Tips For Receiving Weather Forecasts

text-forecastIn this chapter I’m going to write about how we receive voice (well, not really voice, per se) and text forecasts while at sea and in remote places.

Why Copy Forecasts

OK, I know I have beaten this horse before…probably nigh unto death. But one more time: You should not rely exclusively on GRIBs for your weather information because GRIBs are simply the unfiltered automated output of a single computer model, whereas a forecast is prepared by a meteorologist from multiple models that have different strengths and weaknesses.

OK, now we have that out of the way, let’s talk about the best way to receive forecasts.

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Hans

Thanks a lot for your very helpful weatherpost. I’m using saildocs but I didn’t know how easy it is to receive the text of any website over my satphone, having never read the saildocs instructions carefully.

But I have a question regarding radio teletype (RTTY) text messages. In Europe this type of weather forecast is widely used and the German weather service DWD can be received even in Greenland on their HF frequencies. It’s very easy to receive them either with a specialized decoder-receiver or with a general SSB-receiver and a computer. Of course these messages don’t cover American and Canadian waters, although they reach out as far as the Azores and Cape Farewell. Times and freqs can be found at http://www.dwd.de Website and forecasts are in English and German. The UK has a similar service.

Hans

You scared me when you voiced your conviction that RTTY will be phased out, since that still is my main source for weather forecasts in text form. I mailed the German weather service and NOAA asking what they think of the matter. The Germans answered very quickly and wrote that RTTY indeed is old technology and it’s been here for so long already because it works so well. They have no plans whatsoever of giving it up, instead there are plans to commission new transmitters for this service. I have no answer from NOAA yet.

Receiving RTTY (and probably SITOR on your side of the Atlantic) means very little “aggravation”: all you need is a simple radio capable of tuning in on SSB shortwave frequencies and a computer with a (free) software like JVComm32. Such a receiver and a computer are on most boats anyway.

Or, like myself, you have a dedicated weather receiver that can be set up to lock in on the best frequency automatically, that decodes, displays and/or prints the messages, weather and Navtex. Since this receiver can be left switched on all the time on minimal consumption, it delivers the latest message as soon as it is released. It’s like having a continuous direct connection to your weather service. And, unlik satellite based services, it’s free.

Now it may be that it doesn’t work as well in the US and Canada, the equivalent would be SITOR from Boston, I don’t have enough experience with that.

Hans

One more thought on this: If I had had a satphone from the beginning, then I probably would go along with you and wouldn’t have bothered with RTTY. But since I started with coastal sailing first and gradually widened my range, I had my weather decoder and it served me well (and still does). After a couple of years of cruising without I decided to get a satphone. So the set up for RTTY was there first and I still like it and will stick with it and its advantages. But isn’t that the normal way for almost all cruising sailors, to step up gradually and isn’t it sensible to get a simple and inexpensive way to receive weather information before buying a rather expensive and – for coastal sailing – “overdressed” piece of gear like a satphone? I’d say that along European coasts there is no need for a satphone, because the coverage of RTTY is so good. And in port you easily find access to the internet (well, almost everywhere) for grib files and such. But of course it may all be different your side of the Atlantic.

Chris

“Or, like myself, you have a dedicated weather receiver that can be set up to lock in on the best frequency automatically, that decodes, displays and/or prints the messages, weather and Navtex. Since this receiver can be left switched on all the time on minimal consumption, it delivers the latest message as soon as it is released. It’s like having a continuous direct connection to your weather service. And, unlik satellite based services, it’s free.

Hi Hans, I’d be interested to know what your dedicated weather receiver is and how your setup works with the software you mentioned. Thanks!

Steve

We have started to look at all the weather options for our new boat and I think we will go with an Iridium sat phone to bring our weather home. The costs are not as bad as the Iridium with hard antenna and 500 minutes for first year seem to be about the same a buying a pactor 3 for the Icom 802. The different providers for sat phone have some excellent weather programs from weather fax around the world, gribs, weather texts and, most importantly to us, lots of 500 mb faxes. On our last boat we used the Iridium sat phone for weather and emails with great success, 2007 to 2009. I had thought about going to a pactor/ssb/ham this time around but we think the sat phone is the fastest and quickest way of obtaining weather when you really need it.

Steve

Yes, we will most likely go with UUplus, we had that service on our last Iridium. What I liked best about UUPlus was if we needed help with a problem they were always there by email or Iridium phone, no wait for help. We will still have an SSB, both my wife and I have our ham license and we do find uses for having SSB on board. Also we did have a Furuno weather fax on our last boat and used it everyday but some days it was hard to read the faxes and that could cost one seriously.
Do you print out all your weather downloads so that you can study in detail the progression of weather data? I’m wondering about the quality of some of the 12 volt printers that are out on the market. Three years ago we used an AC printer that was cumbersome but it did give good quality prints, we could read every wind barb on the printed paper.

Bob

Does tuning in to SailDocs and downloading information via a sat phone eat up the precious minutes on the sat phone?

Luc

Hi,
I am new at your site, but spend some very intersting hours reading your books. A big thank you!
In the meanwhile, I saw a lot references for using SailDocks, but I miss comments on using the solution that the US-based company GMN is offering (also for free if you have Xgate). It looks like it is quite similar to SailDocks, or do I miss something?
And up till now I saw only once the Iridium Pilot mentioned, although it comes in the same investment range of SSB, but with remarkable lower prices per Mb and additional advantages on a sat phone. If possible I would be happy to read your comments on this. Aspecially if someone has experiences with it.