When should ship captains use weather routing?

Just used google and got this from Professional Mariner

When properly used, marine weather routing services help ships avoid dangerous storms

This is from that article:

Maine Maritime and other academies offer training in weather routing and meteorology. Miller believes weather routing works best when the master can discuss the route with the routing service and the home office based on real-time conditions at sea.

“They should have a dialogue with the routing service and have a mutual agreement,” he said. “You have a professional resource on shore, but also in turn have the skills and knowledge of the master at sea.”

By contrast this is the Captain of the El Yunque:

WIT: It can be called upon to provide routing information.

CDR Denning: How ----

WIT: It’s not a service that I have any interest in, so I’ve never investigated it.

CDR Denning: How would – so would you know how that would work if you did want to utilize it?

WIT: Umm, I would have to look into it, but as I said since it’s not something I am drawn to having somebody far away that’s generating computer programs giving advice or recommendations to a person who’s thinking about nothing but 24 hours a day being in the place where the weather is being experienced, I’m not devoting any my intellectual resources or my time allocation to the development of that.

Here’s what @john said back in 2007

In a world where experts and amateurs can work together to write encyclopedias and master mariners from Australia can visit gCaptain to discuss topics with mariners thousands of miles away (in real time!) I question that self-reliance is still the most important trait for a ship’s master. Instead captains need to embrace technology and work on their social skills. They need to use real time monitoring to understand conditions and communication technology to call field experts

It’s also been said that if the captain isn’t comfortable using only his own skill and judgement he should not be sailing master.

So which is it? Should the captain ever rely on outside expertise for weather routing?

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I don’t think the two thoughts are mutually exclusive. If the captain isn’t comfortable relying exclusively on their knowledge and experience then they shouldn’t be captain but that doesn’t mean they can’t ever seek counsel from outside sources.

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Captain MacWhirr on weather routing:

"But suppose I went swinging off my course and came in two days late, and they asked me: ‘Where have you been all that time, Captain?’ What could I say to that? ‘Went around to dodge the bad weather,’ I would say. ‘It must’ve been dam’ bad,’ they would say. ‘Don’t know,’ I would have to say; 'I’ve dodged clear of it.'

The whole story is here - Typhoon by Joseph Conrad

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If the captain isn’t comfortable relying exclusively on their knowledge and experience then they shouldn’t be captain

Ok but we all know that a Master’s level of comfort in making a decision is often higher than his level of knowledge/experience.

Want proof? Look at an AIS map of ship positions in the gulf of mexico the next time a hurricane approaches and you will see nearly all the drillships moving in a different direction to approach the storm. Now take the MMSI # from a few drillships moving in opposite directions on the AIS map… drop it in ITU’s Ship Search… then copy and paste the INMARSAT # into skype… then ask to speak to the master and ask him:

  1. Does he subscribe to weather routing?
  2. Is he confident in his own weather routing skills?
  3. Did the weather routing service suggest a course different than his own calculations?
  4. Did he end up choosing his one route over that suggested by the professional weather service?

I did this myself once a few years back and four masters answered YES to all four of these questions.


Of note, personally, I never fully trusted any of the the weather routing services my company subscribed to when it came to avoiding hurricanes. And I don’t want the USCG mandate the use of weather routing services.

The two things I would like to see are:

  1. A log of historical performance for all weather routing services – I never fully trusted any of the weather routing services we used because none of them were willing to show me a chart of historical predictions vs storm tracks (NOAA does provide this information!)

  2. I’d like to see masters start talking to each other when storms arrive. Often the guy going the wrong way is missing a piece of critical information or knowledge… and - from what I’ve seen - the Masters who choose the optimal routes consistently are also the Masters who are most willing to pick up the phone and call other nearby ships.


I’ve never used routing services for avoiding hurricanes because I’ve never been in a situation where the situation wasn’t straight forward. If I did find myself in a situation where I was cutting it close I might consider getting assistance depending on how much uncertainty there was in the forecast.

When going cross Pacific in winter I almost always use routing. If I don’t like what they are telling me I call them. Sometimes they don’t update quickly when NWS sends new forecasts.

I’ve gotten some good routes. Got sent up Palawan Channel one time to stay out of the winter monsoon. Never would have thought of that. Also they kept me out of the Brazil current my first trip down that coast.


To give some context to Capt. Miller’s remarks, he and several of the teachers at Maine do work or have worked for SEA in woods hole onboard their sail training vessels.

During the aux sail and meteorology classes himself and several other professors talk about that organizations approach to hurricane avoidance as a team effort between the master, the office, and at times a third party weather routing service. With a captain shoreside gathering information and plotting updates in a nice warm office that isn’t moving, in order to have a second set of experienced eyes with a much lower stress and work load looking at the situation. Factor in professional meteorological information in the conversation as well and you have in my opinion a pretty well developed plan.

Or you could have a QI who doesn’t know his ship is near a hurricane and a weather service that just regurgitates NOAA’s information with a time delay.


I agree with this. Obviously the more skill and experience the captain can use on the problem the better but it’s possible the crew can misinterpret or just miss something.

