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An item broadcast at regular intervals on BBC Radio 4, giving information on the weather for major shipping routes around the British Isles. Something of a hangover from the golden age of radio, it is always read out by a presenter with a perfect Queen's English accent and is completely incomprehensible to most landlubbers (like me).

An example of a shipping forecast would be:

The area forecasts for the next 24 hours:

Viking: Southeasterly 4, soon becoming cyclonic 5 to 7, occasionally gale 8, then southwesterly, decreasing 4 later. Rain then showers. Moderate or good.

North Utsire, South Utsire: south or southeast veering southwest, 4 or 5 increasing 6 to gale 8 for a time. Occasional rain. Moderate becoming good.

Also known as the 'Long range shipping forecast' or the 'Offshore shipping forecast', it has been broadcast since 1922. It divides the sea around the UK into chunks, the most amusingly-named of which are 'dogger' and 'lundy'. Before 2001 the bit to the North-west of Spain was called 'Finisterre' ('End of the earth'); it is now called Fitzroy, as the Spanish equivalent of the forcast called another area 'Finisterre'. This change was reported in the mainstream news and is the kind of thing that makes non-seagoing folk worry, as the shipping forcast is a national institution in the UK. It's nice to listen to weather reports of gales in the channel whilst tucked up in bed, and it makes perfect ambient listening. Seamus Heaney, the famous poet, wrote a poem about it:

Dogger. Rockall. Malin, Irish Sea:
Green swift upsurges, North Atlantic flux
Conjured by that strong gale-warning voice.
Collapse into a sibilant penumbra.
Midnight and closedown. Sirens of the tundra,
Off eel-road, seal road, keel road, whale road, raise
Their wind-compounded keen behind the baize
And drive the trawlers to the lee of Wicklow.
L'Etoile, Le Guiliemot, La Belle Helene
Nursed their bright names this morning in the bay
That toiled like mortar. It was marvellous
And actual, I said out loud, 'A haven,'
The word deepening, clearing, like the sky
Elsewhere on Minches, Cromarty, The Faroes.

You can read the current forecast here:
http://www.met-office.gov.uk/datafiles/offshore.html

Because lives can depend on it, and because it might have to be listened to in bad conditions, the shipping forecast has a very strict format. There is no comment by the reader, and no deviation from the usual way of saying things. This gives it a mantra-like quality, which I'm sure is part of its popular appeal, and makes it a rock to cling to in an uncertain world.

In fact, it is a great example of usability, as preached by Nielsen et al.

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