presume you mean a higher mounted antenna? (A taller antenna in the shape of the reflector would provide no benefit in the marine environment.)Height of the antenna may improve range as described above. It will not provide more power, this is purely a function of transmitter power. For example to double the range of a radar you have to increase the power out by 8 times.