A SiriusXM Marine Weather receiver is easy to install, easy to use, and handier than a boathook during a dicey docking.
Capt Bill Pike’s take on installing SiriusXM Marine Weather and using the forecasting system like a pro.
Several years ago, I was part of a three-man delivery crew tasked with taking a 42-foot trawler from Ft. Lauderdale to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. The trip began in early November, stretched on for days and coincided with the appearance of a hurricane in the central Caribbean that proceeded west (instead of east, the typical direction of cyclonic storms in the northern hemisphere), a confusing sort of behavior that earned it the nickname “Wrong Way Lenny.”
Lenny was bad—so bad that the World Meteorological Organization ultimately decided, in deference to the horrific damages the storm caused, never to apply its name to a hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean again.
But here’s the deal. Throughout much of our delivery to St. Thomas, as Lenny’s long-range effects worsened all around us, we had virtually no weather information to use for routing. No single-sideband radio. No cellphone reception. And no VHF marine weather broadcasts. In essence, we wound up flying dangerously blind, beyond the range of all meteorological help.
This taught me two indelible lessons. First, weather information is existentially important when you suspect a storm is close but don’t know its exact position and direction. And second, the weather info we take for granted ashore—from smartphones, tablets, hotspots and VHF radios—is often surprisingly absent on open water. Wi-Fi signals fade between five and 10 nautical miles out. And VHF and cell signals can do the same within a few short miles as well, depending upon antenna heights and other specifics.
The Satellite Solution
Modern satellite technology is a different story, however. Al- though often pricier than the other types of connectivity I’ve just mentioned, it seems to work reliably just about anywhere in the world. And because SiriusXM Marine Weather is satellite-based it’s a game changer with respect to range. Indeed, all four versions of the service—from Garmin, Raymarine, Furuno and Navico (Simrad, Lowrance and B&G)—extend their signals, according to Sirius, to all of continental North America as well as hundreds of miles into the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea.
Of course, the delivery trip to St. Thomas was on my mind when I recently installed a GXM53 module, Garmin’s satellite receiver for the Sirius system, on the Betty Jane II. Had we had such a nifty piece of electronics linked to a plotter onboard that 42-footer long ago, stress would have been immeasurably reduced and routing facilitated.
The unit’s install was basically plug-and-play. I simply used a couple of screws to mount the module inside a cabinet near the lower helm, installed the antenna at the rear of the cockpit (where a full view of the sky would be available), and ran three cables—one to my Garmin 742xs plotter, one to a fuse block under the helm station (for 12-volt power) and one to the antenna. I ignored a fourth cable that would have fed a Sirius radio signal to my already-Sirius-enabled Clarion stereo. Unnecessary.
The financials involved? The Garmin GXM53 costs about $800 and the Sirius “Offshore” subscription I chose costs $54.99 per month, although in the future I will likely go with the more popular “Coastal” program, for $29.99 per month, which excludes sea-surface temperature data and extended wind and wave forecasts favored by hardcore offshore fishermen. I will also abjure the third, “Inland” option, which costs $12.99 per
SiriusXM weather changed the way Capt. Pike plans a cruise. Catch his full video review at pmymag.com.