By Roger Smith,  Yachtmaster

The following mainly relates to coastal weather forecasts around Australia, and in some cases specifically the east coast. Sources of weather information are constantly changing, new ones appearing, web addresses and phone numbers changing etc. Please assist in keeping this information current by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to advise any additional sources of information that may come to hand, and particularly any changes in the details below, which are believed to be correct at the beginning of 2009.

In summary, marine weather information can be obtained by the following means:

Internet, telephone, facsimile, VHF radio and HF radio
The information invariably originates from the Bureau of Meteorology, with the exception that there are nowadays an increasing number of “freelance” internet sites such as Seabreeze, Buoyweather etc which are becoming much used by yachties, particularly when looking for predictions of up to a week ahead. There are also a number of independent specialist forecasters, such as Dr Roger Badham who will (for a fee) provide you with a forecast for your particular passage.

The Bureau of Meteorology
Historically, the main (and until fairly recently, the only) source of weather information for Australian waters has been the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM), and they remain the primary source. Over the years the Bureau has at times come in for criticism, often with good reason. However, aided by developments in technology, the steady increase in the number of yachts putting to sea, and in no small way by disasters such as the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race, the standard of forecasting has, in my experience, very much improved, particularly in the last 10 years. Not only has the accuracy of forecasting improved, but the amount of detailed information available from the Bureau, via their web site has increased enormously. As recently as last year they updated the site www.bom.gov.au/marine to contain all previous marine weather information packaged together, and added a number of new items. You can now easily obtain, for each State:

Forecasts, warnings, coastal weather and buoy observations.
Computer-generated wind direction and speed maps all round the coast for every three hours for the next two days, with large scale maps and local waters forecasts for coastal capital cities.
Prediction maps for every six hours out to seven days .
Tidal information, sunrise and sunset times.
Satellite images.
Details of all radio and satcom services.
Details of all voice telephone and telephone fax services.

More and more cruising yachts now carry a computer and means of accessing the internet when within range of mobile phone networks. These yachts will have ready access to all of the above-mentioned data and more, at a reasonable price. This works well along much of the NSW coast and southern Queensland, but as one gets further afield, in much of the sparsely populated coastal areas of the remainder of Australia, there is only phone coverage near coastal towns. So unless you have a satellite phone for your internet connection (quite costly), you will need to receive forecasts by other means.


VHF Radio
In spite of the increase in the number of computers on yachts, and more economical access to the internet, by far the most common means by which yachties obtain BoM weather forecasts whilst on board in coastal waters is via the various VHF radio services.

Bureau Offices
In Queensland and WA forecasts and weather information are broadcast from a number of the Bureau’s own offices (details on the BoM web site - follow the link to “Radio and Satcom Services”)), usually by arrangement with the local VMRs. Notable among these is the excellent service provided by the Rockhampton Weather Office, known to all yachties as “Rockymet”. Not only do they give the latest BoM forecasts, covering the area from Burnett Heads (Port Bundaberg) to the Percy Islands, plus current weather observations, but the forecasters give a rundown on the current weather pattern, and what they think will develop over the next few days. They welcome reports from vessels in the area, and will answer any questions too. They are also happy to receive phone calls during office hours. It’s a great service, and it’s a pity it is not replicated in other areas.

State Authorities
By arrangement with some of the State Maritime authorities, the Bureau forecasts are transmitted from several centres, mainly those with considerable boating activity. Again, full details are given on the Bureau’s web site

Volunteer Marine Rescue (VMR) Organisations
Probably the most popular way of obtaining weather forecasts is from a VMR station. At the time of writing, the VMR network comprises several volunteer organisations, chiefly the RVCP and the AVCG, with a sprinkling of smaller organisations. Their locations, the channels they use, hours of operation, and phone numbers are available on the relevant web sites:
www.coastguard.com.au (covers Qld, NSW, Vic, Tas and SA)
www.vmraq.org.au (covers Qld only)
www.vmrwa.org.au (covers WA only)

There will be some changes, at least in NSW, from 1 July 2009, when they will amalgamate and all be known as VMR’s, as in Queensland. The amalgamation may cause some minor changes in areas where they currently overlap, so be aware.

The VMRs will give you the latest forecast on request, plus in some cases they broadcast it at specific times of the day. Warnings are broadcast when received and at regular intervals thereafter. The Bureau issues new forecasts at around 0400 and 1600 each day, sometimes with an update being issued during the day. With some exceptions, a VMR will only be able to give you the coastal waters forecast for their own forecast area, which can be annoying, particularly if you are heading south, and need to know what is ahead of you. I am hopeful this situation will change in future.

