Before you go boating, you usually check the weather, right? The local news on the TV tells you when high tide is happening and if there are any small-craft warnings during the time you want to go out.
If that is the sum total of your weather preparedness, you need to rethink.
If I look out my window, I can tell if the weather is nice or not. At least, right now, and just in my neighborhood. But I know nothing about the conditions at sea, whether we’re talking about Narragansett Bay, or off the Cape and Islands, or down near Block Island or in the middle of Massachusetts Bay a few miles outside of Boston.
I need to know what conditions are like where I want to go. And I need to know what changes in those conditions might occur while I’m out there. That is simple navigation sense.
We all know that stuff can happen, weatherwise, out on the water. Sudden squalls, rogue waves, a front coming through with unusual force. Part of the job of being a captain is being aware of conditions at all times. That’s part of simple safety.
So if your weather preparation is limited to the local TV or radio station, you need to upgrade. Your life may depend on it, or the lives of those you love who might be passengers on your vessel.
There are literally dozens of websites that can provide weather updates and forecasts right down to the minute and pinpointed for your location.
But boat captains should rely on services designed for maritime interests. Some of the websites and apps that provide absolutely accurate information for boaters include the following:
Windy.com. The free version of this app provides a three-hour forecast of your boating area. There are clickable screens to look at radar and satellite imagery, wind readings, wave readings, temperatures, precipitation, cloud cover and more. The Premium version, for $19 a year, provides more frequent forecast updates. https://www.windy.com/
Buoyweather. Buoyweather uses both GFS (Global Forecasting System), NAM (North American Mesoscale), and Wavewatch numerical models to create the highest resolution 7-day forecasts available on your home computer, smart phone, and even configured to be delivered to your on-board mail system using our email auto-responder.
But the detailed 7-day wind and swell forecast is just the start. You may also view a comprehensive selection of weather, wave, and tropical storm information centered on their exact location, and save all of it to your “Favorites”.
NOAA Marine Weather Forecast App. If you want an app that covers all of the marine weather bases, NOAA Marine Weather Forecast does the trick. Its comprehensive list of features includes buoy data, six-hour historical wave height trends, tide and current forecasts, National Weather Service marine forecasts, NOAA severe weather reports, NEXRAD radar imagery, and real-time wind, wave and temperature data.
Price: A data download like this doesn’t come free, however, and you’ll have to spend $1.99 to get the NOAA Marine Weather Forecast on your phone.
Find the NOAA Marine Weather app on your Android or Apple app store site.
Predictwind. A favorite of serious sailors, Predictwind incorporates live weather observations from over 20,000 live stations, has high-resolution forecast maps, and forecast alerts. It also garners a rather impressive 4.8 out of five stars on the Apple App Store. That matches up with the uber-accurate forecasts we observed while using the app, which nailed wind direction and speed exactly.
Price: Free accounts get lower resolution mapping, and in-app purchases starting at $3.99 let you access better data. https://www.predictwind.com/
Storm Shield. Another app developed for land-based activities but quite useful for those of us enjoying the boating lifestyle, Storm Shield is one you may want to load up and forget about—until it sets off an alert. Unlike many of the county-based weather alerts generated by apps, Storm Shield narrows down to your exact location.
Price: It’s a free service but if you want additional functionality like radar and wind speed forecasts, you’ll have to spring for the $0.99 in-app purchase.
Surfline. This app continually tracks conditions along the coastlines, providing surf height conditions and high-resolution webcam’s of various views of local points and beaches along RI’s southern shore. It’s a good way to quickly get an idea of surf/coastal sea conditions where you want to boat.
The content is free and the ads sprinkled in aren’t too irritating. https://www.surfline.com/.
U.S. Coast Guard. Yes, the United States Coast Guard has its own app, and while strictly speaking it isn’t 100-percent about marine weather, it has some valuable weather data boaters along any coast will want: free access to the latest weather info coming from the NOAA weather buoy nearest to your location.
Price: Free! https://uscgboating.org/mobile/