Buoys and Remote-Sensing Tools



At first glance this chart is pretty straightforward. It shows you 7-days worth of swell/weather/and wind information all in place. You have “incoming swell” (in feet) charted by the blue line on the gray graph. You have the weather icons for each day below the graph and you have the wind, speed and direction represented by the directional arrows topped by a blue “wind strength” indicator (which if you hadn’t figured out already tells us that bigger the blue bar on top of the arrow the stronger the winds will blow from that direction).

Keep in mind that these nearshore wave height forecasts are custom built for each surf region. We usually pick an average/above-average indicator break and use that location to build these forecasts. And These aren’t some knock-off of a generic WavewatchIII spectral point, that might be miles offshore, these are true nearshore forecasts that use proprietary algorithms factoring in things like swell windows, island shadowing, bathymetry data, swell-period travel time, and other critical forecast components (psst we even took a little of Adam’s and Jens’ brains and stirred them in too). So these charts are tuned up for your region, giving you a good solid overview of incoming swell, weather and wind, so that you can go out and find the best spot to score.

Oh but wait…we aren’t done…like most of our tools there is another layer of awesomeness built into the display that if you don’t play around with you might not notice. All aspects of the Nearshore Forecasts are interactive, you can mouse over the wind and weather icons to get more precise details, like the daily weather synopsis and the exact speed and direction of the wind forecast for that time period…but the really awesome stuff is in the gray portion of the graph.

Mouse over any portion of the chart and you will get this pop-up box that shows you an insane amount of information about the Nearshore Forecast, and If you move the mouse really slowly it will break it down hour-by-hour for the full 7-days.

The Hourly Detail Box contains the following:

  • Date/Time
  • Wave Height Range in Feet
  • Dominant Swell Height
  • Top Three Swells-We are showing you the top three out of the full data set
    • Swell Height
    • Swell Period
    • Swell Direction
  • Weather
    • Wind Speed
    • Wind Direction
  • Tide

As you can see the lovely box shows you not only the DATE/TIME at the top, it gives you a WAVE-HEIGHT RANGE IN FEET as well as the DOMINANT SWELL TYPE. Then it shows you the TOP THREE SWELLS with the following SWELL HEIGHT, SWELL PERIOD, COMPASS DIRECTION, AND DETAILED SWELL DIRECTION IN DEGREES. (Keep in mind that while we are showing you the top 3…we are actually using the full data set to forecast the wave heights). Then we have WEATHER, with WIND SPEED and DIRECTION, but most important HOW THE WINDS RELATE TO THE BEACH). Oh and just to show off…we throw in the TIDES for that specific hour.

Last but not least…since we built this chart using the same charting software we have on our OFFSHORE SWELL and BUOY FORECASTS…you can narrow in on a specific day/time by clicking and dragging your mouse across the graph, where it will automatically zoom into the time period you want to look closer at.



The Offshore Wave Height Forecast and Buoy Forecast (depending on which page you are looking) is one of our best tools for “breaking down” the incoming swell mix into its individual components. It allows us to see both the forecasted combined swell height (or “CMB” in the legend) and at the same time it also charts the separate swells that make up the combined whole. This forecast chart is extremely interactive and can give you a ton of wave-hunting information if you know what you are looking for.

When the chart first loads it shows you the 7-day forecast from the latest forecast run. You can jump right into this chart by mousing over any part of the graph…any line or solid shaded area. As you do, it will pop up a new box near your pointer that shows the DATE/TIME/COMBINED BUOY HEIGHT in the top of the box, and then the specifics of the line you are hovering over like SWELL HEIGHT, SWELL PERIOD, SWELL DIRECTION (both in Simple Compass direction, like Northwest, and specific degrees 308). If you follow your current line you can see hour by hour how that swell behaves.

Pretty sweet right? Well the awesomeness doesn’t stop there. Maybe you don’t care to see the full 7-day forecast…maybe you only want the weekend…not a problem. Just click and hold the mouse button on the graph portion of the chart, starting at the beginning (or the end) of the time period you want to focus on, and drag till you reach to the other end of the time period, this will overlay a light blue box over a portion of the chart. Once you release the mouse button it will automatically zoom to that time period, letting you get a closer look on how you should plan on scoring over the upcoming weekend.

Sometimes just zooming in on a time period isn’t enough…just like the chart above, there are still several swells in the water that are all coming in around the same height and mousing over them only lets you get some of the juicy swell details…well we thought of that too. All you need to do is click down in the legend, and you can hide/unhide one of the 6 swells (and the combined heights) that are being shown as a default. This is a great function to help isolate specific swells…like the ones headed toward your favorite spot…and eliminate the noise from the other non-important swell.

The last little nugget of data that you will want to keep an eye on, particularly if you are using an open ocean buoy to get readings from is the little pie-graph at the top of the chart that is named “Swell Direction Distribution”. At a glance this shows, in both percentage of energy and compass direction, where exactly the the current forecasted swell is coming. Mouse over the compass and you can see the percentage of energy for each of the pie slices (hmmm pie).

Why is all of this data and functionality important you ask?

Well back in the days of yore, when surfers huddled around weather radios and banged rocks together for that funky reggae beat, the robotic buoy man in the box, would issue reports giving the combined swell height, and the primary swell period, (along with an occasional swell direction if the buoy was a “fancy-pants new one” that tracked that sort of thing.)

