The forecasts sent over the Navtex system use a similar format, and the same sea areas.
Because of its unique and distinctive sound, the broadcasts have an appeal beyond those solely interested in nautical weather. The waters around the British Isles are divided into sea areas, also known as weather areas (see map below) and many listeners find the well-known repetition of the names of the sea areas almost hypnotic, particularly during the bedtime (for Britain) broadcast at 0048 GMT. It is regarded with affection by many listeners, and in Great Britain often arises in General knowledge quizzes and is the butt of many affectionate jokes.
There are four broadcasts per day:
The areas were roughly in the shape described above by 1949. Modifications after that include the introduction of Fisher in 1955, when Dogger was split in two. Heligoland was renamed German Bight the year later.
In 1984, the areas in the North Sea were coordinated with those of other neighbouring countries, introducing North Utsire and South Utsire and reducing Viking in size. Finisterre was renamed FitzRoy (in honour of the founder of the Met Office) in 2002 to avoid confusion with the Spanish area of the same name. Some names still differ; for example, the Dutch KNMI names the equivalent area to Forties after the Fladen Grounds.
In the forecast, areas are named in a roughly clockwise direction, strictly following the order above. However, a forecast for Trafalgar is found only in the 0048 forecast - other forecasts do, however, report when there are warnings of gales in Trafalgar.
The forecast, excluding the header line, has a limit of 370 words, and has a very strict format :
Examples of area forecasts:
With the information provided in the Shipping Forecast it is perfectly possible to compile (and then interpret) a pressure chart for the coasts of North Western Europe. Extended shipping forecasts (0520 and 0048) also include weather reports from a list of additional coastal stations and automatic weather logging stations, which are known by their names, such as "Channel Light Vessel Automatic". These are the Coastal Weather Stations. This additional information does not fall within the 350 word restriction. (RTÉ Radio 1 broadcasts similar coastal reports for Ireland). Other maritime countries also use sea area maps but with local variations. For instance, the area that the British forecasts call Dover is referred to by the French as Pas-de-Calais.
In addition, gale warnings are broadcast at other times between programmes and after news; for example That was the news, and now 'attention all shipping', especially in sea areas German Bight and Humber: The Met Office issued the following gale warning to shipping at 2206 today. German Bight, west or northwest gale 8 to storm 10, expected imminent. Humber, west gale 8 or severe gale 9, expected soon. That completes the gale warning.
When giving a gale warning the Met Office will indicate a time interval for when they expect the gale to occur. Imminent means that a gale is expected within 6 hours, Expected soon that a gale is expected within 6 to 12 hours and Later in more than 12 hours time.
The Shipping Forecast should not be confused with similar broadcasts given by HM Coastguard to vessels at sea tuned into Marine VHF Radio Frequencies.
The Coastguard's broadcasts follow the same format as the shipping forecast using the same terminology and style, but the information only normally applies to the area sector or region covered by that particular Coastguard Co-ordination Centre (such as the Bristol Channel, for instance).
Announcements of pending broadcasts by HMCG is given on marine Channel 16 VHF and would normally be announced along the lines of "This is Portland Coastguard, Portland Coastguard.... Marine Shipping Safety Information will now be Broadcast on Channel 23.... Portland Coastguard".
As with the Shipping Forecast many people from a non-maritime background have been fascinated by this little known and very important service to the extent that they have bought handheld maritime radios purposely to listen to Coastguard Safety and Weather announcements. It is probably for the same reasons outlined later in this article about the main shipping forecast that it has such a committed fanbase.
On Friday 17 August 2007, the 0520 forecast and data, as read by BBC Weatherman Philip Avery, was in fact that for the previous day, and a special reading of the correct day's issue was given out at 0700 on 198 kHz Longwave, before rejoining the normal FM programming.
The song also contains references to Biscay, Dogger, Thames ("Hit traffic on the Dogger bank / Up the Thames to find a taxi rank") and Malin.
The Young Punx sampled the shipping forecast as read by BBC presenter Alan Smith for their track "Rockall". The shipping forecast forms the entire lyric for the track, both used in its original form (yet rhyming and scanning) e.g. "Tyne, Dogger, German Bight. Humber, Thames, Dover, Wight" and also with the words re-edited into new orders to form new meanings and puns such as "expected to, Rock All, by midnight tonight".
