About this page

Changes to the Météo France website are making weather forecasts impossible to access by those with Internet access but not web browsing capability.

See also

MSI on the Web

The Web has become a useful source of weather forecasts, warnings and other marine safety information including navigation warnings. Increasingly and inevitably, it will come to be used in preference to conventional GMDSS radio broadcasts. It will be seen as being a more reliably available when convenient to the user. Other significant advantages are that texts and charts can be saved and studied at leisure; this makes understanding easier, especially when in another language.

All this is fine when you can use a web browser but that is not always possible.

Internet access

The growth of 3G networks has resulted in the Internet being accessible to coastal sailors, often virtually continuously. This is so when on land and even when a few miles out to sea and further with a good aerial and signal booster..

However, it is not always plain sailing. Setting up a 3G contract when visiting another country can be difficult. A sailor might not spend much time in a country; he or she might have just arrived after a sea or ocean passage. Topography may limit 3G network availability even in some developed countries,. Western coastal areas of Scotland are poorly served, for example.

In such cases, Internet access may only be possible using email. The same applies to blue water sailors using satellite phones or email over HF/SSB radio.

GMDSS forecast by Email

For many years now, the US NWS (National Weather Service) has provided a FTPMAIL (File Transfer Protocol) service intended for use by mariners who have Internet access but not web browsing capability. The instructions to use this email system are lengthy and complex. It is only available for NWS forecasts.

A much simplified, free-to-all FTP mail system has been developed by Saildocs to request and receive GRIB (Gridded Binary) data and GMDSS weather forecast texts.. The former are output from the US NWS GFS (Global Forecast System;) the latter can be from the Internet site of any national weather service. A message to mailto:query@saildocs.com saying send http://www......... Will bring a near immediate reply with all the text off the relevant page but stripped of the html coding. A weather forecast on a web page might require many tens or hundreds of kb to download. The basic text information can be received in a file 2 or 3 kb size.

A similar free FTP service is provided by MailASail for GRIB data, GMDSS texts and synoptic charts in a compressed format. Radio amateurs (HAMs) also have an email service through Winlink.com.

Long distance sailors are increasingly using satellite phones to request and receive GMDSS and GRIB information. It is possible, but currently expensive, to browse the Internet using satellite communications. Email has clear application for satellite phone use as well as being necessary when using HF/SSB radio connecting via a modem to a computer or Tablet.

The threat

Whether on the high seas or inshore, these email services work well. However, they do require Web pages of safety information to be bookmarked for the email requests. In many countries that is still the case. The danger is that, like many other organisations, national meteorological services are likely to update and modernise their websites using features that Javascript and other languages can generate. All too easily a software expert “improving” a site can be unaware of the marine safety implications.

This is already happening in France where all marine forecasts have been moved to a drop-down menu system. No French marine forecast can now be bookmarked. As a result, safety information becomes unavailable to many leisure vessels at sea.

The JCOMM site, http://weather.gmdss.org/ is also affected. This has links to texts of high seas forecasts for most METAREAs; these can be bookmarked and accessed by email. The site also has links to some NAVTEX texts of forecasts for offshore sea areas. For some unaccountable reason. these cannot be bookmarked and so are not available to anyone at sea using email to access the Internet.

Of course, all marine safety information is all available by GMDSS broadcasts. It might be argued that there is no reason to make it readily available to all over the Internet. That ignores the fallibility of a communications system that is based largely on 1950s or 1950s technology.. All too often VHF, NAVTEX and HF/SSB broadcasts cannot be received by small vessels. They may, for various reasons be missed.

Given the shortcomings of terrestrial radio as a means by which sailors can obtain safety information, it seems illogical to put the same data on the Internet but not available to those at sea or in areas near or on land but with poor radio reception. That simply puts into jeopardy those who really need the information whilst at or before going to sea.

The bottom line

All providers of MSI should be asked to ensure that all marine bulletins and other MSI information are available on-line. Further the information should be readily and immediately available to all wherever they are and however they access the Internet. In particular, all links on the JCOMM site should be capable of being bookmarked.

Does this matter?

Why should we worry? We have GIB data; we have services such as mete Consult; we have apps such as WeatherPro HD.

The cardinal virtue of the GMDSS is that forecasts have human interpretation and experience. Purely objective forecasts can seriously underestimate wind strength. They can dangerously over estimate visibility. Whatever other information is available, nobody should go to sea without knowing what GMDSS forecasts are saying

What can we sailors do?

  • Bring the problem to the attention of marine authorities and national weather services

  • Write to your national JCOMM representative.

  • Write to Météo France.

  • Write to your national marine organisation.

  • Write to your national meteorological organisation.