Weather drives every voyage departure decision we make. Many boaters are unaware of the weather tools available on the internet. They are for the general public – free or for a minimally priced subscription. We educate boaters – that are interested – every chance we get. It isn’t difficult, and a little insight goes a long way into understanding the reported information.
“In the beginning” of our cruising on DESERT VENTURE, in lieu of a high frequency radio fax machine, we either printed or downloaded what we could to our computers before departure, then upon arrival in each port we hoofed it to the library – or free internet cafe, to check conditions and update our information. Since 2004 we use a Verizon Aircard to get information from the internet. We have connectivity on most of the United States west coast and SE Alaska. We used a Mexican Telcel Banda Ancha Aircard while in Mexico. In areas where there was no cell service our external WiFi antenna was very useful. We had excellent service on much of the outside of the Baja Peninsula. We are so dedicated to going comfortably the cost of the service pays for itself in peace of mind and safe, comfortable cruising.
To be certain, our selected sites are a few, among many. However, we’ve had success and 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 north toward our summer cruising grounds. None of the services agreed that morning, 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 an annual fee for the service and get 7 day forecasts. You can create virtual buoys, anywhere in the world, and get a forecast based on the location you choose. They offer email updates, if desired. 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. [I removed the visual for Buoy Weather. It is not presenting itself well on the blog.]
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. If you receive a “Security Warning” confirm and move on through to the site. We never have issues by adding the exception.
Choose from the “Global Models”/North America/NVG. [This information was updated 5/15/2013.]
Select “FNMOC Wave Watch 3 Sig Wave Heights..”,
then “Loop” at the beginning of the row.
There is no complete loop until all the time periods have a green dot 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 internet 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 site offers a loop also. You get Wave Height, Wind direction, and Pressure. All of them 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 available for review, and comparison of actual conditions, 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 was forecast is really happening. For instance, when underway we checked buoys up ahead of us to see if the forecast conditions were holding. We used this site coming down the west coast last fall. It gives a quick visual of conditions – Combined Current/Wave Buoy Conditions. We modified our plans, when possible or necessary, based on the real time conditions reported up ahead.
As I mentioned earlier, there are many more sites than the ones we use. It’s up to the cruiser to decide their limitations on the water. Having the right tools makes those decisions easier. The important thing is to get the information – then make your voyaging plan.
Be safe and enjoy the voyage!