We now use an Iridium GO! with unlimited data for all weather product downloads including weatherfax, so most of what we do, and recommend, has changed from this post. We have written about our new system in detail starting with this chapter.
That said, the system we detail in this chapter will still be of use to those who decide to stick with an Iridium handset without unlimited data, or an SSB radio with PACTOR modem.
The GRIB charts are really useful, not only for the sailor but the recreational aviator (the next best thing to sailing!). Since you introduced the GRIBs on your website, I have used them to get an idea of the low/high areas and wind strengths as they approach Eastern Scotland. Helps in deciding when to fly during the coming week or at least have a chance of getting up in the air.
I would want readers to be aware that all of the above functions (with the possible exception of advancing the boat along course – I will look into that cool function) can be accomplished through SSB connections. Sailmail is the commercial end with a very modest fee and deserves the support John suggested. Airmail/Winlink is the Amateur Radio (Ham) network, is free, has (within a reasonable cruiser’s needs) virtually unlimited download time, and has a huge array of weather downloads (such as weather faxes which often come through much clearer than a direct fax through SSB). With lots of download time (as opposed to Sailmail), download sizes are dictated by propagation quality and the proximity of good land stations. Virtually all my weather needs were met by Winlink for 8 years living aboard. The last couple years internet (Med & Atlantic coast) has become so accessible that the SSB is more relegated to offshore passage use. I have no experience in the very high latitude use of Sailmail/Airmail but there has only been a few days over all the years that I have been unable to get weather because of propagation or other problems. Regular use of SSB also keeps one competent in the event of an emergency. I would like to underline also the accomplishments of Stan Honey & Jim Corenman. It is volunteers such as these who put their minds to a problem that make the cruising community the wonder that it is.
All great tips, thank you. I’m not a Ham and so have no experience with that option, but it sounds great.
One thing I would say, though, is that these days I would be cautious about over reliance on SSB for distress calls, because, since the pretty much universal demise of commercial SSB use, many coast radio stations are no longer listening on 2182. And, even if they are in theory, I’m guessing that the short wave radios get very little attention from the operators because calls on them are so rare. In fact, it would not surprise me if the volume was turned way down on the shore station receiver.
We have been sailing the waters of Northern Norway since June 2011, wintering at 70°N. I am using Winlink/Airmail via my ham radio on a daily basis to download the GRIBs, get emails, and send our position reports with no problems. If I am not able to make contact right away (because of propagation or northern lights) I try again later in the day; it has always worked out so far to get the data, even though I always request the GRIBs for almost the whole northern Atlantic to see what’s coming. All at no cost, except a bit of electricity. Also, there are some very professional working sailing-nets run by ham operators who are happy to provide us with very detailed weather information.
It has been 5 to 6 years since I sailed waters (Central America, Eastern Caribbean, Bahamas, U.S. East Coast) where a call to the USCG was likely to get a response but, when in those waters, once or twice a year I would put out a call on their emergency frequencies (4, 6, 8, 12 megs according to time of day and likely propagation) and I always got a nice polite response. Not carrying a sat phone, the USCG and the Ham Mobile Maritime net (manned many hours a day and monitored almost 24/7 by many Hams) were my 1st attempt at communication. Please note that in an emergency, non-Hams can use the Ham frequency without problem. If the CG has become as lax as you suspect, and I very much hope they have not, then the MM net would be my 1st choice. They are set up to handle emergencies and contact the CG.
BTW, the CG is not most easily contacted on 2 megs. As a safety channel it is relatively useless and this has been recognized for years. Probably a decade ago the CG started monitoring the freqs I mentioned earlier and those are where I reached them with ease. They monitor 2 of those 4 freqs 24/7, changing as propagation changes. I would share the specific freq numbers, but I am concerned about giving out safety data that I have not confirmed for years. They can be easily obtained on their web site.
John, I will share another concern that spins off your reply. I have heard the same comments (among others) repeated by many who shy away from the learning curve of using SSB, marine or Ham, and head off shore with only a Sat Phone. They contend that SSB is outdated and all can be accomplished with a sat phone. Your supposition about the CG turning the volume down, if true, is lamentable and, if not true, may further push those on the fence to reject SSB. In many parts of the world, the best routing and weather data often comes from “amateurs” on SSB. The “party phone” aspects of developing and maintaining a wonderful feel in the cruising community should not be ignored as well as many other advantages to SSB competency.
I agree with everything you say and I was not taking a shot at SSB or the the US Coast Guard.
Having said that, there is no denying that SSB is no longer the prime focus of the authorities when it comes to distress calling. In fact, these days, it is standard procedure by both the US and Canadian Coast Guards to ask you for a mobile phone number (cell and/or sat) as part of many communications (this is first hand knowledge).
