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The Shipping Forecast

Updated on June 26, 2015

The shipping forecast - an English eccentricity

Did you watch the opening of the Olympics back in 2012? It was a fantastic show. When it started, all over England people smiled.

We did - we looked at each other and grinned and both said 'awww'. Why? Because it showed a sequence of British scenes - the camera showed the 'green and pleasant land' - and, possibly unknown to people in other counties, part of the soundtrack featured the famous Shipping Forecast.

If you're British, you know what I mean. If you're not, then you're probably baffled.

It is one of those bizarre English institutions. It's simple really. BBC Radio transmits the program to relay weather information information to ships - as the name suggests - who are traveling the waters around Britain. It's valuable service - if you're aboard ship.

Even though we live now in the States, we listen to BBC Radio 4 which is available via the internet. Twice a day, we hear the familiar music and the rhythmical broadcast and there's just something so cozy about it. It makes me think of sitting in front of the fire at my old granny's house, sipping hot tea and eating buttered toast - it's just comforting.So why do English landlubbers feel such a fondness for this?

Poetry and restful sleep


The information is broadcast four times a day by the BBC and many people regard it almost as poetry. It is completely informational but has its own rhythm and style.


Before and after it is read, the music Sailing By is played. This waltz is instantly recognized by many people in Britain. They wouldn't necessarily know it's name though - 'oh listen, the Shipping Forecast music' is what many people would say.


Many people love the soothing sounds of Sailing By. But it's not just that. To the (admittedly eccentric) British, the sound of the word pattern itself is soothing and familiar. The BBC strongly regulate the wording and it has a rhythm to it that's unique. Many people say that it's like a lullaby and it helps them sleep.


Part of the appeal of the broadcast is knowing that you're safe and sound and yet at out there at sea, fishermen and sailors are facing gales, blizzards and rough seas. Snuggling down in bed and listening to the late-night broadcast is wonderfully cozy!


These are three of the shipping areas that feature in the broadcast. These sea areas are as familiar to many Britons as their own names. 'Cromarty, Forties, northeast 5 to 6, occasional rain, moderate to good.'IT'S NOT JUST ME! People of all ages are fond of this bizarre program. Books have been written about it - see below. It's been featured in poems, music and films. Bizarre maybe.


Listen to the broadcast

Get an idea of what I mean...

Sailing By

This is the lovely theme from the program.

Dogger, Fisher, German Bight

The movie Kes was made in Barnsley - my hometown - when I was in my teens. Yes, that's the same strange accent I have - although I've had to tone it down quite a lot since I moved to the United States - people didn't understand a single word if I spoke naturally. I'm almost respectable now :)

Spoof by Stephen Fry

Now you've got a flavour of the broadcast, see what Stephen Fry does to it!

2012 Olympic opening ceremony

This was all very goose-pimply stuff for most British people. Until I saw this, I truly didn't realize that I was patriotic. After all I haven't lived in the UK for twenty years. But nevertheless...

Further reading

Yes, books have been written about it! Of course they have, remember that we English have some weird obsessions.

What bass players think

I know, that's a bit bizarre, but I heard a program on the radio the other day about the Shipping Forecast. (Yes, a radio program about a radio program). And evidently bass players cringe when they hear the theme music.You see, about three quarters of the way through, the bass player on Sailing By plays a bum note. I've been listening to this piece of music all my life and never noticed!

© 2013 Jackie Jackson

Thanks for reading - say hi!

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    • BritFlorida profile image

      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @CaztyBon: It's almost like poetry to we weird British people:)

    • CaztyBon profile image

      CaztyBon 4 years ago

      You are right the Shipping Forecast is soothing. I guess when you are on an island it would mean more. Very enjoyable!!

    • BritFlorida profile image

      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Erin Mellor: That's interesting - and I can see why. Because we have Radio 4 on, I hear the Archers music four times a day. (I didn't know its name though - thanks!) I remember years ago that Billy Connolly said it should be the national anthem :)

    • Erin Mellor profile image

      Erin Mellor 4 years ago from Europe

      I find the Shipping Forecast hugely comforting, although I never go to sea. Recent research also shows that "Barwick Green" from the Archers is the most effective music to put a British person in a positive frame of mind.

    • BritFlorida profile image

      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @FlynntheCat1: I must look that up - thanks!

    • FlynntheCat1 profile image

      FlynntheCat1 4 years ago

      Heh, I'm just reminded of the bit in Black Books, with Fran listening to the guy doing the shipping forecast.

    • BritFlorida profile image

      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @daisychainsaw lm: I'm so glad that you do! I was telling an American friend about the shipping forecast yesterday and I'm pretty sure he thought I was bonkers :)

    • daisychainsaw lm profile image

      daisychainsaw lm 4 years ago

      Love this lens, being British I understand it; it is part of our heritage!

    • BritFlorida profile image

      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @suepogson: It's so funny that you should say that because I'd forgotten about it too until the Olympic opening ceremony. Now we listen to Radio $ and hear it every day. Thanks for visiting!

    • suepogson profile image

      suepogson 4 years ago

      How funny - I've been away so long I'd forgotten all about it. The Steven Fry take on it is great - but you have to know the real thing to understand the humour.

    • BritFlorida profile image

      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @JoanieMRuppel54: It's an important part of our heritage - weird but true. Thanks so much for reading!

    • JoanieMRuppel54 profile image

      Joanie Ruppel 4 years ago from Keller, Texas

      Well I learned something new today, very out of the ordinary, unique and informative. I can see where this is very important in Great Britain.