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post #14 of Old 11-21-2002
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Is Radar an absolute necessity?


Sometimes we get all pumped up about our particular knowledge of a subject and fail to either respond to the post or acknowledge how the real world works.

First, the Pardeys - wonderful folks with an astounding set of accomplishments, both sailing and commercial - view electronics as tho'' they are still being built of transistors in the early 1980''s. Radars today are not only highly reliable but flexibly programmable. There''s no reason amp draw should categorically remove radar from use on a boat capable of offshore or alongshore cruising; just set your zone and scan timing to suit your needs.

Once a collision occurs, along with a loss for which you are seeking coverage while hoping to avoid blame, all facts associated with the collision will be considered. There''s no giant maritime rule book that says you will or will not be covered, fined or sued should you be equipped with radar but not use it. OTOH the issue will be in part whether each party conducted themselves in a prudent, seamanlike manner. Since half of each day is dark, sailboat crews at sea are often short-handed, and there''s often less than unlimited visibility, it''s pretty easy to imagine how lack of a radar''s use could be seen as contributory to the loss. And yes, the ROR''s have been used as the legal basis for radar non-use to be considered contributory.

Radar is a big help to offshore, short-handed crews. It''s no panacea but is close to adding a crew member, assuming it''s properly tuned and programmed for the conditions. One of the things we found most helpful about using it - even in the clear Caribbean - is that it allowed us to anticipate close crossing situations well before visual sightings made this possible (even in clear daylight), after which a patient, professional call on VHF resulted in the ship changing course to suit the sailboat many times. When running down wind with all sails vanged and on the vane, this is a big labor savings...and it''s usually fun to talk to the other ship''s crew, too. Using radar effectively is a bit like playing a musical instrument; you get the most value from it when you apply some effort to its use - as opposed to a knotmeter or, oftentimes, a GPS readout. I think that''s why some folks undersell radar; they turn it on and then occasional stare at it, expecting it to ''do something'', I guess.

Radar has no downsides that I can see except the financial one. Whether it justifies the expense is a function of multiple factors: the cruising grounds, size of crew, how long it will be earning its keep, what effort the crew makes to use it effectively, and what one must not buy because of installing radar among them.

For Sailnet fans, you might want to look at Liza''s article on this topic:

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