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What is spoofing and how to ensure GPS security?

Posted By Administration, 03 October 2019

As technological advances make GPS/GNSS* devices more affordable, our lives are becoming increasingly dependent on precise positioning and timing. Industries such as survey, construction and logistics rely on precise positioning for automation, efficiency and safety. GNSS time provides the pulsating heartbeat for the backbone of our industry by synchronizing telecom networks, banks and the power grid. A single day of GNSS outage is estimated to cost 1 billion dollars in US alone (1). GNSS is a reliable system, and to keep it as such professional GNSS receivers need to be wary of all possible vulnerabilities which could be exploited. Using GNSS receivers which are robust against jamming and spoofing is key for secure PNT (Positioning, Navigation and Time).

*GNSS refers to the constellations of satellites broadcasting signals from space that transmit positioning and timing information to GNSS receivers on Earth. The receivers then use this information to determine their location. These systems include the American GPS, European Galileo, Russian GLONASS, Chinese BeiDou, Japanese QZSS (Michibiki) and the Indian NAVIC system. "


What is GPS/GNSS spoofing?

Radio interference can overpower weak GNSS signals, causing satellite signal loss and potentially loss of positioning. Spoofing, is an intelligent form of interference which makes the receiver believe it is at a false location. During a spoofing attack a radio transmitter located nearby sends fake GPS signals into the target receiver. For example, a cheap SDR (Software Defined Radio) can make a smartphone believe it’s on Mount Everest!

Figure 1: cheap SDR (Software Defined Radio) can overpower GNSS signals and spoofs a single-frequency smartphone GPS into believing it is on Mount Everest.

 

Why GPS spoofing?

Imagine a combat situation. Clearly, the side which uses GPS/GNSS technology would have an advantage over the side which does not. But what if one side could manipulate GPS receivers of their adversary? This could mean taking over control of autonomous vehicles and robotic devices which rely on GPS positioning. For example, in October 2018, Russia accused the US of spoofing a drone and redirecting it to attack a Russian air base in Syria(2).

Figure 2: GNSS spoofing could be used to manipulate movement of aerial drones.

In the last 3 years over 600 incidents of spoofing have been recorded in the seas near the Russian border. These ships appeared to be “transported” to nearby airports (3). This type of spoofing might have been introduced as a defense mechanism to ground spy drones. Most semi-professional drones on the market have a built-in geo-fencing mechanism which lands them automatically if they come close to airports or other restricted areas (4).

Some of the most enthusiastic spoofers are Pokémon GO fans who use cheap SDRs (Software Defined Radios) to spoof their GPS position and catch elusive pokémon without having to leave their room.


Types of Spoofing


Spoofers overpower relatively weak GNSS signals with radio signals carrying false positioning information. There are two ways of spoofing:

Rebroadcasting GNSS signals recorded at another place or time (so-called meaconing)
Generating and transmitting modified satellite signals


Spoof-proof: how to protect your receiver against spoofing?
In order to combat spoofing, GNSS receivers need to detect spoofed signals out of a mix of authentic and spoofed signals. Once a satellite signal is flagged as spoofed, it can be excluded from positioning calculation.

There are various levels of spoofing protection that a receiver can offer. Let’s compare it to a house intrusion detection system. You can have a simple entry alarm system or a more complex movement detection system. For added security you might install video image recognition, breaking-glass sound detection or a combination of the above.

Like a house with an open door, an unprotected GNSS receiver is vulnerable to even the simplest forms of spoofing. Secured receivers, on the other hand, can detect spoofing by looking for signal anomalies, or by using signals designed to prevent spoofing such as Galileo OS-NMA and E6 or the GPS military code.

Advanced interference mitigation technologies, such as the Septentrio AIM+, use signal-processing algorithms to flag spoofing by detecting various anomalies in the signal. For example, a spoofed signal is usually more powerful than an authentic GNSS signal.

AIM+ won’t even be fooled by an advanced GNSS signal generator: Spirent GSS9000. With realistic power levels and with actual navigation data within the signal, AIM+ can identify it as a “non-authentic” signal.

Other advanced anti-spoofing techniques such as using a dual-polarized antenna are being researched today, read more about this method here.


Satellite navigation data authentication


Various countries invest in spoofing resilience by building security directly into their GNSS satellites. With OS-NMA (Open Service Navigation Message Authentication), Galileo is the first satellite system to introduce an anti-spoofing service directly on a civil GNSS signal.

