Radar Reflectors and Sea Kayak Visibility

In recent years, sea kayaking has been growing in popularity throughout North America and especially in Maine. Sea kayakers are regularly observed along our coastal shores; and sea kayak guides and outfitters are becoming a significant part of the working waterfront, with commercial operations spanning from Kittery to Calais. With such popularity, the potential for kayak collisions with larger vessels increases dramatically.

Radar reflectors are used by sailboats, motorized recreational craft, and working boats of all sizes to increase their potential appearance on the radar of other vessels; the more obvious the “return” on a radar screen, the more likely an attendant boat captain is to avoid collision. However, concrete information is lacking on just how effective radar reflectors are in helping sea kayaks appear on radar.

The purpose of this study was to review the effectiveness of a variety of commercial and homemade radar reflectors in increasing the visibility of sea kayaks on radar. It is intended that the results of this study will 1) raise awareness about the efficacy of radar reflectors on sea kayaks; 2) provide all users of our coastal waters with knowledge to reduce the risk of radar-equipped vessels colliding with sea kayaks; and 3) begin a dialog between motor-/sail- vessel operators and sea kayakers along the coast of Maine.

Radar reflector research featured on Paddling.Net, June 2009

Radar, Reflectors and Sea Kayaks: A Visibility Study PDF 2.8 MB
This 8-page study report is intended for any boater who wants to learn how to decrease their chance of collision, including sea kayakers and boaters who use radar. The report covers:

PowerPoint Presentation about the Visibility Study  PDF 1.28 MB
This visual presentation provides background on the study, the graphs from the study results, the field data form and brief overview of methodology, and some additional photos.

Field Data Form  Excel 16 KB
For those interested in the details of the study set-up, this field data form was created to track 'hits' and 'misses' of reflector-equipped kayaks on a radar screen at various distances and settings. (For details on how radar works, please refer to the study report.)

Radar Reflector and Sea Kayak Visibility Photo Gallery

For more information about Radar Reflectors and Sea Kayak Visibility, contact Natalie Springuel