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Best marine radars for 2020

Several months ago—pre-pandemic--I was talking to a friend who instructs boaters in the use of marine equipment including some electronics. I asked how comfortable most of his students are with basic electronics like depth sounders/fishfinders, chartplotters and radars. His answer didn’t surprise me. Depends on how they use their boat, he said. Boaters who fish are generally good with sounders as are cruisers with plotter electronics.

Of all the onboard electronics, he pointed to radar as the most intimidating because it is the least used. Most boaters don’t turn it on—and if they do they glance at it only occasionally—until they find themselves in the dark or the fog has settled in around them like a thick cloud. Making sense at that point of the relative location, speed and characteristics of targets on the display can be an unnerving and inexact exercise.

Doppler technology has made radars a lot more user friendly in recent years. Radar technology can now alert boaters to targets that pose threats—changing the color of nearby vessels that may be on a collision course with you from green to red. Talk about much better situational awareness than trying to read the course and speed of a blip on the screen relative to your heading.

A lineup of the best radars on the market is below. The roster is part of an exercise Marine Electronics Journal does every year as part of our Buyers’ Guide. It works like this: We ask manufacturers to identify the one model they produce in a particular category (19 in all) that they consider to be their Best & Brightest—not necessarily the most technically advanced or newest but rather the one they rate highest in the product line for one reason or another. Could be the functions and features it offers, or maybe it breaks new ground in maximizing effectiveness or utility, or maybe it’s the most popular as measured by sales to boaters.