Originally Posted by chrismin
I have a satphone and had thought of using that to pick up weather but the software seems either not very good or very expensive.
If you already have the satphone (which model by the way?), then you have already spent a lot of what you need to get weather via email
. There are actually a couple of free or affordable satphone email
programs to get you started downloading free weather quite quickly (see below), so the bulk of your expenditure going forward would simply be paying for usage of satellite
OK, satphone minutes are still somewhat expensive, but you don't need to use all that many. More importantly, satphones have significant feature benefits over HFs, which are well worth a few $ a day: (1) "on-demand" access to weather forecasts, (2) ability to get much longer duration and more detailed forecasts (via GRIB files), (3) much lower comms failure rate (no propogation or radio
frequency interference), particularly if you make sure to check that you have a 4 or 5 bar signal (out of 5) before dialing.
An HF with a Pactor modem
(quite expensive in its own right) resolves problems #1 and #2, but still faces #3.
Note also that HF antenna/RFI issues seem to be much greater with the handheld SSBs models like suggested above, so it takes experience & trial & error to get those to work
- there are some fairly disappointed users out there, including myself (we tried the Tecsun PL-660 which appears well recommended, but never got good signals from various HF voice forecasts using just the built-in & wire antennas). Based on my experience, I would not rely on the portable models for primary weather until I had thoroughly tested it on board.
Now back to weather via satphone
(note: this discussion assumes a handheld, slow satphone like the Isatphone or Iridium
(1) How many satphone minutes are needed per day?
People have different opinions, but I'd suggest:
if only downloading text forecasts (similar to what you'd get via HF)
e.g. MeteoFrance's Metarea II and NOAA's Metarea IV across the Atlantic -- both available at: http://weather.gmdss.org
(just save the exact page web links before you leave)
=> somewhat unlikely usage scenario in practice, as most users avail themselves of the option to download GRIBs when given the opportunity
if downloading text forecasts + 1 basic GRIB/day (low res, large area 5-7 days forecast
, in 24hr increments)
if downloading text forecasts + a couple GRIBs/day (for example the low res long-range forecast
above + a 36-48hr high-res, small-area forecast, in 3-6hr increments, for short-range routing)
Minutes prices vary, but for example most prepaid Iridium
plans cost $1.5-2.5/minute (e.g. ~$300 for 150min valid 2 months), and there are various subscription options as well. Pretty much the same cost as roaming on your cell phone
(2) I have the satphone and minutes, now how do I email for (near) free?
You need a satphone-optimized email service
(think "Outlook Express" for satphone) which can effectively use the very slow satphone data connections to access a dedicated onshore email server. There are lot of these satphone email services (see past thread links below), but my suggestions if you are price
- Vizada Skyfile Mail (free)
- UUplus (sold via SPSMail, about $15/mo)
Both these are comparable, fully functional email programs, used by a range of sailors (incl. some professional ships), although they are probably not as common as the paid email services you will read about more often among cruisers (GMN, MailaSail). These email programs also work with different satphone service
See these links for more discussion of email options and links to each product:
(3) I have the satphone, the minutes, and email service. Now can I get weather?
Yes, and best of all, all the next steps can be done for free.
Use Saildocs (www.saildocs.com/
) as your tool for accessing any weather content (text, images
This is an ultra-simple email "query-reply" system, where you first send a message to a server specifying what content you want, and the server then sends you the content by email reply (within 1-2 minutes of the initial query - you can log-off during this time and re log-on later).
The query steps are easy (you can try this from any email address):
- Send an email to email@example.com
- The body of the email should contain your data request, e.g.:
=> To receive MeteoFrance Metarea 2 text forecast (other Metareas available on the same website, including NOAA Metarea 4)
=> To receive a GRIB file for the designated region, 1 deg resolution, 6-72hrs forecast (fully customizable)
=> To receive the current
situation surface weather chart for the Eastern Atlantic (all other NOAA weather charts
are available in the same folder)
The key is knowing the exact address of the weather data you are trying to access, which requires research
pre-departure (Talbot's links above are a great place to start).
(4) I've used the satphone and saildocs to receive GRIBS. How do I view the GRIBs and/or do my ownrouting?
Tons of free options here, but my personal preferences are:
- ZyGrib for GRIB viewing (intuitive yet powerful visualization options + convenient for use ashore by downloading GRIBs straight from the program)
- QtVlm for GRIB-based routing (emerged out of ZyGrib, less intuitive but powerful). I also use Bluewater Racing
(also free) as a cross-check.
Note that routing is much more complex than simple GRIB viewing, as you need to choose/understand your boat
polars, adjust for the inaccuracies of GRIBs (especially up & down the wind
range + in coastal areas), adjust for cruising modes (e.g. sailing more conservatively than polars), etc. There is very much the potential to achieve "garbage in, garbage out"...
Final note: I have no commercial
connection to any of the above suggestions - simply a keen user who had to figure this all out myself...