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Marine Communications

View of the bridge aboard the Lee A. Tregurtha Since 1975, many methods have been developed to communicate marine warnings, statements, forecasts, and observations. In 1975, the main methods to send out NWS marine products were VHF voice radio, MF (Medium Frequency) radio telephone, and commercial AM marine radio stations. However today, there are multiple ways to gather weather information whether you are a commercial mariner (e.g. Great Lakes freighters like the Fitzgerald) or just a recreational boater making a run out to Stannard Rock to catch the big one.

In 1975, communications between ships or from ship-to-shore were carried out by either VHF radio or an MF radio telephone. Any marine warnings, statements, and forecasts were disseminated by the Coast Guard on VHF radio. Today, the VHF radio still is a major player in communicating NWS marine products. Open Lake forecasts are broadcast twice daily with the times depending on individual Coast Guard stations that carry out the broadcast. Unlike 1975, there are now many other methods of getting marine products to mariners. For freighters that participate in the VOS (Voluntary Observing Ships) program, there are two very useful methods by which the latest forecasts, statements and observations can be obtained. The first is the FAXBack service, which uses a fax protocol to deliver the latest MAFOR coded forecast, synopsis, surface analysis, and 24-hour forecast winds for the Great Lakes region to the mariner. These products are sent out four times a day. The second service for ships participating in VOS is the Digital Marine Weather Dissemination System (DMAWDS). This service uses a electronic bulletin board format accessed by either cell/satellite phone or an internet connection. DMAWDS provides numerous text and graphical products, including the entire Open Lake text forecast and MAFOR for each Great Lake as well as modeled wind and wave height graphics through 36 hours. In addition, up to the hour surface plots comprised of data from shore observations, buoy and CMAN reports, and ship observations are also available. Both FAXBack and DMAWDS are maintained by the National Weather Service Office in Cleveland, Ohio.

NOAA Weather Radio Besides the sources available to only commercial mariners, there are other means of gathering meteorological data for the public marine community. In addition to VHF radio, there is also NOAA weather radio, which provides a continuous voice broadcast of Nearshore and Open Lake forecasts as well as surface and marine observations. Special marine warnings and marine weather statements are also broadcast on weather radio. National Weather Service offices also record the marine forecasts on the telephone. For the latest Lake Superior Forecast call the National Weather Service in Marquette at (906) 475-5212 and select option 3. If a boater seeks more detailed buoy and CMAN station weather information, the National Data Buoy Center's (NDBC) Dial-A-Buoy telephone service is another viable source. Through Dial-A-Buoy, the mariner can obtain the latest meteorological and oceanographic data from a telephone recording updated hourly. To reach Dial-A-Buoy call (228) 688-1948 and enter the five-digit station identifier you're interested in.

For planning purposes, the internet provides a wide expanse of weather data including warnings, statements, and forecasts from local National Weather Service office home pages. On the Great Lakes Marine Web Portal, you can find gridded and text weather and water information for the entire Great Lakes region. In addition, the National Weather Service in Marquette is on the web at . Access to real time buoy and CMAN station observations is available from the NDBC web site.

Finally, the Emergency Managers Weather Information Network (EMWIN) enables marine customers to receive marine warnings and forecasts and be alerted, either visually or audibly, immediately after they are issued. EMWIN uses commercially available satellite reception equipment and software which you link to a personal computer. This type of system would be best utilized at locations where contact with mariners is high, such as marinas and Coast Guard stations.

As you can see, there have been plenty of advances in marine communications since 1975. The marine community now has access to real time buoy and CMAN station data through numerous mediums. Warnings and forecasts are also readily available either over VHF radio, NOAA weather radio, FAXBack or DMAWDS services, the internet, or through alert systems such as EMWIN.

audio link Description of the teletypes used by the National Weather Service in 1975

A view of the bridge aboard the Lee A. Tregurtha.
(Image courtesy of Jason Alumbaugh, National Weather Service Marquette)
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