OS-NMA is a free service on the Galileo E1 frequency. It enables authentication of the navigation data on Galileo and even GPS satellites. Such navigation data carries information about satellite location and if altered will result in wrong receiver positioning computation. While currently in development, OS-NMA is planned to become publicly available in the near future. Also GPS is experimenting with satellite based anti-spoofing for civil users with their recent Chimera authentication system.

Figure 3: European Galileo satellites provide an open authentication service on the E1 signal and a commercial authentication service on the E6 signal. Picture, courtesy of the European Space Agency.

Recently, within the scope of the FANTASTIC project led by GSA, OS-NMA anti-spoofing protection was implemented on a Septentrio receiver.


The strongest shield: signal-level GNSS authentication


The Galileo system will be offering Commercial Authentication Service (CAS) on the E6 signal with the highest level of security for safety-critical applications such as autonomous vehicles. The signal level encryption will be based on similar techniques as the military GPS signals. Only the receivers who have the secret key are able to track such encrypted signals. The secret key is also needed to generate the signal making it impossible to fake. CAS authentication techniques are currently being prototyped at Septentrio in collaboration with the European Space Agency.

Spoof-resilient GNSS means reliable precise positioning and timing, and a peace of mind for everyone touched by this indispensable technology.



References:

1. arstechnica.com/science/2019/06/study-finds-that-a-gps-outage-would-cost-1-billion-per-day

2. rntfnd.org/2018/10/26/russia-claims-us-spoofed-drones-to-attack-base/

3. gps.gov/governance/advisory/meetings/2018-12/goward.pdf

4. gpsworld.com/spoofing-in-the-black-sea-what-really-happened/

5. Technical paper by Septentrio - Authentication by polarization: a powerful anti-spoofing method

6. insidegnss.com/new-report-details-gnss-spoofing-including-denial-of-service-attacks/

 

This blog is courtesy of Septentrio. See more at www.septentrio.com

Tags:  gnss  gps  resilience  spoofing 

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Fly/Sail: An Action-Packed Fun Weekend

Posted By Clare Stead, 05 April 2019

Fly/Sail Weekend – 23/24 June 2018

Piece by Sally Pawson, originally published in September/October 2018 edition of Navigation News.

The weather had held! We awoke to brilliant sunshine and low winds – just what the aviators wanted but not necessarily the yachts! Four boats arrived in Hornets, Gosport consisting of two yachts - Mischief 2 and Darwin Star, a catamaran - Spirit of Scott Bader which is part of Sailability International and a motorboat - Charlie 2. John Cairns and Paul Bryans kindly ferried the mariners to Dedalius airfield at Lee on the Solent where four planes had arrived (a Piper Warrior, a Wassmer Europa, a Jodel and another plane flown by Graham Purchase). We all met up over lunch and then once the aviators decided who was taking whom, they took to the skies with their mariner passengers. The mariners had a fantastic time flying over the Solent across to Newport on the Isle of Wight where we enjoyed a bird’s eye view of the 50th Isle of Wight Festival that was taking place all weekend. Then we headed South towards St Catherine’s Point and out to sea bearing across Freshwater Bay, banking over the Needles to take photos before heading East across Hurst Castle, Beaulieu, Calshot and Southampton Water, back to Lee on the Solent.



Once everyone had enjoyed their flying adventure, John and Paul ferried us all back to Hornets for drinks and nibbles on Charlie 2 where everyone was pleased to see Mike Highwood joining us. With 17 aviators and mariners aboard Charlie 2 it was rather cosy, all getting to know each other extremely well! When there were no more nibbles left and the wine was running dry, we headed for the Hornets restaurant for supper and more drinks - after all it had been a very hot day. Having satiated our hunger and slated our thirst, berths were found on the boats for all the aviators and once all the bags had reached the right owners we all settled down for a well-earned sleep.

Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny again with low winds. We were (mostly) up early bright eyed and bushy tailed despite the copious amounts of alcohol the previous evening. Obviously this lot have had plenty of practice! Mischief 2 and the Spirit of Scott Bader departed at 08:30 sailing to the Royal Victoria Yacht Club in Wootton Creek on the island for brunch. Unfortunately, Darwin Star unable to join us, had to return to his local mooring. There wasn’t a great deal of wind but the aviators enjoyed their sail. Charlie 2 left at 09:20 arriving to a welcoming committee just 20 minutes later. We were made very welcome at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club and ate a hearty brunch outside in the sunshine, washed down with copious amounts of tea and coffee.



We were limited on time in Wootton Creek as it dries out so we all left around 11:30 bidding fond goodbyes to those heading home. The rest returned to Hornets to disgorge the aviators so that John could take them back to the Dedalius for their flights home.

