Editorial June 2007 Issue

Please Don’t Take Away My Iron Mike

The U.S. Coast Guard, stretched to the gills by an aging fleet and Homeland Security demands, is causing a bit of a stir among cruising sailors. Citing the sorry condition of its high-frequency (HF) radio broadcast equipment, the Coast Guard is asking for public comment on the importance of its HF weather broadcasts. The

High-Frequency (HF) Radio Broadcast Equipment
wording of the request suggests that if nobody is using these weather forecasts, why bother upgrading the equipment?

So far, the Department of Transportation is getting an earful. A few days after the request for comment was published, more than 110 people, ranging from sailors to fishermen to shipping companies, had already responded on the DOT website. (See the adjacent "Call to Action.")

For offshore sailors, the Coast Guard’s HF weather broadcasts—delivered by voice, radiofax (shown above), and SITOR (simplex teletype over radio, also known as narrow-band direct printing, NBDP)—are a critical lifeline. Originating from the National Weather Service, the HF weather products range from high seas forecasts, to satellite photos to surface charts. For the voice broadcast schedule, visit the NOAA website www.weather.gov/om/marine/hfvoice.htm. Fax schedules are at www.weather.gov/om/marine radiofax.htm.

The voice broadcasts are free and available to anyone with a multi-band receiver that can be tuned to single-sideband frequencies (the Sony ICF-SW77, $400-$500, has served me well). Add some inexpensive fax software and a cheap laptop, and you’re fax ready. Practical Sailor testers have used both Xaxero (www.xaxero.com, about $200) and Mscan Meteo fax (www.mscan.com, about $250), and we like them both. HF voice weather is, without question, the cheapest way for an ocean voyager to receive reliable forecasts on the high seas.

Sure, the satellite weather services we tested in this issue ("Weather Service Head-to-Head," page 24) offer some enticing features like "real-time" weather radar, but much of their appeal boils down to fancy graphics. And, unless you already have a high-end plotter, you need at least $5,000, plus the service fees each month.

No thanks. I’d rather tune in to the synthesized voice of Iron Mike (Perfect Paul retired in April) and spend my money cruising. Thanks to Mike, we can still get pretty far with $5K.

Darrell Nicholson


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