Other popular artists who have used samples of the Shipping Forecast include Andy White who added the forecast to the track "The Whole Love Story" to create a very nostalgic, cosy and soporific sound, highly evocative of the British Isles; Tears for Fears, whose track "Pharaohs" (a play on the name of the sea area "Faeroes") is a setting of the forecast to a mixture of mellow music and sound effects; and Thomas Dolby, who included a shipping forecast read by BBC's John Marsh on the track "Windpower". "The Good Ship Lifestyle", a track on the album Tubthumper by Chumbawumba, starts out with a listing of the sea areas — in the wrong order, however.
British DJ Rob Overseer's album Wreckage has a final track entitled "Heligoland," where the Shipping Forecast surrealistically alternates between reporting the weather and the emotional states of an individual. The band British Sea Power entitled a b-side of their Please Stand Up single "Gales Warnings in Viking North". Beck includes a 27-second sample five minutes into the track "The Horrible Fanfare, Landslide, Exoskeleton" on the album "The Information". Experimental electronic musician Robin Storey, recording under the name Rapoon, sampled the shipping forecast for the track "Falling More Slowly" on the album Easterly 6 or 7. The Prodigy sampled a short section of the shipping forecast in their song Weather Experience on their album Experience Manfred Mann's Earth Band extensively used samples of shipping forecasts as a part of the backing track to "Stranded", from their 1980 album, Chance.
The Jethro Tull album Stormwatch features the shipping forecast in between verses of "North Sea Oil". It is read by Francis Wilson, a TV weatherman who also reads the introduction to "Dun Ringill" on the same album.
The Carol Ann Duffy poem "Prayer" finishes with the lines:
The Shipping Forecast has also inspired writing, painting and photographic collections, notably Charlie Connelly's Attention All Shipping: A Journey Round The Shipping Forecast, Mark Power and David Chandler's The Shipping Forecast, and Peter Collyer's Rain Later, Good. Their critical and commercial success is a tribute both to the time and energy people are willing to invest in artistic projects inspired by the shipping forecast, and the warmth with which the public regard this regular radio announcement.
Geoff Lloyd's show on Virgin Radio includes a feature called The Shitting Forecast, in which listeners are invited to call in and say what they have eaten during the day, and their bowel movements are predicted in the style of the Shipping Forecast.
In an episode of BBC Radio 4 series Live on Arrival, Steve Punt reads the Shopping Forecast, in which the regions are replaced with supermarket names, eg "Tesco, Fine Fare, Sainsbury". The sketch ends with the information, "joke mileage decreasing, end of show imminent".
Dead Ringers parodied the Shipping Forecast using Brian Perkins rapping the forecast (Dogger, Fisher, German Bight - becoming quite cyclonic. Occasional showers making you feel cat-atatatatatata-tonic...). Many other versions have been used including a "Dale Warning" to warn where Dale Winton could be found over the coming period.
Gavin Bryars's "A Man In A Room, Gambling" (1997), was written on a commission from BBC Radio 3. The ten shorts work was played on Radio 3 without any introductory announcements, and Bryars is quoted as saying that he hoped they would appear to the listener in a similar way to the shipping forecast, both mysterious and accepted without question. Bryars's music is heard beneath monologues in a the same format of the forecasts.
In the book A Kestrel for a Knave and its film Kes the shipping forecast is featured in the classroom register roll call when lead character Billy Casper calls out German Bight after the teacher reads out the name of a pupil called Fisher. (Author Barry Hines erroneously has Billy then say that Cromarty follows German Bight.)
All the characters in the cartoon The Adventures of Portland Bill were named after shipping areas or coastal weather stations, with two exceptions - Eddy Stone, named after a lighthouse, and Ross, presumably so called as he was the best friend of the character Cromarty (a former Scottish county was called Ross & Cromarty). The same device is used for a group of minor characters in The Eyre Affair.
There is three-bell change ringing method named "Shipping Forecast Singles". It was composed by Sam Austin and was rung to a peal in 2004 at St John the Baptist, Middleton, Warwickshire. Other three-bell methods by the same composer are named after various shipping areas.
Author Peter James in his novel "Looking Good Dead" has a character (nicknamed "The Weatherman"), a computer geek savant type, who memorizes the Shipping Forecast four times a day. In encounters with other characters, when he can't think of an appropriate response, he recites the current Shipping Forecast. Sometimes very useful, it is observed.
(Currently being broadcast on BBC Radio 4) A comedy sketch, after the style of the Shipping Forecast.
“One”, written by David Quantick, BBC Radio 4 Thursday the 21st of February 2008.