Bulletin No.: 03/1981

Date (Y-M-D): 1981-12-31

Subject: Radar Reflectors - A Safety Device for Small Vessels

This Bulletin has been replaced by Bulletin No. 04/1992.

In the past year several small fishing boats, operating at sea in restricted visibility, have been run down or swamped by larger vessels due to lack of detection. Subsequent investigations have revealed that many of these fishing vessels were not making use of, or even carrying, a radar reflector to increase their chances of being detected.

Small craft generally make poor radar targets because they are mainly constructed of non-metallic materials and because they present a low profile due to their small amount of superstructure. Even in good visibility they are difficult to see from the bridge of a large ship since they are so low down on the horizon and do not show against the sky. In rough weather they are often screened by spray or may not be seen when in the trough of a swell. At night their navigation lights may easily be overlooked because of the presence of shore lights in the background. In restricted visibility where radar and the exchange of sound signals are the only means of detection, it is important that small vessels use radar reflectors to indicate their presence to other vessels in the vicinity.

Both the Collision Regulations and the Rules of the Road for the Great Lakes require a vessel that is less than 20 metres in length or is primarily constructed of non-metallic materials to carry a passive radar reflector that meets the required standards. Flexibility however, was intentionally built into the provisions of these regulations to permit exception from compliance provided it is impracticable or not essential for the safety of the vessel to carry a reflector.

A vessel owner, who in the case of a small fishing vessel is often the operator, makes the initial decision as to whether the carriage of a reflector is practical or essential for the safety of his vessel. If in doubt an owner should contact the local Coast Guard, Ship Safety office for advice. Although there may not appear to be an obvious need for the carriage of this equipment, an investigating officer may indicate that, in his opinion, a reflector is essential for the safety of the board and its occupants.

The interpretation of impracticable or not essential for the safety of the vessel is probably best illustrated by the following examples. These, examples may assist small craft owners in reaching a decision concerning the carriage of a radar reflector.

Small vessels which operate offshore in all types of weather or which operate in busy waters in darkness and/or restricted visibility should permanently display a radar reflector for their own safety. For example, small craft should display radar reflectors when fishing in offshore areas such as La Perouse and the Grand Banks and on other fishing grounds. In addition, small craft should also display reflectors when in busy waters such as outside harbour entrances, the St. Lawrence River, the Great Lakes, in Georgia Strait and when in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

On the other hand, it would be impracticable and not essential for the safety of small boats, runabouts, canoes etc. to carry a reflector when used at the cottage or at resort areas for short trips along the lake or for fishing and water-skiing purposes. Such craft usually operate close to shore and are normally too small to carry a radar reflector, furthermore they generally operate in good weather and often in areas where a radar reflector may have little use.

Many fishermen consider equipment such as trolling poles and/or various makeshift gadgets, such as washing machine impellers, can be used in place of a radar reflectors. These devices do not substitute for a good radar reflector that has been designed, constructed and properly positioned to ensure its maximum reflective performance under all conditions likely to be experienced in the marine environment.

Radar reflectors are relatively inexpensive and represent a modest investment when weighed against the cost of a boat, its equipment and the lives of those on board. In the interests of your own safety and detection can you afford to be not protected?

Be detected, be protected!!!

Keywords:                                  Questions concerning this bulletin should be addressed to:

1. Radar deflections
2. Smoke vessels   
3. Safety devices
Transport Canada
Marine Safety
Tower C, Place de Ville
11th Floor, 330 Sparks Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0N8

To add or change your address, contact us at: marinesafety@tc.gc.ca

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