The Shipping Forecasts are a broadcast of intrigue. Unlike any other form of weather report or radio broadcast the poetic, enigmatic and soothing nature encapsulates you and a nation, on land and at sea. Being islanders ourselves we’re born with a natural understanding of the sea’s power, it’s unpredictability and sheer mass making it quite possibly one of the only things the twenty first century man cannot tame.
To fishermen and boat captains it’s a vital form of information where every word counts, yet to those tucked up in bed it’s a release, a poem that silently sends you to sleep as the scenes being described threaten the lives of those bobbing around on the surface. There are two worlds within the Shipping Forecasts, the reality - being the sea’s surrounding the British Isles and the traumas they bring. And the landlubber - those in their warm homes surrounded by their comforts chasing a melodic form of harmony.
With the ocean making up a vast 71% of the Earths surface and providing 99% of the living space on the planet, it’s easy to see how unexplored and unknown the sea’s that surround us are. Due to the oceans mystery it becomes a point of interest for me and for many. We know more about far galaxies and solar systems than we do about the deepest of our seas, yet we don’t feel vulnerable to the potential of what could share the same surface as us, empowered by the force of nature.
Dating back to 1861 the Shipping Forecasts are a traditional part of British heritage and a valued part of our culture. They are a four times daily Radio 4 broadcast delivered with a regiment creating a melodic pace. With the information sourced from the Met Office, the broadcasted weather report studies the seas immediately surrounding the British Isles, giving information on sea state, wind direction and strength, precipitation, visibility as well as weather warnings and icing.
The forecasts themselves have a large land based following, pulling in more listeners for pleasure than for purpose due to its hypnotic, poetic and calming mannerisms. The melodic pace in which it’s read is the bedtime story for many people however at the same time it’s a warning sign for many others. Even though modern technologies produce such accurate data, the forecasts are still used by fisherman and vessel captains for accuracy and reassurance, as modern technology is still somewhat unexplored.
Despite the poetic notion, the news itself is very controlled with a never changing structure and only a very select vocabulary available for use to retain coherence and make it easy to comprehend whilst at sea. With a set in stone structure they start with a softly spoken "And now the Shipping Forecast, issued by the Met Office on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency at XX:XX today." This is followed by initial weather warnings, a general synopsis, coastal station reports and inshore water reports.
The future of the Shipping Forecasts as a radio form has been questioned by the BBC due to its potential irrelevance in comparison to on board modern day technologies such as Navtex, which regularly updates weather reports and any other piece of shipping information within a local radius, broadcast from land. With this uncertainty, outrage amongst landlubbers and mariners has been sparked and for many reasons, how would the now accustomed bedtime listeners relax without the popular midnight lullaby and how would sailors reassure themselves? With the Shipping Forecasts introduced as a warning service, it’s reasons like the 1851 wreckage claiming the lives of 450 people, the forecasts are still broadcast in the 21st century. If nothing else it could save just one life.
The shipping forecasts are a four times daily Radio 4 broadcast. (00.48 / 05.20 / 12.01 / 17.54). It's a forecast of the seas surrounding the british isles and collected by the Met Office. My interest in the shipping forecasts stemmed from the hypnotic, poetic and calming manner in which its spoken. Despite modern technologies used by fisherman and shipping captains the shipping forecasts are still listened too by many for accuracy and reassurance. Its a traditionally British broadcast first dating to 1861
however through telegraph communications, moving onto the radio in 1911.
The news form itself is a very controlled form of news with a never changing structure and only a very small vocabulary available to use, this is to retain it's coherence, understanding and overall make it easy to comprehend when at sea. Theres a pace and rhythm to the forecasts which attract in listeners from around the UK, on land at sea and even some tuners in other areas of Europe, this is due to it's calming and hypnotic effect which people often use to unwind and help sleep. The british isles are mapped out to include 30 different regions within them (map below), this helps when broadcasting.
Left is a map I recreated myself of the shipping forecasts and the regions there divided into, they are divided to help with the description of each region making the forecasts more specific and direct. The weather and sea conditions can differentiate hugely between each region considering some regions have a larger surface area than that of the United Kingdom. The regions, in the clockwise order they are read out and reported are:
There has been a couple of modifications to the regions which include the introduction of Fisher when Dogger was split in two. Heligoland was renamed German Bight shortly after. The Minches sea was merged with Hebrides. North Utsire and South Utsire were introduced meaning the reduced size of Viking. The most recent and popular change was when Finisterre was renamed FitzRoy in 2002, this was to avoid confusion with the sea area of the same name used in the marine forecasts produced by the French and Spanish meteorological offices.
- The naming of the regions are due to geographical locations and or
differences, listed as below:
- Viking, Forties, Dogger, Fisher, Sole and Bailey are named after sandbanks
in there regions.
- Cromarty, Forth, Tyne, Humber, Thames and Shannon are named after
- Wight, Lundy, Fair Isle, Faeroes, Portland, Hebrides, South-East Iceland
and Utsire are named after islands.
