Furuno 1715 Radar Unit Review:

The Furuno Radar set is one of the many pieces new of electronics and gear that I added to Salsa when refitting for my Solo Circumnavigation in 2008. I’ll start off by detailing the one very serious problem that I have with the unit. I will also talk about the things I like about it and the features, and then I will give all the details regarding my attempts to have Furuno correct the problem.

I have serious mixed feelings about the unit as part of it works great, but one feature, the “Guard Zone Alarm” only works intermittently and has left me in dangerous situations many times and my many desperate attempts to get help from Furuno has been completely fruitless. In fact I would be very happy to hear from anyone else with the Furuno 1715 Radar that uses the Guard Zone Alarm to hear what their experience has been. Will give both the pros and cons of this unit below but I want to detail my experience with the ‘bug’ in this unit that is a serious danger to single handed sailors first. This is a copy of the first letter I wrote to Customer Service on July 21 2009 explaining the problem;

1) When in Watch Mode, sometimes the unit will go to standby mode as normal, but never cycles back on.

2) When in Watch Mode with alarm activated, sometimes the unit will find and display an obvious target but the alarm will not sound!>>>

So just to make it clear, this radar unit is supposed to allow you to create a “Guard Zone” on the display screen. The zone area is adjustable so for example I usually create a doughnut shaped area around myself covering between 1 and 12 miles away. So set like this anything inside of 1 mile is not supposed to set off the alarm (because this is usually sea clutter and false alarms) and anything outside of 12 miles does not affect the alarm either as it is too far away for me to care about plus outside of 12 miles you start getting even more false alarms and only large freighters or landmasses are likely to be give a good radar return, even though the range on the unit is 24 miles, the usable range for most of my purposes is closer to 12 nautical miles, working even better at 8 or 10 miles. When a “target” enters the area you designated as the alarm zone, and audible alarm is sounded (this usually wakes me up). SO THE PROBLEM IS that about 30% of the time that a target enters the alarm zone, the alarm does not sound OR the unit never “wakes up” from standby mode to even look for a target. You can clearly see a target in the guard zone but the unit simply does not acknowledge it as a target and does not sound the alarm OR the unit says it is in standby guard mode but just sleeps forever and does not cycle back on to look for targets. Initially I thought that I was making a setting error and played with the unit for countless hours until I learned of many other people with the same problem. There is no perfect fix that I am aware of however if you turn off the unit, RESET the memory and all settings back to the factory settings (this means you have to re-calibrate the thing and put in all of your sensitivity settings again!) The unit usually works (for a while) before the problem comes back. Also I tend to test the unit every time I turn it on. I just make the guard zone, then increase the gain setting until there is ‘clutter’ or false targets in the zone to activate the alarm, if it sounds, I turn the gain back to normal then I observe through the first standby cycle and then just hope that it will continue to function, but eventually the problem will return. Sometimes I even have to reset it 3 or 4 times before the guard zone works again. More technical people have discussed in detail the programming issues in the control display that actually causes the glitch or bug and if you Google enough you will find those threads on various websites and message boards.

This is a very serious problem to the long distance single handed or shorthanded sailor. Basically the expensive piece of equipment you bought to wake you up if a ship comes near you only works about two thirds of the time, and the other third of the time you have no idea unless you are awake and looking at the screen (something impossible to do all the time). If anyone else has the same problem or has the unit and hasn’t noticed this problem I would be interested to hear about it, OR if anyone has any idea how I might get Furuno to acknowledge and correct the problem I would be forever great full for the HELP!!

