Master Mariners: The Secret to Weather Routing Success
In weather routing, accurate weather data is only part of the puzzle. You also need to know what to do with the information. This is how the shipping team can add value: all members have experience as an officer in Merchant Shipping. The team includes master mariners, who have navigational knowledge and are familiar with the characteristics of vessels is various wind and sea conditions. Their knowledge and skills enable the team to deliver premium route advice.
They are aware of the navigational features, including the obstacles, sea currents, and waters affected by pirates. Plus, they understand the processes onboard the bridge. So, for example, they know when it is feasible and practical to issue new routes or speed.
Why master mariner expertise is so valuable in the weather room
There are many variables in shipping, which makes it hard to compare two journeys. However, the choice of route can make a massive difference to the profitability of a voyage. For example, when vessels are passing Skagerrak on their way to the east coast of the United States, they will typically ask for advice on the next part of the route. They can either pass just above the British Isles or sail through the English Channel. In theory, a ship can knock 35 hours off its journey if it doesn’t go through the English Channel, but the weather can be worse on the alternative route, so this mitigates the time-saving. Knowing which route is best will vary depending on conditions, which is why accurate route guidance from experts that know the conditions is crucial.
Routing advice in action: Hagibis
Rugby Union fans may recall the impact Typhoon Hagibis had on group stage games during the 2019 World Cup. But it wasn’t just the world of sport impacted by the most powerful typhoon to hit Japan since 1958. Vessels operating in the area had to take measures to avoid the severe weather conditions.
One client, operating a 50,000-ton deadweight LPG tanker in the area, was due to sail from the port of Yokkaichi on the South coast of Japan to Chiba in the Tokyo Bay at the same time that Hagibis was expected to pass the area.
Even for a vessel of this size, the typhoon conditions presented a significant safety threat. But the vessel had to make the voyage. But, due to conditions, couldn’t proceed directly to Chiba. The tanker had to deviate from its course to avoid a close encounter with the super typhoon.
The typhoon was expected to proceed north towards the port where the tanker departed. Then, just before reaching Yokkaichi, Hagibis turned to a North-East course to pass almost straight across the Bay of Tokyo, towards the vessel's destination port.
The master mariners and weather experts at MeteoGroup advised the vessel to sail away from the path of the typhoon and wait for the weather system to pass and clear the destination area.
During the voyage, the vessel was far enough away and reached a spot where it could wait out the typhoon. The experts advised the vessel to find a spot and wait for the system to pass. Of course, the decision on what route to take ultimately lies with the captain on board the vessel. In this situation, the master sailed away from the area with the worst conditions. It was not so much the wind - though it was quite strong, but not to the extent that it was a problem for the vessel - but the swell being kicked up by this super typhoon, which caused issues for the tanker.
Once the system moved away from the vessel’s destination, the vessel could return to the Japanese coast.
The vessel moved back towards the Tokyo Bay Area, as the system was tracking away. At this stage, the typhoon increased speed, tracking in a North-East direction. It was pulling away very fast. For the weather experts, this was a sign that the vessel could start proceeding back.
When the captain turns back and chases the typhoon is ultimately the Master’s decision. He is the one there; he can see the conditions. If he thinks it's too severe, he can wait longer and keep more distance.
The route would usually take half a day’s sailing, but due to the extreme weather, and alternative route the vessel needed to follow, it took four days. Importantly, though, this action meant the vessel arrived safely in Chiba.
Interpreting the complex weather data to advise customers
In extreme weather events, like typhoons or hurricanes, the standard model data alone is not enough. To combat this, the typhoon data is overlaid onto the standard NMB data, to enhance the view.
There is uncertainty in the forecast of the system; the development of travel is not guaranteed because the wind strength, the speed of the system, and the development of intensity are uncertain. These factors needs to be taken into account by the experts when advising the master. As there is a risk, the weather system might follow a different course, so routing options need to ensure the vessel doesn't become trapped by the direction of the system. It's a risk assessment that has to be made with all routing advice.
Increasing update in heavy weather
The experts usually advise vessels once per day. But if they think the situation needs more attention (like this scenario), then they will be added to the heavy weather list The list ensures the ship has additional checks and means additional updates could be sent, based on what the experts in the weather room think is necessary.
Strength of experience helping clients optimize their routes
The master mariners and ex-seafarers are a real strength. They speak the same language as the crews on board the vessels and understand the realities of life at sea, as well as and the responsibilities of the master.
They are aware of the routes at sea, the obstacles, sea currents, straits controlled by pirates, and they understand the processes onboard. They know very well how the bridge is being used to change routes or change fuel or speed. They are also conscious that it’s impractical to advise different speeds and courses all the time, so they provide feasible advisories.
Shipping customers, who use RouteGuard, are in direct contact with the former seafarers at MeteoGroup. These master mariners consult with the customer, to find out their exact requirements for each voyage - and help them to optimize their routes.
Sometimes this means helping customers to make the fastest crossing, other times the customer needs to arrive at a specific ETA or may need to cover the route as economically as possible. Regardless of the priority, the master mariner will use their expertise to guide the ship.
The master mariners also learn everything they need to know about a client’s fleet of vessels, to tailor their advice to the ship’s specific capabilities.
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