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#205298 - 07/30/10 07:32 AM Kayakers and tinfoil hats.
Art_in_FL Offline

Registered: 09/01/07
Posts: 2432
Small boats are always at danger of getting run over by larger vessels. Kayaks, being very small and quite low to the water, are particularly vulnerable and difficult to see.

In the summer of 2003 and 2004 a group set about trying to figure out what was the best way of making their small craft show up on radar.

Of the devices tested the winner was ... wait for it ... a tinfoil hat.

The paper is a good read even for people who don't go kayaking in the open ocean. It pretty well outlines the survival basics of how radar works, how radar reflectors work, or fail to work, and what can be done to make any reflector work better. The same basic dynamics are true if your riding a kayak, a 30' sailboat, or have been set adrift in a life raft.

And yes, it also points out that tinfoil hats have more uses that just keeping the NSA satellites from reading your thoughts.

Read all about it at:

There is also a more comprehensive study, but far less fun study because they left out the tinfoil hat, of commercial radar reflectors at: (Looks like I blew the address the first time. The correct address is):

Brought to my attention at:

Edited to correct address of second pdf.

Edited by Art_in_FL (07/30/10 06:15 PM)

#205305 - 07/30/10 01:41 PM Re: Kayakers and tinfoil hats. [Re: Art_in_FL]
Cauldronborn Offline

Registered: 07/10/09
Posts: 82
Loc: UK
Hmm, seems like some people are going to be mad for making the NSA's job of tracking them a hole lot easier smile On the other hand it might be a good business opportunity selling "stealth" foil hats. grin

#205307 - 07/30/10 02:40 PM Re: Kayakers and tinfoil hats. [Re: Cauldronborn]
dougwalkabout Offline
Crazy Canuck
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 02/03/07
Posts: 2884
Loc: Alberta, Canada
This is interesting. During the early years of radar, fishermen lashed metal barrels to their masts as radar reflectors.

I wonder if a space blanket would work?

#205309 - 07/30/10 03:11 PM Re: Kayakers and tinfoil hats. [Re: dougwalkabout]
UncleGoo Offline

Registered: 12/06/06
Posts: 378
Loc: CT
Maybe an aluminized propeller beanie, for that pulsed return signal...

#205310 - 07/30/10 03:24 PM Re: Kayakers and tinfoil hats. [Re: Art_in_FL]
Am_Fear_Liath_Mor Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 08/03/07
Posts: 3078

Reminds me of the RAF Vulcan Bomber story practicing precision bombing on a featureless desert in the US using airborne RADAR during the early sixties. The USAF were amazed that they hit their impossible RADAR target they were given, thinking that the RAF had a secret technology way ahead of the USA at the time.

Apparently the RAF aircrew wifes had gone for a picnic out in the desert at a predetermined location, then at a specific time they all opened and closed their car boot doors which gave a blinking RADAR return to the Vulcan bombers enough to pinpoint their ground target using with the car boot RADAR location as a offset geographical reference.

#205311 - 07/30/10 03:26 PM Re: Kayakers and tinfoil hats. [Re: dougwalkabout]
unimogbert Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 08/10/06
Posts: 860
Loc: Colorado
Originally Posted By: dougwalkabout
During the early years of radar, fishermen lashed metal barrels to their masts as radar reflectors.

I wonder if a space blanket would work?

A purpose-built radar reflector is a good idea. Occasionally known as the "Mongolian Ghost Trap" (can't recall where I read that) the idea is to hoist something that purposefully retro-reflects radar.
Radar won't see the target if the incoming beam isn't directed back where it came from (basic stealth concept). There are devices that look like a bunch of corners made of metal to hoist on your masthead.

THese things are important because there are a lot of merchant vessels out there being steered by "otto"
Otto-pilot. Everyone else is asleep.

Another threat to one's nautical well-being can be mentioned. Submarines.
Submarines can't hear sailboats. (or kayaks) A submarine coming to periscope depth could collide with your silent boat and sink you. Might not even hear you go crunch either.

(I came very, very close to hitting a sailboat one night.)

#205312 - 07/30/10 05:07 PM Re: Kayakers and tinfoil hats. [Re: unimogbert]
AndrewC Offline

Registered: 12/27/09
Posts: 59
Loc: Boise, ID
Now if only jet boats on rivers used radar!

Kayaking is similar to motorcycling - you may legally have right of way, but in the real world, you're the one who's dead. So high-visibility colors (a big part of why so many kayaks are yellow) and use your eyes and especially your ears to avoid conflicts in the first place. Since I don't create any engine noise, I can hear a motorized boat coming long before they see me.

I'm fortunate that on a river, there is only a narrow channel that a motorized boat can take. I just head closer to shore when I hear one coming and then only need to worry about their wake (bonus rapid!).

#205314 - 07/30/10 06:19 PM Re: Kayakers and tinfoil hats. [Re: AndrewC]
Art_in_FL Offline

Registered: 09/01/07
Posts: 2432
Note I posted the wrong address for the second paper. The correct address is:

More suitable for a person selecting a radar reflector for a boat it goes into some depth reviewing quite a few different commercially available models.

#205319 - 07/31/10 12:27 AM Re: Kayakers and tinfoil hats. [Re: unimogbert]
Susan Offline

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 5163
Loc: W. WA
"Radar won't see the target if the incoming beam isn't directed back where it came from (basic stealth concept)."

A guy in Oregon once told me that he had some friends who constantly exceeded the speed limit on the local roads, and they told him that they avoided radar traps by loosely crinkling HD aluminum foil and covering their hubcaps with it.

Would this really have the desired effect?


#205322 - 07/31/10 01:58 AM Re: Kayakers and tinfoil hats. [Re: Art_in_FL]
chickenlittle Offline

Registered: 06/06/10
Posts: 102
Loc: Canada
So if I read the foil hat report right they performed well but a kayak is still too small of a target to get noticed easily and its signal is usually lost in the clutter filter of the radar unit.

So besides staying out of the shipping lanes what else can you do?
Is there any way to make a small powered radar beacon that would give a radar signal, hopefully warning ships that you are there?
Maybe it could pulse the signal in such a way that they know you are a small craft instead of another drifting oil drum.

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