The BEST thing I can say about the unit and Furuno in general is that an informal survey of Captains of various boats and countless hours searching the internet lead me to believe that Furuno does make the best and most reliable Radomes available for the money. Maybe the most reliable radomes on the market. And my Radome has worked flawlessly in respect to its ability to show targets and provide me with the information I need, for example, contour of coast lines and their distance to verify my position and accuracy of my charts, especially at night. The problems I have seemed to only be within the display / computer unit that control the radome. Secondly the unit uses a very reasonable amount of power, especially when you consider the standby guard mode where it shuts down to standby for a pre-set amount of time (5,10 or 20 minutes) then turns on the Radome for One minute to scan for targets. If there are no targets in the guard zone it cycles back to standby and continues this cycle until you turn it off or it spots a target. A target will then set off the audible alarm, and cancel the standby-cycle so that it remains on until you reset the alarm. When / If this is working it effectively wakes you up or alerts you to boats within your area AND coast lines AND rain squalls. This can act as back up to setting GPS alarms and depth sounder alarms to keep you from getting to close to land while sleeping or at night. It also often wakes me up offshore before a squall hits me giving me plenty of time to reef the sails before the worst of the winds arrive. And yes if you keep the guard zone between about 1 and 12 miles almost every freighter and large fishing vessel will activate the alarm, so it basically ‘keeps watch’ for you even better than you can yourself when sitting in the cockpit as it sees ships, land and storms before you can visually see them as the radome is half way up my mast (20 feet over the waterline?) and can see over the horizon visible to my eye from the cockpit. So when it is working it is great, I feel safe, secure, can sleep better and I am better rested. Somewhere I have the details on the power consumption in amps but I’m not going to dig them up right now because I can’t recommend the unit anyway due to the primary feature only working intermittently. I will however say that using the manual and with a little practice it was not too difficult to use most features and buttons and menus make sense as long as you take the time to get to know the unit. But it does take a while (maybe a few days) to tweak out all the settings so that you avoid most false alarms and still get most of the targets to trigger the alarm. When it was working perfectly during the first 6 months I had it I think I averaged about 1 or 2 false alarms per night, and it never missed a freighter. Wooden boats and sailboats are another story. Even with a passive reflector, a large (say 50ft) sailboat isn’t clear on the screen during average sea conditions until it is within a few miles. You COULD change the settings to be more sensitive so you can visibly identify a small target up to around 5 miles away however then you could not effectively use the alarm as you would have a lot of false alarms waking you up every hour or so. This is why at night far offshore I make it only sensitive enough to detect large ships, land and rain squalls, allowing me to sleep most of the night, and during the day or near other boats I use it without the alarm and more sensitive settings to see more details of nearby boats or smaller targets. Lastly, with only 110W of solar power generation, and a large 600Ah battery bank I can run the unit on the standby guard zone all night without power issues as long as I limit my computer / chart plotter use, no fridge, all LED lights, and moderate use of the SSB radio, and using the wind vane opposed to an electronic autopilot. However, this assumes normal conditions with average sunlight.

What I would like from Furuno is a solution to my problem that doesn’t involve the labor intensive process of removing the Radome from the mast (which is not the part of the unit with a problem anyway!). And also for Furuno to acknowledge and identify this glitch that seems to be in MANY or ALL of these units. Maybe in ALL Furuno units quite possibly because I haven’t even begun to research the many other very similar models probably running on the same software. (Just did a Google search and found another Furuno model with same problems and no help from Furuno)! I attached the write up below) anyone who thinks they might be able to help me get some satisfaction from Furuno would be very appreciated for any assistance. As of today everyone I know who has sent the radar back to Furuno at great expense, time, and trouble, got the unit back from Furuno with a report of “NO PROBLEMS” what a joke.

Below is a copy of the correspondence with Furuno Customer Support but basically I emailed them Two years ago and they said to sail to an island or country where they have a service rep, remove the ENTIRE unit from my boat and bring it to them (this wasn’t really an option).

Then I emailed them again Six months ago with NO RESPONSE AT ALL.

These are just the messages via Furuno Customer Service. I also sent countless emails with NO RESPONSE to nearly any email Furuno support, service, or sales people I could find online with NO RESPONSE.

And just today I looked on the Furuno website and see a big warning to customers regarding a GPS problem, so at least they CAN and DO acknowledge and try to solve SOME of the issues they have with their products, why are they ignoring this particular problem and my emails?? I know for a fact that MANY if not all users of at least the Furuno 1715 are affected by this glitch. And honestly, yes I know you should not rely on electronics to keep you safe and run your watch but when single handed this is one of only a few options and this particular Furuno problem could easily help to get someone killed if they believed the guard zone alarm was working when a freighter runs them down at night offshore (LIKE WHAT ALMOST HAPPENED TO ME) so sorry if I take this radar issue a little personally.