It had been an absolutely fabulous weekend and certainly the best Fly/Sail weekend I had been on. There was never a dull moment and it was like meeting old friends for the first time. I met some really lovely people who I hope will become firm friends in the future. Lucy from the Spirit of Scott Bader subsequently emailed me saying it was possibly the best weekend of her life. Praise indeed to everyone who took part.

Roll on the next Solent Fly/Sail weekend!


Would you like to join us for the next Fly/Sail? Click here for more details about Fly/Sail 2019.

Click on the image below to download the poster for the event.



Tags:  fly/sail  fun  general aviation  small craft group  social  solent 

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Navigation News - Letter to the Editor - Dr. John Rae

Posted By Administration, 04 March 2019

Editor of Navigation News,

‘Lady Jane Franklin – The Indomitable Woman of Naval Heroism’ Navigation News, August 2018

It was somewhat surprising and disappointing to find in an article about Lady Jane Franklin and the missing Franklin expedition, that John Rae, Arctic explorer and Hudson Bay Company doctor was not even mentioned. Yet he played such a crucial role in the story. It was he who in 1854 finally discovered the fate of Franklin and his men. Without John Rae, despite all the pronouncements of Lady Jane Franklin, the many naval searches and intense public speculation, the fate of the Franklin expedition and the Victorian mystery of the century would have continued unsolved.


Sir John Franklin with two ships and 129 men in the best ever equipped expedition had departed from Orkney in 1845 with great expectations and national pride to find the legendary North West Passage - and had then vanished. By the end of 1847 with no news of the ships having entered the Bering Sea, the Admiralty was becoming concerned. Awards were offered and in what became the largest search and rescue effort in history up to that time, thirty six expeditions with over fifty ships searched the High Arctic for seven years but all to no avail.


Dr. John Rae, medical Officer with the Hudson Bay Company and already a growing legend in Arctic exploration, was called on by the Admiralty and Lady Franklin to lead land-based search expeditions. A Scot from Orkney, Rae had learned from the Inuit and Cree how to adapt and survive in the Arctic. An expert shot, he could cover prodigious distances on snow-shoe and from his Orkney upbringing was skilled in small boat sailing. He travelled fast and light, used igloos and hunted as he went.


Between 1847 and ’54, John Rae led four overland search expeditions each consisting of a small party of hardened and picked Hudson Bay men. As a measure of the esteem in which he was held, he was encouraged by such messages as from Lady Franklin “---it has been the custom of many people to throw upon you everything that others have failed to accomplish” : from Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort –“I cannot let the mail go without first telling you how intently all eyes are fixed upon you.” and from Sir George Simpson of the Hudson Bay Company “I urge you to go further north, the manner and direction of any search being left to your discretion and judgment.”
At last in April 1854, after 7 years of searching in which he had travelled well over 10,000 miles by foot and snowshoe, dogsled or small boat and charted around 1,750 miles of new coastline, Rae had found the answer as to the fate of Franklin. At Cape Pelly on the east coast of Boothia, -- he had came across a lone Inuit hunter who was wearing a gold naval hat band. He told Rae that “four winters before, other Inuit had found 40 to 50 white men starved to death 10 to 12 days walk away. The hat he was wearing was proof.” Three weeks later he met other Inuit with further information and relics including a small silver plate stamped ‘Sir John Franklin’ to confirm their information. White men had been seen travelling south over the ice dragging a boat and sledges passing along the west shore of the island which Rae reckoned to be Prince William Island. The following Spring when the Inuit visited a river further south to fish – reckoned to be Fish River – they found 30 corpses some in a tent, some in a boat. They also found evidence of cannibalism!
John Rae desperately wanted to search further and confirm this but could not. He had one man with severe frostbite whom he had to get back south for medical attention. In addition, he would have to wait many months before conditions were suitable again for overland travel. Finally he felt he had to report back to London to stop further search ships heading north in a dangerous and fruitless search. Rae had also made another significant discovery, though this at the time seemed of secondary importance and was somewhat overlooked. On his final expedition in April 1854 while exploring the west coast of Boothia, on an area stretching west to King William Island which had been charted as land, Rae found what he recognized to be fresh sea ice and very different from the rougher and impenetrable old pack ice impossible to sail through at any time. This he knew would be open water in the summer. With open water to north and south, he realized that at last the final link in the North West Passage had been located between Boothia and King William Island.
Rae returned to London with a detailed and confidential report to the Admiralty and the Hudson Bay Company reporting the cannibalism story as it had been reported to him. “From the mutilated state of the bodies and the contents of the kettles it is evident that our wretched countrymen had been driven to the last resort as a means of prolonging existence.” In a separate letter to the Times he made no mention of cannibalism. He was shocked therefore when the report to the Admiralty was leaked to the Press.


