The soundtrack of many a sailor's life, the broadcast of the Shipping Forecast has turned 100 years old

On 1st January 2024, the broadcast of the Shipping Forecast turned 100 years old – the forecast itself is much, much older than that with the 150th anniversary of the Shipping Forecast itself back on 24 August 2017.

The Shipping Forecast is issued four times a day on BBC Radio 4 at 0048 and 0520 (long wave and FM) 1201 and 1754 (normally long wave only).

The waters around the British Isles are divided into 31 sea areas. The forecast contains details of gale warnings in force, a general synopsis and sea-area forecasts with expected wind direction and force, weather and visibility.

The music played before the 0048 broadcast on Radio 4 is ‘Sailing By’ composed by Ronald Binge.

A nmap showing the areas of the weatherforecast

Map of Sea Areas and Coastal Weather Stations referred to in the Shipping Forecast. Image: Emoscopes/CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikimedia

Since its first broadcast the Shipping Forecast has been a staple, bar some notable hiccups. On Friday 30 May 2014, for the first time in more than 90 years, BBC Radio 4 failed to broadcast it at 0520 due to a technical malfunction. Then during the early months of the Covid pandemic the number of bulletins a day was reduced to three.

From 2024, the Shipping Forecast will no longer be broadcast on long wave (LW) due to the closure of the LW platform operated by Arqiva – as it is obsolete technology.

The Shipping Forecast will continue to be broadcast on other channels, including by HM Coastguard and on BBC Radio 4 FM and BBC Sounds.

Sailors are being encouraged to use NAVTEX to listen to the Shipping Forecast, as it provides coverage out to 270 miles. HM Coastguard provides VHF coverage out to 30 miles and MF coverage out to 150 miles using its network of remote aerial sites around the UK coast. The national Shipping Forecast radio broadcast will be 100 years old on 1 January 2024.

Read all about Katie Carr’s quest to complete her late brother Toby’s Shipping Forecast kayaking challenge.

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This feature appeared in the February 2024 edition of Practical Boat Owner. For more articles like this, including DIY, money-saving advice, great boat projects, expert tips and ways to improve your boat’s performance, take out a magazine subscription to Britain’s best-selling boating magazine.

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