I am circumnavigating on a 30 foot sailboat solo. While I understand that the unit is not a replacement for keeping a watch I have come to rely on it heavily, its apparent malfunctions has caused a lot of grief and loss of sleep for me. I am currently in Bora Bora and sailing for Raratonga in the south Cooks Islands in a few days. Please let me know what you suggest or can do to help. Thank You.>>> (End of first letter to customer support)

Furuno 1715 Guard Zone Alarm not working. [Incident:110225-000008]?
To kirkalittle@hotmail.com
From: furuno@custhelp.com
Sent: Saturday, February 26, 2011 3: 59 AM
To: kirkalittle@hotmail.com

Thank you Kirk for contacting Furuno USA, Inc. Your contact information indicates that you are located outside the United States. Your question will be reviewed and forwarded to the appropriate person. Your response time may vary as your question may have to be forwarded to Furuno’s headquarters based in Japan.

Discussion Thread
Customer By Web Form (Kirk little) 02/25/2011 11:59 AM
When in Watch Mode with alarm activated, sometimes the unit will find and display an obvious target but the alarm will not sound!. Sometimes I can overcome this problem by clearing memory and resetting the alarm. Are you aware of this problem and do you have a solution?

I sent an email regarding the same problem last year and it was forwarded to a Furuno Agent in French Polynesia who wanted me to uninstall and bring the unit to him. I have since found three additional yachts circumnavigating with the same Furuno Alarm glitch and I do not want to uninstall my entire unit especially if the agent claims to not even be aware of this problem and may have no solution.

My current Position is Bali Indonesia, I will be in South Africa in December.

Thank you. -Kirk Little

8-18-2009 you have an agent at Fiji ,Suva

Thank you. I have left French Polynesia and I am in Tonga, Valve. Is there a rep here, or in Fiji, or near Bunderburg Australia? Thank you for your help.

> Date: Mon, 27 Jul 2009 14:20:19 -1000
> From: jlthomas@assystem.pf
> To: kirkalittle@hotmail.com
> Subject: Re: your problem of radar
> if you do not come to Tahiti it is a problem to help you ,as you know
> cook island do not have furuno agent
> the best solution would be to send the antenna and the display to our
> workshop but according to the installation ,is it easy to uninstall
> jean Louis
> Kirk Little a écrit :
> > Thank you for the response. I was planning to leave French Polynesia
> > in a few days for the cooks. I will be in Australia by November,
> > maybe I should find the agent there or is it possible to have someone
> > check my radar in Bora Bora or in Raiatia?. Are you familiar the
> > problems I am having. Sometimes if I perform a system reset it fixes
> > the problems, but then they come back. What do you suggest?
> >
> > > Date: Tue, 21 Jul 2009 14:57:46 -1000
> > > From: jlthomas@assystem.pf
> > > To: kirkalittle@hotmail.com; hideyuki.terada@furuno.co.jp
> > > Subject: your problem of radar
> > >
> > > thank you to contact us for your problem , we are furuno agent in
> > French
> > > Polynesia

Another post online, different Furuno Radar SAME problem;


By sailingeddy on Mar 05, 2009
We just made it to St-Maarten, almost 5 days on the sea, so I had the opportunity to test my furuno radar 1623 again, after being 6 months on anchor in Porlamar, Venezuela. From the beginning I had my radar I noticed that sometimes it acts “strange” this was not different on this trip, after a day on the sea, I was almost sure that the alarm did not work, because I never heard it in one day, when I got clearly a big vessel in the alarm zone my doubts where confirmed, after trying different things like clear memory, switch to simulate and back, power off, alarm off and on, I got the alarm working again, but it took a while.

