A new way of navigating?

The ability to see what is underwater ahead of a ship opens up a new dimension to navigation The ability to see what is underwater ahead of a ship opens up a new dimension to navigation

It could be a navigator's dream to be able to 'see' what lies ahead underwater and now a new type of forward looking sonar offers this possibility. US company, Far Sounder is now offering forward looking sonars with an extended range.

Forward looking sonars are not new. British company Echo Pilot has been offering units suitable for small vessels for many years and they were pioneers in developing 3D images of what lies ahead. Major electronic companies like Simrad now have forward looking sonars in their portfolio. All of these units tend to have a very limited range measured in 10's of metres ahead of the vessel which gives limited time to take avoiding action if danger is sensed ahead of the vessel.

The Far Sounder units come in two sizes, the 500 and the 1000. The 500 has a range of 500 metres ahead of the vessel and it spans an arc of 90°, which is 45° on either side of the bow, adequate for most navigation functions. The 1000 has double this range. The transducer incorporates 100 individual units so that one simple ping from the transducer can span the whole area ahead of the vessel and create the display. Sophisticated software allows the returned signals to be translated into colour coded 3D displays. Far Sounder has developed a unique 3D colour display that can be shown on a separate screen or they now offer the facility for this to be displayed as an overlay on the electronic chart. This overlay allows underwater targets to be related to what is shown on the chart which can help identification.

It is also possible to track ships with this forward looking sonar which could be a good supplement to radar but this aspect of the unit is not emphasised because of limitations imposed by US export laws. A spokesperson for Far Sounder said, "Our technology capabilities do include vessel tracking but we do strive to keep our commercial products exportable without a licence as much as we can." This probably refers to the potential for tracking underwater craft.

The transducer units can be installed in a bulbous bow or incorporated into a conventional sharp bow shape. Far Sounder has developed a number of alternatives but they only work on displacement hulls as the transducer has to stay in the water for it to work. The transducer for the 500 unit can remain working at speeds up to 20 knots whilst this can be extended to 25 for the larger 1000 unit. The transducers can form part of Far Sounder's Diver detection System to perform a double role.

The ability to see what is underwater ahead of a ship opens up a new dimension to navigation. Whilst modern radars have a tremendously improved ability to detect targets they can still be challenged to detect small craft in rough seas. This system from Far Sounder adds an alternative detection method that could help to compensate.

By Dag Pike

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