How Modern Sonar Could Find the Loch Ness Monster

INVERNESS, Scotland— You can feel mystery out there, pulsing and pounding under the water of the highway bridge on the A9. It’s just a small channel here, at the edge of Moray Firth, where the River Ness rushes into the sea. But there’s a haunting feeling stirring from the river’s mouth. You know that upstream, something sinister could still be lurking: the Loch Ness Monster.

For almost 1,500 years, reports of a massive, mysterious creature have spilled out from the loch’s waters. There’s no denying: its 22 square miles of dark water and more than 700 foot depth make Loch Ness a prime candidate for curiosities. But so far, few have been able to provide convincing evidence of the dinosaur-like creature that’s said to rule the lake. A famed 1934 photo of the monster was debunked by modern researchers, and previous attempts to locate it by divers and scientists have failed.

However, the legend of the Loch Ness Monster, according to some of today’s fisherman, is a mystery that could be solved using equipment that’s available on any new bass boat.

Consumer sonar technology has never before been so advanced. In a world with sidescan, downscan, high frequency CHIRP and 3D rendering, a leading sonar company should be able to provide proof of the monster by now. To find out how they’d do it—and if they’ve ever tried to—we poled four leading sonar manufacturers: Humminbird, Garmin, Lowrance, and Raymarine.


ActiveCaptain, Quickdraw, and Panoptix PS-31— “Garmin gear was actually used to track down ‘Nessie’ a few years ago, but since then, we’ve introduced a lot of exciting new technologies to help today’s adventurer track ‘em down again. I’d start first by searching through our ActiveCaptain Community, found in our new mobile app, for user-generated info about possible sightings. Users can access this community and info found within it any time – at home while they’re planning their search or out on the water while the search is underway. Once you’ve zeroed in on an area to search, turn on Quickdraw Contours on your Garmin STRIKER Plus, ECHOMAP Plus or GPSMAP unit, so you can instantly create and see 1-foot contours to get a better idea of where he might be hiding. If you see a low contour on your Quickdraw maps, use your Panoptix PS-31 transducer to look for him in real time. Other sonar shows you what you’ve already passed over – which could spook him – so to truly have a chance at finding him before he finds you, a Garmin Panoptix transducer is key!” — Garmin Media Relations Manager Carly Hysell


CHIRP MEGA DI—  “From what I know about Nessie, she lives in the dark depths evading customary sonar views.  For this mission, I’d employ Humminbird’s CHIRP MEGA DI. The unit CHIRP’s a Down Imaging beam at over 1,000 kHz showing greater details of underwater structure. This higher frequency gives insane details of everything that lies below – all the way down to Nessie’s eyelashes, which turn out to be fake by the way.   Believe me I’ve seen them, and they’re Maybelline!”— Johnson Outdoors Brand Manager Jeff Kolodzinski


Elite-12 TI with TotalScan Transducer— “Lowrance actually attempted this in the late 1980s. Operation Deep Scan was a full survey of the loch using leading-edge sonar technology of the time. Today, the search wouldn’t actually be much different. Loch Ness’ deepest point is 755ft. In order to get these depths you need lower frequency sonar such as Medium or Low CHIRP. Surveying the loch with a fleet of boats in a ‘mow the grass’ style crisscross search pattern gives the best coverage of the loch and would leave nowhere for Nessie to hide. In shallower areas, high resolution detail can be collected with high frequency scanning sonar. This would make the definitive map of the loch bottom and identify any of Nessie’s hiding spots.” — Navico Sonar Product Manager Matt Laster

Lowrance’s Operation Deep Scan (1987)


Axiom Pro 16 RVX, FLIR Thermal Night Vision, and Quantum CHIRP Radar— “Raymarine’s latest generation Axiom Pro 16 RVX multifunction display should be the centerpiece of any exploration vessel’s navigation suite. Sporting a full HD resolution LCD panel, optical screen bonding, and super-wide angle IPS display technology, Axiom Pro 16 RVX’s screen will make every pixel count when searching for the cryptozoological creature. Day or night, and looking above or below the water, the Axiom Pro 16-inch screen delivers the best view possible with outstanding color, contrast and clarity. Plus, Axiom Pro 16 works with the most advanced suites of electronics maps and precision GPS to ensure the search covers every square inch of Loch Ness—an area well mapped by several Raymarine charting partners including C-MAP, Navionics, and others.

The CHIRP technology employed by RealVision 3D gives it outstanding resolution and range.  The CHIRP SideVision sonar can see out to 600 feet in both directions simultaneously, while the CHIRP DownVision sonar can see up to 600 feet downwards delivering photo-like images of the water column.

Many of the most famous photographs of the Loch Ness Monster show the humps of the monster’s back breaking the surface of the water.  Nessie’s willingness to expose herself makes the beast an outstanding target for FLIR’s M232 Infrared Thermal Night Vision system.  The M232 sees using heat, not visible light, so it can detect objects on or above the surface of the water night or day.

Another great arrow in Axiom Pro’s quiver is its ability to connect with Raymarine Quantum CHIRP radar. Quantum is a different kind of radar in that it uses CHIRP pulse compression technology to detect surface targets at both extremely short and long ranges.  Quantum can see targets as close as 16-feet to the scanner, and as far as 24 miles.” – Jim McGowan Raymarine/FLIR Maritime Marketing Manager

There’s your breakdown.

Lowrance earns points for being the only company to make a serious attempt at finding Nessie, though that was 30 years ago. Meanwhile, live painting of the plesiosaur via Garmin’s Panoptix tantalizes, while thermal imaging from FLIR, and ultra-crisp imagery from Humminbird give true Loch Ness Monster hunters a gamut of high-tech gear to choose from.

For now, Scotland’s most legendary cryptid remains uncharted. But, for anglers arguing its existence, potential proof might just lie in the new marine electronics on store shelves today.