My experience is this, when you put the rings from the alarm zone, I normally put them from one mile to six miles, the radar looks in the zone to decide “in” or “Out” I noticed that often “almost always” he will say “in” altouch there is something in the zone. the alarm will never sound when something comes in the zone, because somewhere in his memory there is this conflict, He says “in” but thinks “out” It is only after I got him to say “out” en then a clear screen, putting the gain down to zero, en then install the alarm zone, then he will say “in” and then everything is working normal, the alarm sounds when there is something in the zone.

So the problem is how to let him say “out” I have experienced this, when I put a vessel on the ring of the alarm zone, then you have a good change that he says “out” only between the rings then probably you get a “in” but once you get a “out” then turn off the alarm, set again a zone and give a clear “in” By putting the gain down, then the radar works normal, …..except that in 5 days I had 4 times that he will not give any signal on the screen after he comes from the watchman function, the only way I get a signal back is by turning the power off and back on. 4 times in 5 days is not much, but it is 4 times too much.

For me there is something with the programming inside, but who am I to decide this, so I give it to you the specialists

I have send you a email with this problem some 6 months ago, had only an answer that you would look into it, never got reply back, meanwhile I have this radar 1,5 years so I was wandering about my warranty, can you help me with this.

I was with the dealer In Trinidad (where I bought this radar) last year in august to make a complain but he was not in his shop, so I talked to his helper, but he could not advise me, I stayed only 4 days and never met the dealer.

The MODEL 1715 is a high contrast LCD radar designed for pleasure craft and small fishing boats. Radar echoes are presented in four shades of gray on the 7″ Silver Bright LCD. The Radar offers detailed pictures of coastline and targets at short ranges thanks to narrower pulse lengths and dual IF bandwidths. The antenna rotation speed automatically changes depending on the range selection for optimum target detection. The compact, waterproof display allows table top or panel mounting in the cockpit or on the open fly bridge.

The radar has a power saving Watchman mode. In this mode, the antenna is stopped and the transmission is off, while the screen displays nav data only. The radar wakes up at a specified time interval (5, 10 or 20 min) and operates for a minute. If a target enters the Guard Zone, an audible alarm sounds and the radar goes into its normal operating mode, cancelling the Watchman mode. The alarm may also be set to work for a target leaving the Zone.

Other standard features include: EBL (Electronic Bearing Line), VRM (Variable Range Marker), TLL output (Target L/L), Cursor L/L readout, Echo Trail, Guard Zone Alarm, Anti Clutter Rain, Automatic control of tuning and sensitivity. The A/C RAIN control improves the target detection in the rain by elaborate design of the receiver.

With use of nav data inputs in NMEA 0183 format, the radar offers additional functions. Graphical and numeric waypoint information can be shown on the display. The Waypoint is indicated by a lollipop mark for easy identification on the radar display. In the TLL output function, you can use the cursor to output a specified target’s L/L to the optional GPS navigator as a mark.


Performance / Reliability review on the NORVANE WINDVANE

I get more questions about the Norvane than any other piece of equipment on the boat.   I’m also sure this is the one item that I use more than any other single piece of equipment!  I used to try to respond to all the emails and then I got behind so to put my mind at ease I’m going to give as honest and detailed a review as I possibly can on this item.

For starters, it’s great.  If you are sailing far on a small boat go buy one, you need it.   Now for the details.  I originally bought it because James Baldwin told me to.  I had a beat up old Aries that I purchased  used for $500 or so and it needed at the very least to be rebuilt and mounted, but might have need repairs as well.  James said to sell it and buy a Norvane or “better yet, buy a monitor” he said.  I guess overall as much as I like the Norvane the Monitor is probably a better piece of equipment, but probably not better value.  I think the Norvane was advertised for around $1700 just BEFORE I bought it, and when I finally got my order in the price was around $2100, if memory serves.  I think the monitor is over $5000.  Plus the Norvane weighs significantly less, something to consider seriously if you are mounting on a boat around 30’ or smaller.  If you are going to sail across oceans you have to buy the spare parts kit $150 and I also bought the Tiller-arm for emergency steering for $180, but I haven’t tested it to see if it would actually steer the boat without modification.

