VHF Inshore Forecast Coverage?

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mcgruff
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VHF Inshore Forecast Coverage?

Post by mcgruff »

On the kind of extended trip I've been planning I could find myself camped by the shore anywhere from Islay to Cape Wrath or Mingulay to the Butt of Lewis, trying to decide a route for the next day, or whether to stay put! It would be good to be able to keep up to date with weather forecasts.

If there's a phone signal I guess that's the best option with more information available online. Swell forecasts, outlook for the week ahead, etc.

FM radio works in some places. When you lose FM often you can tune in to AM frequencies but even AM won't work everywhere.

So what's been your experience of the VHF inshore forecast coverage? Is this available pretty much everywhere on the Scottish coast? Would I need to look for a handset with particularly good reception?

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Re: VHF Inshore Forecast Coverage?

Post by pathbrae »

Something which I've done in the past is call up a passing yacht on VHF and ask if they have the most recent forecast. They often get a forecast even if I don't due to the difference in height of the radio aerials and are usually happy to help.
So much sea - so little time to see it.

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Re: VHF Inshore Forecast Coverage?

Post by Douglas Wilcox »

I do have an VHF(FM)/LW/MW radio and a phone but there are lots of blackspots for both. I also listen to the coastguard MSI broadcasts on my marine VHF handheld but again there are blackspots on the west coast. I get my wife to text the forecast and because I leave my phone on during the day while paddling, a text will often get through somewhere along a route in a remote area with poor coverage.

Douglas

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Re: VHF Inshore Forecast Coverage?

Post by MikeB »

How I miss those old-fashioned TXT f/casts! As pathbrae notes, sometimes a passing yachtie will be delighted to help - or indeed a handy CalMac. We have found though that it helps tae hae a local wi' ye, if yer planning on a chat tae a local fishing boat :-)

Evidence? I got nowhere with a trawler in the Sound of Sleat - my "more Scottish" pal did - -

On the other hand, while on the Garvellachs, a rather splendid yacht moored in the shelter between the skerries and the island. I got on the air asking for the f/cast, which was relayed to me in the most "cut glass" accent I've ever heard. Lovely chaps - came ashore later with a bottle of pink gin.

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Re: VHF Inshore Forecast Coverage?

Post by pathbrae »

From the Sound of Jura... with only one other boat in sight.

"Yacht in Sound of Jura, yacht in...... This is Kayak blue Etain, kayak blue Etain....... over"

"Ehhhh - kayak blue Etain, this is yacht Blue Etain......."

But, once we'd had a laugh about the co-incidence, they were very helpful with the forecast :-)
So much sea - so little time to see it.

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Re: VHF Inshore Forecast Coverage?

Post by mcgruff »

Thanks for the advice. I hadn't thought about calling up passers-by :)

I found a list of transmitters in this maritime safety information leaflet. I think these are all the Scottish ones:

Greenock
Law hill
Rhu Staffnish
Kilchiaran
South Knapdale
Torasay
Tiree
Glengorm
Arisaig
Barra
Drumfearn
Skriag
Clettraval
Rodel
Melvaig
Forsnaval
Portnaguran
Butt of Lewis

I must see what that looks like on a map. It does look like there will be a lot of gaps.

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Re: VHF Inshore Forecast Coverage?

Post by Northern Blue »

I’m not sure how the coverage works, but last weekend I was paddling round the Isles of Fleet and was listening to Belfast CG transmissions, yet during the week I was just round the corner in Kirkcudbright bay and picked up Holyhead CG.

Line of sight at its best ?

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Re: VHF Inshore Forecast Coverage?

Post by Chris Bolton »

I believe the call signs used in Coastguard transmission now (since 2015) align to the nine Coastguard Operations Centres. These are at

Dover
Aberdeen
Shetland
Stornoway
Belfast
Holyhead
Milford Haven
Falmouth
Humber

There's also an office in London and the National Maritime Operations Centre in Fareham. I've found a map, showing various area, but have not found any explanation of the significance of the numbering. It's a pdf so I can't embed it.
I was paddling round the Isles of Fleet and was listening to Belfast CG transmissions, yet during the week I was just round the corner in Kirkcudbright bay and picked up Holyhead CG.
Looking at the map, the line down the middle of the Solway divides Holyhead from Belfast, so near that line you could pick up both. The transmissions are not direct from the Operations Centre, they will be transmitted by landline to the local transmitter. I did find a UK list of transmitters once but it's not to hand.

If you call one of the closed stations, such as Liverpool, you'll still get an answer, in the case of Liverpool I believe they would use Holyhead as the call sign but the person speaking could be in Fareham or any of the other centres.

I was (and still am) concerned that when they closed centres the loss of local knowledge would make it difficult to know where callers were talking about, but they have access to an OS database called FINTAN which holds lots of [crowdsourced] local names. That will help with location, but doesn't replace local knowledge of weather and tides. They do also still have local rescue teams.