The issue always was that we wouldn’t know if we had multiple swells in the water, the Harvest Platform is a great example of this due to its positioning it is exposed to swells coming in from the steep Northwest all the way around the compass to the South-Southeast. Generally if the NW winds were blowing hard down the west coast the weather radio would say that the Harvest Buoy is showing “10-foot of combined swell at a primary swell period of 9 seconds”…which is technically correct, but oh so wrong for tracking surfable swells.

What the combined height/peak period format doesn’t show is what is making up the rest of the combined energy…it could truly be a pure 10-feet at 9seconds or, there may be only 6-feet of Northwest windswell at 9-seconds and secondary 4-foot South swell at 18-20 second periods hiding underneath the NW energy because the South swells deepwater heights weren’t quite big enough to push it into the “primary” swell column. The worst part is that if we only relied on the combined heights we might not even look at the summer spots or even the beach in general since we would most likely assume the NW windswell would be junky and too steeply angled to make it into many Socal spots…while the S swell would be blowing up the summer spots.



The Buoy Wave History shows us the last 7-days of data recorded by an actual physical buoy moored offshore. The chart on top of the graphic lets you easily follow the trend of the measured wave heights as they push past the buoy array. You can see that three separate data sets are graphed in the chart, breaking the wave energy into its separate components, showing the Significant Wave Height (sometimes called the “Total Combined Wave Height”), the Primary Swell, and a Secondary swell, both of which include the size, swell-period, and dominant swell direction. The more detailed information pops up as you mouse-over the different lines of the graph and will change as you move through the full 7-days, reflecting the dynamic nature of passing waves and swells.

The table below the 7-day history graph gives you a quick update on buoy conditions, giving you the most current data from the array, and then analyzing the last 24 hours to give you Minimum-Maximum Significant Wave Height as well as the Primary and Secondary swells.

The Buoy History chart looks a lot like the buoy forecast chart, and like most of the graphs you see like this has all the drag and zoom functionality, as well as the ability to let you mouse over a particular time period and get the exact data that the buoy was recording at the time. We also let you click off the legend at the bottom if you are only interested in one particular type of swell.

If you mouse over the combined (gold shaded) chart in the background you get all of the data that the buoy was recording at the time. Things like the COMBINED HEIGHT and SWELL DIRECITON (if the buoy records that data…not all do), the PRIMARY SWELL details, which in this case the PRIMARY energy is the largest chunk of swell hitting the buoy over the 10-second swell-period mark, and the SECONDARY SWELL, which is everything under the 10-second swell-period cutoff.



As you check buoys around the globe you will notice that not all buoy data is the same…in fact some of the information from one buoy won’t even match a nearby buoy being operated by the same government. Unfortunately between budget constraints, different technology needs, there isn’t a “standard” buoy network covering our oceans…(I know, facebook can sign up more people than there are computers in the world and we can’t get the global science community to throw down several hundred ocean buoys so we can keep track of things)…so keep this in mind while you are looking at the historical buoy data. Some of the data is coming from ocean arrays that have been floating so long that the mix of battery acid and other corrosive materials onboard have turned them into the equivalent of sea-mines. While most of the newer buoys give us a great wealth of information, some of the older systems will be much more inconsistent, sometimes giving us the full range of data (if it was an array with those capabilities), at other times going offline for a couple of days, or even worse skipping about wildly as the sensors fail to read conditions properly and giving us bad data.


72 Hour Surf History (recorded vs virtual buoy)

The chart above has two lines which represent the forecasted swell heights (yellow) and the actual buoy recorded wave heights (blue) for [spot name]. To create the yellow forecast line we use a combination of swell models, recorded weather data, tide predictions along with a number of proprietary algorithms. It is important to note that each of these 72 Hour Surf History Forecasts are surf-break specific…so the data you are seeing takes into account important factors like swell shadowing, extreme shoaling, and the various other dynamic factors that can affect the surf size. To produce the blue line we capture the wave heights, swell, and weather condition data from a nearby physical buoy, making adjustments if the buoy isn’t positioned precisely in the right location.

The blue line and the table below let you do two things very quickly; First you can see how the Significant Wave Heights and the Component Swells are trending…and two you can see if there is a large deviation between the swell model and reality. If the gap between reality and the computer model is particularly wide we suggest you spend some time diving deeper into the details, you may be seeing a swell moving in that the models haven’t yet picked up or on the flip side you can see if an incoming swell hasn’t started to show, or worse is under performing, and maybe give yourself a chance to scrub the surf session.

The table below the 72 Hour Surf History Graph gives you a quick update on buoy conditions, giving you the most current data from the array, and then analyzing the last 24 hours to give you Minimum-Maximum Significant Wave Height as well as the Primary and Secondary swells, live winds, the tide state, and air temps.


72 Hour Surf History (virtual buoy)

The 72 Hour Surf History Chart is an excellent tool to see how the swell, weather, and wind have been treating a surf break. In a perfect world we would have a real-life buoy on station to compare our forecasted surf/swell against what actually occurs, but even when we don’t have a physical buoy in the water, we use a combination of swell models, recorded weather data, tide predictions along with a number of proprietary algorithms to produce a very accurate estimation of swell/weather conditions that occurred over the last 3 days. It is important to note that each of these 72 Hour Surf Histories are surf-break specific…so the data you are seeing takes into account important factors like swell shadowing, extreme shoaling, and the various other dynamic factors that can affect the surf size.

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