The famous Shipping Forecast in Britain celebrates its 100th anniversary: what it is and why it is so important

By TravelWiseJan 2, 2024 19:09 PMNews
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Britain's maritime past inspires
Britain's maritime past inspires. Source: Getty Images

Presented in a poem by Seamus Heaney and in songs by Radiohead, The Shipping Forecast has become part of life in the British Isles over 100 years on the air.

At 9 a.m. on January 1, 1924, radio listeners first heard the words that have since become part of British national identity. "Forties, Cromarty, Fort, Tyne, Dogger," the bulletin read. It ended with the words "Hebrides, Bailey, Fair Isle, Faroe Islands". Now they are just a tradition, but back then, the forecast saved lives because it warned of danger at sea, the Mirror writes.

The famous Shipping Forecast in Britain celebrates its 100th anniversary: what it is and why it is so important
Nautical map of Britain. Source: mirror.co.uk

For some, it probably seemed like illegible poetry. For others, it was information that could mean the difference between life and death. They regularly listened to the first national broadcast of the Shipping Forecast, a twice-daily guide to the seas and weather around the British and Irish coasts.

One hundred years later, the Shipping Forecast can still be heard on BBC Radio 4 at 12.01 and 17.54 on longwave and 00.48 and 05.20 on FM. For some, these words are a sign that it's time to go to bed. For early risers, they accompany their first cup of coffee.

Shipping Forecast announcer Zeb Soanes said: "For those who are not connected to the sea, it's like a nighttime maritime poetry. The messages also reinforce the islanders' connection to their proud maritime past. While the listener lies wrapped up in bed, they can imagine small fishing boats rocking in Plymouth or 170-foot waves crashing on Rockall."

For time reasons, each forecast has to be limited to 350 words, but these words have become as much a part of the national identity as red phone boxes, changing of the guard, and fish and chips.

It's the perfect background music for a country whose favorite pastime is talking about the weather. The excerpt was played during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games in London. The forecast was featured in Seamus Heaney's poems and in songs by Radiohead and Blur. It was even sampled by The Prodigy.

Traveling through the 31 shipping forecast areas is a journey into the history of Great Britain and Ireland. If you start in the lower left corner (sailors will tell you that it is south, southwest), you will find yourself off the coast of Cape Trafalgar and the site of Horatio Nelson's famous victory.

But what does it all mean?

The first thing you hear is the wind. The forecast uses a Beaufort scale ranging from a force 1 (1-3 mph) to a force 12 (73+ mph), which means a hurricane. In the first part of the forecast, you can hear a "storm warning" for any areas where winds are blowing at a force 8 or higher.

The wind direction is crucial. If you're traveling from Dover to Southampton, you don't want a westerly wind. South winds are generally milder than easterly winds. West winds tend to churn the sea more, creating an unpleasant wave.

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