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Re: VHF Inshore Forecast Coverage?

Post by Douglas Wilcox »

Hi Northern, I know the Isles of Fleet quite well. Currently the area from Great Orme's Head to Mull of Galloway, which includes the Isles of Fleet, is covered by Holyhead coastguard who listen/transmit from Calbeck north of the Lake District and Snaefell on the Isle of Man. As you have discovered, you can also pick up Belfast Coastguard who listen/transmit from Orlock Head at the southern entrance to Belfast Lough. MMSI broadcasts can be heard from Calbeck on channel 63, Snaefell on 64 and Orlock on 62.

In recent years I have twice contacted the coastguard using a handheld VHF from the Isles of Fleet. Once when a Wayfarer dinghy got wrecked on Ardwall Island and once when my windsurfing rig and board parted company and the rig got taken out by the ebb tide. I swam in 1.5km! In both cases it was Belfast Coastguard that answered.

Douglas

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Re: VHF Inshore Forecast Coverage?

Post by Douglas Wilcox »

Hi Chris, that is an interesting pdf map which I have not seen before, thank you. I think the numbered areas may refer to the organisation of the shore based coastguard units rather than to the listening areas of the Coastguard Operations Centres.

Douglas

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Re: VHF Inshore Forecast Coverage?

Post by mcgruff »

Here's a map of the transmitters covering the Hebrides. Be warned this is just what I managed to find out from a quick google. I could well have missed some.

Image

I guess short hops along a coast with occasional towns and shops wouldn't really a problem but more committed trips would need more careful planning and a good idea of what the weather is doing.

I like the fact that you'd be well-served by the Clettraval transmitter on North Uist if you were camped out on the Monachs, waiting for a favourable forecast for St Kilda.

(Not that I'm anywhere near taking on that kind of trip at the moment... Maybe one day).

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Re: VHF Inshore Forecast Coverage?

Post by john.ruston »

My map drawn on account of channel changes.
I think Mike B put a copy into The Almanac.
I also have various similar for Ireland and for North Channel area. PM to request.
John
Fairhead.

Edit. I see the image lacks the sharpness of my original
If anyone wants a better copy I can email
I take it everyone can find the broadcast times for MCA MSI broadcasts.

Image

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Re: VHF Inshore Forecast Coverage?

Post by brian_m »

Camped in a sheltered bay or at sea in your kayak with an antenna height of less than 1 metre you'll find areas without coverage. Take a walk up the nearest hill to coincide with the morning or evening forecast and coverage is much better. This even works as far out as St Kilda!

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Re: VHF Inshore Forecast Coverage?

Post by Chris Bolton »

I've been scavenging the internet for transmitter locations for the whole of the UK and cross checking my results. With the assistance of the tools on Excel to KML I have put together a Google Map of what I think is the full list of those that broadcast MSI, with channel numbers. For reasons I don't understand, when zoomed out the icons all appear a little to the West of where they should be, but if you zoom in they are correct. I hope it's useful, post back if you have any problems with it.

There may be other transmitters that don't broadcast MSI. For example, I understand HM Coastguard now cover Windermere, and I did find a reference to a transmitter but couldn't verify it. I am also aware that Holyhead used to have a relay transmitter on The Skerries, which may be still in use, and there may be other relays.

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Re: VHF Inshore Forecast Coverage?

Post by Douglas Wilcox »

Thanks Chris :)

Douglas

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Re: VHF Inshore Forecast Coverage?

Post by john.ruston »

There's usually a copy (pdf) of all Britain MSI info in the Agency pages.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publicati ... on-leaflet

It's updated as necessary.
John.

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Re: VHF Inshore Forecast Coverage?

Post by Chris Bolton »

Thanks John. That's what I used for a definitive list of MSI transmitters, some of the locations were more difficult.

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Re: VHF Inshore Forecast Coverage?

Post by Jim »

I have been trying to remember a conversation about VHF coverage on the west coast, I can't recall if it was something I heard directly from the MCA surveyor on board a ship in Stornoway or if it was a story my dad had relayed from (probably the same) an MCA surveyor who used to stay with him when visiting vessels in Loch Ewe. Essentially when conducting a wireless survey on board ships on some part of the west coast, the surveyor regularly manages to communicate clearly with Aberdeen coastguard despite there being lots of miles and several mountain ranges in the way. VHF is line of sight, but over long distance can be refracted and reflected and sometimes you will find an unexpected area of coverage. Obviously this was on ships with VHF masts many metres above sea level - don't expect to raise Aberdeen CG from a kayak in Stornoway harbour, just wave at Stornoway CG instead!

Of course the map does show Durness as being controlled by Aberdeen, so perhaps there is no blockage in LOS?

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