The voice of the shipping forecast

The shipping forecast, or rather I should write : Marine Weather, with uppercase, is for modern mariners as ancient gods was for our oldest ancestors : a permanent reference to the conduct of our lives.

The Long Waves

Not so long ago, This deity addressed us, marine trade, fishermen and boaters, by a heavenly voice carried by the waves. Our High Priestess, Marie-Pierre Planchon, informing us twice a day for, happy or fearful, that we might know as we venture over the waves. In that time the weather had a name and a voice, recognizable at once ear.

“The marine weather on France Inter is a small newsletter written in the enigmatic language of sailors, who casually, entered the imagination of many people. Now, a thousand letters of regret and poems to Marie-Pierre Planchon came on the radio at its virtual disappearance in September 2008. Parisians nestled in their bed and lobster fishermen from Iroise Sea and Isle of Yeu, we offer a travel through the thoughts that cross, nightly, listening to the marine weather forecast. "

For nostalgic, take any pleasure in (re)listen to this show, "Sur les Docks" by France Culture, on the marine weather bulletin France Inter, which aired on Friday 29 th 2009 (*). This will tell a lot about the regrets of faithful listeners when the forecasts have been reduced to a daily broadcast on Long Wave Radio France, an hour undecided "a little after 20:00», except retransmission of football match or extending news !

When France-Inter announced the marine weather

At the same time – and still today, moreover – British maritime hegemony is characterized by four marine weather forecasts with rhythmic precision timekeeping at times remained intangible in ages (at least 35 years, my only knowledge) on BBC Radio 4. Not easy to approach for french, I agree, but with some effort and a good glossary (see Glenans Sailing Manuel) we ended up “taking the BBC” like primary school dictations, with many faults, but the meaning was there. I can not resist the pleasure of remembering an example, now available in daily Podcast on the BBC website.

British Navy Weather on BBC Radio 4

To listen to the forecast, a simple “all-wave” radio receiver equipped with a telescopic antenna is sufficient. It picks up a great distance Long Waves, sometimes more 200 nautical miles. This is a particularly economical solution.


We go here in the Global Maritime Distress and Safety at Sea. Serious stuff. Along the coast, transmitters VHF Maritime Affairs Administration (CROSS) provide weather information for the coastal strip up 20 Nautical Miles off. Again, voice, with a slow, precise diction, releases a “coastal” weather report three times a day at strictly orthodox times, shifted transmitters transmitters throughout the coastal. If the mass is at 7:03, or 7:33, or 7:03 p.m., not a minute longer, much less one less : the first three minutes of the hour round is reserved for a period of silence to listen to any calls of distress.

We must have a VHF transceiver on board, or mobile, and an antenna of suitable quality. The higher the antenna is high, it is far more. Is already more expensive, VHF but provides many other services to Mariners.

The SSB – Short Waves

Although not in the GMDSS, who preferred NAVTEX bulletins for the area until 300 miles offshore, CROSS continue to spread, one to two times a day depending on the region, weather forecasts for open sea in Single Side Band. And that's good.

All you need is an “all-wave” radio receiver equipped with a BFO (Low Frequency Oscillator) to demodulate the SSB, relatively inexpensive device. As against a good antenna is virtually indispensable.

The open sea – Shortwaves

For offshore sailors who cross the Atlantic in both directions, Radio France International issued once a day, at 11:33 UTC, and this for years, a newsletter covering all areas to the West Indies, carried on different frequencies depending on the geographic area of reception. The sweet voice of Arielle Cassim then created a warm relationship, with his Sea Chronicle until 12:00 UTC, vennait that brighten the long days of crossing. As for France Inter and the BBC, a simple "all-wave" receiver and a good antenna were enough. (**)

Alas, embedded computing is inexorably replacing the radio. The multiple ways to get GRIB weather files, graphic weather maps, satellite images and even text forecasts, dominate upon the chart tables.

Despite their undeniable qualities, electronic information will always miss, to me, this brings the vital must of voices. Ethereal voice of a radio operator, grave and measured voice of an english speaker, the warmth that accompanies us in the best or worst moments at sea, in those moments where you can sometimes feel very lonely on the ocean.

Whatever the technique brings, and even if the navigation is for some a way to associate only with our fellow moderately, do not lose the human contact carried by the radio waves. Who knows, we might eventually sink into this terrifying isolation described by Clifford D. Simak's novel of science fiction City. I advise you to read.

(*) Now disappeared from the archives of Radio France. (Update 25 th 2010)
(**) EMC has announced the end of the distribution of the newsletter the Navy 31 December 2011. The issuance of Arielle Cassim was arrested in late April 2010, Arielle Cassim had left RFI and created the site Seableue. (Update 31 December 2011)

• All hourly weather reports on the Guide marine from Meteo France.