HF Radio
A very useful backup to the VHF services described above, particularly relevant in areas without VHF coverage, is available throughout Australian waters with HF radio. To access both voice and weatherfax information you do not require an HF transceiver – a good quality shortwave receiver will do the job. I have used and can recommend two models, but there are undoubtedly others of similar performance:
* Sangean Model ATS 909, costing about $430, available from The Hi Fi Trader, Sydney, phone 02 9550 4041, www.hifitrader.com.au
* Sony Model ICFSW7600GRS, costing about $500, available from most Sony dealers
A good external aerial is required; the easiest way is to connect to the yachts rigging; length is not critical. On many yachts it is easy to simply connect to a side-stay internally via a chainplate.

The BoM coastal weather forecasts, latest observations, warnings, and the high seas forecasts are broadcast every four hours, in rotation, from two powerful HF transmitting stations located at Charleville (call sign VMC) in Queensland and Wiluna (VMW) in WA. Full details of their frequencies and schedules are available at BoM Radio and Satcomm Services. Each broadcast is transmitted simultaneously on several frequencies, so it is easy to pick which is the best one for your location. This is an excellent service if for some reason you are unable to access the information you require on VHF.

The same two HF stations also transmit weatherfax maps from the Bureau, which can be received via the same receiver, or a transceiver able to tune the relevant frequencies, plus a laptop. When tuning the receiver, it is necessary to tune 1.9kHz lower than the published frequencies (for a complex technical reason!). The laptop’s audio (mic) input is connected to the audio (headset or line) output of the receiver. There are a number of weatherfax programmes which may be downloaded free from the internet for viewing, processing and storing the maps. Two that are popular are:

* JVComm32 visit www.jvcomm.de
* SeaTTY visit www.dxsoft.com/en/products

A Google search for “HF Fax” will reveal others, and a lot of other useful information regarding the reception of weatherfax maps.

A number of Mean Surface Level Pressure charts are available, including the latest, plus predictions for 24 and 36 hours ahead, and the 4 day outlook. As for the voice broadcasts, weatherfax transmissions are made on several frequencies, details of which, with the daily schedules, are available on the BoM web site.


Internet
As mentioned earlier, there are an increasing number of sites available on the net providing weather information that is useful to yachties, several of which provide information for anywhere on the globe. For Australian waters the BoM site, as upgraded in 2008 is now very good, but it is often interesting to check other sites, some of which provide more detail in some coastal areas. The one I like and have been using for some years is www.seabreeze.com.au , which I believe was originally developed for surfers and fishermen. This gives you a 7 day wind and wave forecast in a graphical form with predictions every 1½ hours, plus access to sea temperature charts, rain radar maps, MSLP synoptic charts, satellite images, tidal information, and even an events calendar for a large number of locations around the coast As with any long range forecast, treat anything beyond a couple of days with an increasing degree of caution, but these sites are definitely useful for passage planning purposes. A few other popular sites are listed below:

www.buoyweather.com
www.windguru.com
www.weatherzone.com.au
www.coastalwatch.com/templates/default.aspx (good for surfcam videos at many coastal locations, bars etc)

Sailmail
Sailmail is a non-profit organisation providing a basic email service (text only) and weather information worldwide for a nominal annual fee. Described as a “service for the bandwidth impaired”, subscribers can access it using an HF transceiver, Pactor modem and a laptop running Airmail software provided by Sailmail. Alternatively access may be obtained via a satellite phone such as Iridium, Inmarsat or Globalstar. In addition to emails, weather information may be accessed in either text form or GRIB files which provide wind direction arrows for the area of ocean and times that you request. It is possible to superimpose the arrows on top of charting software, or onto some chart plotters.
Sailmail is used by a good proportion of long distance cruisers making longer offshore and trans-ocean passages where the yacht is out of mobile phone and VHF coverage for extended periods, and must therefore rely on satellite phones or HF radio for obtaining weather information. However, many coastal cruisers find it a very useful additional source of weather data, and an economical means of maintaining email contact, particularly when cruising in those areas where VHF and mobile phone services are sporadic.


To obtain full details of the services provided by Sailmail, visit www.sailmail.com and the associated site www.saildocs.com . These are excellent and explain everything very clearly. The Sailmail site also gives a list of organisations which can supply equipment and answer any queries. I would particularly mention Marc Robinson in Sydney who has been involved with Sailmail for many years and is excellent. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or phone 02 8011 4928 or 0425 254 928.

Please help us keep this information up to date by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with details of any changes or good internet sites we have missed.

Last Update January 26, 2009


Prepared by Roger Smith, Yachtmaster, CCCA member and Port Officer for Forster-Tuncurry January 2009

See Also "East Coast Weather For Cruisers" By Roger Smith
See Also Members Only Feature Article "Experiences of a Yacht Delivery Skipper" by Roger Smith