The news that some of Franklin’s crew had resorted to survival cannibalism horrified Victorian Britain and the world.
The document damned Rae in the eyes of the Establishment. Lurid images appeared in the Press and Rae’s integrity was called into question. How dare this man who dressed like and mixed with the natives suggest that men of the Royal Navy could indulge in cannibalism – and more to the point not verify it.


Particularly virulent was an outraged Lady Jane Franklin. Always formidable and driven she sought to glorify the memory of her husband and crew, but became jealous and embittered. Having earlier championed John Rae and begged for his support, she turned on him. How dare John Rae, a fur trader who had gone native, accuse Sir John Franklin and the Royal Navy of cannibalism! Why had Rae failed to visit the area with the reporting Inuit? She also strongly opposed the Admiralty reward to Rae as first to return with information about the missing expedition In her campaign of hate she engaged the energies and skill of Charles Dickens, the most influential writer of the Age. Dickens launched an attack against the Inuit whom he regarded as “ a gross handful of uncivilized people, with a domesticity of blood and blubber” who were “ covetous, treacherous and cruel “ and accused them of murder and cannibalism. “It would be impossible that the British Navy would or could in any extremity of hunger alleviate the pain of starvation by this horrible means”
Rae was also betrayed by his fellow explorer, Leopold Mclintock who in 1856 had been hired by Lady Franklin to search around Prince William Island in the ‘Fox’. Before he set sail, John Rae had pointed out to him where, according to the Inuit, the remains of the last of Franklin’s men were located. The Arctic Fox, as McLintock became known, later claimed credit for his discoveries and never acknowledged Rae’s huge contribution to his success. Nor did he ever confirm or make mention of cannibalism and he shunned Rae in public. John Rae was ostracized by Victorian society and probably because of this he was the only Arctic explorer of the time not to be knighted, though arguably he was the greatest.


As well as severely maligning John Rae, Lady Franklin was also a purveyor of ‘Fake News’. She wrongly claimed that Franklin had discovered the fabled and long sought after North West Passage. A statue initiated and funded by Lady Franklin now stands in London’s Waterloo Place to commemorate this, bearing the inscription ‘FRANKLIN – to the great Arctic navigator and his brave companions who sacrificed their lives in completing the discovery of the North West Passage’ It is now known that ‘Erebus’ and ‘Terror’ had been crushed in the ice and had sunk in a channel of permanent impenetrable flow ice far from open water and nowhere near the North West Passage. The fact that it had been Dr. John Rae and not her husband who completed the discovery of the North West Passage undoubtedly had further infuriated Lady Franklin.
The nasty and vindictive campaigns led by Lady Jane Franklin and Charles Dickens sought to destroy John Rae. But Rae refused to back down. He stood by his report on the fate of the Franklin expedition. Further vindication of John Rae came in the 1980s and 90s from osteo-archaeologists examining human bones recovered from Franklin Expedition sites on King William Island which confirmed cannibalism. It was not until 1906 that the North West Passage was confirmed when Roald Amundsen, the great Polar explorer followed John Rae’s chart to sail through the Rae strait, the final link in the North West Passage. Amundsen held Rae in the highest regard. He wrote of him “John Rae deserves the very highest credit for his Arctic exploration. He discovered the Rae Strait through which in all probability is the only navigable route round the north coast of America and the only passage free from destructive ice”


Having been ignored, vilified and forgotten by Victorian society, Dr. John Rae is now honoured and remembered.
In July 2014, a motion was introduced to the UK Parliament which recognized his discoveries and acknowledged that Rae and not Franklin was the first to discover the North West Passage. In October of the same year a memorial plaque was unveiled in Westminster Abbey to his honour. The Scottish Secretary of State announced then “at last John Rae has been granted the proper recognition he deserves, up there with the foremost of explorers, and not just in Orkney or Canada where already he is revered but also here in the heart of the British Establishment”
More recently, to further celebrate his achievements the Royal Incorporation of Chartered Surveyors has honoured John Rae with a posthumous Diploma and will be sponsoring the ‘Arctic Return Expedition’ through the North West Passage in March 2019. In addition the John Rae Society have proposed that John Rae be commemorated next year with a bust in the Hall for Heroes at the 150th anniversary of the Wallace National Monument in Stirling.

It is hoped that Alexa Price will appreciate the full story surrounding Lady Jane Franklin. To present a more balanced account for her PhD thesis, Ms Price perhaps should also consider the darker aspects of Lady Jane’s persona.

Yours sincerely,
Dr Ken Stewart MD Ed. FRCSEd. FRCOG MB ChB Ed
Colin Whimster MA (Cantab)

Tags:  Arctic Exploration  Franklin Expedition  John Rae  Lady Jane Franklin  Navigation News 

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Note on a meeting of IMO NCSR: 16 – 25 January 2019

Posted By Kim Fisher, 21 February 2019

by Kim Fisher

The meeting of the sub-committee on Navigation, Communications, Search and Rescue was chaired by Ringo Lakeman of the Netherlands. Due to the extensive workload of this sub-committee, it had been agreed that the meeting would be extended exceptionally to 8 days for this and next year.

Some good progress was achieved.

The Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) system was updated and revised Circulars prepared. Guidelines were completed for the standardization of user interface design for navigation equipment (also known a S-mode) together with a revision of the IMO Circular on navigation-related symbols, terms and abbreviations (SN.1/Circ.243) and the performance standards for the presentation of navigation-related information (Resolution MSC.191).

Considerable work was conducted on the harmonization of the format and structure of maritime services (previously known as maritime service portfolios) following the report of intersessional work in the IMO/IHO Harmonization Group on Data Modelling (HGDM). A guidance resolution was prepared together with a Circular describing 16 maritime services in detail. Work was completed on a Circular giving guidance for navigation and communication equipment for use on ships operating in polar waters.

The previous decision to accept the Iridium satellite system as a recognised service in addition to Inmarsat had led to the need to revise some IMO documents to make them more generic. Revisions were prepared to the SafetyNET manual, Resolution A.705 on the promulgation of maritime safety information, Resolution A.706 on the world-wide navigational warning service, and Resolution A.1051 on the world-wide met-ocean information and warning service. A Circular was prepared on technical requirements for the new Inmarsat Fleet Safety service. The issue of interoperability of the two systems in future was carried over to the next meeting.

Work continued on the revision of Chapter IV (Radiocommunications) of the International Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and associated documents. This will be continued in a correspondence group led by the USA.

The IMO position was completed for the next International Telecommunication Union (ITU) World Radiocommunication Conference to be held later this year. Various liaison statements were prepared concerning autonomous maritime radio devices (AMRD), protection criteria and Automatic Identification Systems (AIS).

New standards were completed for Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRB) to include the second generation Cospas-Sarsat satellites and a liaison statement sent to ITU.

New traffic separation schemes with precautionary areas were agree for the Sunda Strait and Lombok Strait Indonesia. The voluntary Dover Strait movement reporting system (MAREP) was terminated as it is now little used having been overtaken by the mandatory CALDOVREP.

The next meeting of NCSR is planned for 15 to 24 January 2020. A meeting of the Maritime Safety Committee is planned for 5 to 14 June 2019. A meeting of the Joint IMO/ITU Experts Group is planned for 8 to 12 July 2019. A meeting of the ICAO/IMO Joint Working Group is planned for 9 to 13 September 2019 in Chile.

Tags:  IMO  International Maritime Organization  maritime  navigation  search and rescue 

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Weather and Sailing 2018

Posted By Clare Stead, 28 December 2018

Weather and Sailing Conference
Part One: Greenwich
John Hasslegren



Taking place at the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich the delegates were pleased that they were in an area of the museum which had been, some years ago, covered with a glass roof and were behind a glass wall onto which the rain lashed all day.

The proceedings were opened by Prof. Liz Bentley, Chief Executive of RMetS, who welcomed those attending and dealt with the usual housekeeping arrangements before introducing the line-up of speakers.

First to speak was Jim Galvin, Senior Operations Meteorologist from the Met. Office, giving us the history of the Shipping Forecast. Forecasting goes back to Admiral Fitzroy, the Board of Trade and the invention in 1854 of telegraph which allowed long distance communications and the use of Storm Cones. Moving on to more modern times, Long Wave broadcasting allowed shipping at sea to receive the forecast from 1924. Customers of the forecast were initially the maritime community – now the MCA who own the forecast. It is still broadcast by agreement with the BBC and is now used by many more communities, including rescue organizations like the RNLI.

Forecasts are directly funded from taxation and come as Inshore, Shipping, and High Seas versions. Winds are forecast to come from eight compass points, with a variability of ± 45˚. The speed of the wind is expected to be ± 1 Beaufort strength of that forecast, and wave heights should be ± 1 on the Douglas Sea State scale. The Shipping Forecast is limited by the BBC to 350 (± 20) words, with an increase to 380 words at 2300 to allow the inclusion of sea area Trafalgar, although the Inshore Waters Forecast has no word limitations on it. Because of the limit on the Shipping Forecast some areas will sometimes be grouped together to speed up reading out the information. On occasions some of the larger sea areas are split into two where the forecast is different across the area although this is not encouraged for smaller areas.

The models of the weather used are becoming increasingly good, but it is still the forecaster who adds value by interpreting the numerical forecast. He or she has knowledge of local irregularities and anomalies, and is able to predict thunderstorms and sea fog. The winds only are subject to a process of verification; they must be within ± 1 Beaufort strength and the timing should be within 95% of the forecast time. The numbers of forecasters at the Met. Office is dropping, so what of the future? Will Artificial Intelligence write the forecasts and will there still be broadcasts of the Shipping Forecast in ten years’ time?

Tom Cunliffe entertained us with the title of, “From Long Wave to GRIB and Apps”. With the example of the 350-word limit, Tom told us that, as a journalist he has tried to condense his sailing life into a similar number. Pointing out the changes in both boats and navigation techniques he went on to compare what was available when he started sailing, the Long Wave Shipping Forecast when within reception range with modern methods, including the information on the US weather channels and, more recently, in the Baltic. Much of his sailing is now done in the flat waters of the Baltic, Tom feeling that he has done all the rough weather sailing he needs. Here, the forecast is downloaded to his PC hour by hour for very local areas.

Moving onto training, candidates for Yachtmaster qualifications were expected to plot a synoptic chart from the reports for Coastal Stations, locate any fronts and make a stab at producing their own forecast. Once at sea, well offshore and out of Long Wave range the only weather information came from looking at the sky and from the barometer. Now you can get the PassageWeather forecast almost everywhere. The forecasts, Tom said, were accurate for today, good for tomorrow but were dubious five days out – although better than nothing. Hence his advice before commencing a passage to carefully monitor the forecasts for several days before starting. There is a lot of weather information out there, but how do we access it? Some parts of Scotland have very poor reception, while Scandinavia, which Tom obviously likes, has some 39 transmitting masts and you are usually in range of at least four of them.

Christian Dumard then described the Squid software supplied by Great Circle to several long distance ocean races as well as cruising yachts. The company is a marine weather supplier working with 100 professional sailing yachts, and 1,000 cruising yachts, providing a service both before and during the race. Ensemble forecasts are used with different models produced by altering slightly the observations entered into the equations.

At the end of the morning the three speakers combined to answer questions. Questions from the floor covered things like the accuracy of forecasts, other sources of information, climate change, the jet stream, visual signs and thermals (winds, not underwear).

The afternoon session was opened by Sam Matson talking about the weather and sailing strategy in the Volvo racing fleet. Sam started by showing the route for the 2017 / 18 race. He was one of the Race Officers based at the headquarters in Alicante, where there were four experienced racers on duty 24/7. All the information from the racing fleet arrived here – data sensors on board, angle of heel, keel angle etc. Fifty variables were arriving each second from every boat, with environmental data every ten seconds. All this information was placed into spreadsheets and then graphed to make them understandable.

As well as all this data, photographs from on board cameras were transmitted. These enabled the Control Room team, should they see something untoward in the data, to check if everything was all right on the yacht or if there was a crisis. This all enabled the team to present a comprehensive and understandable story to the Press and the public. One story concerned the strategy for coping with the St. Helena high pressure. This high pressure area, with light winds, lay on the direct course of the fleet so boats needed to decide how to sail around it. Another was the problem of the Southern Ocean lows and the need to keep up speed to try to stay ahead of the fronts. Here, the more experienced crews tended to stay further to the North while the less experienced strayed further to the South. This was complicated by the Antarctic Ice Zone which the yachts were obliged by the rules to avoid. During the event Ice Reports for the area required an extension of this zone to the North, in fact farther North than the positions of some of the competitors.

The next speaker was the RYA’s Director of Training, Richard Falk. Richard gave us a glimpse into the weather and navigation challenges presented by the Sydney - Hobart race. He described this, with his tongue in his cheek I suspect, as 630 relaxing miles starting on Boxing Day. The boats and crews range from downright professional to dedicated amateur. Because of the distances involved there is inadequate Marine Band VHF coverage, so each competitor is obliged to carry SSB H/F radio for the mandatory reporting and for listening to weather forecasts. When he came to the UK Richard was amazed to find that the Fastnet Race, almost as long, was sailed in waters where there was complete VHF coverage. One challenge for the navigator is the East Australian Current, which is part of the South Pacific Gyre. This current wanders and isn’t found in the same position all the time; sometimes it moves offshore, sometimes inshore and occasionally produces back eddies. With a speed of between one and three and a half knots it is important to know where to find it.

