The new NAVTEX forecast products are a blend of the existing offshore marine forecasts and coastal marine forecasts. However, the inshore forecasts contain less detail than the coastal forecasts. Mariners can continue to obtain NWS coastal marine forecasts by other means, including NOAA weather radio, USCG MF voice, USCG VHF voice, NOAA telephone recordings and the internet. NWS and the Coast Guard are actively working to improve the broadcast of marine forecasts via NAVTEX through a combination of product enhancements and technology upgrades.
No system is without potential problems, said Sherburne. “All electronic systems are made by man, so none are totally reliable. Put these electronics where they least like to be, in a wet, unprotected place, and often without ideal power supplies.” That said, he added that “weather fax and NAVTEX may be less susceptible than the newer stuff.
Furuno makes two NAVTEX units, the NX500, a “big bulky” standalone receiver with a thermal printer designed for commercial users which sells for $1695, said Dean Kurutz, marketing manager for Furuno USA in Camas, Wash. “It’s hard for recreational boaters to justify the expense.” So Furuno launched a smaller model, the NX300, an LCD unit with no printer for under $500.
Some dealers say the reason weather fax is not used by more recreational boaters, especially those who cruise only occasionally, is because there’s a learning curve involved in reading the charts and symbols. While the chart information is second nature to the Bering Sea fishermen, NAVTEX’s text printouts are easier for others.
Furuno developed a black box weather fax/NAVTEX module, called the FAX 30, that plugs in to their NavNet system. The same FAX 30 can be used as a stand-alone weather fax/NAVTEX receiver by connecting it into a laptop or home PC. You don’t have to deal with expensive paper because weather information is stored in the hard drive. You can zoom in and enhance color, something you can’t do on screen, all for about $995.
“The advantage of NAVTEX over weather fax is that the warnings are in plain English,” said Kurutz. “It’s better for the occasional, recreational boater because they don’t have to read a map.” NAVTEX information is free, so requires no subscription. This unit interfaces with the vessel’s GPS to determine which station is best for the NAVTEX data and automatically accesses it.
“You can look at the information on the screen or print it out,” said Kurutz. “Or it will connect to our NavNet program so you can show it on any display.”
Fax, Phone, Email or Internet
“I have a couple of customers who really don’t want to bother with weather,” said Upson. “They go to systems such as Weather Routing, Inc. out of New York. These systems aren’t cheap, and you pay per day. You tell them to contact you either by fax, phone or email. Tell them everything about your boat and tell them your comfort level—such as you don’t want to be out in 8 foot seas.” At least six of his customers use these services exclusively.
Some new services are available through cell phones for less than $10 a month, said Sherburne. “If you have a color display, you can get live radar for your area. This has a techie ring to it.”
“Some people cruising on sailboats hook their computer to their cell phone and get the internet. If you’re paying for the connection anyway, there’s no additional cost and you have access to all kinds of super real-time weather data. There are lots of sites to go to besides NOAA,” said Sherburne, including weather links from the web page for HWH Electronics. “Besides the National Weather Service, all local TV and newspapers have weather online.”
“It’s possible to go cheap!” said Englert. “You can buy an OCENS program for $239, install it on your laptop and connect your single sideband radio and get free weather fax broadcasts anywhere in the world.”
OCENS (Ocean and Coastal Environmental Sensing), a Seattle-based company, offers an interactive weather forecasting program called WeatherNet. By entering a latitude and longitude, the vessel operator may receive a seven day text forecast of ocean conditions, and charts for the region, worldwide. The interactive weather engine is a collaboration between OCENS and Buoyweather.com. OCENS also offers a watertight Data Pod that holds a Globalstar phone that may be cabled to a computer for access to weather, email and the web. Also, the company’s WeatherStation 2000 HW allows for weather fax reception.
Farallon Electronics in Sausalito, Calif., sells high-speed Pactor modems that allow users to access virtually free email services using their SSB radios. “Sailboat people, primarily, use these to receive worldwide storm warnings hourly, so they get a glimpse of weather around the world,” said Englert.
MaxSea is old software from France that’s been around practically since the advent of PCs. It’s always been good and useful, say dealers, but the marketing was dismal and people didn’t buy it. However, dealers now say it will be the next hot product because Furuno has partnered the 12th version of MaxSea with its NavNet equipment.
The Navigator Plus and Commander versions offer different navigational services, but both access the “Chopper” weather software (“That name will be changed by next year!” said Kurutz.). Chopper’s free subscription allows a boater who sails the same waters all the time to set up parameters to receive information such as wave height, wind velocity, sea surface temperatures, barometric pressure and more. “This information will be sent to you every day and it will be overlaid on a chart.”
