Article - April 25, 2019

Why Routing Advisory is Crucial to Every Captain

Nikos Mazarakis

Nikos Mazarakis

Solution Sales Specialist • Euro South

Ship entering rain with dramatic sky

During the last 15 years, meteorology has made remarkable progress in terms of forecast accuracy, directly impacting the shipping sector and more specifically, route planning. With a significant increase in the range of weather models used, we can now predict the conditions of wind, waves and currents 7–16 days in advance. Furthermore, next generation satellite platforms (i.e. Metop A and B) act as “observing eyes” above the ocean—providing us with measurements for isolated oceanic areas. Routing Advisory Services (RAS), previously viewed as dispensable by captains, are now understood to be a critical tool for every captain. To understand why these services are so crucial, we must look into what exactly they entail, as well as their advantages in situations when a vessel can lose time while en route.

When a vessel departs from Port A to destination Port B, there are two main factors that cause delays: distance and weather. Let us consider that

  • Loss Time due to Distance (LTD) is the time a ship loses due to its distance and
  • Loss Time due to Weather (LTW) is the time a ship loses due to weather conditions.

A vessel departs from Le Havre (Port A) with the destination being New York (Port B). If she sails across the Great Circle, the LTD will be equal to zero because the Great Circle is the shortest course in terms of nautical miles.

FRLEH - USNYC via the Great Circle

During winter, however, the ship is very likely to encounter adverse weather conditions when traveling through the Great Circle, forcing a remarkable reduction in its speed. For this example, we will assume that LTW equals 12 hours along the Great Circle (GC). This means the total time lost will be:

Loss Time (GC) = LTD + LTW = 0 + 12 = 12 hours.

If the same vessel chooses to sail along the rump line with a turning point in 40N / 40W, it will be a longer distance but with a greater chance of sailing in better weather conditions.

In this case, the LTD may be 6 hours and the LTW only 2 hours, decreasing the total time lost to 8 hours. This second course, although longer in miles, is not only the safest but also the shortest time-wise.

This exemplifies why the captain should seek to find a balance between the LTD and the LTW, or the distance of a voyage and the weather conditions that may be encountered.

There are three options to reach this balance:

  1. Rely on formal meteorological maps (facsimiles) which require easy access and an understanding of how to read them. With this option, a captain cannot precisely calculate Loss Time due to Weather.
  2. Use an onboard weather routing optimization tool  which also requires a basic level of understanding.
  3. Appoint a weather company such as StormGeo to monitor the vessel, recommend the optimum route and send that route to the captain, on a regular basis, along with all available weather forecasts for the areas where the vessel will steam. This is the general basis for Route Advisory Services (RAS).

Advantages of Route Advice Services:

  • Access to experienced Weather Route Analysts, many of them with more than 30 years of experience
  • Calculates the optimum route, giving priority to safety and economy
  • Calculates the optimal balance between LTD and LTW
  • Provides detailed weather forecasts across the route
  • Provides advance warnings in case of adverse weather conditions, including tropical cyclones
  • Sends the optimum route in a format easily imported into NaviPlanner BVS
  • Operations onshore can assess the voyage progress in FleetDSS
  • At the end of the voyage, an extra report of the ship's performance (EOV) is provided at no extra cost
  • In case of any dispute (if the ship is time-chartered), free support from StormGeo is provided by our experienced analysts. In addition, local support is available.

Case study:

The below figure depicts three alternative routes for a Transatlantic western passage during winter where s-Planner is used.

Ship tracks
  • Track 1 goes through the Great Circle (3113 nm)
  • Track 2 via the Rhumb Line with a turning point of 40N / 40W (3351 nm)
  • Track 3 is the optimum route (3203 nm)

The results show that the negative effect of the weather is greater in the southern course (-2.15 KT), although one would expect the opposite. The same applies to currents, where across Track 2, the current factor is -0.28 KT.

We can see that the southern passage has not only the largest LTD but also the largest LTW, which can often occur in a transoceanic passage during winter.

Between the Track 1 and Track 3, we see that Track 1 is shorter by 11.3 hours, but the negative effect of weather is almost the same (-1.8 KT and -1.9 respectively). However, the cost of Track 1 is $5916 higher as the ship travels longer within the U.S. ECA.

Thus, we can conclude that Track 2 is not only the safest but also the most economical, with a potential savings of $26,932.

Learn more about weather routing