Another problem is South Australia’s location, in the march of the Southern Ocean’s lows, which come across every 72 hours or so. The boats are likely to be hit by a Southerly Buster somewhere on the way. In 1998 winds of up to 100 knots met the South Australia Current running at 31/2 knots producing waves greater than100 feet. From this, and some sad deaths, the following came out – the need to carry EPIRBs, the wearing of lifejackets and the requirement for First Aid and Life raft training for all competitors.

Summing up Richard told the audience there are several stages to the race: 

Getting out of harbour. There may be an onshore thermal wind necessitating a beat out amongst all the spectator boats. Survive.

Heading South. Remaining inshore shortens the distance, heading offshore often gets a better current.

All down the coast there are regular local reports given of wind speed and direction, almost in real time.

From the SE corner of Australia to the NE corner of Tasmania is 200 miles across the Bass Straight in 50 to 70 metre depths. This is where the Southerly Buster may strike.

At Tasmania the choice is to remain offshore if the current warrants it, or to close the coast and seek blanketing from the wind by the high coast.

Weather resources available:
VHF radio: Yes in coastal waters, No further offshore. Similar to UK
Mobile data: Yes in coastal waters, No further offshore. Shipping Forecast
Satcomms: Yes
Weather routing: Yes
Pre-race weather briefing: Yes, x 2


Robert McCabe, Director of Operations and Navigation Services from Commissioners for Irish Lights then gave a run-down of the past services before moving on the future potential of CIL’s assets. We were reminded of the historic importance of Irish information when, in 1944, the weather report from Black Sod gave the first indication of a let up in the winds that would allow D Day to go ahead, albeit one day late. But what of the future? Five years ago all the solar energy on an AtoN was needed to power the light to give it the needed range. With increasingly sophisticated solar panels and LED lights there is now power to spare. The Fastnet light used to have 1 000 watt lamp but has now been re-engineered with a 30 watt LED, still having the required range.

All this means that modern buoys have spare power available which can be used to run weather measuring sensors and to transmit the data. There are currently twelve stations doing this, two lighthouses and ten buoys. The data measured and transmitted includes average wind speed and direction, with additionally gusts and gust direction, and wave heights, barometric pressure, humidity, air and sea temperature and pollution information. Much of this is relayed to Met. Éireann for use in their forecasts.

One can expect to see an increase in these remote sensing techniques, but there are still some challenges. These include the validation and correlation of the data transmitted, and the compromise between payload and power. The platform design may need to be modified and there is the question of how the data is presented to the user, and how it fits in with other sources.

The final speaker was Mervyn King who told us how he came to lose his yacht Tamarind in the 2017 OSTAR. Tamarind was an American design, built in Taiwan, and was both heavy and slow. Trackers were fitted to each participating boat and the Race’s web site showed each yacht’s position, with a coronet above the leading boat in each class.

A call to the boat by a Master Mariner friend warned Mervyn of a low, 964 mb. Because the chart table was occupied by a laptop computer being used for navigation Mervyn decided not to get out from under it a paper chart and pencil to mark the position of the low. The weather deteriorated (we were shown a barograph plot) and eventually Tamarind was knocked down to 160˚. This resulted in a window being stove in and the boat filling with water; the EPIRB was washed aft and set off; the steering cable parted and the wheel nut and the wheel both came off. After several hours of bailing the boat was more or less empty and floating high. Remember, though, the EPIRB had been triggered! Shortly an RAF aircraft arrived, followed by a ship. The weather, by now had started to ease down. What to do? Try to manage the boat in its current state or be rescued? Then another ship turned up – the QE 11 cruise liner – and took over from the first ship.

By now, Mervyn decided that it would be ungracious, and probably unwise, to refuse to be rescued, especially by such a famous vessel. This still left the problem of how to get on board. No difficulty, the QE 11 launched her rescue RIB and picked him up. Before leaving Tamarind Mervyn had cut through a relatively small pipe and opened the sea cock so the boat was slowly scuttled. The rest of the described Mervyn’s subsequent treatment as an honoured guest and the talks he was asked to give during the remainder of the passage to Halifax.

Following a final question and answer session, during which the question of virtual AtoNs was raised, Paul Bryans, Chairman of the Small Craft Group of RIN, thanked all the speakers, the Royal Met. Soc. and the National Maritime Museum for their assistance in putting on this one-day conference. By now the rain had lightened sufficiently to make it possible to get to the pub.


