I’ve been busy in recent weeks working on a cruising guide of the Chesapeake Bay. Not just another general cruising guide, mind you, but a tailored brochure to help cruisers from other parts of the world enjoy Chesapeake Bay as much as we do.

This fall, Annapolis Yacht Club will host a cruise for members whose clubs belong to the International Council of Yacht Clubs. It is an exciting opportunity for boat owners to spend time with like-minded local folks willing to share their knowledge of a special cruising ground.

Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the U.S. and one of the largest in the world. This brackish blend of fresh and salt water is a huge natural resource. And it is a particularly wonderful cruising ground with minimal tides, soft bottom, and thousands of places to explore. The cruise will be a chance to see the beauty, culture, history, and cuisine of our part of the world. One can spend a lifetime poking into more than 150 rivers and streams that branch off Chesapeake Bay.

boating in the chesapeake bay

My guide will provide general information for our planned activities while cruising these waters. I am loosely following previous guides from similar cruises from a decade ago, and hope to assist those here for the first time. We have participants coming from Australia, British Columbia, San Francisco, Seattle, England, Germany, and Hong Kong.

When I came to the section about radio communications, I discovered an issue that led me to an amazing epiphany about modern technology. Another reminder of just how much has changed.

It is customary to list general protocols for using a VHF radio to stay in touch, contact ships in the Bay, and get the latest weather forecasts. But what might be considered “working” channels for Chesapeake sailors may not be the same for cruisers from Australia, who might use different frequencies when chatting about the next anchorage.

The 10 channels of the WX function on modern VHF radios allows NOAA’s synthesized voice to share weather information for listening areas, as well as issue warnings of storms and potential flooding. Listening to these weather reports was a part of my morning routine for as long as I can remember, going back to Puget Sound days.

But that was a long time ago, and I can’t recall the last time I turned my radio to a weather channel. I now have apps on my phone for real-time radar, all sorts of text and video presentations of current and forecasted weather, and more. Most sailors also use one of the popular wind prediction apps that are routinely used for offshore racing and long distance voyages.

These apps have proven as accurate as any other weather information.

So, when I saw two WX channels listed as part of the radio communications section of a 10-year-old guide, I initially assumed I should include them in my guide as well.

To see which channels best fit the planned Bay cruise area, I did a Google search on WX channel assignment from NOAA for the Chesapeake Bay. I am well aware that just because one of the 10 stations comes in clear as a bell on any particular day does not automatically mean it represents the area I am in, which is a common misperception. And then having to listen as the synthesized voice drones on about weather in locations I am not familiar with. (In fact, it turned out on my most recent experience that the voice I thought I wanted to hear was talking about Delaware Bay, which is of no value to me whatsoever.)

Years ago, I might have turned on a familiar WX channel while enjoying my coffee in the morning. Now, I open MyRadar on my iPhone. It is actual radar data and does not include a middleman’s interpretation of raw imagery. I then open two different weather apps to see what is in store for today, and any warnings or concerns I may have to deal with. That includes afternoon thunderstorms, which can be particularly brutal in Chesapeake Bay during the summer.

MyRadar App example

Back to my Google search. I was surprised that the first two screen pages (I then stopped looking) did not come back with anything even remotely related to my inquiry about which VHF WX channels covered my listening area. Instead, I got lots of sponsored and unsponsored links to sites with local results from websites and smartphone apps. Not even NOAA gave me any information on WX channels and stations.

And that’s when I realized that, yet again, time has moved on. What I searched for regarding WX channels on the VHF bands is not particularly relevant in today’s technology to many boaters. There are so many faster, more specific, and generally accurate forecasts available from sources other than VHF radio. Even without strong WiFi, most weather-related apps work fine. And their alarm features are compelling.

I admit, if I cruised SE Alaska where I did not expect reliable signal strength, I might still rely on the VHF radio service. But for the majority of cruisers in this country, there are always enough bars of service to allow using our apps without the slightest hesitation.

And that is how things are in 2023. Another feature experienced cruisers like me have come to expect—mostly out of routine—has gone the way of the Dodo bird. And for most other boaters who are younger and only familiar with how things are today, its irrelevance isn’t even noticed.

It will be fun to see our favorite cruising spots through the eyes of boat owners who are used to very different conditions than the shallow waters of Chesapeake Bay. It is certainly the polar opposite of cruising in the Pacific Northwest. And for those coming from England and Australia, it should be a virtual walk in the park.

Have a great day, whatever your weather will be.


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