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CruisingWiki

Is it time we did not have to depend on the “Grace and Favour” of the US Coast Guard and Dep of Defence?

It is just over a year ago that, thanks to the feedback of the cruising community around the world, the future of HF radio services was saved!

You may recall that the U.S. Coast Guard’s issued a notice dated April 18, 2007, soliciting public comment on the need to continue providing high frequency (HF) radio broadcasts of weather forecasts and warnings via:

(1) Radiofacsimile;
(2) voice; and,
(3) Simplex Teletype Over Radio (SITOR)

This was issued by C.S. Johnson, JR.,Captain, U.S. Coast Guard, Acting Assistant Commandant for Command, Control, Communications, computers and Information Technology – well that is one powerful CIO job!.

The notice stated that in summary:

“…The Coast Guard is soliciting public comment on the need to continue providing high frequency (HF) radio broadcasts of weather forecasts and warnings. Public comment is necessary in order to assess the demand for the HF radio broadcasts of weather forecasts in each of three forms: (1) Radiofacsimile;(2) voice; and, (3) Simplex Teletype Over Radio (SITOR), also known as Narrow Band Direct Printing (NBDP).

The infrastructure necessary to provide these services has exceeded its USCG HFlife expectancy; the equipment is no longer manufactured, repairs are difficult to accomplish, and spare parts generally are not available. Because of the very significant costs involved to continue these specific HF radio services, the Coast Guard requires information on the extent to which these services are used by the public and what alternative services are being used or are available to obtain weather forecasts and warnings.
…”

Luckily after an outcry the US Coast Guard concluded that:

“The responding public collectively perceives that the USCG HF broadcasts are essential to their safety. There is no viable alternative to the USCG HF broadcasts because present alternatives are perceived by the public to be out of financial reach. Also, marine weather forecasts available through these alternative sources may not guarantee the same level of accuracy, timeliness, and/or sufficiency as provided by the USCG HF broadcasts…”

Should we not have a separate mandate for the sailing community that protects it’s interests on a formal basis rather than leave it to the discretion and judgement of professional staff who may have many other challenging objectives and other more powerful stakeholders to satisfy?

What about the US GPS network?…when will that run out of “grace and favour” ?

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2 comments to Is it time we did not have to depend on the “Grace and Favour” of the US Coast Guard and Dep of Defence?

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Weather for FREE

There are a number of subscription services for weather data, but I really think that whether you are experienced or a novice sailor it is a good idea to practice reading barometric and other weather data for yourself to get accustomed to the connection between the data and the summary weather forecasts that are available from the US and UK Met Office. Please note I am not saying that you can substitute for listening to and heeding the Inshore and Shipping forecasts – but these resources and sofware can help your own decision making in terms of passage planning.

Of course what the paid for services add is “interpretation” and “prediction”…and we all know how accurate the weather forecast is on the TV…well in England that would be funny – perhaps the weather is forecast accurately in your part of the World? There are many models for forecasting but the most prevalent is the US National Center for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) – GFS Model.

Below are a large number of free resources and software that would make you fully capable of seeing all sorts of up to date weather data for FREE.

Links:
NOAA Marine Weather Service
This fantastic site gives free TIFF and GIF images for:
– WIND/WAVE CHARTS
– SURFACE CHARTS
– UPPER AIR CHARTS
– TROPICAL CYCLONE/HIGH WIND WAVE CHARTS
– ICE CHART
– SATELLITE IMAGERY
You don’t even need fancy software to see these pictures – just double click and the browser (IE or Firefox) will just display the picture for you – and you can save them to your laptop/PC for viewing later when you may not be able to get an internet connection.
NOAA Radiofax Schedule (for any fax viewing software – see below)

GRIB file data goes a step further by giving wind direction and speed using an easy to understand “barbed feather”. This saves you having to measure the distance between isobars to calculate wind strength. Some software even draws isotechs which are lines of constant wind speed. and some software draws arrows of different dimension and colours to represent speed and direction.

