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4 Benefits of Weather Routing Software for Seafarers

Emily Heaslip

Routing vessels on safe and timely voyages is a complex calculation. Shipping companies use weather routing to find the “best route” based on the weather forecast, ship characteristics, and cargo requirements. The best route is not necessarily the most direct path, however: proactive weather routing factors in the risk of adverse weather, the safety of the crew, fuel consumption, and market factors. 

Sailors have been routing ships through marine weather in some form or another for centuries. As the deputy postmaster general, Benjamin Franklin charted the Gulf Stream using information from New England whaling ships in order to improve mail service between the Colonies and England. Contemporary weather routing software has advanced well beyond that: shore operators today streamline fleet operations with applications driven by high-fidelity meteorological insights, delivered in real time.

Weather routing software can process more data

Before these applications became widely available, planning the best possible route was limited by a lack of information. As one researcher describes, the best possible path was determined “based on a captain’s intuition, his previous experience and expert advice from onshore-based weather routing services, which have come to seafarers’ aid since the early 1960s.” Essentially, shipping companies were taking their best guess with the information immediately available to them. 

Unfortunately, the vastness of the ocean and limited (or anecdotal) information about ever-changing weather conditions meant that these forecasted routes were rarely optimal. The advent of onboard PCs and satellite communications marginally helped sea captains adjust course, but even these early technologies were limited by distance to shore. 

Tools like Wayfinder amass and deliver massive amounts of weather data to shoreside operators in real time for proactive route planning and holistic voyage optimization for fleets of all sizes. With Wayfinder, seafaring captains and their supporting teams on shore can input vessel dimensions, business targets, and compliance requirements to evaluate multiple routing options with the latest weather forecasts. The application integrates the latest weather forecasts with critical operational metrics such as market impact, contract terms, and strategic initiatives (e.g. fuel cost, opportunity cost, CO₂ targets) for safer, cheaper voyages. 

Weather routing software is more accurate

There are all kinds of calculations and approaches seafarers employ to plan and adjust their routes at sea. However, these calculations rest on assumptions that can change with the tides, proving unreliable and inaccurate on the spot, when it counts. Weather routing software applications use real-time in-situ readings to produce reliable forecasts of the future, often reaching 50% more accuracy than NOAA’s.

Wayfinder draws insight from one of the largest networks of weather sensors in the open ocean, which has been deployed along shipping routes around the world. Rather than guesswork (such as the old adage, “Red sky at morning, sailors take warning”), seafarers optimize their voyages with daily weather reports and proactive route planning.

Weather routing software is scalable

Prior to recent advancements we’ve seen in real-time weather routing applications, ship routing was a manual, labor-intensive task for shipping companies. Even today, voyage planning takes an average of 3.5 hours per vessel.  

[Read more: A Guide to Voyage Planning]  

Manual route planning introduces unreliable assumptions about the weather and climate, which can make captains lose both confidence and certainty in the proposed path. Weather routing software provides live ocean data, streamlining the voyage planning process with those insights. With historical noon reports, custom seakeeping, and a historical weather dataset netting over 5 million ocean hours, Wayfinder generates a digital twin with unique speed, fuel, and safety profiles for each vessel to ensure optimal performance in all conditions. Wayfinder enables shipping companies to monitor industry-specific compliance regulations and company-specific financial targets. 

Weather routing software improves performance

Finally, routing applications that consider marine weather allow shipping companies to constantly improve their performance. Weather routing software considers a vessel’s historical seafaring in a range of conditions and pairs it with extended forecasts and other operational priorities. Over time, as more data is collected on the vessel’s hydrodynamic performance, shipping companies can begin to make smarter decisions about when to schedule maintenance, ways to reduce at sea rolling, and long-term strategies for better fuel usage. 

Shipping companies that use weather routing software see a wealth of advantages: from higher profitability by reducing insurance costs, saving on crew overtime pay, and avoiding additional fees from port operators to better crew safety and environmental benefits. 
Weather routing has come a long way since Benjamin Franklin first started mapping the Gulf Stream. Today’s weather routing technology helps voyage planners optimize safety and savings in one easy-to-use platform. Schedule a demo with Wayfinder today.

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