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Sailing / Richard Buffum

Radar Reflectors Can Make High Seas Safer

September 03, 1986|RICHARD BUFFUM

The Skipper Says: Speaking of radar reflectors, you could haul some pots and pans up your rigging, or fill a garbage can with aluminum foil. Some people just take aluminum foil and stuff it up their masts--even wooden masts. That works real well.-- Dave Burch, Starpath School of Navigation, Seattle, in the "National Fisherman."

I never venture outside of the harbor without my radar reflector hauled up to the spreader on my flag halyard. I own one of those traditional octahedron-shaped radar reflectors, rigged so I can fasten it between two ends of my halyard with snap fasteners and rings.

On two occasions, I was made a believer in the radar reflector's safety factor. Once I was caught in a dense fog in the San Pedro Channel while crossing the shipping lanes about seven miles seaward of Newport Beach. I had my boat's VHF radio on, and from time to time several of us out there were broadcasting our relative positions to one another over Channel 16.

A large ship radioed that she had all of us showing as blips on her screen. She gave her course. That assurance served to relieve a little of my anxiety as we motored along blindly, listening for fog signals and blowing our own.

The other incident happened on the maiden voyage to Catalina Island aboard the passenger ship Catalina Holiday out of Newport Beach. It was a mist-shrouded morning. I was on the vessel's bridge. The captain permitted me to look into his radar screen. And there they were, the little blips or spots of light that indicated there were small vessels out there with their radar reflectors hoisted.

The higher one can hoist a reflector the more visible it is over the curvature of the earth. Sailboats with tall masts and even with all their sails set do not show up well, if at all, on radar screens, without a radar reflector. Their hulls are closer to the water than those of powerboats and, therefore, are not as visible to radar. All boats, however, should display radar reflectors.

During the past year a variety of alternatives to the octahedron reflector have appeared on the market. There is a radar-reflecting flag lined with rip-stop nylon and coated with anodized silver. Only a a fraction of the flag's surface needs to be exposed to give a full reflective signal visible for more than 4 1/2 miles, according to the "National Fisherman." The radar flag meets new U.S. Coast Guard regulations requiring commercial vessels on international voyages to equip all life rafts and life boats with radar reflectors.

There are also reflectors with added surfaces to increase radar reflection. These reflectors are enclosed in a radar-transparent plastic tube that offers less wind resistence than the typical 18-inch octahedron. An octahedron reflector costs $10-$50, depending on materials and construction, while the new tube model runs about $90-$100. The radar flag costs $60-$99.

Sailing Notes

The big boats, sail and power, are coming back to Newport Harbor's Lido Marina Village in two almost consecutive in-the-water shows. The Southern California Used Boat Show will be Thursday through Sunday and the Lido In-the-Water Power and Sailboat Show Sept. 10-14. Show times are from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends. Free parking will be available off Tustin and Avon avenues., Newport Beach. Shuttles will leave and return from the show at 15-minute intervals.

A new semi-submersible offshore drilling rig has been diverted to Australia to serve as an entertainment and accommodation center for the America's Cup Race, reports the oil industry's Offshore magazine.

Navigation warning: Because of changes in the shoal areas two additional buoys have been placed in Queensway Bay in the vicinity of the Golden Shores launch ramp. The Coast Guard advises mariners to use extreme caution when transiting in the area northeast of the Golden Shores launch ramp. The shoal area extends three-quarters of the distance from the entrance of the Los Angeles River.

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