Shipping Forecast

It must have been whilst I was at College, some 12 years ago, when I first stumbled across this hidden treasure sitting there on Radio 4 at the most obscure of times.

I always had a habit of falling to sleep with the radio on — I think it stems from nights staying over at my Grans house when I was younger — she used to have BBC Radio Norfolk on pretty much throughout the night. I’m not sure why, maybe a comfort thing instead of being alone in the house, but anyway, it stuck with me until more recent times. The dulcet tones of the old radio, barely understandable through the walls, but loud enough to just be heard.

I used to scan the airwaves for something to listen to, something new, or different. No matter what, I always ended up on Radio 4 at around 12:30am, just in time for the most strange, random, and yet warming of radio shows, The Shipping Forecast.

I sometimes find myself thinking about “Sailing By” (as you do). It’s the theme tune, if you will, for the shipping forecast.

I’ll explain…

Every day, Radio 4 (yes, that boring station with no music, lots of news, politics, and The Archers), has a weather forecast just for fisherman / sailors. However, this isn’t your bog-standard “Slight breeze and a chance of drizzle” kind of weather. It’s a life saving, crucial, vital report on current and expected conditions at sea.

It has the strictest of formats, with the opening headline not exceeding 370 words, and always, without fail, the report begins with

“And now the Shipping Forecast, issued by the Met Office on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency at….”

There’s none of this “Rainy in the east, Warm in the south” and so on. This forecast has coastal regions, which are either named Estuaries, Sandbanks and Islands around the coastline. The structure is rigid, monotone, and to most of us, alien….

“Rockall, Malin, Hebrides. Southwest gale 8 to storm 10, veering west, severe gale 9 to violent storm 11. Rain, then squally showers. Poor, becoming moderate”

You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this, and I don’t blame you for thinking that this is the most dull, boring blog post in the history of the Internet, ever. Read on…..

This radio show, a weather forecast, is broadcast on a Radio station that doesn’t really play music, yet, so many songs and artists have been influenced by this mesmerising show. It’s become part of the Radio shows heritage, its core.

Take for example, Blur. In 1995, they released a song called “This is a low”. A Britpop song, on one of the biggest albums of its time. But did you know it’s written about the Shipping Forecast? Don’t believe me? Take a listen to the opening lyrics, just here….

“And into the sea goes pretty England and me Around the Bay of Biscay and back for tea 
 Hit traffic on the dogger bank 
 Up the Thames to find a taxi rank 
 Sail on by with the tide and go asleep 
 And the radio says

You see what I mean? Well, it doesn’t stop there. Blur are just one of many artists to be influenced by this oddity. Take Radioheads song “In Limbo”:

“Lundy, Fastnet, Irish Sea I’ve got a message I can’t read”

A band I very much like, Dry The River, have a song called “New Ceremony”:

“And after we dance to the Shipping Forecast”

The list goes on….

  • Beck
  • Jethro Tull
  • British Sea Power
  • The Prodigy

Going back to “Sailing By”. I said I often find myself thinking about it, just humming the tune. I’m not sure why, but you can see now, I’m not the only person who was listening to the Shipping Forecast at stupid o’clock. If ever a song was perfectly suited to a show, then Sailing By is that:

I think it’s a comfort thing — the music and the forecast bring home a sense of warmth, security, safety. Knowing that those (albeit) meaningless words are in fact a matter of potential life or death for the sailors at sea, dark, wet, cold, windy; for me, they’re my lullaby, Warm, cosy, safe.

So next time you find yourself awake at 12:30am, pop Radio 4 on, immerse yourself in the shipping forecast, like so many others have done.

Who knows, maybe it’ll be your inspiration.

Originally published at on June 1, 2015.