The BBC’s Shipping Forecast has been broadcasting coastal weather conditions to its listeners for over 150 years and its loyal following extends far beyond mariners. Fans of the television show As Time Goes By will be aware that Mrs. Bale, the Hardcastle’s housekeeper at their country home, stops everything in order to listen the Shipping Forecast. In Keeping Up Appearances, Hyacinth Bucket consults the Shipping Forecast before she and Richard go boating – even though their sail will only follow the inland Thames. In addition, the Shipping Forecast has inspired music, literature and art. Heck, my online friend and fellow blogger Scott Lyman even named his blog The Shipping Forecast.
So . . . . just what is the Shipping Forecast?
The Shipping Forecast
is a BBC Radio
broadcast of weather
reports and forecasts
for the seas around the coasts of the British Isles
. It is produced by the Met Office
and broadcast by BBC Radio 4
on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency
. The forecasts sent over the Navtex
system use a similar format and the same sea areas. The waters around the British Isles are divided into 31 sea areas, also known as weather areas (see map below)
There are four broadcasts per day at the following (UK local) times:
- 0048 – transmitted on FM and LW. Includes weather reports from an extended list of coastal stations at 0052 and an inshore waters forecast at 0055 and concludes with a brief UK weather outlook for the coming day. The broadcast finishes at approximately 0058.
- 0520 – transmitted on FM and LW. Includes weather reports from coastal stations at 0525, and an inshore waters forecast at 0527.
- 1201 – normally transmitted on LW only.
- 1754 – transmitted only on LW on weekdays, as an opt-out from the PM programme, but at weekends transmitted on both FM and LW.
The unique and distinctive sound of these broadcasts has led to their attracting an audience much wider than that directly interested in maritime weather conditions. Many listeners find the repetition of the names of the sea areas almost hypnotic, particularly during the night-time broadcast at 0048 UK time.
In October 1859, the steam clipper Royal Charter
wrecked in a strong storm off Anglesey
; 450 people lost their lives. Due to this loss, Vice-Admiral Robert FitzRoy
introduced a warning service for shipping in February 1861, using telegraph communications. This remained the United Kingdom’s Met Office primary responsibility for some time afterwards. In 1911, the Met Office had begun issuing marine weather forecasts which included gale and storm warnings via radio transmission for areas around Great Britain. This service was discontinued during and following World War I
, between 1914 and June 1921, and again during World War II between 1939 and 1945.
Today, although most ships have onboard technology to provide the Forecast’s information, they still use it to check their data.
The last broadcast of the Shipping Forecast at 0048 each day is traditionally preceded by the playing of “Sailing By“, a light orchestral piece by Ronald Binge. This is only very rarely omitted, generally when the schedule is running late. Though occasionally played in full, it is common for only a section of the piece to be broadcast; that section being the length required to fill the gap between the previous programme’s ending and the start of the forecast at precisely 0048. More importantly, Sailing By serves as a vital identification tool – it is distinctive and as such assists anyone attempting to tune in. The forecast is then followed by the National anthem and the closedown of the station for the day, with the BBC World Service taking over the frequencies after the pips of the Greenwich Time Signal at 0100.
You can listen to a broadcast of the Shipping Forecast here.
Alternately, here’s Stephen Fry’s cheeky take on the shipping forecast.