- The German Bight is an indentation on the Norther European shoreline.
- Dover and Plymouth are named after towns.
- Rockall and Fastnet are both named after islets.
- Malin is named after Malin Head, the northernmost point or Ireland.
- Biscay is named after the Bay of Biscay, and Trafalgar after Cape Trafalgar
- FitzRoy is named after Robert FitzRoy, the first professional weatherman,
captain of HMS Beagle and founder of the Met Office.
The Shipping Forecasts also does a report from coastal weather stations. These are as follows in order reported:
One thing that's quite interesting about the forecasts is the
journey it takes you on and the stories it tells. It's read out in
a clockwise motion starting from Viking by Norway, heading
past England, down past Spain and Portugal before
heading north and ending in South-East Iceland.
The forecasts are broadcast on Radio 4 due to the long wave bandwidth (198Khz) which is the only channel to be received clearly at sea all around the British Isles regardless of the weather. It's said that if the forecast doesn't stream its a sign of a Nuclear Armageddon. This happened for the first time on 30/05/2014 at 05:20.
With a 370 word limit the forecasts themselves gives you very precise information starting with "And now the Shipping Forecast, issued by the Met Office on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency at XX:XX today." Followed by weather warnings, a general synopsis, costal station reports and inshore water reports.
The details given during the general synopsis in the following order is:
- Position and Pressure (in millibars)
- Wind Direction
- Wind Strength (Beaufort Scale)
- Precipitation (if any)
- Icing (if any)
An example of a broadcasts general synopsis would be:
"Humber, Thames. Southeast veering southwest 4 or 5, occasionally 6 later. Thundery showers. Moderate or good, occasionally poor."
"It's understood by mariners that the internet is not part of the maritime safety information system and it should not be relied upon as the only means of obtaining the latest forecasts."
Being in the 21st century and with the internet being such a vast world of information including constant news and weather updates it's unusual that the shipping forecasts haven't yet been digitalised or even visualised at all and why they are still on the radio which today is quite a dated activity.
The means of web in todays world is vital and especially for something which is available at sea. The idea of information being given another presence and meaning is quite interesting, having one thing come off another, in this case radio creating an image. With the weather constantly changing it seems odd that the forecasts aren't either, alike the traditional forecasts for land considering it is public service broadcast.
A reading of the Shipping Forecasts from 14/10/14 at 12:01.
Male voice reads:
Average weather report around the British Isles:
North Easterly, 4 or 5, sometimes 6, showers, good.
Interesting parts from the forecast I picked up on were: (right)
Losing it's identity.
Low N/Trafalgar 1001 moving East
Moderate or good, poor.
West breaking east.
Cyclonic 5-7, good.
Within the forecast readings there is often a large amount of contradiction. For example, 'Showers, good.' 'Low Trafalgar, 1001.' Showers don't sound 'good' and 1001 doesn't seem 'low'. The language used is very interesting...
The Shipping Forecasts has had a huge influence on popular culture, especially when looking into British Heritage and Britishness. The Forecasts, as well as used for inspiration for many artists - painters, poets, writers, photographers and musicians, were used to represent Britain in the London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, as part of a huge ceremony, shown world wide to cover everything British. What it is to be British and what it's like. The forecast's, with centuries of heritage, set us apart from the world with the british isles reminding us and others we're a small island, however connected and powerful.
"It scans poetically. It's got a rhythm of its own.
It's eccentric, it's unique, it's English. It's slightly mysterious because nobody really knows where these places are. It takes you into a faraway place that you can't really comprehend unless you're one of these people bobbing up and down in the Channel."
- MARK DAMAZER
ARTICLE BY GLOBAL POST
First broadcast in 1924 and suspended only for world wars, the shipping forecast is read every day on long-wave radio channels that can reach boats at sea. Somewhere along the way in its 90-year history, the forecast’s soothing staccato incantation and charmingly quirky place names caught the ears of listeners with no seafaring inclinations.
It doesn’t matter that many of the forecast’s most devoted fans have no intention of setting foot on a boat. Nor that modern ships are equipped to receive live weather updates all day long. The shipping forecast has become as a much a part of the UK’s cultural kitsch as the queen’s corgis: constant, reassuring and ineffably British.
It’s inspired a rap a choral chantand a Radiohead song. Danny Boyle included a snippet in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games in London. People have named their pets after the distinctive sea areas and inshore waters: Cromarty, Dogger, Faeroes.
Many commentators have compared the meter and singular language of the forecast to poetry. Bards of the British Isles from Seamus Heaney to Carol Ann Duffy have penned tomes in its honour.“
It’s a curious thing, isn’t it? I don’t know why we all like the shipping forecast so much,” says Julia Boyd, 64, a longtime listener. “It’s quite exotic, but it’s also very familiar.”
The 12:48 a.m. forecast seems to hold a particular spot in listeners’ hearts. Read just before a gentle sign-off from the host and the national anthem, it has become a bedtime ritual for many in Britain.
