Francis Beaufort – inventor of the Beaufort Scale

Francis Beaufort - Irish scientist who revolutionaised sailing

The Beaufort Wind Force Scale, which is still used by sailors around the world today, was created by Irish Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort nearly 200 years ago.

More great Irish scientists

Sir Francis had an illustrious career and worked with some of the great men of the day including scientist Charles Darwin and Admiral Robert Fitzroy. His legacy is his Wind Force Scale which he started to develop when he was only 15.

Francis Beaufort

Fascinated by the weather at sea

Beaufort was born in County Meath in Ireland in May 1774. He spent his childhood in Ireland and Wales before leaving school at 13 to become a cabin boy for the British navy.

He became fascinated by the weather at sea and the importance of knowing how to react to extreme conditions. When he was 15, he was shipwrecked because his captain had been using a faulty chart. This prompted him to start keeping journals of the weather. He did this for his entire career and it helped him create his Wind Force Scale.

He became a Captain in the Royal Navy

When he was 36, he became the captain of HMS Woolwich for the British Royal Navy. He and his crew travelled to all corners of the world. Their expeditions ranged from drawing up hydrographic charts to locating classical ruins. Throughout all his travels he continued to keep journals on the weather.

While in southern Anatolia his ship was attacked and he was shot by Turks. He had to return to England where he drew up the charts from his journals and developed his wind force scale.

The Beaufort Wind Force Scale

Beaufort was the creator of the Beaufort Scale for indicating wind force.


The Beaufort Scale helped sailors know how many sails needed to be put up or taken down during various levels of wind force in order to remain safe and in control of their ship.

There were other systems in use at the time but they were not as accurate or reliable. It was Beaufort’s that was to become the standard.

Beaufort’s other accomplishments

In 1817, Beaufort published a book about his travels – Karamania; or a brief description of the South Coast of Asia Minor, and of the Remains of Antiquity.

In 1829 he became the British Admiralty Hydrographer of the Navy. He worked in this role until the age of 81.

During this time he transformed the organisation from a modest charting department into a world renowned charting and surveying institution. He took over administration of two of the world’s top astronomical observatories in England and Africa, and was the driving force behind the development of tables that recorded the tides around British shores.

In 1838, the British fleet used Beaufort’s Wind Force Scale for their log entries. In 1848 he was knighted aged 73. His legacy lives on with sailors across the world.