Employing the services of an expert meteorologist is not just the preserve of the record-chasing ocean sailor or professional crew. As a voyager, there is so much knowledge you need to become familiar with — cold fronts, gales, tropical storms, high-pressure ridges, occluded fronts, etc. Whether you’re island-hopping in the Caribbean, racing to Bermuda or crossing the Atlantic, weather will always play a significant role in the security and safety of your vessel and your crew/passengers.
To avoid or reduce the effects of volatile weather while yachting, you can — and should — always use the traditional means by tuning into your VHF radio and surfing coastal weather websites for the latest forecasts. If you’re navigating in U.S. waters, you should make an effort to consistently obtain up-to-date marine forecasts from NOAA. But for even greater protection, consider taking advantage of the many state-of-the-art benefits a weather routing service has to offer.
No matter where in the world you’re sailing, you can plan a detailed itinerary, check the immediate weather forecast and take all the necessary steps to assure that your yacht is seaworthy. But the one thing you can’t control is changes in weather once you’re underway. Enlisting a weather routing service is like having a pair of expert eyes on the situation. Their job is to get you to your destination in the quickest, shortest and safest way possible — safety being the most important factor. To accomplish that, here’s a sampling of what a weather routing service can offer you.
Nowadays, a good marine meteorologist can identify most threats at sea well in advance. In fact, there’s no place on the planet for which a good weather routing service can’t provide a forecast. Simply provide them with your itinerary, and they can advise the best day(s) to depart as well as recommend the safest route to your destination.
Once underway, you can opt to receive detailed daily reports that not only summarize that day’s weather but also provide quite detailed forecasts for up to a week ahead of time. These personalized reports typically include a map of your specific route, information on currents, a summary of temperatures, visibility and a detailed discussion of any potential hazards that lie ahead.
Since a weather routing service is constantly monitoring conditions while you’re en route, you’ll receive timely alerts of any harmful changes (such as big gales or dead spots) accompanied by rerouting advice (including suggesting safe ports of call nearby) that will significantly reduce the possibility of a bad experience — not to mention damage to your vessel and injury to your crew.
When you employ a weather routing service, every perk they provide is all about you, your itinerary and your particular vessel. The route they choose for you will be based on the size of your vessel, type of vessel (sail or power), the number of crew and any other information you provide regarding the type of journey you would like to have.
A good weather service will also help you maintain contact with loved ones at home if you are having difficulty reaching them. The router can relay messages to ensure your shoreside contacts are aware of the vessel’s progress and that all parties, whether at sea or ashore, are okay.
There are plenty of important features to consider when choosing a weather routing service company, including 24/7 availability, 365 days a year. Do your research to find one with competitive pricing and keep in mind that, ideally, you should not have to purchase a bunch of new equipment to use the service. The company staff should be reputable, competent and well trained. Make sure to ask about their qualifications and how long the company has been in business. You’ll also want to avoid long-term commitments; in other words, find a company that will only bill you when you use their services.
Below is a list of weather routing firms with information on the services each one has to offer. Details on pricing can be found at each firm’s website. You will be impressed with the incredible value they provide, especially for longer passages and voyages to more remote areas.
• Custom weather forecasts
• Ocean voyage forecasts (all areas of the world)
• Ocean race forecasts
• Yacht race forecasts
• Legal weather consultation
• Instruction in meteorology
• Cruising or delivery routing forecasts (anywhere in the world)
• Regatta forecasting (day races or ocean races)
• Custom or long-term projects (e.g., record-breaking attempts)
• Webinars, seminars, speaking engagements
• Vessel monitoring during hurricane or monsoon season
• Hurricane forecasting
Marine Weather Center
• Single sideband (SSB) voice nets (five-minute broadcast of current conditions and weather forecasts for target geographical areas) or simultaneous webcasts
• SSB broadcasts are opened up for subscribers seeking more detail more specific to their route
• Open to questions from subscribers
• Nets conducted six days per week (Monday to Saturday)
• Geographical coverage anywhere forecaster Chris Parker is audible on SSB — typically throughout the entire Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, Pacific coast of Central America, Bahamas, entire U.S. East Coast, Bermuda and Atlantic waters north of the equator in the area west of about 50° W
Weather Routing Inc.
• Detailed, personalized, worldwide forecasts
• Forecast maps and meteograms
• Access to SeaWeather, an online weather service
• Heavy weather alerts and tropical surveillance
• Climatology studies
• Race and rally forecasts
• Sailing/fishing charts and forecasts
• Marina locator and forecasts
• Special projects
While all the services that a weather router provides are valuable, as the sailor you must also make the effort to understand the weather forecasts to gain the most benefits. Like anything, blindly following is not the first choice. Understanding the whys and learning to read forecasts with some knowledge of your own is tremendously valuable and of great import.
Study online about weather. Take a course in weather if you are a novice, or a more advanced course if you already have some basic knowledge. Get a handle on how to read grib (highly compressed, 2D weather forecast data) files, understand and pay attention to currents (current is prevalent and relevant even far out at sea) and be comfortable reading and understanding what your weather router is telling you. Knowledge is key and will increase your confidence as well as your enjoyment of any sail or passage.
Charlie Humphries is an ON staff member and an experienced sailor with more than 40,000 ocean miles.