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Marine Weather Basics

Ever since man first set sail, one eye has been on the horizon and the other on the skies for signs of changing marine weather. Vessels at sea are dramatically affected by weather systems. When a storm strikes on land, most people can go indoors and find shelter from the storm. But the mariner doesn’t always have this luxury. Unexpected storms, strong winds, waves, or fog can adversely affect the safety of the ship and its crew. Sailors rely on marine-weather data so they can make informed navigational decisions and seek a safe harbor when storms are eminent.

The National Weather Service offers a wealth of marine-weather data that assist mariners around the globe including warnings and forecasts, coastal-marine forecasts, offshore forecasts, high-sea warnings and forecasts, special marine warnings, hurricane- and tropical-storm advisories and warnings, and marine-weather reports. Read on for an overview of marine weather basics and discover where you can find resources for text-savvy sailors.

Marine-Weather Warnings
Each set of warnings and marine weather forecasts has a specific purpose and emphasis. For example, special marine warnings are typically issued for short duration, potentially dangerous water events that take place “over water.” They pose a unique threat to mariners who aren’t covered through other warnings such as water spouts, wind shifts, thunderstorms, and squalls. High-seas warnings are of interest to large ocean-going vessels like ships. These warnings tend to emphasize gale-force (or worse) conditions.

Typical marine-weather reports include small craft warnings, tide times, coastal forecasts, and buoy data such as water temperature and wind readings. Each marine-weather service uses data gathered from around the globe to make their predictions. Among the tools used to collect marine-weather data are buoys, radar, satellite images, and real-time observations from volunteer ships and U.S. Coast Guard stations.

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A nationwide Marine Report Program through the National Weather Service uses information reported directly from mariners themselves. These volunteers relay marine-weather conditions as they occur. While instruments and satellites are invaluable, these eyewitness reports play a vital role.

The United States Coast Guard also issues a weekly local notice to mariners. Though not necessarily a marine-weather service, this notice provides details of interest to vessels traveling local waterways such as dredging in the area, bridge construction over rivers and bays, and new buoys that have been launched.

Who Needs Marine-Weather Reports?
Whether a hobbyist or a ship’s captain, boaters pay attention to marine weather. They can get advance warnings of weather events through these forecasts and advisories and take appropriate action. Marine weather reports and forecasts come in many forms including radio and television broadcasts and interactive, Internet weather maps. While on the water, many tools are available to help mariners stay informed including radio warnings and forecasts as well as common sense. The National Weather Service even provides e-mails and text messages to those interested in marine-weather updates, as well as products and services for mariners.

Marine weather reports, forecasts, and advisories are critical to anyone traveling the seas and waterways. Be prepared before your next voyage by checking the weather above and below ground.

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