Apps for Sailors: NWS Broadcasts Made Easy

A new app, HF Weather Fax Marine Radio Facsimile Decoder brings traditional offshore weather information to smartphones and tablets.
Author:
Updated:
Original:

A new app, HF Weather Fax Marine Radio Facsimile Decoder brings traditional offshore weather information to smartphones and tablets. The app displays marine weather radio fax transmissions on your Apple iOS or Android device without a dedicated fax receiver or an expensive modem. This app is brilliant, as it significantly simplifies the delivery of information from the national weather service (NWS) and displays it on your device automatically.

Traditional NWS weather broadcasts arrive via fax from locations worldwide, displaying satellite images, sea state analysis, surface forecasts, wind/wave analysis and forecasts, and wave period/swell. Transmissions are scheduled throughout the day with periods of inactivity.

With this app, the received weather fax is automatically displayed on your device’s screen, and can be played through your audio system. Black Cat Systems claims you can pick up adequate audio reception by positioning your device near external speakers, but I’ve found that background noise from sailing makes this impractical. Instead, I connect the radio audio output to my tablet’s microphone-in port using a dedicated audio cable. Black Cat Systems’s website includes a list of recommended cables as well as DIY cable wiring diagrams for this purpose.

This app does exactly what it needs to do and it works well. The interface is intuitive, with minimal options. Upon opening the app, the receiving fax broadcast automatically displays on the screen. Click “tune” to adjust your radio frequency and receive the best signal; click “start/stop” to pause reception. Use the “auto” function to save images after each transmission or “save” to manually select which broadcasts to save. Click on “schedules” to view the NWS weather fax schedule.

Best practice is to connect your device to the marine SSB using the attenuated microphone-in cable, tune the radio 1.9 Khz below the published frequency, launch the app and select “auto.” Then simply leave the app running and start receiving the transmissions; view the images later at a convenient time.

Although fit for purpose, I’d like to see a few enhancements. First, I’d like saved images to be available through the device’s camera roll, so they can be viewed and emailed outside the app. Second, I’d like the images to adjust to landscape mode on the iPad. Finally, I’d like to be able to bookmark nearby stations in “schedule” so I can find relevant broadcast times without having to manually page through.

If you are sailing offshore or are a marine SSB/ham radio enthusiast, this app is an obvious addition to your weather forecasting toolkit. I give it 4 stars, with the anticipation that future enhancements will improve its use.

* * * * *

Black Cat Systems, blackcatsystems.com, $2.99

Application architect, software developer and sailor Donald McLennan reviews apps for SAIL while cruising the waters of Southern California aboard his Tartan 3500 with his wife, Laura, and daughters, Alexandra and Elizabeth. Each month, Don tests a handful of new apps and brings you his favorite. If there’s an app you’d like to see reviewed in 2014, let us know, with an email to sailmail@sailmagazine.com

Related

09-Map-Route-VG2020

Vendee Globe Village Closing, Race Still On

Following the latest national lockdown measures announced by French President Emmanuel Macron as part of the fight against Covid-19, the 2020-21 Vendée Globe Race Village will be closed to the public beginning Friday, October 30th. The Vendée Globe will still take place as ...read more

Register-2048

Register of Circumnavigators Launched

Just in time for a fresh class of Vendée Globe sailors to attempt their circumnavigations, The International Association of Cape Horners (IACH) has taken on the responsibility of maintaining an official register of sailors who have completed solo circumnavigations by the Three ...read more

FPO skys0tlm8jlrpynehcpe_NEW

A Half-century of Cruising with SAIL

The following story is part of SAIL magazine’s recent 50th-anniversary coverage. For more, click here. I cannot say I have been reading SAIL magazine since the very beginning, but I come pretty darned close. Sometime around 1974, when I was in high school, I began buying it ...read more

B&G-Halo20+-side-facing

Gear: B&G HALO radar

B&G’s HALO series of radars now includes the HALO20+ and the HALO20, a pair of compact radomes expressly designed for use aboard smaller sailboats. The units measure 20in in diameter and weigh a mere 11lb. The HALO20+, in particular, delivers a full 360-degree sweep every ...read more

PICTON CASTLE under sail with stunsls WV7 compressed

Picton Castle Seeks Crew

The Picton Castle is set to begin its eighth circumnavigation this spring under the command of Captain Daniel Moreland. A professional crew of 12 will guide up to 40 trainees at a time as they learn about all aspects of sailing the bark, from steering to lookout, ...read more

DSC_0013

Ask Sail: Keel Attachments

Q: I have an early ‘70s Catalina 27. The keel bolts look pretty good. My question is, why not glass over the keel to bond to the hull rather than changing the bolts if, or when the bolts are too far gone? I haven’t seen anything on this, so could you discuss? Full-keels are ...read more

04-GOPR0511

Book Review: Sailing Into Oblivion

Sailing Into Oblivion by Jerome Rand $15.99, available through Amazon As refreshing and inspiring as Jerome Rand’s 2017-18 solo-circumnavigation may have been, his account of the voyage in the book Sailing Into Oblivion: The Solo Non-Stop Voyage of the Mighty Sparrow may be even ...read more

01-1970-Dec

50 Years of SAIL

Back in early 1970, Bernie Goldhirsh and the recently founded “Institute for the Advancement of Sailing,” publisher of an annual sailboat and gear guide, launched something called SAIL. A half-century later, a look back at the magazine’s first few years provides a glimpse into a ...read more