There are two general types of operational weather services provided by weather routing companies: Optimum Ship Routing and Vessel Performance Monitoring
Optimum Ship Routing (Weather Routing)
Optimum ship routing is the art and science of developing the “best route” for a ship based on the existing weather forecasts, ship characteristics, ocean currents and special cargo requirements. For most transits this will mean the minimum transit time that avoids significant risk to the vessel, crew and cargo. Other routing considerations might include passenger comfort, fuel savings or schedule keeping. The goal is not to avoid all adverse weather but to find the best balance to minimize the time of transit and fuel consumption without placing the vessel at risk to weather damage or crew injury.
A preliminary routing message is transmitted to the master of a vessel prior to departure with a detailed forecast of expected storm tracks and areas of heavy seas. An initial route proposal is offered along with the reasoning behind the recommendation and also the expected weather conditions to be encountered along the proposed route. Sometimes an alternate route may be suggested for the master’s consideration. This allows the master to better plan his route and offers an opportunity to communicate with the routing service any special concerns that he or she might have due to special cargo requirements, ship condition or schedule requirements.. Once the vessel departs, the vessel’s progress is monitored closely with weather and route updates sent periodically, as needed.
Weather Routing services save ship operators money by reducing the average time of transit and therefore also saving on fuel. By avoiding the worst weather conditions, weather routing minimizes the risk for damage to cargo or ship as well as the risk of injury to crew or passengers. Over time, routed ships benefit from reduce insurance premiums as well based on an improved track record.
Modern ship routing ideas began during the early stages of WWII when the US Navy established the “Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Center” at the Naval Air Station in Norfolk in 1958. “Optimum Track Ship Routing” (OTSR) was started to provide tailored safety and cost saving routing services to all ships utilized by the military for long duration open ocean voyages.
Commercial marine weather routing had it start in the 1950’s when Howard Kaster, a meteorologist for United Airlines, started a company called “Pacific Weather Analysis Corporation” which later evolved into Ocean Routes under Ray Maier and Bill Dupin. Other pioneers of commercial ship routing in the 1960’s included Bill Kaciak the founder of “Weather Routing Inc.”, Louis Allen who started “Allen Weather Corp” and “Bendix Marine Science Services” under Robert A Raguso. You can read more about the history of Optimum Ship Routing here.
Vessel Performance Analysis (Performance Monitoring)
Vessel performance monitoring services allow a ship operator, owner or charterer to get a daily performance analysis regarding a vessel’s speed and fuel consumption based on the charter-party specifications and the actual weather and currents encountered. Although no weather or routing advice is offered, alerts can be generated to the vessel owner, operator or charterer whenever a performance issue is discovered enroute so that the charterer or vessel operator/owner has a “heads-up” on performance issues prior to the ship’s arrival.
At the end of the voyage, a full “Voyage Performance Evaluation Report” is generated to offer a more detailed look at the actual performance or non-performance of the vessel. This report will look at several factors, including the charter party terms, the actual speed and consumption, whether the vessel was in ballast or in a laden condition and the actual wind, sea, swell and ocean currents encountered. In addition, the performance during “good weather conditions” as specified in a charter party agreement is often reviewed separately. This type of report can allow a charter to withhold hire or gives the owner/operator a better opportunity to negotiate a settlement or head-off an unwarranted speed claim.
Ocean Weather Services