In my last two columns, I’ve gone over some often overlooked capabilities of radar sets and radar techniques that can help make navigation safer when they are regularly used by experienced, skilled and careful operators. 

As with all navigation skills, practice is needed so an operator’s skill and confidence levels improve to the point where the techniques can be relied upon when you need them most. But if an operator has too much confidence in himself and the equipment, it can be just as bad or even worse than a lack of confidence. 

Overconfidence can lead to biting off more than you can chew.

And that’s precisely what all technology, particularly radar and nav plotters, have a bad habit of doing. When disciplined use is not observed, it is sure to breed overconfidence. Thus, it’s important to make note of what radar should not be used for. 

For example, radar is not meant to substitute for being able to actually see far enough in the distance to facilitate reasonably safe navigation. Radar should also not be used as a substitute for operating at a safe speed, regardless of whether visibility is zero or unlimited. And radar provides no liability immunity when a thought-out voyage results in some kind of incident.

To leave a location of relative safety (a dock or anchorage) and sail right into known zero or very-low visibility is just stupid. It is viewed quite differently compared to inadvertently coming upon poor visibility somewhere during a voyage should something go wrong. It forms the legal distinction between gross negligence and simple negligence. If you don’t know the difference between the two then you’re playing with fire in the modern-day legal environment we operate in.

Radar, if you let it, can will allow you to significantly stretch the boundaries of what is doable. However, it does it without any consideration for whether or not you should do it. 

Knowing how and when to utilize enhanced radar capabilities and not get sucked into the technology trap, is key to increasing your odds of avoiding ugly and possibly career-ending incidents.