Furuno’s FICE-100 ensures safe passage with its ice detecting radar that assists captains in picking a safe path to cruise through the ice. The radar is capable of finding paths in places that would typically require ice-breaking hulls.

During Roger Swanson and his crew’s first northwest passage attempt in 1994, an enormous closing ice pack threatened the plans forthcoming. He tied the boat behind a grounded ice floe to protect him and his crew for the three or four days the team would need to stay out there. Although things began looking pretty bleak, the wind ended up shifting, allowing them to escape through 5 miles of passable ice.

The experience didn’t shake Swanson, in fact he returned twice more aboard his 1975 Bowman 57 cutter-rigged ketch, Cloud Nine and in 2007 became the first person to skipper an American-flagged boat east to west through the Northwest Passage. He accomplished the journey using basic electronics and relying on hard-earned skills acquired over the 217,928 miles. His trips included three circumnavigations, three Cape Horn roundings and multiple Arctic and Antarctic “cruises.”

Maritime history is rife with accounts of several explorers similar to Swanson who use the same elements with equal parts skill, experience, persistence and patience, but fortunately modern mariners have electronic tools that increase the safety through passages such as Furuno’s FICE-100. The ice detecting radar is designed to assist captains in finding the best route through pack ice, reducing the risk and potentially saving time, fuel, and even lives.

The FICE-100 is a secondary processor, unlike navigation radars which detect vessels, objects and landmasses to help prevent collisions. The new technology acts as a kind of downstream black box that takes the raw feed from a Furuno X-band radar’s automatic radar plotting aid processor to then create detailed composite images of the surrounding ice pack. Furuno also calls the detailed composite “fusion.”


The FICE-100 modules are able to be networked to any compatible Furuno X-band radar via an Ethernet cable and then can be connected to a dedicated or shared display. The FICE-100 modules run for $40,000 while the Furuno X-band radar holds a price of $11,000 to $40,000.

Furuno USA’s national sales manager Matt Wood says in cruising grounds such as Scandinavia, the wintertime navigation is usually only achievable with ice-breaking vessels. “Open trails can be navigated without an icebreaker, but they’re not readily apparent to a navigation radar or the naked eye,” he says. “You need a radar with advanced signal processing to find the breaks.”

According to the Yachting Magazine, by employing advanced algorithms and concentrating on the returning echoes from the lower portion the radar’s transmitted vertical beam, the FICE-100 lowers the signal’s noise floor to capture fine details in the returns.

“Ice radar wants to magnify clutter,” Wood says. “Navigation radars use a few sweeps to paint a picture, but the FICE-100 uses a composite of sweeps, tiling or layering one on top of the other, to [determine] what’s solid ice and what’s open water.”

The FICE-100 uses a number of sweeps from one to 100 that users can select from to create its composite imagery. The older sweeps fall off the composite images as newer sweeps emerge. The Furuno X-band radars operate at 24 rpm allowing the FICE-100 to create a 100-sweep composite radar image in four minutes and 16 seconds. Yachting Magazine claims, “That amount of time is also the longest shelf life of any individual sweep, and the unit updates its imagery every 2.5 seconds.”

The Fico-100 was originally designed for commercial vessels, but it also works for go-everywhere yacht owners. “For the purposes of navigation, the FICE-100 is focused on finding an open pathway through the ice,” Wood says. Most vessels operate at speeds of 0.5 to 5 knots, according to Wood, making the job one of threading needles, not dodging bullets. “We’re not looking for ice at 96 nautical miles.”

Wood says Furuno is working on its next-generation-ice-radar technology. In the future, the technology will provide ice-ranging and ice-thickness information. The company is developing radar/sonar technology as well that looks for ice above and below the waterline that will later determine the thickness of submerged ice.

“The challenge is imaging it all in real time, as it takes a huge amount of video processor [capability],” Wood says. “It’s going to require something like James Cameron’s Avatar project, there will be so much data.” He continues saying, “It’s one thing to be around bergy bits, but realistically, you need a well-fortified yacht to travel in pack ice. As polar navigation opens up interest and requirements for the technology, it’s exciting to be providing a solution that works.”

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