Probably the most important pre-departure check for any responsible skipper is an up-to-date weather forecast. The best laid plans (and particularly our passage plans) are prone to change if the weather forecast changes too.
In the past we were reliant upon wider shipping forecasts, inshore forecasts broadcast on VHF and local weather forecasts. This information, coupled with a working knowledge of what to look for in changes in barometric pressure and a general observance of changes around you (such as air temperature, sea state and cloud cover) helped the competent skipper to plan a safe passage.
Today, with the wide use of smartphones & tablets combined with relatively plentiful access to cheap or free wifi and mobile data when near shore, large amounts of up-to-date weather data are available at the touch of a screen.
Which weather apps do we prefer when sailing? Here are just a few worth considering;
We like predict wind. It is primarily free to download and use but it also has upgrades and in-app subscriber options available which allow you to save more than just three favourite ports at any one time and also access passage planning and other services.
The app allows to to view PWG, PWE, GFS and ECMWF data models and compare the outcome from each. When I have used the app in the Solent and Gibraltar I’ve generally found it to be accurate and easy to use. It has GRIB views and also table formats with rainfall, cloud cover and wave height and direction also presented. All very useful for passage planning.
Predict Wind also offers an ‘offshore’ app which allows you to download GRIB files.
Windy is relatively new to the scene but brings with it a whole new level of data presentation. Fluid wind maps show air patterns and wind shifts. The basic free app is great but you can upgrade for HD or wind alerts, forecast histories, etc. Many marinas now have the windy website on their reception monitor which is a great way to present the day’s weather in an easily understood and dynamic manner.
Tidal information, wave heights, etc are all available.
iGrib / Pocket Grib
iGrib is a free app that allows you to download (for free) GRIB files from a remote server. Effectively a GRIB reader, the app is simple but effective and allows you to update GRIB files for chosen parts of the world at any time, so long as you have internet access.
Boatie is free although there are some upgrades you can choose. In my opinion, the app is just fine as it stands. Unfortunately, it’s only available to iphone users.
Having been around quite a while now and for UK-based sailors it’s a pretty robust application with some useful facilities. For a start, it presents the latest UK Shipping forecast and Inshore Forecast as presented by the Met Office (including synoptic charts). You can select the appropriate sea area and inshore forecast you desire and then just refresh the app to receive up-to-date forecasts.
The app also provides you with a page linked to your phone’s GPS, meaning that Course over Ground (COG) and Speed over Ground (SOG) can also be checked at the touch of the screen.
A nice little touch is an interactive tidal flow chart for the UK coast which allows you to swiftly establish the direction and strength of tides at any given time based on a chosen standard port. You can also import waypoints such as the Solent Race Marks and add them into a course for quick cross checking when racing.
Android (unavailable) | iTunes
Weather around The Rock…
In and around Gibraltar, we always check MeteoGib for local weather and forecasts too. The location of the Rock and the effect of the Straits means that local anomalies result. The Levanter can cause huge wind shifts, dramatic katabatic winds and acceleration zones in and around the Bay and the Straits respectively.
Meteo Gib and Jolly Parrot regularly share information to our mutual benefit.
Take a look at more of our favourite sailing apps: