What is weather routing, who uses it, and how effective can it be?

Sir Edmund Hillary did not conquer Mount Everest alone. He had the help of an expert guide, Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. 

After all, why would anyone choose to embark on a challenge like that without employing an expert guide? One who had a genuine understanding of the unique conditions and environment.

In the same way, why would ship owners, charterers, operators, and ship captains not take advantage of expert “weather optimized routing” ? It may not be so difficult to plot a course from one port to another but doing so in the optimum or most efficient way is where weather optimized routing comes in.

The kind of help that you need amounts to more than simply information about weather conditions. That information comes from multiple sources and needs to be properly evaluated and understood. 

The right weather routing software gives you access to experts who know what to look for and understand which models present the most accurate and useful data. This expertise is what makes the best weather routing systems so valuable.

Leading shipping companies, such as Glencore, Dockwise, and BW, put their trust in DTN. Contact DTN to learn more about how we help these prestigious organizations safely and economically plan routes covering millions of sea miles.

In this article, we will consider what weather routing is, who uses it, and how effective weather optimized routing can  be?

Distant ships in stormy sea

Weather routing

First, let’s consider the question, what is weather routing? Weather routing involves setting the route between 2 points. 

Normal weather routing would typically involve deciding on the shortest possible distance between the point of departure and the destination. For that route to be the optimum or most efficient route, however, you also need to consider many data points, including environmental factors such as wind speed, currents, and wave height.

You can effectively reach the combined goals of safety and reduced voyage costs by using the right marine weather routing software. The right weather routing system will examine the current weather and the forecasted weather along the ship’s ideal passage. The proposed route can then be modified according to climatic conditions and other factors, including vessel performance, and the user advised correspondingly.

Although the optimum route can be planned, things can change rapidly after a vessel leaves port. For this reason, your onshore teams need to receive detailed and up-to-the-minute weather information. This real-time information means that routes can be continually adjusted as required.

The aim of optimized weather routing is not simply to avoid all adverse weather completely. The fundamental idea is to find the  most efficient route. Routes that minimize fuel consumption without compromising the safety of all involved in the operation.

Once various data has been analyzed the optimum route will then be conveyed to the ship’s captain via weather routing software. During the voyage, all the required navigation information will be continuously supplied to the captain and the helmsman by the routing software. Using an expert marine route guidance system removes some of the navigation challenges. 

Note that the optimum route is calculated not only according to environmental aspects such as weather forecasts and ocean currents. The ship’s unique characteristics and specifications and the type of cargo the vessel is carrying are also factored into the equation.


Who uses weather routing software?

Both onboard and onshore users use weather routing software. The captain and senior crew members will use it for analyzing weather and ocean forecasts in real-time. They will also use it for route planning, including planning and updating detailed routes and port itineraries.

Onshore users such as operations, performance, and fleet managers also utilize weather routing software. Operations managers will take route adjustments into account, including calculating and recalculating optimum routes to inform and optimize freight schedules. Performance and fleet managers will also benefit from voyage analysis and can obtain assistance when evaluating voyage and post-voyage performance.


How effective can it be?

According to the International Maritime Organization, weather routing saves more than 3% in fuel consumption. For container ships, etc., that number increases substantially, up to 10%. This finding does not include time savings, which are an additional benefit. 

Different terms, according to the user’s particular needs, will dictate the effectiveness of weather routing. For charterers, a weather routing system can enable them to:

  • Enjoy more precise communication with the operator, leading to more effective planning.
  • Reduce the risk of losses due to increased transparency and understanding of voyage planning.
  • Reduce downtime and ship and cargo damage by avoiding severe weather.
  • Have the ability to work with the same forecast data and simulations as the operator.
  • Reduce costs with improved routing and refined scheduling.

For operators and crew, weather routing can allow for:

  • Increased safety – reduced risks and increased safety due to avoidance of severe weather conditions.
  • Fuel efficiency – routes expertly calculated with the lowest voyage costs.
  • Reaching the port at the agreed ETA or by Laycan (before the last agreed loading date).
  • Ensuring optimum RPM profile for the voyage.


Navigational officer using phone on ship

As a shipmaster, fleet operator, or planner, you must balance several important and weighty responsibilities. There is the safety of the crew, and you must be mindful of revenues and costs. The bottom line is, the right weather routing solution keeps your vessel and crew safe while reducing voyage costs. 

What differentiates weather optimized routing? There are five distinguishing characteristics as follows;

  1. Weather data – Higher model resolution allows for more accurate weather prediction.
  2. Vessel profiles – Accurate resistance and other calculations are possible due to the inclusion of precision vessel profiles that takes into account many items including hull design, propeller, and engine.
  3. Unique routing algorithm – combines weather data with tailored safety parameters and vessel characteristics to optimize routes according to speed, fuel, and costs.
  4. Weather optimized route network – This hyper accurate route network safely navigates through shallow areas and mid-sea obstructions.
  5. Master mariners – their knowledge and skills enable the shipping team to deliver premium route advice.

Four characteristics your weather routing solution should have:

  1. It should support and unburden captains.
  2. It can calculate optimized routes based on your KPIs.
  3. It communicates with onshore teams and provides reports.
  4. It is supported by industry experts.

RouteGuard is a shore-based ship routing and performance analysis service for ocean-going fleets. It combines data with nautical and meteorological expertise to calculate the optimum routing information for any voyage. 

RouteGuard allows you to monitor routes and performance in real-time on the FleetGuard web platform. It also makes it easy for you to generate post-voyage performance analysis, helping you to detect underperforming routes and adjust accordingly for future voyages.

Find out how DTN RouteGuard can assist your company in maintaining profitability and operational efficiency in changing conditions.