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Eliminating the Guesswork for Mariners

June 12, 2019

Petty Leung FNI, Managing Director Asia Pacific at StormGeo, reveals how modern shore-based weather services are helping mariners predict the weather more accurately than ever before.

Originally published in Seaways, The International Journal of The Nautical Institute, June 2019 

Shore-based weather services have been available to mariners since the early 1950s. However, they have come a long way since their initial form of route recommendation, which was often met with skepticism, dismissal and as no more than a “rent-a-storm” service. Today, services are far more sophisticated, with a wide range of critical weather-related data available to help mariners prepare for all eventualities during their voyage.

On the meteorological and data front, forecast performance has certainly improved. Modern forecasting technology tracks tropical cyclones and typhoons, giving mariners a much clearer window on the possible hazards that could arise during a forthcoming journey. Another significant advance has been the use of ensemble forecasting. Instead of giving a single forecast at a given time, a ‘set’ of forecasts is produced that represents a range of possible future weather conditions, aka a probabilistic forecast—showing the possibilities that may not be the most likely to occur, but could happen nonetheless. 

In addition, the availability of dynamic ocean current forecasts that offer up to three days of predicted data are a significant aid to fuel efficiency by allowing the fine-tuning of routes to take advantage of predicted ocean currents. ‘Catching the current’ has become more of a science than simple guesswork.

Technology Today

Today’s availability and improvement in the accuracy of weather data is enhanced by technological advances. Satellite communication has become more efficient and affordable. Computers are widely available to vessels. On-board weather routing systems with sophisticated speed-down algorithms have been developed. Interactive tools simulate the best route, based on weather forecasting up to 16 days ahead, along with relevant navigation constraints and commercial requirements for the voyage.

Mariners can have a day-by-day view of the weather conditions for their passage ahead, which enables them to calculate realistic estimates of passage time and fuel consumption. Not only does this help place vessels strategically in the best part of the ocean, mariners can also plan tactically how to achieve safe navigation with optimum fuel efficiency.

Most recently, electronic chart planning is being combined with on-board weather routing systems on a single platform. This enables mariners to optimize passage plans to take account of weather routing with the ease of matching electronic charts. This integration ensures the voyage is safe, navigationally sound and fuel-efficient.

Taking Back Control

The importance of the top-quality weather services now available to mariners is highlighted by the huge impact that improved weather forecasting performance, technology and the quest for efficiency can have on a voyage. Whether there is a raging storm on the horizon or a fleeting encounter with a monsoon, timely information and smart tools that assess the effects of predicted weather can help navigators plan a calm voyage, plot an alternative route and prepare the ship and her crew to brave any heavy weather ahead.

The wide range of modern weather services now available not only enable mariners to be informed and preemptive, but they give back that all-important element of control.