The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (September 2015)
Radar beacon (short: racon) is – according to article 1.103 of the International Telecommunication Union's (ITU) ITU Radio Regulations (RR) – defined as "A transmitter-receiver associated with a fixed navigational mark which, when triggered by a radar, automatically returns a distinctive signal which can appear on the display of the triggering radar, providing range, bearing and identification information." Each station (transmitter-receiver, transceiver) shall be classified by the service in which it operates permanently or temporarily.
Principle of operation
When a racon receives a radar pulse, it responds with a signal on the same frequency which puts an image on the radar display. This takes the form of a short line of dots and dashes forming a Morse character radiating away from the location of the beacon on the normal plan position indicator radar display. The length of the line usually corresponds to the equivalent of a few nautical miles on the display.
Within the United States, the United States Coast Guard operates about 80 racons, and other organisations also operate them, for example the owners of oil platforms. Their use for purposes other than aids to navigation is prohibited, and they are used to mark:
- lighthouses and navigation buoys
- navigable spans under bridges such as
- to identify centre lines and turning points
- offshore oil platforms and other structures
- including approximately 35 in the Gulf of Mexico
In other parts of the world they are also used to indicate:
- temporary, new and uncharted hazards (with a Morse character "D")
- as leading line racons
Their characteristics are defined in the ITU-R Recommendation M.824, Technical Parameters of Radar Beacons (RACONS). Racons usually operate on the 9320 MHz to 9500 MHz marine radar band (X-band), and most also operate on the 2920 MHz to 3100 MHz marine radar band (S-band). Modern racons are frequency-agile; they have a wide-band receiver that detects the incoming radar pulse, tunes the transmitter and responds with a 25 microsecond long signal within 700 nanoseconds.
Older racons operate in a slow sweep mode, in which the transponder sweeps across the X-band over 1 or 2 minutes. It only responds if it happens to be tuned to the frequency of an incoming radar signal at the moment it arrives, which in practice means it responds only around 5% of the time.
To avoid the response masking important radar targets behind the beacon, racons only operate for part of the time. In the United Kingdom, a duty cycle of about 30% is used — usually 20 seconds in which the racon will respond to radar signals is followed by 40 seconds when it will not, or sometimes 9 seconds on and 21 seconds off (as in the case of the Sevenstones Lightship). In the United States a longer duty cycle is used, 50% for battery-powered buoys (20 seconds on, 20 seconds off) and 75% for on-shore beacons.
Ramarks are wide-band beacons which transmit continuously on the radar bands without having to be triggered by an incoming radar signal. The transmission forms a line of Morse characters on the display radiating from the centre of the display to its edge. They are not used in the United States.
This section needs to be updated.(May 2016)
This proposal is currently being brought forward to the maritime industry by the Danish Maritime Safety Administration through IALA. The recommendations and performance requirements for RACON are under consideration for revision, due to issues of limited ability to trigger RACON responses introduced by New Technology (NT) Radar.
An opportunity for practical testing of the concept in 2011 is being considered in the EfficienSea project, partly financed by the Baltic Sea Region Programme and coordinated by the Danish Maritime Safety Administration.
When a traditional RACON receives a radar pulse, it responds with a signal which on a radar screen takes the form of a short line of dashes and dots forming a Morse character radiating away from the location of the beacon. Typically, the Morse character starts with a dash – a long, continuous signal.
The proposal for Enhanced RACON is to further modulate this first dash, with a small amount of digital information to enable either the unique identification of this particular RACON (for instance 30 bits of data identifying the RACON by a MMSI) or alternatively to identify the position of the RACON.
Introducing a unique identification would enable enhanced RADAR positioning through the ability to correlate the radar response of a RACON with the known position of that RACON. This could either be derived from an associated AIS signal representing the same object with the same identifier, or potentially in the future from information contained in a nautical publication, such as an electronic navigational chart in the emerging S-100 format.
- Emergency position-indicating radiobeacon station (EPIRB)
- Marine VHF radio
- Radio station
- Radiocommunication service
- Search and rescue transponder
- ITU Radio Regulations, Section IV. Radio Stations and Systems – Article 1.103, definition: radar beacon (racon)
- Light List, Volumes 1-7. United States Coast Guard. 2009.
- Light List, Volume III, Atlantic Coast, Little River, South Carolina to Econfina River, Florida (PDF). Light List. United States Coast Guard. 2009.
- Light List, Volume VI, Pacific Coast and Pacific Islands (PDF). Light List. United States Coast Guard. 2009.
- Light List, Volume IV, Gulf of Mexico (PDF). Light List. United States Coast Guard. 2009.
- IALA Recommendation R-101 Maritime Radar Beacons (Racons)
- IMO Resolution MSC.192(79) – Radar Performance Requirements
- EU part-financed project: Efficient, Safe and Sustainable Traffic at Sea
- Baltic Sea Region Programme 2007-2013 eu.baltic.net
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