UGRIB Screen shotBut, I use the simple free service from UGRIB. This service gives you a free worldwide viewer and free GRIB files for any area that you care to select. You can select GRIB file area by just drawing an area on the map of the world and then the software downloads that area’s data alone – thereby saving on bandwidth for the download, which si a real boon if you are connected to the internet using your GPRS enabled phone! – click on the image for a larger screen shot.

Links:
Free GRIB viewer and GRIB data file – UGRIB
Free GRIB data – SAILDOCS
Free GRIB data viewer from AIRMAIL

If you have an SSB receiver on board such as the NASA SSB, then you can even get all sorts of free data while on the high seas and no where in sight of an internet connection…yes there are places such as these!

WEFAX is a method to transmit weather facsimile images over radio. Most images are transmitted in black and white, although some are grey scale. To receive wefax images, you need a shortwave receiver and a software decoder to convert audio tones into black and white. Tuning the receiver accurately is a tricky and time consuming process, but essential to receive acceptable pictures. You then have to clean up the audio signal by appropriate filtering to isolate the black and white “tones”.
The connection from the NASA SSB is a cable that plugs into the microphone input on my laptop, and when in operation sounds just like a fax machine or old analogue modem.

The program I use is SeaTTY. This can receive weather reports, navigational warnings and weather charts transmitted in RTTY, NAVTEX and HF-FAX (WEFAX) modes on longwave and shortwave bands. It can decode GMDSS DSC (HF and VHF) messages. The software can also automatically save NOAA Weather Radio SAME voice messages (NWR SAME) and the digital headers. No additional hardware is required — you need only a receiver and computer with a sound card.

Links:
Software for WEFAX – SeaTTY
Info and further links The DKZone
Free data by ham radio from Winlink2000
Software for weather fax
WEFAX Resources

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Radar Images for Weather on your phone..and much more…

palm700 thumbThe Memory Map application for mobile phones and PDA’s is fantastic example of software development for mobile devices. This application has been around for some time, and is the work of US based developer Richard Stevens and his team. Richard is a software developer with 15 year’s experience in scientific super-computing and high-performance real-time systems such as medical imaging machines and high-end radar systems.

From the MemoryMap web site …

Memory-Map Weather Radar is an application to display live National Weather RadarWeather Service doppler radar images and animated loops from radars located throughout the United States. Radar is the most effective tool to detect precipitation, especially thunderstorms, and has been used by NWS forecasters since the 1940’s. Memory-Map now brings this information, conveniently and efficiently, right to your phone or PDA.

With Memory-Map Weather Radar, when you update the image, the radar data is downloaded as a compressed overlay, without having to download the whole base image each time. There are no usage fees or subscriptions for using the service, except your mobile carrier’s normal data access fees. If the sky is clear, the download is only 1 or 2 kbytes; if there is widespread rain, it might be 10 kbytes. The first time you view each radar station, the base map image is downloaded, which is 50 to 100kbytes….”

Although the radar product is limited to the USA, what I didn’t realise is that his company has produced a full navigation product Memory-Map Navigator – for hiking and sailing that covers the UK!. Take look at the excellent video here.

This takes the use of the built in GPS on a smartphone into a whole different realm….

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Live AIS plot off the coast of East Anglia, England

Antenna2Martin Waller lives in Chelmondiston – a small village in Suffolk, England, on the south bank of the River Orwell, and to the east of the Ipswich.

Martin is obviously a sailor and also a software geek and AIS Live has come up with a web site on which he is plotting AIS signals from vessels off the coast of East Anglia – he has even put this aerial on the side of his house to improve reception – its a Super J-Pole designed for 161 Mhz reception and formed from 15mm copper pipe!

He has not only overlaid AIS transmissions on a Google maps background but also the Navtex transmitter stations as far south as Rome and Croatia.

Remember this is all live and in (almost) real time….

Well done Martin – I like your style, perhaps when I have retired …..:-)

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