Radar is a very nice safety feature to have on the water. Unfortunately, cheap marine radar has proven elusive. Radar remains one of the most expensive components on any vessel. First of all, I do not sell marine radar domes. In this regard, I am fairly impartial. However, people who buy my navigation laptop systems, which are compatible with various digital marine radar domes often ask me for my input. I am a “bang for the buck” kind of guy, so let me chime in with some options. So let’s explore the question of cheap boat radar down below further.
Save the cost of a major marine radar component: multi-function display (MFD)
As you know, buying and installing a radar dome is only half the problem. Traditionally, you’ve had to buy an expensive major brand MFD plotter to display that radar info. Fortunately, this is no longer the case! You can use one of my navigation laptops to display digital radar directly without a MFD in between. The radar dome just connects to the laptop via an RJ45 network cable, or via a wireless network. You can do this with any of the domes listed here. Why is this good, exactly? Well, you can have a 13 inch or 15 inch display for not crazy money. You can also easily connect a very cheap second monitor to my laptop units for even more real estate. Heck, you can even wireless cast to a smart TV. The possibilities are endless!
Cha-ching, you just saved a heck of a lot! Here’s a list of compatible models:
- Garmin HD / xHD hardware installation guide: GMR 18 HD+, GMR 24 xHD, GMR 624 xHD2, GMR 1224 xHD2, GMR 2524 xHD2, GMR 18 xHD, GMR 424 xHD2, GMR 626 xHD2, GMR 1226 xHD2, GMR 2526 xHD2, GMR 18 HD, GMR 24 HD, GMR 404 xHD, GMR 606 xHD.
- Simrad / Lowrance / Navico / B&G hardware installation guide: Broadband 3G, Broadband 4G, BR24 Broadband, HALO-3, HALO-4, HALO-6 and HALO24.
- Raymarine RDxxxD such as: RD418D, RD418HD, RD424D, RD424HD.
One of the most popular cheap marine radar domes my clients use is the Garmin 18 HD. It can be found used in the $800-1000 range. Fortunately, this is a digital dome which is fully supported by my navigation laptops. You can always contact me, and I’ll help you out!
Cheap marine radar: using an old analog unit is definitely an option
Old chartplotters are absolutely not user friendly to work with. Doing anything on one of them is usually like pulling teeth – slow, and painful. However, if you have (or get) an old analog radar dome with a functional plotter you can use JUST for radar. In other words, you just keep it on the radar screen and don’t touch it. Keeping the dinosaur around just for cheap boat radar may be well worth it. For actual chart plotting and real time navigation you can use one of my tablet or laptop systems side by side! This is a very budget friendly solution. These old domes sometimes pop up for hundreds, which is a heck of a bargain. If you’ve got one of these older systems, just keep it! Get something for the navigation aspect and enjoy the savings.
Cheap marine radar on iPad – Furuno DRS4W wireless digital radar
Furuno is not a company which one usually associates with cost-effective products. However, here’s one instance where they are very competitive. For just around $900, you can get the Furuno DRS4W 1st Watch Wireless 19” 4kW Digital Radar. It displays radar on an iPad (NOTE: Note compatible with Android tablets, unfortunately) directly via WiFi. If you already have an iPad, this is excellent value! New iPads cost from $400-1000+, so this has to be factored into the equation if you don’t have one. However, you can pick up a very old used iPad which works just for this application.
The Furuno Radar iOS app only requires iOS 6.1 which was released back in 2014! Essentially, this means that iPad 2 or iPad Mini 1 and everything newer should be able to run the radar app. These older units can be had for under $100. This is awesome! Kudos to Furuno for keeping that backwards compatibility game strong. If you’re buying an older iPad, I’d get one slightly newer than the very oldest models supported.
Using an AIS receiver as a partial replacement and radar alternative
If your main concern is running into commercial vessels in the fog, using an AIS receiver might be a suitable partial replacement. Commercial vessels are required to carry AIS transceivers by law. You’ll see them overlaid on your charts with speed and heading from miles away. I supply AIS receivers with their own antennas for only $200! You can just put one on the dash – zero installation required. They are compatible with my navigation laptop systems such as the very popular waterproof & outdoor viewable midrange 13. Running into the shore should not be a problem these days, as long as you’re sailing in a well charted area. You’re more likely to run aground before you drive straight into an island you didn’t see. I’ve also assembled a list of affordable AIS transceivers as well, so take a look.
Why use a navigation laptop to achieve cheap boat radar?
My navigation laptop or tablet systems can be much more affordable than Garmin, Lowrance, Simrad, B&G, Furuno, Humminbird, Raymarine, Si-Tex. I will also support my units forever! Furthermore, I believe that some of the commercial chart plotter brands gouge their customers. Large companies force their clients to upgrade by no longer supporting older units with chart and software updates. In addition, they charge outrageous fees for simple things like a larger screen size. I don’t do any of these things, and never will – guaranteed! In addition to these, please take a look at other advantages as well.