A special feature for sailboaters, said Kurutz, is the software’s ability to modify a route. If the sailor draws a simple route, the software will assess the weather along the route and redraw it to accommodate the weather. “You can get predictive weather out for several days. The $495 price tag is a small part of the overall package of electronics for a medium-sized boat, $12,000 to $40,000, especially if you’re going offshore.
“MaxSea has simple universal icons on the screen for wind speed and direction, and the user can add color for lows and highs,” said Kurutz. “This gives customers a tremendous amount of versatility, including the ability to coordinate with radar.”
At the Miami Boat Show in February, SkyMate, Inc., a Chantilly, Va., manufacturer, announced a partnership with Nobeltec on a new hardware/software product called SkyMate 200 with Nobeltec eChart Mariner which enables mariners to have navigation, communications, and weather on one screen.
SkyMate already offers a communicator with a VHF stainless steel 38 inch whip antenna, which won an NMEA award for innovative technology for the compactness of the hardware. Besides the new Nobeltec package, SkyMate has existing systems that include weather.
“When a customer buys our hardware package, they will have access to four weather options,” each based on the operator’s preferences as to text, charts and graphics, said Chief Operating Officer Lynn Tandler. The first option uses NOAA weather charts with 24-hour reports. The second includes color radar images from NEXRAD [NOAA’s ‘next generation’ Doppler radar weather forecasting service], primarily of coastal U.S. areas, overlaid with other information on existing maps. The third option is NOAA text reports for anywhere the agency issues them, coastal and high-seas areas mostly in the U.S. and “a bit outside,” said Tandler. The last option is global, offering tables from anywhere in the world, in the mid-range of character use (average 1000 characters) from Buoyweather.com.
“These pull down menus offer information on wind and waves. Just put in the long and lat, and get information as far out as seven days,” said Tandler. “They use hardly any characters, but everyone tells me they are dead-on accurate.” The package is designed to be affordable for offshore boaters at under $1,000 with software and cables.
Tandler reports a lot of interest from Great Lakes boaters who don’t take long trips, but who face sudden weather changes. SkyMate also offers a vessel monitoring system for fishermen, and a tracker system that comes with a GPS to track a fleet of boats.
Some Use None
Mark Young at Young’s Electronic Systems in West Yarmouth, Mass., says until recently most boaters didn’t buy weather systems. “Until five or six years ago, vessels with SSB radios bought high-frequency modems for a few hundred dollars and accessed a few free services, from the U.S. Navy or somewhere. I don’t know how often these are purchased anymore, but they’re still available.
“If there’s a computer onboard, there are online weather services, many of them free,” added Young. “Then there are cell phones, modem cards for cell phones with services you pay for to go online, or a satellite system.” His customers on Cape Cod, especially those in the 20-foot to 40-foot category, are not buying many weather services.
On the Gulf, Gail Robertson of Sound Marine in Tampa, Fla., says the shrimp fleet doesn’t usually buy weather equipment either. “They check before they go out. They get the long-range forecast on the weather channel. We don’t usually get really big waves in the Gulf.” She did sell one of each of the satellite systems to yachters.
“Here on the Gulf, we just putter along,” said Robertson. “The shrimpers are devastated by the cost of insurance and fuel, and by cheap foreign shrimp imports. If a hurricane is coming, everyone knows it.”
Raymarine’s Raytec navigational software allows boaters to open, view and “animate weather data,” said Product Manager Louis Chemi. “For $100 a year, boaters can subscribe through the website. They will be sent an email once or twice a day, whichever they choose. The email automatically opens in the Raytech software and is overlaid on a chart. It integrates with any chart they use.”
But this product is old news, says Chemi, and dealers should be looking forward to a new product for 2006. “We have no dates or promises, but the Weather Channel announced an agreement with Raymarine at the last Miami show. We believe weather is important for almost all the products we have.”
In Portland, Me., Mike Whitten of Sawyer and Whitten says the two proprietary satellite systems, XM WX Satellite Weather and The Weather Channel Marine, are big sellers. “Most of my customers buy these, both commercial and recreational vessels.” His customers include many in Portland’s commercial fishing fleet. “The price has come down and they’re virtually trouble-free.” But many boaters, especially sailboaters, have expressed interest in the PC-based systems. “It’s an economical way to do it and you don’t have to have a lot of hardware if you have a PC.”
About the Author
Nancy Griffin has written marine-related articles for numerous trade publications, including National Fisherman,Seafood Business and Marine Electronics Journal.