I prefer to evaluate the products I write about by temporarily installing them on my yacht and then using them on the Gulf of Mexico. However, there are some devices, the new Furuno FAR-2127-BB, 25kW radar among them, that don't lend themselves to reasonable installation, temporary or otherwise, on a 46-foot ketch. (Although it might be interesting to see how much drive one could obtain by properly angling the radar's 8-foot antenna to the wind.) Thus my evaluation of this International Maritime Organization (IMO) compliant radar system, which is approved for use on any size ship, took place on a magnificently equipped 80-foot Donzi sportfisherman where it was paired with a Furuno 1953C/BB NavNet Radar using a 12kW transmitter and a 4-foot open array antenna.
The radar transceiver/antenna choices available for the FAR-21 system include a 30kW S-band unit with a 10-foot-long antenna, or either of two X-band units rated at 12kW or 25kW, using 8-, 6.5- or 4-foot antennas. Depending on the type of transmitter and antenna installed, the system's maximum detection capability can extend as far as 120 nautical miles in 17 selectable ranges. (Any target you see at 120 miles distance is likely to be a peak on a volcanic island, a rather intense rainstorm or a very large aircraft at high altitude.) As with any marine radar, the primary advantage of high power is the ability to penetrate heavy rain. The long antenna allows the radar to display targets that are close to one another as separate objects, which can be very helpful.
The "BB" annotation of the FAR-21's product description identifies it as a "black box" radar, meaning that the radar is built as a set of functional modules rather than in a conventional two-unit configuration of a scanner (transmitter, receiver, antenna) and a wheelhouse unit that contains the data processing circuits, control panel and display screen. The FAR-21's scanner assembly is conventional and contains the transmitter, receiver, antenna drive motor and related components. The signal processing and interconnect circuitry is located in the RPU-013 (a.k.a. the black box), or the radar processor unit.
The RPU connects to the yacht's data bus, including gyrocompass, navigation receiver and speed log and to the control unit(s), display(s) and memory card interface unit. The small size of the RPU (about 16 inches square and just over 7 inches high) simplifies installation. The black box design approach permits the use of virtually any size optional multi-sync SXGA (1280 x 1024) LCD or CRT monitor.
The radar's control system is very similar to the latest and best in computer design, making maximum use of on-screen icons, menus and dialog boxes. The radar can be operated with either of two control units, the RCU-014 full keyboard control unit or a very compact RCU-016 Palm Control module. A separate RCU-016 Palm Control can be added to the system when needed to provide an alternate control position.
The FAR-21's control status indicators and operating menus are displayed on the screen, eliminating the need to look away from the screen when making operating adjustments. Anyone familiar with computer drafting programs will be immediately at home using the trackball controls, especially in rough sea conditions.
The image on the display screen was, as expected, razor sharp and easily seen even in adverse lighting conditions. The system can display target trails, emulating the decaying ghost trail that was an inherent part of the old analog radars.
The FAR-21's internal ARPA meets the IMO requirements for both automatic target acquisition and automatic radar plotting of targets, automatically or manually acquiring and tracking up to 100 targets. While identification and tracking of targets is a major advantage in ensuring collision avoidance and safe navigation, integration of radar data with the information provided by an AIS greatly increases the value of the radar. Although AIS is not required on any recreational vessel, I believe the contribution it makes to navigation safety will make it a must-have for many yachts.
When configured as a non-IMO radar (as it will normally be when installed on a yacht) an optional CU-200 card reader can be connected to allow the system to operate as a Radar+Video Plotter (video plotter operation is prohibited on IMO-configured radars). Either Furuno or Navionics chart card data can be superimposed on the radar picture to plot and store tracks, marks, waypoints and routes of your yacht and other vessels.
Manufacturer's suggested price of the 25kW FAR-2127-BB is $16,125 and the 12kW FAR-2117-BB is $13,125. Antenna and displays are extra.
Contact: Furuno, (360) 834-9300, www.furuno.com.