El Faro - NTSB Issues WX Information Recommendations

From gCaptain: Amid El Faro Investigation, NTSB Issues Recommendations Aimed at Getting Better Weather Information to Mariners

The United States’ National Transportation Safety Board has issued 10 safety recommendations aimed at enhancing the availability of weather information to mariners amid its ongoing investigation into the 2015 sinking of the El Faro during Hurrican Joaquin.

The goal of the recommendations, which include improving weather forecasting methods and increasing the frequency of certain advisories and alerts, is to improve the accuracy of hurricane and tropical cyclone forecasts and make them more accessible to voyage planners and at-sea mariners.

NTSB Safety Alert - Tropical Cyclone Information for Mariners (pdf - 2 pages)

NTSB Safety Recommendation Report : Tropical Cyclone Information for Mariners (pdf - 21 pages)


The most important ship routing tactic in dealing with tropical cyclones is avoiding them in the first place. The Mariner’s 1-2-3 Rule was developed as an aid for mariners to avoid tropical cyclones by accounting for forecast track errors and is a must for any mariner to know when navigating near a hurricane or tropical storm.

The Mariner’s 1-2-3 Rule originally was an adaptation made from a US Navy training film “A Time for All measures” in use during the early 1970s. Since the 1990’s the Mariner’s 1-2-3 Rule has incorporated a “danger zone” by adding the 10-year average tropical cyclone forecast track errors which were at the time, approximately 100 nm for each 24 hour forecast period plus the radius of forecast gale force (34 knot or higher) winds. The 34 knot or higher wind field was chosen as the critical wind speed because at this level or higher the wind and sea conditions significantly limit ship maneuverability. When ship maneuverability is limited, then course options are also significantly reduced.

I agree that the 1-2-3 / 34 kts rule is very useful. But how many ships actually in practice avoid the “area to be avoided”?

As a specific example say a ship is north bound from Singapore to Japan and a Tropical Cyclone (TC) is headed Westerly towards the China Coast. To get to Japan from Singapore a vessel is going to have to either “cross the T” or wait. If the choice is wait three days or cross the T with a 72 hrs and 300+ mile margin how many ships will choose to wait?

I can say from experience at under 72 hours margin plus error the ship traffic will be undiminished.

If anyone was interested it would be easy to determine when ships actually take action to avoid TC by watching the AIS in an area ahead of the TC. As a guess I’d say traffic will not appreciably thin out till well after the guidance given by the 1-2-3 rule.

I guess it depends on your confidence in the forecast, your knowledge of your vessel and crew, not to mention your past experience. We were discussing modifying the rule several years back based on improved hurricane track forecasts. http://gcaptain.com/mariners-1-2-3-rule-updated/
Might be time to review the topic again.

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There hasn’t been a lack of weather information available to the mariner in quite sometime. Indeed it is quite the reverse. The NAVTEX and the INMARSAT C spew out reams of weather information (regardless of attempts on your part to filter out extraneous information.) The FTPmail provides excellent synoptic charts from the NWS in a matter of minutes. The information is there, you just have to be able to make intelligent use of the material. The truly puzzling aspect of the El Faro tragedy is why did Captain Davidson choose to take his ship into the heart of a building hurricane.

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Most large vessels have Internet access for NHC weather forecasts. I recommend that you don’t sail into
the path of or anywhere near a large tropical cyclone because Mother Nature doesn’t always roll with the forecast…

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It’s been a while since I have been anywhere near a TRS. Best part of 30 years.
Used to use the old Mariners handbook. Navigable and Unnavigable, Semi circle, Old tracks from routing maps,

I guess getting the forecast is easier now, Back then the Sparky got the weather, and the FAX. And brought it to the Bridge, with GMDSS and Satellites and Navtex. You will get more forecasts.

Doesn’t mean they are right. Or the best decision will be made.

Cool. How about the NTSB make a recommendation to the Trump administration NOT to cut so much of NOAA’s budget related to weather forecast modeling, El Nino research, tornado forecasting, etc… Granted I read that they were planning on cutting forecasting jobs under the Obama administration. What a joke.


One of the issues in this NTSB report:

NTSB Safety Recommendation Report : Tropical Cyclone Information for Mariners (pdf - 21 pages)

is the NHC’s Tropical Cyclone Forecast/Advisory which mariners are familiar with and is disseminated four times a day, every 6 hours by SAT-C. When there are coastal hurricane watches in effect the NHC also issues Intermediate Public Advisories in the 3 hours intervals but these 3 hour updates are not issued via SAT-C.

The second mate on the El Faro called the captain at 0120 EDT about the route. The NHC issued a Intermediate Public Advisory 10 minutes later, but not via SAT-C. This advisory showed that Joaquin had moved on to El Faro’s planned track.

Past time. This is from the 2017 Bowditch:

Because of advances in tropical cyclone prediction, the 1-2-3 rule (see Figure 3912a) has become outdated and the Danger Graphic based on that rule depicts excessively large potential tropical cyclone danger areas. In 2012, the National Hurricane Center developed an alternative experimental version of the graphic based on the wind speed probability calculations discussed above. One advantage of this approach is that it allows the depiction of any particular desired level of risk. In addition, the calculation considers the spread of the model guidance and therefore has some situational variability. It also considers uncertainty in the forecasts of tropical cyclone size and intensity as well as the track of the cyclone.

NHC discontinued use of the Mariner’s 1-2-3 rule in 2016. Tropical cyclone danger areas are now depicted to show the areas encompassed by the 5% and 50% 34-knots wind speed probability contours - the 5% contour is meant to highlight areas where-tropical-storm force winds are possible and the 50% contour is meant to highlight areas where those winds are likely. An example of the new Danger Graphic is given in Figure 3912b.

This was discussed on this thread from Sep 2016 Hurricane Avoidance - Joaquin and El Faro

From that thread:

There has been several places where the El Faro and the 1-2-3 avoidance rule has been discussed. Most mariners agree that the El Faro did not have an adequate margin, however the fact that the El Faro’s planned route was inside the so-called “Area to be Avoided” that fact alone does not necessarly mean that it was in violation of normal practice. - KC

Three things used to set up a process to handle incoming SAT-C weather. - Standing orders, night orders and posted chartlets of the NAVAREAs and/or Forecast Areas.

In the standing orders I have a requirement that the most current weather be posted. Weather for outside the area is thrown away by the officer on watch. Once this is done a couple of times it only takes a few seconds to identify which part to keep and which part to dispose of. After this become a routine it’s very easy.

The chartlet, copied from List of Radio Signals for the area the ship is in is kept posted also. It’s a lot quicker to see if you are, for example “NORTH OF 31 N to 67 N WEST of 35 W” if you can see the area being described on a diagram.

Also in the standing orders is a requirement to call the master for unexpected weather. To keep from being woken up when I expect severe weather I write out in the night order what I expect. For example “expect frontal passage tonight with winds shifting NW to 45 kts”. That way I don’t get called if that’s what happens.