The Shipping Forecast

The shipping forecast is one of those quirky bits of British life that often pass by unnoticed. It is only when you learn its history that you realise just how ubiquitous it is.

The shipping forecast, which is aimed at sailors, offers a comprehensive summary of incoming weather around the British Isles. It is compiled from a massive amount of data and is broadcast over BBC Radio four times a day. However its audience is more varied than you might imagine.

Rockall, Malin, Hebrides ….

copyright: BBC

The Meteorological (Met) Office provides the UK with the daily weather forecast and the shipping forecast.

The British Isles (which, as a geographical term, includes the Republic of Ireland) are very reliant on the shipping forecast to keep ships and sailors safe. The area covered is extensive, broken into 31 areas around the coast.

photo by schan

It began in 1861 with Robert Fitzroy, who created a storm warning service to help sailors avoid being caught unaware by the weather. Believing it had a wider appeal, the shipping forecast then appeared daily in The Times.

It is now thought to have been the first public weather forecast in the world.

The BBC started broadcasting the shipping forecast in the 1920s. Today the forecast is issued by the Met Office on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

The audience

For sailors and anyone involved in shipping, the shipping forecast provides essential information about expected weather conditions.

For everyone else, this broadcast is very soothing to listen to, almost like listening to poetry.

To farmers who rise early, the 5:20am broadcast is like a meditation to start the day. (Unprompted, a farmer told me this just this past weekend). For those who go to bed late, the 00:48am broadcast is accompanied by orchestral music called ‘Sailing By’ and is a great way to get to sleep.

It is so iconic to the British that the shipping forecast was included in the soundtrack of the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Its history

For more information

The Shipping Forecast interpreted by weather forecasters in plain English.

For more history, see the Met Office’s archive.

Listen to an example of the shipping forecast broadcast.

photo by schan

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