Ships may today be large and powerful, but their Masters still need to be experts in the weather.
Ships may today be large and powerful, but their Masters still need to be experts in the weather. Just a head wind can slow a ship down a couple of valuable knots, while putting fuel consumption up if the master wishes to maintain his schedule. And shipping today tends to be more time critical than ever. So meteorology is still an important part of the syllabus for the deck officer in training, and the forecasts are closely studied on the bridge of every ship.
Weather often determines the actual track a ship follows from one port to another, especially on the oceanic trade routes. The Master will be anxious to avoid any extreme weather, bearing in mind that cargo might shift or the structure of even a big ship be damaged if solid water comes aboard. Some of the biggest containerships in the world have lost stacks of containers from their decks when the ship was subject to unexpected rolling. If there are passengers or livestock aboard, or deck cargo being carried, it will even more important to avoid any heavy weather. But the weather can also be a tremendous help to a speedy passage, if following winds and a favourable current can be found.
The modern mariner has a lot more external meteorological assistance than his hard-pressed predecessors, who would have to study their barometers and thermometers carefully and produce their own forecasts. Weather satellites have made forecasting a lot more reliable and good communications mean that the ship can have almost a constant picture of the weather ahead. Additionally, a network of auxiliary weather reporting ships provide shoreside weather forecasters with their assessment of surface conditions every six hours along their routes. They still do a very valuable job, of providing air and sea temperatures, pressure readings and a ?ship"s eye view? of wind and waves.
Recent years have also seen an increase in the number of companies offering specialised weather routeing services to commercial shipping, on the basis that their synopsis of the broad picture over a sea area is going to be better than that of a single ship. For a fee, the routeing service will tailor their forecast to the ship itself.
If the vessel is very vulnerable, say because of low power, or an enormous deck load, the ship will be routed to avoid all bad weather and any potentially damaging circumstances. If necessary the route and the forecasts will be dedicated to that single ship. If the company requires the fastest possible route for their ship, then the routers will be able to organise this. But it has to be remembered that even with satellites and powerful computers, the weather can be very unpredictable, and a wise mariner never forgets his traditional weather skills.