By Ben Ellison
Two Time Two
|The competition is on to deliver the best live weather data to onboard plotters and PCs.|
Mark Twain grumped that, “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it!” If he were still around, he might be as wound up as I am watching two new services vigorously compete to provide boaters with a level of weather information never before seen at sea. XM WX Satellite Weather and The Weather Channel Marine (TWCM) may not be able to flatten big seas or redirect severe squalls, but they can give you the knowledge you need to do something about it.
XM WX and TWCM each use dedicated satellite channels and receivers to deliver a deep, constant stream of information to your boat. No downloading files, fiddling with weatherfax machines, or half-listening to tedious VHF loops, waiting for the particular forecast or buoy report you need. This weather is simply waiting there whenever you want it, fresh as a daisy. Some of it (like animated Nexrad radar) may be freely available from government sources, but accessing it while on the water has, until now, ranged from difficult to impossible. Other elements (like storm-cell intensity, speed, and course) are proprietary products coming from each service’s deep well of meteorological and processing expertise.
I imagined XM WX and TWCM as a whole new category of marine weather when they were first announced more than a year ago (see “Live Weather at Last,” July 2003). Now the data is actually streaming down from the satellites, and I’ve had a chance to work with it for a few weeks using each service’s PC viewing software. (XM WX hardware costs $750, TWCM’s $1,995; subscriptions are $50 to $65 per month depending on duration.) The screenshots on the first page of this column barely hint at the bounty of useful information I found. But before going into more detail, let’s look at the complex of companies arrayed around these new services.
XM WX is a joint venture of XM radio and WxWorx, a spinoff of commercial weather vendor Baron Services. TWCM is the brainchild of The Weather Channel cable TV station and its sister content provider WSI. Baron and WSI are both major suppliers of customized weather guidance to media, business, and government. Now their two teams want to use these new satellite delivery systems to extend themselves not just into boating, but also into general aviation, emergency services, and anywhere else that folks crave real-time weather information. They’re also competing for partnerships with marine electronics manufacturers. As noted last month, Garmin is featuring XM WX (XM audio, too) as the lead option in its new line of networked multifunction displays. Maptech’s new high-end i3 system, twin to the Sea Ray Navigator, offers integration with the PC version of TWCM. WSI has announced a partnership with Raymarine, which sounds as if it will bear fruit in more than one upcoming Raymarine product line. Both WxWorx and WSI tell me that other partnership deals are close to completion.
This article originally appeared in the July 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.