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Radar Tips & Troubleshooting

by Dave Alston

A significant number of reported radar problems are eventually traced back to operator error.  Be sure to read your operation manual and keep it handy for reference purposes.  Most manuals have a troubleshooting section for operators.  It could help you to solve a problem and may save you money by avoiding unnecessary service calls.  
Routine Checks:
As with all your electronics it’s a good idea to visually inspect the radar from time to time.  If you have an open scanner you should occasionally turn the antenna by hand to check for restrictions or unusual noises.  Check the display for moisture and inspect the cable connections on the back.  Always turn your electronics off prior to starting your engines or changing generators to avoid exposing your electronics to voltage surges.
Weak Targets:
It’s important to be familiar with your surroundings and have a reference of what a normal radar picture looks like where you are currently located.  Verify there are no obstructions blocking the radar signal.  When you confirm a reduction in the normal target quantity, you should first verify proper input voltage to the display then check operator settings and controls.  Set both rain and sea clutter controls to minimum and turn the gain control to maximum.  Try manually tuning for maximum target return.  
No Antenna Rotation:
Most radar antennas will not rotate in the standby mode.  Verify that your radar has completed the warm up period (usually 3 minutes) and that you have properly switched to the transmit mode.  With the radar off, check the antenna for restrictions by manually rotating it.  If you have a dome antenna, remove the cover to gain access to the antenna.  Rotate it by hand.  Check for broken belt.  Carefully replace the dome and verify proper fit and seal.
Loss of Chart Overlay Feature:
If your radar has chart overlay and that mode will no longer operate normally, the problem could be the loss of heading information from an electronic compass, heading sensor, or gyro.  Verify the heading device has power to it.  In some cases the autopilot heading sensor is used for chart overlay and therefore the pilot must be powered on.  Inspect for bad cable connections.     
Calling for Service:
Once you’ve determined a service call is required, supply the technician or dealer with as many details as possible.  Always have the model number of your radar available.