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This paper studies the performances of different ship detectors based on adaptive threshold algorithms. The detection algorithms are based on various clutter distributions and assessed automatically with a systematic methodology. Evaluation using large datasets of medium resolution SAR images and AIS (automatic identification system) data as ground truths allows to evaluate the efficiency of each detector. Depending on the datasets used for testing, the detection algorithms offer different advantages and disadvantages. The systematic method used in discriminating real detected targets and false alarms in order to determine the detection rate, allows us to perform an appropriate and consistent comparison of the detectors. The impact of SAR sensors characteristics (incidence angle, polarization, frequency and spatial resolution) is fully assessed, the vessels' length being also considered. Experiments are conducted on Radarsat-2 and CosmoSkymed ScanSAR datasets and AIS data acquired by coastal stations.