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Introducing MarineWeather.net
Marine weather all in one place
September 7, 2021

ides and winds, temperatures and rain. For a boater, it can make or ruin their day on the water. Finding that information all in one place – in a quick and easy to read format – has been a challenge.

It’s why TownDock.net editor and publisher Keith Smith sat down a decade ago to sketch out the weather site he, as a boater, wanted to use.

Then he began to build it. Combining his passion and experience in the marine and tech worlds, Keith created MarineWeather.net.

“It’s all the marine weather that you need in one place, and it looks great,” Keith said from his home office, and TownDock headquarters. “I hadn’t seen that done well before.”

Despite its humble roots in Oriental, NC, MarineWeather.net spans beyond local waters, with forecasts around the continental coast of the United States. What began as an experimental side project to TownDock.net (an online publication reporting on Oriental, NC and the sailors who visit) has grown a sizable audience. MarineWeather.net hit over 1.7 million page views per month in July of 2021, 1.9 million in August.

Keith created the site for your everyday boater, including those who look to classic weather websites to see if it’s a nice day to take the boat out.

This is MarineWeather.net – at left as it appears in a smartphone, at right the appearance in a laptop or desktop computer. It shows the week’s forecast in icons and text, as well as nearby onshore weather, marine forecasts, and tides.

A self-described “hopeless sailboat racer,” he has still managed to amass quite a few nautical miles from his own cruising boat. He and his wife Melinda, starting from Oriental, have sailed from Cuba to Nova Scotia and everywhere in between. Smith has added an offshore passage from the islands to Bermuda.

Keith’s interest in boats began early. At seven or eight, he was putting about on a 12-foot dinghy with his father during family vacations. When they weren’t on the water, he’d sit in the boat anyway, content to be in an unmoving vessel at dock. “I was just one of those weird kids who became fascinated with something.”

His introduction to sailing in particular happened when an uncle built a Lightning sailing dinghy (in the 1960s). Uncle Lou took Keith sailing on Lake Ontario.

Today Smith owns both a cruising sailboat, plus a power boat. The power boat is a new acquisition, used primarily as a photography vessel for TownDock.net. Because of his time spent on both sail and power vessels, Keith understands the need for an easy to reference site with marine specific weather all in one place.

“It reads like an app,” Keith said of MarineWeather.net. “I saw a need for iconized marine weather. All it takes is a quick view across to see what’s going on—instead of having to read all the text.” The color scheme helps – a simple palette consisting of three colors, with the exception of the radar.

Wherever you are, he says, the weather is important. But in coastal communities, it’s a key part of life. Since moving to Oriental in 2002 Keith has witnessed three ‘storm-of-the-century’ hurricanes. All had a significant impact on coastal Carolina. By reporting on those (and other weather events) for TownDock.net, Smith has been following weather semi-professionally for years.

Keith Smith, creator of MarineWeather.net, in his home office. The monitors display pages from the MarineWeather.net site. (Ben Casey photo)

“I’m not a meteorologist,” he said. “I don’t have formal training in anything weather related. I’m just fascinated and watch it closely.” While Smith designed the site, and programmed the servers to gather NOAA data and spit it back out in a useable format, making it all happen required the help of several others (including TownDock writers). This key work was the data entry for each weather page (which now number in the thousands). Keith also hired help from coders on freelance work sites. He says some freelancers were in the US, but other freelancers with specific skills were all over the globe, including Belgium, Croatia and Columbia.

MarineWeather.net started as a pencil sketch on graph paper. Keith was able to relay his concept to his recruited helpers in such a way that they could see the end product, and help deliver it.

On the user facing side, development began with just the northeast regional forecasts. It slowly marched down the coast over recent years and has now expanded to include the west coast and the Gulf down to Mexico.

Smith says there are plans to expand the site to include the Great Lakes and the Maritimes.

