Ocean Navigator September/October Newsletter
Weather at sea, a quick breakdown
by Noah Hoagland
Getting accurate weather information while you’re underway has always been of the utmost importance. Whether you’re racing, voyaging or planning an upcoming trip, knowing what the weather forecast is becomes a crucial part of that plan. Nowadays, with Internet connections being more and more common on vessels, getting the weather has become increasingly easy.
Weather via the Internet:
Connections to the Internet can be anything ranging from your everyday cell phone connected as a modem to your computer, or new FleetBroadband solution giving you high-speed Internet while crossing the north Atlantic. Once connected you will find a huge selection of services, both paid and free, that can provide you up-to-date weather information. A quick search of Internet weather will return you many sites gathering and interpreting data from many different weather sources. But what is right for you? What is going to keep you safest and provide the most accurate weather? For that you typically rely on paid services.
Weather consolidation services such as ClearPoint Weather or OCENS WeatherNet take weather information from a variety of different sources and consolidate the information so that it is easy to use. Small monthly (ClearPoint) or small per download (WeatherNet) charges apply, but all of a sudden Internet-based weather is at your fingertips and organized for you to use.
ClearPoint Weather highlights:
This is the newer of the two programs listed above. It uses a very nice user interface that gives you the feeling of looking at streaming weather information. Although it downloads a single file per connection, it has the similar feel to XM or Sirius Marine Weather (always on, very graphical, lots of movement and colors). The ClearPoint program is solid and has the ability to use satellite communication as a means of getting to the Internet with a low bandwidth setting, allowing you to access their service all over the world and keep your cost per connection low.
OCENS WeatherNet highlights:
This company has been around for a while now and has been the leader in providing consolidated weather information to customers all over the world. It works with races and other events to provide its weather services to the participants in a manner that has allowed its service to become one of the favored services throughout the industry. WeatherNet uses an interface that is geared much more toward getting you the raw data of a low bandwidth connection (satellite phone). Picking weather files and navigating the robust program takes getting used to, but when all is said and done, the huge amount of information is worth it.
Both of the programs highlighted above allow you to download information and export it in the form of a GRIB file. This is important for weather routing and overlaying weather information on a chart plotting program such as Nobeltec Navigation.
Weather via single sideband radio:
Another viable option for receiving weather information is through your SSB radio. Throughout the day, weather information is broadcasted on different frequencies from all kinds of different stations all over the world. From standard surface analysis to spoken synopsis, this weather info is free to download or listen to as long as you have the right equipment. When used with a computer or other capturing hardware, you will be able to download surface analysis, 500-millibar pressure info, and Navtex synopsis. Additionally, there is a service that actually allows you to download a daily email containing a GRIB file that can, like the other programs, be brought into chartplotting software. This can be done with what’s called a Pactor modem.
XM and Sirius Marine Weather are still very much in play. Their services allow you to capture streaming weather on your vessel through a computer or chartplotter. Their services are on all the time and data can be accessed anywhere inside their coverage footprint. This service is not global, but if you tend to stay in range of the coverage footprint for your everyday voyaging it may be the right service for you. Simple, easy and it can be always streaming to your computer. Although a great solution, there is no current option for exporting GRIB files out of these two services and using them in a weather routing program. Overlay options are available when used with a chartplotter or computer system.
To find the best weather solution for you, I recommend taking a look at your current communication equipment, future needs for communication equipment, and voyaging habits/plans. Once you have an idea of how you’re going to communicate with friends, family and/or the office, you will be ready to make a decision. If you find a need for voice communication on your vessel in general, your solution for that will almost always come with a data connection option to the Internet. At which time it becomes a simple step to pick out the best service for you based on the Internet being your means of accessing the weather data. Likewise, if your only means/needs fall upon a single sideband connection, it is also a quick installation of software and/or hardware to get you weather coming in via the SSB radio. Many options and variations are available to you and there is no right or wrong answer.
Please keep in mind, as you search for your perfect weather system, that one of the most important things is your comfort in using the system. First, get the training you need to understand how to access the weather files and get them to your vessel. Second, get trained on how to read the weather files you’re looking at. Becoming familiar with the terminology and symbols is hugely important. Look to peers and installers for the extra knowledge, and if you need help finding a qualified instructor, feel free to contact me and I can assist you or steer you to someone who can help you the most.