The Shipping Forecast

The Shipping Forecast, broadcast daily on BBC Radio 4, has become an iconic feature of the British airwaves.

Vice-Admiral Robert Fitzroy (1860/1860) by Met OfficeMet Office

The origins of shipping forecast

After the loss of steam clipper Royal Charter in a violent storm off the coast of Anglesey in October 1859, Robert Fitzroy introduced the first British storm warning service for shipping.

The first telegraphic warning for shipping was issued on 5 February 1861.

Cautionary Signals (1861) by Met OfficeMet Office

Gale warnings were issued by telegraph to the observation stations likely to be affected.

On receipt, the station would hoist the appropriate signal on a staff, this was then repeated at points along the coast by the coast guard or by other authorised stations.

Shipping Forecast Map 1924 (1924) by Met OfficeMet Office

First shipping bulletin

weather bulletin called Weather Shipping started on 1st January 1924, broadcast twice daily at 0900 and 2000 GMT, from the powerful Air Ministry station G.F.A. in London. It moved to BBC Longwave in 1925.

The map shows the sea areas and stations originally used in 1924.

Shipping Forecast Map 1932 (1932) by Met OfficeMet Office

New shipping areas added

In 1932, a northern area was added to the shipping bulletin, mainly for the benefit of the increasing number of trawlers fishing within its limits.

Shipping Forecast Map 1948 (1948) by Met OfficeMet Office

A pause in the shipping forecast

Radio weather bulletins ceased on the outbreak of hostilities in 1939. They were resumed again in 1945.

By 1948 most shipping services had returned to normal and the Shipping Forecast was expanded to cover a wider area.

Shipping Forecast Map 1956 (1956) by Met OfficeMet Office

Changing sea area names in the North Sea

In 1955 a meeting of meteorologists representing countries bordering the North Sea recommended changes in some of the areas and names in North Sea.

Iceland was also to be renamed South East Iceland to clearly identify its position.

All these changes were introduced in 1956.

Shipping Forecast Map 1984 (this image 1993) (1993) by Met OfficeMet Office

From August 1984, new common area boundaries for Shipping Forecasts were introduced throughout the North Sea region. This was the result of a special agreement reached between all the countries bordering the North Sea.

Two new areas, North and South Utsire, were also introduced.

Shipping Forecast Map 2002 (2002) by Met OfficeMet Office

Recognition for Robert FitzRoy, founder of the Met Office

In February 2002, in recognition of Admiral Robert FitzRoy's work in forming the Met Office in 1854, the sea area Finisterre was renamed FitzRoy.

At the same time some subtle changes were made to the boundaries of the sea areas in the western approaches.

Shipping Forecast by Met OfficeMet Office

Shipping Forecast area names

A journey through some of the Shipping Forecast area names

Viking

Named after a sandbank in the North Sea

Trafalgar

Named after a headland (Cape Trafalgar, Spain)

Shannon

Named after a River estuary (River Shannon)

North and South Utsire

Named after Utsira, an island off the west coast of Norway known for the significant increase in its population during the spring herring fisheries.

Utsira was spelled Utsire between 1875 and 1924 and this spelling was adopted for the Shipping Forecast areas.

Rockall

Named after an island/rock stack in the Atlantic Ocean

Forties

An area in the North Sea named after a sandbank and 'long forties' which is fairly consistently forty fathoms deep.

German Bight

Named after an area between the two headlands of The Netherlands and Denmark

Find out more about the names of all the Shipping Forecast areas in our factsheet

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