About this page

This is a description of the development of the NAVTEX service initially in the United Kingdom and its development to being a near-worldwide facility. I have made some slight additions and re-writing of a page produced by my old friend and colleague, Martin Stubbs. It was based, in turn on information in The Marine Observer, — a now defunct journal produced quarterly by the Met Office and published by HM Stationery Office. Martin no longer maintains his website so these few paragraphs will, I hope, help to retain a record of this system.

Related pages

Early days

The technology for the dissemination of text messages via a simple radio-telex system has a long history. In the early 1930s, commercial, operational Radioteletype systems were operating between San Francisco and Honolulu. It was used by the US military during worls war 2. In the late 1970s the (British) Post Office Coastal Radio Station at Cullercoats in the north-east of England began broadcasting weather forecasts and gale warnings for the shipping forecast areas from Fair Isle, down the North Saa to Plymouth on what was then referred to as a temporary radio teletype broadcast. Apart from a changes of name the “temporary” service continued with reports coming in of its success. In April 1983 the service was declared as an operational alongside those provided via the conventional means of the MF Morse broadcasts and those via the marine radio-telephone service.

Growth in the UK

On 1st October 1983 the service was extended to the BT coastal radio station at Portpatrick. The weather information broadcast from Portpatrick included forecasts and a gale-warning service for the western sea areas of the UK, including Fair Isle in the north and all the western coastal sea areas from Lundy in the south to South-east Iceland in the north.

During 1985, NAVTEX broadcasts were started via Land End Radio. This broadcast included warnings and forecasts for the English Channel, the Irish Sea and all the sea areas in the South-west Approaches included in the main shipping forecast. However, reports suggested that the site at Lands End was not ideal for the intended area of coverage, and so the NAVTEX facility at Lands End was moved about a year later, in 1986, to the BT International coastal radio station at Niton on the Isle of Wight.

International developments

By 1987, interest in NAVTEX was growing and NAVTEX services were being successively introduced in other countries. Gradually all the operational MSI information broadcast by W/T and R/T was incorporated into the bulletins. Procedures applicable to stations transmitting NAVTEX information on a common frequency of 518 kHz were specified in Article 14A of the Radio Regulations and in Resolution No.324 (Mob-87) of the World Administrative Radio Conference for the Marine Mobile Services, 1987.
Following the sixty-third session of the Maritime Safety Committee (May 1994) a second edition of the NAVTEX Manual was produced and this continues to be the basis on which the NAVTEX service operates today. UK NAVTEX became a part of the marine communications organisation for shipping run by the Post Office and afterwards by BT International. The services included the broadcast of gale warnings, weather forecasts, navigational warnings and other MSI both via the medium of W/T and R/T as well as via the NAVTEX service.

The network of Post Office stations also dealt with distress traffic, telegrams to and from ships and enabled link telephone calls to be made from ships at sea to land subscribers world-wide. Later, the operation of the coastal network of marine radio stations by BT International the UK NAVTEX service via all three transmitters was co-ordinated at Stonehaven Radio (not at one of the transmitting centres). It was to Stonehaven Radio that all the meteorological texts were sent from the Meteorological Office and other MSI information from the sources of that information such as the Hydrographic Office for broadcast via the UK NAVTEX service.


NAVTEX was incorporated into the new regulations for the system known as the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS). This system underwent a transitional phase from 1 February 1992 until 1st February 1999 from which date the GMDSS requirements became mandatory within Chapter V of the Convention for Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). From 1st August 1993 all vessels bound by the requirements of the SOLAS Convention have been required to carry NAVTEX equipment as NAVTEX transmissions had become available world-wide except for Australia and New Zealand.

Back in the UK

On the 1st July 1999 BT International began to hand over the responsibility for dissemination of Marine Safety Information (including the provision of weather forecasts and warnings) to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA). This responsibility included the provision of MSI information to ships at sea via the medium of the HM Coastguard VHF and MF stations. Early the following year, on the 1st February 2000 the MCA took over the responsibility for the transmission of the UK NAVTEX service. Control of the service was moved from Stonehaven to the MRCC (Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre) at Falmouth. It was shortly after this, on the 30 April 2000 that the BT HF station at Portishead ceased operations with the main source of safety information for ships in NAVAREA 1 on the North Atlantic outside of NAVTEX coverage being the Inmarsat SafetyNET™ service.

The two Irish NAVTEX stations, Malin Head and Valentia, became operational later in 2000, the service via those stations being maintained by the Irish Coastguard and extended the availability of the provision of MSI via NAVTEX from 15°W to 20°W.

The set of sea areas for which forecasts and gale warnings were broadcast by the three UK NAVTEX stations was based on the station locations at Cullercoats, Lands End/Niton and Portpatrick. In November 2000, there was a rationalisation of the sea areas to be included in each transmission, For example, the areas Irish Sea, Rockall and Malin were relevant in a broadcast from Lands End but not in a broadcast from Niton. Also, by courtesy the Irish Coastguard the two stations in the Republic of Ireland were able to take on the responsibility of broadcasting warnings and weather forecasts for users of the NAVTEX service out to 20°W. Thus several of the sea areas around the north, south and west of Ireland together with parts of the High Seas forecast for Metarea I are included in the transmissions from Malin Head and Valentia.

The future?

It has been said that, had Inmarsat been developed a little earlier we would not have had NAVTEX With its night-time propagation problems and incredibly low speeds in this computer age. In time, it must be inevitable that satellite communications will become increasingly used and NAVTEX will die a slow death. There are no current plans for a replacement.