Best weather apps for sailors
Rapid developments in digital technology now allow the sailing community to benefit from a wide range of specialist, user-friendly and affordable weather apps.
Advanced weather forecasting models are currently produced by a host of meteorological offices around the world, whose supercomputers churn through data of unfathomable complexity, from the charge of particles in the air to convection currents.
Different models have different strengths, and many of the weather apps covered in this survey let you choose between them, while the more technical ones compare multiple forecasts with actual observations in your area and recommend the most accurate ones.
The best weather apps tend to charge a subscription fee, so it’s worth being clear about where and how you intend to use the boat.
There’s no point going for PredictWind, for example, with offshore weather routing and narrowband satellite mode, if you just want to know what’s happening in your local estuary over the next few hours.
Some weather apps also offer better overseas coverage than others, with global forecasts up to a year ahead.
However, note that you may need to purchase a separate subscription to unlock unlimited predictions outside of the UK.
Also note that not all apps offer the same level of support for secondary ports, so check your favorite sites before purchasing.
It is also not always specified whether the apps use UTC or local time, which can give rise to errors of one hour.
Which met model?
Weather apps draw on a wide variety of meteorological models to collect and present their data, so dig into the version details to ensure that the meteorological model used by the app matches your cruising plans.
- ECMWF: European model with 9 km resolution, updated twice daily, and considered the most accurate global model.
- GFS: 27 km resolution with four daily updates, from the USA. Not so good near coasts as it doesn’t take topography into account.
- ICON: 13 km resolution (7 km in Europe, making it the best for our continent) including horizontal wind speed. Developed in Germany with
four daily updates.
- SPROUT: 12 km resolution with intensive use of radio occultation data to provide top accuracy offshore.
- UKMO: Met Office model with 10 km global resolution and exceptional 1.5 km in the UK.
- CFS: Produced by US NOAA for climate level predictions nine months ahead.
- WRF: Resolves down to 500m and is often used as a basis for other forecasting services.
- OS: Developed in Greece with a resolution of 12 km – it’s very good in the Mediterranean.
- AROMA: French model with 1.25 km resolution. Reliable around France, southern England, Ireland and as far as the German coast.
- HIRLAM: Cooperation between 10 European offices for close range accuracy.
- NAM: 12 km resolution in North America.
- HRRR: 3km resolution for incredible detail across the US.
Best weather apps for sailors
$29 per year. www.predictwind.com
Fantastic interface, with a slick animated forecast that uses color to enhance the wind strength data.
You can also switch between traditional wind ticks and arrows, and see wind, waves, electrical potential, clouds, rain, pressure and temperatures.
The validation page allows you to identify the most accurate forecast model for your location, but coverage is not universal.
PredictWind is also unique in offering an unbeatable set of tools, including offshore weather routing that analyzes wave patterns to calculate how unpleasant the sea state will be.
It also does GPS tracking and has a narrowband version for satellite communications for more efficient offshore forecasting (using a separate Predictwind Offshore app).
There’s even a dedicated Predictwind app in Iridium Go! Satellite communicator.
Subscriptions for the smartphone app range from a free version to $499/year for the professional package, which gives you incredible wave modeling and offshore detail.
But just $29/year gets you the basic package with 1km resolution, while the $249/year standard subscription adds weather routing.
PredictWind has also developed a data logger ($299) to record NMEA data, track your boat on GPS and compile it all into log files or blog posts, which you can send to a satellite phone to put online.
You also become a mobile real-time weather and AIS station for PredictWind.
Offers 17 different forecast models ranging from super accurate 1.1 km resolution wind models of the English Channel to five mile models from much of the rest of the world.
The free subscription provides wind warnings at 1º (60nm) resolution. For £8.99/month you get 0.1º accuracy and extra wave data.
The £16.99/month premium package includes ice fraction and tide data.
But if you sign up for a month at a time (instead of an annual contract), you pay a premium of 30-40 percent.
You can overlay the forecast onto a small-scale Navionics chart, but the display feels old-fashioned compared to others as it’s not animated and uses traditional wind sensors to indicate direction and strength.
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Developer: Windy Weather World Inc.
£8.99 per month. www.windy.app
Aimed at sailors and water sports enthusiasts. Provides wind and wave conditions at thousands of locations around the coast, providing cloud cover, rain and temperature up to 10 days ahead.
The free version provides tide times and heights. Subscribe to access forecasts from a variety of detailed weather models.
The PRO subscription costs £8.99/m or £52.99/year and provides archive information back to 2012, and model comparison and offline forecasts.
Compares the predictions of each model for a given location and tells you which one has proven most accurate in the past.
A great tool, especially if you’re cruising away from home waters. PRO access also gives you swell data, isobars and HD mapping. (Not to be confused with ‘Windy.com’.)
Developer: Windy Weather World Inc.
£58.99 per year. www.windhub.com
Intuitive controls allow you to switch between weather models with one hand, as well as data including wind, gust, rain, clouds, swell, pressure and electrical potential.
A sliding table summarizes the data for the selected point, including a graphical analysis of wind speeds. Very easy to understand at a glance.
Includes information on tidal currents for locations you select at the touch of a finger.
There’s also a tide chart that shows high and low water times and heights, although you can’t query it for extra details.
Offers several weather models, but calculates its own high-resolution forecast for Europe and East Asia.
An annual subscription will cost you £58.99 in Europe, but cheaper elsewhere.
Real-time weather data from 2000 plus NOAA buoys mostly around the US coast.
There are some in the mid-Atlantic and a handful of others around the British Isles. Data varies depending on buoy type and may include pressure, wind speed and direction, wave period and air temperature.
Buoy E1 off Plymouth gives wind speed and direction, pressure and air temperature.
Sandettie Lightship off Dunkirk also provides water temperature and wave height and direction.
Unfortunately, there is no access to previous reports that can tell you how the conditions had changed in the previous hours.
A graph showing changing pressure or wind speed would be very useful, but there are other apps that do this, such as NOAA NDBC Buoy Live Marine (£4.99/year).
Developer: The Great-Circle
£5.49 per week. www.squid-sailing.com
A neat app with core data that includes wind, rain, cloud and wave heights, atmospheric pressure and temperature. \
For the full range of weather models, flexible subscriptions run from a week (£5.49) up to a year (£29.99).
It offers weather routing calculated in the “cloud” to reduce satellite transmission time while offshore and packages weather data so you can download it as a GRIB file for
use on other screens or apps, which is great for blue water sailors.
Allows you to select and edit the area you want by tapping on a map.
You can then edit the time period, frequency and exact data you need to ensure it doesn’t clog up the Iridium satellite connection for hours. Value for your money.
£1.39 per month. www.windfinder.com
The basic app provides a nice animated map of current wind conditions around the globe.
To unlock more detailed forecasts, you need to upgrade to Windfinder Plus (£9.49/year or £1.39/m), which updates every six hours.
The basic app provides a resolution of 7 km in Europe (5 km in the US), but coverage is limited to Europe, North America, Egypt, the Canary Islands and South Africa, so you wouldn’t choose this app to go offshore.
Other nice features include specific “spots” for which you get instant wind, wave and tide readings, with 20,000 weather stations and 160,000 spots globally.
Windfinder Plus also offers access to 63,000 webcams and wind alerts. Costs £3.49 to get rid of those annoying ads.
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