A rule based system is better. For example if something like the 1-2-3 rule is going to be violated then the situation should be bumped up to the the next level, shoreside.

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For example if something like the 1-2-3 rule is going to be violated then the situation should be bumped up to the the next level, shoreside.

I agree fully but one thing that most weather routing services lack are Masters and understanding of the ships themselves. What they all lack is understanding of the operations and company cultures of their clients.

Some of the large shipping companies have 24/7 operations centers where every ship is mapped on large displays and all the specialists (weathermen, captains, chief engineers, ops guys, etc) are working together on the same problems. I’ve never worked for a company who uses this system but we report on a lot of incidents and you rarely see those companies involved in incidents that result from problems that are relatively slow moving (like hurricanes).

I understand these incident centers are too large and expensive to operate for a company like tote but couldn’t a bunn of smaller companies in similar markets pool their resources and form a coalition to create an incident response center like the largest companies have?


Good day!

I am an operational forecaster for a large international weather routing company, for over a decade now.

For short-term forecast problems (1-2 days) with well forecast systems, generally our advice can be less helpful than for longer time frames or larger areas. We do have guidelines for tropical cyclone avoidance and provide somewhat vague (by design) “suggestions” regarding avoidance (taking into account forecast model uncertainties and size/intensity of the storm), and we do leave the exact navigation to the Master. We don’t want to hamstring the Master into a certain decision, but we know the seriousness of the situation, so we always try to get Master’s thoughts as well.

For cross-ocean or very long voyages, our services really do shine. We receive 6-hourly forecast model updates worldwide, high resolution ocean current data, and plenty of other data that may not be available to the Master/Operator. We also have a lot of experience with climatology, regarding which routes work best at different times of the year.

All that said, we completely recognize that the Master is in charge of the vessel, and our suggestions/recommendations, are exactly that. They are not requirements or instructions, but our best guess at the time regarding what we feel the most optimal route would be, taking into account safety first and foremost, but also fuel consumption, overall time at sea, and any scheduling issues either en route or at perhaps the onward ports.

We welcome and do perform back and forth discussions between the Master and the shoreside operators to make sure everyone is on the same page as best possible, regarding the overall voyage. Our job is to provide our specialized information and experience to the operators and the Master, so they can make an educated decision on the best route. This communication is the most important part of our service.


Do your recommendations go by email?

With regard to distribution do companies ever have you copy this recommendation, etc to an operations department?

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Nowadays, yes, our recommendations are generally via email. But we still do use Inmarsat telex/fax if email is unavailable.

For distribution, we go along with however the shipping companies prefer. Some companies prefer a more hands-on approach and want to be CC’ed on most messages. Others may be very busy and only need to be advised for certain or more difficult situations. And others still are comfortable with the Master’s making all the weather and business decisions with no input generally needed from shoreside.

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What I’m thinking is instead of getting one notice, that the ship is in trouble, the company would get, from the captain, first, a notice that the TC is inside the 1-2-3 rule area, second notice the ship plans to violate the 34 kt rule.

Even if the company had minimal ops expertise these required notifications, from the captain to the company would change the incentives faced by the master compared to the situation where he only has to notify if schedule is impacted.


Its a good start.

This is from Jeppessen , an interesting overview of the weather routing today. Voyage Optimization Supersedes Weather Routing

Of course the master is in charge of the vessel and is responsible for the route.

That alone would seem to imply that all masters would pefer getting routing advice they are free to ignore because technically masters are under no obligation to follow the recommendations.

But that’s not how it works in practice. It’s not just the captain that sees the recommended route. It can also be seen shoreside, by the owners and charterers.

From the master’s point of view getting routing advice changes the incentives more in alignment with the charterers. That’s because in choosing another route the captain has to “beat” the model to avoid being responsible for a weather dealy.

This may not a desirable situation for a captain that prefers a longer trip in nice weather.

This is SOLAS annex 24 Voyage planning

8.) Weather Routeing Services

Regulation 34.2.3 specifies “adverse weather conditions” as one of the principal considerations that should be used by masters when formulating the voyage plan. Weather Routeing Services are available to mariners but they are largely unregulated and in some cases operate as an enhancement for commercial expedience rather than directly as a safety precaution. Safer use of Weather Routeing Services can be achieved by increased dialogue between ship’s masters and their weather routeing service providers and through a continuous review of the information that is provided by them. MSC/Circ.1063 itemises the minimum standards that should be adhered to for the provision of Weather Routeing Services.

This is an interesting article:Mathematics vs. Meteorologists

Aside from the potential for delays in data being updated and received, the above example highlights a key concern in the use of on-board data displays and their use of Numerical Weather Predictions at sea. Unlike managed services, they do not always come with expert meteorological guidance as standard and rely on the end user to interpret the data themselves. Moreover, there is just as much chance that in another situation, a GFS forecast could be more accurate than ECMWF predictions. But, without expert analysis, mariners may still find themselves at risk of conflicting data and interpretation. And while some weather providers do provide some quality assurance over data being pushed to sea, this is not the case for everyone.

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