I was able to get the vane to work right away, no problems.  I did have James helping me with it on a few short sails around the bay.  Initially it was a little tough to get it to perform the way I wanted it to down wind, at all wind speeds, but I eventually got it to work beautifully.  It was mostly a matter of adjustment, weather helm, sail configuration and not over-powering.  It loves to sail wing on wing.  And after several thousand miles I was able to get the thing to steer straight on ALL points of sail, even while furling the head sail, jybing the head sail, or even setting and removing the whisker poke, AND reefing and dropping the main.  Point is once you get the hang of it you can make it work under almost any conditions.  Sometimes downwind you do get 10 to 15 deg of swerving off course to either side (so up to 30’ total) especially in a swell but I don’t think that is the vanes fault when you consider that as the boat speed increases down a swell the apparent wind moves forward and changes the course plus the roll of the boat can influence the wind paddle and course.  I still used my Raymarine tiller pilot when there was apparent wind of less than 5kts, BUT I could get the Norvane to steer more or less even then if I tinkered with it enough and re-adjusted it every 10 minutes, again not its fault, when the wind was that light the direction and velocity was often unsteady so sometimes I just used the electric auto-pilot because I was lazy.  Most sane sailors would have started the motor way before that point anyway as I was sailing at one to two knots, anything faster and the vane was working fine.

The most wind the vane ever saw was about 45kts sustained in 15’ seas.  I think I uploaded a video of this to my video section on photobucket found on the photos link on the home page.  Anyway before the storm passed I was down to bare poles and running dead down wind at over 5kts with the vane steering once again, wonderfully.  I was going to deploy some type of warps to slow down if the wind got any stronger but I didn’t have to and I had no problems going to bed, never even felt like I was going to broach.

The last words of praise is that on several passages I was in radio communication with friends on other yachts, some with Aries, some with Monitors, and other vanes, and I don’t remember many (if any) situations where the other boats were reporting steering performance as good as mine on our daily chats.  Often times my friends would be complaining about how hard it was to steer or how they had switched to their electric autopilots while the Norvane was giving me no problems at all.  I rarely used the Windvane with the spinnaker unless I had the jib poled out on the other side to balance things, and then it worked great and the boat was very very stable and fast with this ‘twin head sail’ configuration using the Cruising shoot poled out to the boom with no main up and full 145% genoa on the whisker pole.  Once I even put the main up as well so all three full sails, jib, main, and asymmetrical spinnaker, but as I was racing a friend I was hand steering.


It only really broke one time.  There was a few adjustments and tweaks in the beginning mostly regarding the leads of the steering lines.  Sometimes they would pop off of one of the blocks but again, that hasn’t been much of an issue once it was finally adjusted properly.  No doubt there has been several passages where I went many days without ever touching the vane.  The installation was straightforward as well.
I do remember that one of the main stainless pieces (a tube) was a little (very little) crooked, that bothered me at first but that hasn’t seemed to affect anything so far after well over 10,000 Nautical miles.  The one time it did actually break it was a small bearing.  I would have fixed it offshore as I had a spare form the spare kit I bought but I was only 100 miles from Fiji and didn’t want to risk loosing more parts.  Once I got into Fiji I took the entire vane off (in like 10 minutes) just removing it from the mounting brackets that stayed in place on the boat.  With the vane in my cockpit and a good mechanically inclined friend (Phil from Happy Ours) to help, we replaced the bearing in something like 30 minutes, I think I would have had the same result on my own but it might have taken me (I’m not so mechanically inclined) a few hours.

I think Norvane offered to replace the part if I paid for the shipping but when I finally had family flying to Australia to deliver it, Norvane stopped answering my emails, in fact writing this reminded me and prompted me to email them again today, well see what happens as I don’t think they answered any of my last two emails of the last month or so.  I wonder if they are responding to people that want to buy new vanes?

So in summary, I am happy with the vane.  I think it performs as good as any other one out there based upon my observations.   The one bearing that broke seems perfectly reasonable as it was in the spare kit, and was easy to fix, plus this was after 10,000 miles.  I’ll keep updating this if there is anything new to report.  Hope this review is useful to you. If you REALLY found this review helpful, feel free to buy me a beer :- ) .