Weather and Sailing Conference
Part Two: W&S Ireland
Clare Stead



Delegates were warmly welcomed to the Royal Irish Yacht Club (RIYC) with introductions from Darryl Hughes, Vice Commodore Pat Shannon (RIYC) and Captain Michael McKenna (Dublin Port). Capt. McKenna noted that this event was ideal for Ireland, as it was for all intents and purposes a conversation about the weather.


The first speaker of the day was Jessica Sweeney (Team Ineos UK) who was Skyped in from Melbourne. Much to the conference organisers’ relief, this bold move worked well and we were all captivated by Jessica’s talk on ‘Weather and the America’s Cup’. I can’t speak for all of the audience but I was surprised to learn the accuracy with which these racing teams need to be able to forecast the weather; they’re trying to forecast to within 1 knot, 8 hours ahead, to sail through a box of one-mile by half-a-mile wide.

The weather challenge is to figure out at exactly 1407 that afternoon will it be 13-16 knots or 14-18 knots? They need to make their decisions at 6am, with measurements locked in at 9am. Jessica talked through the timeline of weather-based decisions, ranging from those made years ahead of a race right up to those last minute decisions such as choosing the right crew on the basis of weight.

Evelyn Cusack from Met Éireann was next up to grace the stage with her talk that answered the questions ‘Just how do we forecast the weather?’. Evelyn began with the basics of what drives weather systems – essentially due to the energy imbalance between the solar radiation that reaches the equator vs the poles, and went on to describe the first weather report in 1859 which was inspired by the Royal Charter Storm. The birth of scientific weather forecasting in October 1859 was enabled by progress in communications technology (like the transatlantic cable).

The importance of how we name storms was made clear during Evelyn’s talk. Reach and engagement goes up hugely with named storms, giving an influential and authoritative voice with which to provide warnings to the public. She noted how useful this is in today’s ‘hashtag culture’.


Capt. Colm Newport from the Dublin Port Company gave the final presentation before the Q&A session moderated by Prof. Ray Bates. Colm engaged the audience with a lively talk titled ‘Local Conditions: Weather and the Dublin Port Pilot’. He noted that ships are getting bigger but ports aren’t (can’t!) get any bigger – just busier, making the job of the pilot that bit trickier. Colm talked the audience through a pilotage example in Dublin Port with an inbound vessel from the audience, keeping everyone engaged.

‘Anyone can get the weather to fit from somewhere… but that’s how you fall into trouble’ noted Colm. He encouraged everyone to consider where they source their weather data from and to make sure the source was chosen for quality rather than simply to fit the desired plan. This was echoed in the second session of the day as Christian Dumard noted that when it comes to selecting models for forecasting most people select the model at the top of the list, which isn’t always the best or most appropriate for the job in hand.

The talks in the second session of the day were given by Christian Dumard and Richard Falk, both of whom gave presentations at the Weather and Sailing Conference in Greenwich covered by John Hasslegren above, so I won’t go over old ground. Suffice to say the audience were enthralled.

Speakers after lunch included Libby Greenhalgh, Capt. Robert McCabe, Dag Pike, and Conor Fogarty. Libby, a professional sailor, shared with us her insights into ‘Weather and the 2017/2018 Volvo Race’. Libby spoke about the data limitations and difficulty in knowing how to balance all of the information from forecast data vs satellite imagery etc. to know what decision to make. She noted that you often end up thinking about where you are in terms of the weather rather than the actual destination.

Dag Pike, a Fellow of the RIN, AFRMetSoc and Maritime Consultant, kept the audience entertained with his stories of ‘Weather Forecasting for Breaking Records’. Dag’s first ocean sailing race was in 1948. He recounted tales of record breaking in powerboats. When you’re attempting to break records in powerboats it’s the waves you care about, not the wind. He noted the challenge of translating wind conditions to waves. Dag had many tips for those attempting to break records and for sailing in general, one of which being to go down the lee side of icebergs, as the big iceberg travels ahead of the smaller ‘bogey’ bits.

The final speaker of the day was Conor Fogarty with his presentation on his experience with The Observer Single-Handed Trans-Atlantic Race 2017. He described the trials and tribulations of the lonely race, and the difficult conditions that the competitors found themselves in, including the loss of the Tamarind which was described above. Conor pointed out the high value of local knowledge, noting that it’s important to rely on more than just models and routers.

Closing remarks were given by Declan Murphy (President of the Irish Meteorological Society) and Paul Bryans. The range of personalities and charisma were noted in the closing remarks. The presentations had gone a step above being merely informative – the speakers brought the audience on a journey with them, entertaining as they educated. The atmosphere was friendly throughout the day, and I’d like to thank all of the organisers for hosting such an enjoyable event.

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