And, in the event of an EPIRB activation, the rescue coordination centers will try your sat phone if so equipped.
On the other hand, not once in the last 5 years have I had a government station ask me if we were SSB equipped (we are).
Whether we like it or not, Sat Phone is the focus of communications in the future.
And, increasingly, Customs authorities are assuming that you can call them from offshore to arrange clearance, something that, with the demise of coast radio telephone patch services, is not doable (unless you are a Ham) with SSB.
I have just tried your recommendation on the use of Saildocs and UUPlus tools to receive text, graphics and GRIB files. I do not have an Iridium 9555 yet. I just tested over the Internet. Everything works fine using only Saildocs or through UUPlus.
I am left with one question. For GRIB files, you mentioned that you sent your request directly to Saildocs instead of using UUPlus for efficiency sake. Is it for air time efficiency or easiness of the process? I hope I understood you correctly.
Glad it’s working well for you.
I do use UUPlus to send my GRIB request to Saildocs. I don’t send them directly. In fact, I use the UUPlus driver for all my interactions with the Iridium because it is way more efficient and easier to use than Iridium’s own driver.
However, I don’t use UUPlus’s built in GRIB request generator because, at least the last time I checked, it does not support some of the GRIB request parameters. Also, I find it easier to craft my own Saildocs GRIB requests from scratch and then copy and change them as needed.
Have you seen this, very easy.
Wow, that’s cool. I don’t think I would recommend it as a substitute for my preferred weatherfax reception hardware and software, but it might make a great backup.
I think an update is required for this as the availability of online weather and routing is much more prolific now. Any thoughts? I use several sites, from the local government weather sites to predict wind which also provides weather routing and weather charts and wind predictions live.
Actually, most of those sites were available when I wrote this piece. And keep in mind that this is about getting weather information while offshore and far from internet.
And for that purpose, I still think that the procedure above, using ViewFax is hard to beat, particularly on a cost performance basis.
Keep in mind that all these wiz bang services are still using the same underlying data that you can get for free through SailDocs. All they are doing is adding a sexy interface and charging you for that.
Having said that, I am planning to evaluate Predict wind over the winter and will report. No question it’s very slick, but does it really add information? We will see. I’m big on separating the sausage from the sizzle.
Wanted to throw out the possible combination of using a Sat phone plus a cheap SSB receiver like the Sony ICF-SW7600GR to at least keep up with chatter from nets. You can also use the receiver (and a cheap enhanced antenna) and the Black Cat app on the iPad/iPhone to receive NOAA weather fax. Never done it personally but I’ve seen others that have. For less than $200 (not including the iPhone) it’s an interesting option for getting offshore forecasts.
Good idea. It would be good if the setup would also allow you to receive weatherfax, although I’m going to guess you would also need an external antenna to make reception reliable. We have a chapter on that here.
I learned of a new development at the SSCA gam in Melbourne, Florida at the NOAA weather advisors’ booth. There is a new request available instead of GFS computer data. Substitute “NDFD” for “GFS” in your send request to saildocs and what returns is a Grib annotated by a meteorologist. Thus, we can now get interpreted Grib files instead of raw computer output. Only “|wind,waves” are available with NDFD.
This works well and is more reliable and interpretable than a computer GFS Grib. An example copied from your example above:
The latest airmail/sailmail program upgrade incorporates and makes available the NDFD request choice built into a drop down menu in the saildocs drop down menu for a Grib request. In the drop down menu within airmail, you can choose which computer model or interpreted NDFD file you wish to download.
I hope this helps!!! Try it!
That’s interesting, I will take a look. I wonder how large an area this covers. Can’t imagine that a meteorologist could add that kind of value world wide.
For those interested, here is a link to an excellent discussion of the NDFD by David Burch: http://davidburchnavigation.blogspot.ca/2015/05/the-national-digital-forecast-database.html
As I guessed it is not worldwide.
I can confirm that the latest version of Airmail (3.5.029) included the ability to download NDFD.
The price of installing and bying an SSB full pack is a lot more then getting an Iridium GO, and a pack at http://www.predictwind.com this is what we will use as we take off for the Carib 2016-17. and we can also use Saildoc ,Sailmail and dobbel up and compair.
Minor detail, GFS is now available in 0.25 degree resolution rather than 0.5 mentioned in the article. I mention this although the caveat elsewhere on these pages about increased resolution doesn’t necessarily mean more accurate results is still true. Some programs (I use RMS Express) don’t yet have 0.25 on the drop down menu, but it’s easy enough to edit the outgoing email to change that before sending.
