PASSIVE RADAR REFLECTORS – By Wayne Comben

One topic that is guaranteed to raise a heated discussion on my local fishing forum is that of passive radar reflectors, or more to the point, is it actually worth fitting one? Ideally we would all like to have a powered up,  all singing, all dancing,  state of the art radar system aboard – but let’s be realistic, most small fishing boats in the 17-20 feet just don’t have them fitted and others don’t see a need.
For my part I decided my finances would allow a passive reflector, so opted for an Echomax 230 which I mounted on top of my fly bridge.

Passive radar reflector

Here it’s worth pointing out a few things that may appear obvious – it’s not a good move to anchor shipping lanes or areas of heavy traffic, it’s even worse to do this in poor visibility or darkness. Getting caught out in a heavy fog is no fun either. Do not expect big ships to turn at short notice and even if you were anchored there first, be ready to move a bit sharpish if required. It’s prudent to have a rope cutting knife to hand at all times, serrated blade diver types are ideal, just in case the anchor rope requires cutting. Having a passive radar reflector fitted on your boat does not necessarily mean large ships have you on their radar.
It was the sinking of the yacht ‘Ouzo’ South of the Isle of Wight by the Pride of Bilbao in 2006 that prompted the MAIB, Marine Accident Investigation Branch, to commission a study by QinetiQ on the performance of passive radar reflectors. The findings were that any passive type reflector was better then none at all, but a few types were certainly not recommended, the tube type in particular was rated very poorly for performance. The 6″ octahedral reflector was a better performer, as was the Blipper and the Echomax. Incidentally the ‘Ouzo had the 6″ fold up octahedral type and the report says that the watch on the bridge of the Bilbao saw no target on their radar.
I have a few friends who are equipped with radar who inform me that I give a signal back, their boats are of a similar size to mine but I have yet to confirm if large shipping picks me up.
The truth is  powered radar is by far the best option if you can stretch for one , failing that a passive radar reflector at least gives you a shout of being picked up on another vessels radar.  Incidentally the RNLI fit the Echomax to their fleet of RIBS which is one of the reasons I chose it.
At the end of the day it’s up to the individual whether they fit a reflector, if you do decide to go ahead then choose carefully and bear in mind what some wag who tested the tube type reflector said about them…….     ‘A good model to fit to a stealth aircraft’.

Safe fishing.