Proof, if it were needed, that voice in general and the BBC in particular are foolish ways to transmit important information was provided by Radio 4 earlier this month when an announcer read out the shipping forecast for the wrong day - during one of the stormiest weekends of the year.
Parts of the first shipping forecast transmitted on Sunday November 15 - specifically the storm force winds - were actually the same ones sent out early on the previous day. This led to confusion for ships and boats in UK and adjacent waters, as the Force 11 winds predicted off the West Country had actually passed, while other regions were being hard hit.
The Telegraph quotes Radio 4 bigwig David Anderson as putting the blame on human error by an announcer.
“The late night announcer at the end of the shift pulled out an email of what she thought was the right shipping forecast and read it out completely unaware it was the wrong forecast.
“All I can say is that I am most terribly sorry we got that wrong this was a big error on our part.”
The Shipping Forecast is a longstanding Beeb tradition, with many people who have never set foot on a deck vaguely familiar with its distinctively named reporting areas. It has been aired since the 1920s, and in its day it actually was a service for shipping.
Professional seafarers nowadays tend to receive the shipping forecast by other, automated means - typically via the NAVTEX text receivers that all vessels of any size must carry as part of their mandatory safety equipment. Other and more detailed met products are also typically available on a modern bridge.
Yachtsmen and small craft still listen to the forecast on voice radios. However, even these will mostly tend to use the inshore-waters Marine VHF broadcasts made by coastguard stations if they know what they're doing, rather than tuning in to the less detailed national picture on Radio 4.
Not a vastly important blunder by the Beeb, then - at least, not any more. But it does reinforce the lesson that one does well to rely on the professionals - Met office, Coastguard etc, not the BBC or any other media/entertainment organisation - when lives are at stake. ®
Lewis Page spent the years from 1993 to 2004 in the Royal Navy, much of the time as a bridge watchstanding officer.