Yes, I need to update the post. However, do note that in this case resolution does matter because this update to the GFS represents actual model run and initialization resolution increases, rather than just interpolation after the model run as most (all?) private companies do.
When requesting a GRIB file ave you had any trouble receiving and viewing more than parameter using Luckgrib with a file requested through Saildocs and UUPlus? For me, for example, I can request this:
GFS:25N,16N,073W,061W|0.5,0.5|6,9,12,15,18,24..72,84..132|WIND|6.0,305 and I can get wind, and I can request this: GFS:25N,16N,073W,061W|0.5,0.5|6,9,12,15,18,24..72,84..132|WAVES|6.0,305, and get waves, but when I request this: GFS:25N,16N,073W,061W|0.5,0.5|6,9,12,15,18,24..72,84..132|WIND|WAVES|6.0,305, I only get the wind. I can see that there is a way to request a GRIB file through Luckgrib, and the Youtube video shows that you can get everything, but I haven’t tried that. Thanks for your help.
At first glance I don’t see the problem, but there must be one. You might want to check out this post and the ones immediately after it for more SailDocs scripts. https://www.morganscloud.com/2017/09/20/weather-analysis-a-step-by-step-guide-part-1-tactical/
Start with those and then slowly change them to get what you want. That’s what I do.
Figures it out. Syntax. I was using a vertical line between WIND and WAVES instead of a comma. Doh! Anyway….works fine now. Thanks. g
I do that stuff all the time, glad I’m not the only one 🙂
Good afternoon (a glorious day! The sun started back north just a few hours ago!)
I sail the European Atlantic coastal and offshore region on a normal basis and would like to get access to the ECMWF forecast model as it has been more accurate over the last few years. Can I access the model through saildocs or another ‘get’ system?
To clarify, I would like to use gribbed ECMWF data!
No, unfortunately, Saildocs will not give you access to ECMWF. It’s a not a free model, and Saildocs is a free service. The only service that I know for sure provides ECWWF is PredictWind. See these to chapters for more:
I am looking into PC navigation software (Timezero and Coastal Explorer) and was wondering why you don’t use the built-in grib/weather veiwer in Timezero that I believe you have? Wouldn’t that keep everything in one program plus being able to see your route under the weather data? If you’ve tried this already and either it doesn’t work well or you didn’t care for it, do you mind sharing your thoughts on this?
Thanks for this book as well, it’s great.
I do sometimes use the GRIB viewer in TimeZero for close in tactical work, however as a general rule I prefer the presentation and features of Luckgrib. Also, note that the chapter above is out of date—only left in for those with low speed links—and not the way we do things now: https://www.morganscloud.com/2017/09/07/react-to-the-weather-or-plan-for-the-weather/
I have been re-reading this book and I was curious. To be clear, you have your Mac using Win10 for navigation then you boot to Mac, get your GRIB files, then view in Luckgrib, then boot back to Windows to navigate and also view the GRIB files in Timezero on another actical level with charts? Or do you use more than one laptop for this? I looked into Luckgrib and wish it was in Windows too because we have a MacBook pro with boot camp and it would save us from having to reboot to view gribs. Would you say the Timezero GRIB viewer is good enough for the job? Lastly, is your Timezero the new Navigator v3?
I have two Macs aboard. The Air is dedicated to navigation running Windows.
If you don’t have that capability, best use a windows viewer. I have some comparisons in the weather book I linked to.
As to Timezero GRIB being good enough, that’s really up to you. Bottom line each of us need to test this stuff and see if it fits into our way of working. As I remember it does not display 500 mb and some other stuff, so it’s not for me. That said I have not done any in depth analysis since I’m happy with Luckgrib and the latest version of TimeZero may have more features (I have not updated yet.)
Bottom line in all of this. Success is a lot more about you and the effort you put into it, than the GRIB viewer you use.
To that end, we have a complete step by step guide here: https://www.morganscloud.com/category/weather/book-weather-analysis/
this guide is fantastic but for some reason I can’t seem to get the command right. I copied/paste your example and it worked fine but when I changed the data to reflect my Bay of Biscay request….There was an error in the following command line:
(“|WIND,PRMSL,RAIN,HGT500|5.0,225” is not a valid command or document code).
who do I ask about what I am doing wrong here? thanks.
I’m guessing you sent an HTML email. The email needs to be plain text. If that’s not it you need to check your syntax carefully against the saildocs manual available on the saildocs site. http://www.saildocs.com/info
Thanks for the suggestion. It took a while to figure out (not too tech savvy) but the plain txt seemed to do the trick. takes a little practice and careful attention as you’ve suggested. All the best.