In the same way that any Instagram feed at any moment invariably contains a photo of someone’s lunch, so too is it a truth universally acknowledged that on any given evening, someone in the UK is tweeting about snuggling up with the shipping forecast.
Boyd lived many years abroad with her husband in Britain’s diplomatic service and often found herself jetlagged and listening to the radio at odd hours on trips home. It was during those late nights that she grew fond of the forecast and its “wonderfully evocative” place names. She now tunes into the 5:20 a.m. broadcast first thing in the morning at home in northwest Cumbria.
“If you’re anxious about anything, just listening to the rhythms and the places has a tremendously calming effect,” she says.
Constancy is part of the forecast’s appeal. Attempts to mess with that have proved extremely unpopular.
A 1995 decision to shift the late-night broadcast by 12 minutes led to debates in parliament, angry editorials and an accusation by a listeners’ group that the BBC had "totally lost sight of the concept of public service broadcasting," according to one report. The BBC backed down.
Andrew White, a writer and editor of the website Walks Around Britain, began listening to the forecast while working late nights after putting his children to bed at home in Doncaster, South Yorkshire.
In an island nation where the nearest coastline is never more than 75 miles away, he said, the romance of the sea holds undeniable sway. He created a walking route based on points named in the shipping forecast.
“British people especially have a great affection for the coast,” White said. “That’s really deep in our psyche. We like to explore. Obviously we’ve explored in our past, and we continue to explore on a small basis by going out on treks and walks.”
The BBC has announced that it is slowly phasing out long-wave transmissions, a move that could spell the end of the shipping forecast. It has pledged, however, that the forecast will remain on the air until at least 2017, and it’s hard to imagine that fans will let it go quietly.
Until then, nothing interrupts the shipping forecast — not even live sports, to the consternation of many fans.
Listeners are still galled by the broadcast of cricket’s 2011 Ashes Test series — a highlight on the sporting calendar, also broadcast on Radio 4 — when three of England’s wickets (similar to outs in baseball) were interrupted by shipping forecasts.
This year’s Ashes appears similarly ill-fated. When the 12:01 p.m. broadcast on Thursday pre-empted a wicket, more than one cricket fan took to Twitter to voice the same thought: “Bloody shipping forecast!”
Interesting article from global post about the Shipping forecasts, covering the history, the present, and up until 2017. It covers what it means to Britain and why we are so attached to it.
A senior announcer with the BBC has thanked YM readers for taking the trouble to comment on the future of the BBC Radio 4 Shipping Forecast.
We ran the questionnaire, launched by the BBC to find out what listeners thought of the forecast, on our website. It followed fears that its future was under threat.
We had 637 responses, mostly from readers who wanted the forecast to remain, and we sent the data to the BBC. Radio 4's Chris Aldridge, said: "It is fabulous, thank you so much. It will take a while for us to collate all the responses received, many people have sent me direct e-mails, I have over 400 to go through, but your data makes it much easier to analyse.
"Meanwhile please will you convey my thanks to all those who have taken the trouble to respond to your website?"
Members of the public are being asked to complete a questionnaire about the BBC's Shipping Forecast as part of its plans to assess its use.
Experts believe the days of the Shipping Forecast are numbered as weather-seekers download predictions from the internet.
The general synopsis for the Shipping Forecast is stormy weather, rough seas and poor visibility - if not imminent then soon, as experts say it is just a question of time before the much-loved BBC Radio 4 service goes off air.
Former Met Office forecaster Frank Singleton, reveals in the January issue of Yachting Monthly: "The Shipping Forecast will, eventually, have to cease. That is an inevitable consequence of digital radio and maintenance costs of ageing equipment. The only uncertainty is when?"
Meanwhile, RYA cruising manager Stuart Carruthers said: "The BBC are circulating a questionnaire as a cunning ruse to get the general public to say they don't listen to the forecast anymore - they get it all off the internet.
"But when you don't have the internet - like many yachts at sea - then the radio broadcast is essential."
BBC spokeswoman Laura Zetterberg denied the corporation was assessing the Shipping Forecast's future. 'Radio 4's Shipping Forecast is a much loved part of the schedule and there are no plans to change it. Across the BBC we are always seeking audience feedback and periodically do so with the Shipping Forecast too with the help of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. Last month a member of its safety information committee, The Royal Yachting Association, put questions related to the Shipping Forecast to its members and we greatly appreciate the responses that have been submitted so far.'
This post announces more uncertainty to the future of the shipping forecasts, especially from the report mentioned by Zeb Soanes in an email. This makes me question, what is the future of the forecasts when there future is only certain until 2017? Is there something else for the land based listeners or is it simply being made redundant when the information from the likes of navtext is far more accurate anyway?
The 'Land Lubbers' as they are referred to are an interesting mass of people, what do they want, enjoy and take from the un-comprehendible, enigmatic poem they listen to. Is it by chance they catch it or is it on purpose? Is it the interest of the obscure British Heritage it is that brings people in? This could be an interesting strand of research.