Weather routing — using real-time weather data to find the optimal route for a ship voyage — is becoming more and more advanced, thanks to tools like Sofar Ocean’s Wayfinder product. And, with better weather routing, shipping companies are able to save fuel, improve safety, minimize delays, and capture other benefits that allow them to operate more efficiently with fewer risks.
Weather routing sounds straightforward, but in reality, it’s a complex calculation. Weather routing seeks to find the “best route” based on the weather forecast, ship characteristics, and cargo requirements. Notably, this doesn’t always mean finding the shortest travel time; weather routing seeks to optimize voyages by avoiding the risk of adverse weather, protecting the crew, and optimizing fuel consumption simultaneously.
Here are some of the important benefits of weather routing and to start realizing those benefits.
Shipping companies often run tight margins — every dollar counts. Weather routing allows vessels to use less fuel and deliver goods on time, leading to significant cost savings. Likewise, shipping companies that use weather routing to optimize their voyage can improve their margins by reducing insurance costs, saving on crew overtime pay, and avoiding additional fees from port operators.
Weather is one of the biggest risks to ships at sea, and any tools that can help shipping companies avoid disaster are vital. Over the last decade, around 100 big shipping vessels have been destroyed, usually due to extreme weather. Casualty statistics indicate that “bad weather” is a contributing factor in one in five ship losses. Real-time weather routing allows ship navigation teams to re-route vessels as needed, avoiding hurricanes, cyclones, and storms to improve safety of crew and cargo.
Likewise, the IMO is putting a spotlight on crew member safety, after the pandemic caused more than 300,000 seafarers to be stranded at sea for months. If anything, the pandemic put renewed focus on ensuring that crew member safety is of paramount importance; weather routing can play a role in preventing accidents well beyond the pandemic.
Weather routing plays a key role in meeting decarbonization goals. The Marine Environment Protection Committee committed to trying to help cut shipping carbon emissions by 40% – as compared to 2008 levels – by 2030. There’s no easy way to achieve this important goal, but weather routing can help.
“The practice of voyage optimization is very cost-effective as it allows shipping companies to reduce both their costs and their carbon footprint simply by passing routes in which the ship may not run as efficiently, due to bad weather conditions,” said researchers.
The IMO calculated that vessels released 1.12 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide the year before in 2007. By that estimate, emissions would need to be reduced by 560 million metric tons — equivalent to the emissions from 102 million cars.
As the shipping industry strives to meet decarbonization goals, reducing fuel usage is not only more sustainable but also more cost-efficient. The IMO estimates weather routing saves at least 3% in fuel consumption; for container ships, that number increases to up to 10%. Since fuel costs make up an estimated 50-60% of total ship operating costs, these savings can be massive.
The Wayfinder platform optimizes a vessel’s entire voyage by evaluating not only weather forecasts, but also business metrics such as market impact, contract terms, and strategic initiatives (e.g. time charter index, demurrage, bunker prices, CO₂ targets). Innovations like the Wayfinder both protect an ocean logistics company’s business interests and help meet the goals of the IMO GHG Strategy.
Supply chain delays have captured headlines in recent weeks as shipping companies struggle to recover from pandemic-related shutdowns. Bottlenecks at ports around the world have prevented ships from offloading goods in a timely manner. The last thing ships need is weather-related delays that can be common during hurricane season.
Lack of understanding of marine weather can account for 80% of the impact on performance, according to shipping insight specialists StratumFive. When route planning includes weather data, shipping companies can avoid the worst weather and prepare for that which can’t be avoided. This allows ships to minimize delays as much as possible during these difficult times.
To learn more about ship routing, check out our Wayfinder product, which uses data collected from the world’s largest fleet of open-ocean weather sensors to integrate real-time, observational weather data along your routes.