Choosing a Marine Weather Service

21 May 2010 By Louisa Beckett

While no yacht is “sailing blind” anymore when it comes to the weather conditions ahead, thanks to weather radio, faxes and the software incorporated into your wheelhouse electronic navigation suite, if you’re like most captains, you’re probably always on the lookout for accurate supplemental weather sources. Today, there’s a vast array of options to choose from. Which service (or services) to pick will depend on your yacht’s budget and also on your particular need – whether it’s deciding which day of a week-long charter will be best for breaking out the water toys, getting your boat out of a bad storm in a hurry or preparing to cross the Atlantic.

The pricing for a marine weather service usually corresponds to how customized a forecast it can provide to an individual yacht. At the free end of the scale are the maritime forecasts supplied by government agencies such as NOAA’s National Weather Service in the U.S. ( and the MCA’s Met Office in the UK ( In addition, there are other free websites and weather forums maintained by yachting enthusiasts (particularly cruising sailors). These sources, which are geared for everyone from day boaters to long-haul commercial vessels, are good places to get a snapshot of the current weather in your cruising, as well as a short-range peek at the weather ahead.

Another free weather resource that some captains swear by is GRIB data downloaded from the internet. GRIB (GRIdded Binary) files contain weather data stored in a digital format primarily used by meteorologists, but software that allows laymen access the same data is now available.

During a recent transatlantic crossing in the new Westport 164 Harmony, Capt. Mitchell Heath says the internet-based GRIB.US service is one of the weather sources he consulted en route. “Great free service,” he said. “Download software from GRIB.US, then select area from the world map, then download desired forecast.”

Subscription-based weather services charge a modest monthly fee but can provide valuable enhancements to basic weather forecasts and charts. For example, the new Baron QuikLink World Marine data service offers worldwide lightning strike and rainfall rate data, calculated based on advanced meteorological modeling techniques. This service can be a valuable way to receive a heads-up about approaching severe weather, particularly offshore.

The priciest – but also the most custom-tailored – marine weather forecasts are provided by fee-based companies that specialize in weather routing for yachts. These services are staffed by meteorologists who will pick up the phone and listen to your specific weather forecasting needs. These services typically charge by the forecast, although some offer package deals for multiple-forecast packages such as transatlantic routing.

Before setting off across the Atlantic this spring, Capt. Heath hired U.S.-based Weather Routing, Inc. ( to help him select the right weather window for the transit, as well as to send him daily forecasts en route. “[It’s a] private weather service and very good,” he said.

“Certainly there is some value to getting data that is readily available, inexpensive and free – a lot of people are into that. But nothing beats the services of a trained meteorologist who is looking at the data,” said Dave Cannon of Weather Routing Inc.“We treat each vessel on an individual basis – the online services can’t do that.”

Steve Johnson of weather routing service MetWorks, Ltd. in the UK agrees. “We tend to have fairly regular customers on the larger yachts, usually when they are transiting between the Caribbean and the Mediterranean,” he says. “You get a good rapport going between the yacht’s skipper and ourselves.”

In addition to weather routing and providing a “Go/No Go” recommendation before the crossing, MetWorks also makes recommendations to its captains for course adjustments while the yacht is en route, if necessary, in order to avoid bad weather. “They can stop or not stop; we can give them alternative ports for bunkering. It all sort of unfolds as the passage goes on,” he says.

“It’s not us telling the captains what to do,” he adds. “They look at us as the professionals. We can interpret the data better than they can, and we can look farther ahead.”

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