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June 20, 2013

Weather-Related Plotter Features

Tools on the plotter make for safer trips and ­more-effective fishing.

Weather information at the helm is rapidly advancing. The old standby — NOAA weather broadcast over VHF — has not been eclipsed, but information provided by satellite weather service and NOAA data files off the Internet provide powerful tools for trip planning and heavy-weather avoidance.

Which of these options is available depends on the equipment that’s on your boat. Most plotters support SiriusXM satellite-radio weather — a merger of two separate companies, now one sharing audio, but still independent entities regarding weather broadcast. Raymarine, Furuno, Lowrance and Simrad all support Sirius weather data. Garmin supports XM. Humminbird, which once supported XM, now does so in legacy plotters, and is currently revamping its weather module. 

SiriusXM weather provides real-time radar and 28 different data sets, ranging from sea-surface temperature to wave and weather forecasts. How many of these data sets you access depends on which of them your plotter supports, and which data plan you have. SiriusXM data plans come in four subscription levels, ranging from $12.99 to $59.99 a month.

Simple Sat Service

Satellite weather requires a ­receiver. Raymarine’s newest, the SR150 ($699.99) provides access to two Sirius data packages, the Marine Coastal ($29.99 a month) or Marine Offshore ($54.99 a month). The weather data displays on its own, windowed alongside other information, or overlaid on the plotter; it’s compatible with A-, C-, E- and G-Series products. The SR150 works with the previous-generation C-Wide, E-Wide, E-Classic and G-Series Raymarine plotters as well. 

A powerful aspect of SiriusXM is it is a broadcast of real-time weather, like a movie. And because it’s satellite generated, it works hundreds of miles out to sea and updates constantly. A second source of data, NOAA weather files, requires Internet access. This data, delivered as compact GRIB files, presents a snapshot of conditions, and updates only when you download another one. The advantage is that these files are free. Various suppliers offer their own version of these files, such as Jeppesen’s C-Weather, which is what Standard-Horizon CPN plotters support, offering a five-day weather forecast updated every six hours, wind direction and strength, wave height and direction, ground temperature, humidity and visibility in miles. Not all plotters support GRIB file display. 

Dual Options

Simrad plotters support files downloaded from the Internet and uploaded to the plotter via SD card or USB. This makes a powerful planning supplement to the Sirius weather function. “GRIBs are free — that is the real draw,” says Simrad’s global brand manager, Dennis Hogan. “They are geo-referenced so they overlay seamlessly on the chart plotter, and they link to each other automatically, so you can animate a history-to-present loop. These files are superior for planning, when you are in reach of a server.”

For satellite weather access, Simrad’s NS Series multifunction displays support the new WM-3 SiriusXM Satellite Weather & Radio Module ($799) on NSO Offshore, NSE Expert and NSS Sport models. The WM-3 also includes an antenna splitter that allows performance monitoring over the Ethernet to NS series displays interfaced with any onboard sound system.