Weather drives every voyage departure decision we make. We discovered that many boaters are unaware of the weather tools available to the general public for free or a minimal subscription pricing. We educate and inform boaters – that are interested, on the sites we use and how to read the information. It isn’t difficult to understand, but a little insight goes a long way into understanding how the information can be of use.
To be certain, our selected sites, are a few among many. However, we have had success and have confidence – in general, with the information produced. It is as good as is possible considering the nature of weather. The best scenario is that as potentially good weather draws near, the different weather services agree. It doesn’t always happen that way.
A good example was Spring 2010, when we were planning our departure of the Columbia River, headed toward our summer cruising grounds north. None of the services agreed, with forecasts from excellent to “no-go”. Okay, fine. Which one do we trust? We went – the bar was no problem, but the ocean was a mess with very disorganized waves which created a washing machine effect. We turned around, went back across the bar and waited one day. The next day was great.
Another contradictory example was the fall of 2011. We were in Cabo San Lucas and planned to cross the Sea of Cortez. That morning we downloaded all our favorite weather sites. All of them agreed it would be flat with no wind. We had time to make it into Banderas Bay before weather set in. On that occasion it was never flat – even on departure. It built throughout the day and stayed up until morning the next day. We changed course to keep the weather on our stern. Landing in Mazatlan, instead of Banderas Bay.
We subscribe to Buoy Weather. You can view it at no charge – two days at a time. We pay for the service and get a 7 day forecast. You can create virtual buoys, anywhere in the world, and get a forecast based on the location. They offer email updates, if desired.
Marine Forecast for 46.25º N / 124.25º W
Conditions suitable for most marine activities
7 Day Marine Forecast
Model Cycle 2010 APR 24 06Z Time Zone: GMT – 7 Hours
Wind & Wave Forecast
I like this service because it is very visual and easy to understand. It becomes very clear if it is a “Go” , or “No Go” day.
National Weather Service – NOAA Marine Forecast
This link at NWS Marine Forecast gives a text description of the forecast.
US Navy Mil Weather – Unclassified
This public site US Navy site – FNMOC WXMAP gives data up to 180 hours out.
Choose from the top section “Global Models”/East Pacific/NGP.
Select “FNMOC Wave Watch 3 Sig Wave Heights..”,
then “Loop” at the end of the row.
There is no loop until all the time periods are green dotted out to 180 hours. It runs in a very colorful loop over the 180 hour period. Both wind and wave heights are displayed. This is the tool we use to get our hopes up, as it shows potential good weather the furthest time out. However, much can happen between now and 180 hours in the future. It still gives us our best look at potential “go” conditions. Black is best and the darker blues are very nice – though we might entertain conditions in the lighter blue colors, depending on wind and how long the conditions are forecast to last.
NOAA Marine Radiofax
Weather Radiofax Charts. This is the same information that is transmitted via high frequency out at sea – many boats receive this information via a HF Radiofax Machine. We pull our information from the Point Reyes site for the west coast. Bruce looks at the Wind/Wave and Surface charts. When we are south of the American border he uses the Tropical Analysis. You can pull information from current time out to 96 hours. Choose the GIF option.
[Added in 2010] Passage Weather. This option can be viewed through a loop also. You get Wave Height, Wind direction, and Pressure. All these can be downloaded and saved for future reference. *This was our favored tool while crossing the Sea of Cortez in 2010/11. It helped having the details to available for review later when we had no internet connectivity.
Real Time Buoy Conditions
There are websites that give real-time information from ocean buoys. You can call the NDBC buoy – by phone, for current conditions, or go online. This is a good way to see if what the forecasters is saying is happening – is really happening. So, for instance,when underway we checked the buoys up ahead of us to see if the conditions were as forecast. One other site is Combined Current/Wave Buoy Conditions and gives a visual quick look.
As I mentioned earlier, that are many more sites than the ones we use. We have boating friends that use other services and find they fit their needs. The important thing is get the information, then make your voyaging plan.
Be safe and enjoy the voyage!