Currently, MarineWeather.net provides marine forecasts, tides, offshore forecasts beyond coastal waters, onshore land and coastal city forecasts, and radar for the viewer’s region of choice. It not only has all of the data within one click, but presents it in a way that is as aesthetically pleasing as it is user friendly.

Back on the screen, on the right is a box with local tides. To the left is radar, and during hurricane season, charts showing active storms. Scroll down and you have the classic NOAA marine weather forecast written out, with onshore forecasts and more local forecast zones on either side.

Endurance Seafood owner and commercial fisherman Keith Bruno checks the late afternoon forecast on MarineWeather.net before heading out to fish.

All of MarineWeather.net’s data is derived from National Weather Service NOAA marine forecasts around the country. Keith created an algorithm that looks for wind speed and direction from regional forecasts. Data updates constantly 24/7, and outputs into the easy to read MarineWeather.net format.

Normally, you would have to listen to a VHF radio, or search a weather site for your region to get the marine forecast text. Tides, onshore weather, and radar would all be on different sites.

That’s a lot of tabs.

For the cruising sailor, having every single NOAA region all on one interface is a benefit. You can use the same website from Maine all the way to Key West, instead of having to search for each individual body of water.

MarineWeather.net has a much more detailed weather outlook, utilizing easy-to-read marine weather icons along with your usual sun, rain, and temperature ones. This makes it user friendly, even for those who don’t live or work on the water and may not use or be familiar with NOAA marine forecasts.

“I would use this to determine wether or not the weather was sufficient enough to go boating,” said Dan Lipman, who uses a 24-foot-center console in New England and was looking at MarineWeather.net for the first time. “I’d definitely use this to determine what to wear, and how long to stay out.”

Another convert?

It seems the yachties are already on to it with users peaking in New England and the Long Island Sound during the summer.

SAIL Magazine’s Cruising Editor Charlie Doane and Editor in Chief Adam Cort recently field tested the site on a short sailboat delivery from Marblehead, MA, to Southport, CT.

“This is a very useful site for coastal sailing,” Charlie said. “It combines in one venue three elements — current National Weather Service text forecasts, tidal charts, and live radar images — you would normally need to visit three or more different sites to access. The site navigation is very simple and intuitive, and the site loads quickly. It’s a handy resource I’ll be using more of in the future.”

SAIL magazine Editor in Chief Adam Cort using MarineWeather.net on a recent coastal sailing delivery in New England.

“I’m fortunate to do work that I like,” Keith said. “This started in the background and over the course of time developed a really nice audience.”

He said the same thing about TownDock.net which he founded in 2002. TownDock started as a way to tell stories about the people and boats that visit Oriental, NC. It has turned into a full time job for two, and a community emblem. At the core of that, is the weather.

It takes a fair amount of confidence and technical know-how to integrate NOAA’s weather data, into not just one, but two customized websites. Keith’s tech background stems from a 20 year career in satellite communications that pre-dates the creation of both websites. He is also the co-author of a patent for internet control of satellite communications networks.

The publisher of TownDock.net and MarineWeather.net has an odd resume. Before satellite communications, he had a seven-year-stint as a radio DJ. He worked in Saginaw MI, Albany NY, San Antonio TX, and Charlotte NC, even earning the accolade of “Michigan’s 1978 Country DJ of the Year.” It’s was a bizarre award for Keith to receive, considering he is Canadian (originally from Toronto) and not a fan of radio country music at all. “If you had 100 guesses about what I did in my early life, you might not guess that one,” he said.

MarineWeather.net continues to grow, just like TownDock.net and Keith’s passion for boats, weather, and tech. Progress is underway to have current buoy reports added to the site’s data index, with a MarineWeather.net app planned for the future.

“We’re not trying to be the weather channel,” said Keith, “to be all things for all people. This is just for boaters. We are working to provide that audience with an enjoyable and useful user experience. It’s working.”

Story by Emily Greenberg
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Posted Tuesday September 7, 2021 by Allison DeWeese

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