Installing a new radar reflector
Installing a new radar reflector

Keep your family safe while sailing with this guide on installing a radar reflector for your boat.

Installing a New Radar Reflector

As you embark on your sailing adventure with your family, safety should always be a top priority. One essential piece of safety equipment that you should consider upgrading or installing on your boat is a radar reflector. In this comprehensive guide, we will discuss the importance of radar reflectors, the different types available, and how to properly install one on your boat.

Table of Contents

Why You Need a Radar Reflector

A radar reflector is a device that helps make your boat more visible to other vessels’ radar systems. This is particularly important in situations where visibility is poor, such as during fog, heavy rain, or at night. By increasing your boat’s radar signature, you can significantly reduce the risk of collisions with other vessels.

In many countries, radar reflectors are required by law for certain types of boats, especially those under a specific size or those that are not made of metal. Even if it’s not a legal requirement for your boat, it’s still a wise investment to ensure the safety of your family and your vessel.

Types of Radar Reflectors

There are two main types of radar reflectors: passive and active. Each type has its own advantages and disadvantages, so it’s essential to understand the differences before making a decision.

Passive Reflectors

Passive radar reflectors are the most common type and work by reflecting the radar signals emitted by other vessels back to their radar systems. They do not require any power source and are generally low maintenance. There are several different designs of passive reflectors, including:

  1. Octahedral reflectors: These are made of metal plates arranged in an octahedral shape, which provides a strong radar reflection from all angles. They are often collapsible for easy storage when not in use.

  2. Luneburg lens reflectors: These are spherical devices made of materials with varying refractive indices, which focus the incoming radar signals and reflect them back to their source. They are less common than octahedral reflectors but can provide a stronger reflection.

  3. Cylindrical reflectors: These are made of metal tubes arranged in a cylindrical shape, which can provide a strong radar reflection when oriented correctly. However, their performance can be significantly reduced if they are not aligned with the incoming radar signals.

Active Reflectors

Active radar reflectors, also known as radar target enhancers (RTEs), work by receiving the incoming radar signals and then transmitting a stronger signal back to the source. This can result in a much larger radar signature than passive reflectors, making your boat more visible to other vessels.

Active reflectors require a power source, usually your boat’s 12-volt electrical system, and may also require periodic maintenance. They are generally more expensive than passive reflectors but can provide a higher level of safety due to their increased visibility.

Choosing the Right Radar Reflector for Your Boat

When selecting a radar reflector for your boat, there are several factors to consider:

  1. Size and weight: The size and weight of the reflector should be appropriate for your boat. Larger reflectors generally provide a stronger radar reflection, but they can also be more challenging to install and may create additional wind resistance.

  2. Performance: The performance of a radar reflector is measured in square meters of radar cross-section (RCS). A higher RCS value indicates a stronger radar reflection. Look for a reflector with an RCS value that is appropriate for your boat’s size and the conditions in which you will be sailing.

  3. Mounting options: Consider how and where you will mount the reflector on your boat. Some reflectors come with mounting brackets or can be easily attached to existing structures, while others may require additional hardware or modifications to your boat.

  4. Budget: Radar reflectors are available at various price points, so consider your budget when making a decision. Keep in mind that investing in a high-quality reflector can provide increased safety and peace of mind during your sailing adventures.

Installing Your Radar Reflector

Once you have chosen the right radar reflector for your boat, it’s time to install it. Proper installation is crucial to ensure the reflector’s effectiveness and your safety on the water.

Mounting Options

There are several mounting options for radar reflectors, including:

  1. Mast mount: Mounting the reflector on your boat’s mast is a popular option, as it provides a high and central location for optimal radar reflection. This can be done using brackets or clamps designed for your specific reflector.

  2. Shroud mount: Another option is to mount the reflector on your boat’s shrouds (the cables that support the mast). This can be done using special shroud clamps or by attaching the reflector directly to the shrouds with cable ties or other fasteners.

  3. Radar arch mount: If your boat has a radar arch, you can mount the reflector on the arch using brackets or clamps. This provides a high and unobstructed location for the reflector.

  4. Pole mount: If none of the above options are suitable for your boat, you can mount the reflector on a dedicated pole. This can be a fixed or removable pole, depending on your preferences and your boat’s layout.

Installation Tips

When installing your radar reflector, keep the following tips in mind:

  1. Height: The higher the reflector is mounted, the more effective it will be. Aim to mount the reflector as high as possible while still being accessible for maintenance and inspection.

  2. Clearance: Ensure there is adequate clearance around the reflector so that it is not obstructed by other structures or equipment on your boat. This is particularly important for passive reflectors, which rely on a clear line of sight to incoming radar signals.

  3. Orientation: Make sure the reflector is oriented correctly according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This is especially important for cylindrical reflectors, which need to be aligned with the incoming radar signals for optimal performance.

  4. Secure mounting: Ensure the reflector is securely mounted to your boat using appropriate hardware and fasteners. Regularly inspect the mounting points for signs of wear or corrosion and replace any damaged components as needed.

Testing Your Radar Reflector

After installing your radar reflector, it’s essential to test its performance to ensure it is providing adequate radar reflection. This can be done by asking a nearby vessel with radar to check your boat’s radar signature or by using a radar reflector tester, which is a specialized device that measures the strength of your reflector’s radar reflection.

Regularly testing your radar reflector is a good practice to ensure it is functioning correctly and providing the necessary safety benefits.


Installing a radar reflector on your boat is an essential safety measure that can significantly reduce the risk of collisions with other vessels. By understanding the different types of reflectors available, choosing the right one for your boat, and properly installing and maintaining it, you can ensure the safety of your family and your vessel during your sailing adventures.