Monday, October 28, 2013


U.S. To Stop Printing Nautical Charts

    EDITOR'S NOTE: 10/30/2013: There are already many nautical publication and chart outlets that do print on demand directly from the NOAA data base and on exactly the same scale. When sold these are basically "NOAA Charts". The data being exactly as depicted in the NOAA data base these charts would not carry any sort of "not for navigational purposes warning label".  We apologize for any confusion. However our basic observation about Charts not replicating the exact NOAA scale such as many bound versions popular with small boaters probably will carry such warnings and even if they don't you must as navigator be conscious of scale. We thank regular reviewer and occasional contributor  Bill Riley, surveyor with Baltimore's famous Maritime Alliance Group, Inc., affectionately known as "the MAGI", the wise men of the nautical arts and sciences for bringing our attention to our error. The MAG I remind our commercial mariners that some flag and port states continue to require ships to carry paper charts. For those ships that ply waters covered by the NOAA charting effort, these print on demand, no change in scale or color charts will comply with all relevant current rules concerning paper chart coverage as long as you are carrying the area charts relevant to your ship.  Finally be aware that this print on demand business has been going on even while NOAA was still printing and distributing charts. As soon as the technology became available some chart vendors made the investment in the printers. By printing on demand they could sell to their customers the latest chart as of the date of purchase and eliminated in store updating. However unles you have such industrial strength printing capacity aboard it is still necessary to update your charts via such sources as Broadcast notice to mariners. 

  NOAA and one of its ancestral organizations have been producing paper navigation charts for more than 150 years. That era is now at an end. NOAA's fleet of research ships and air craft will still seek out reefs, wrecks, and change sin coast lines and report these via graphic chart like depiction, but if you want a paper chart you will have to print them out yourself. Most commercial vessels and some yachts over 65 feet have the on board electrical capacity to run radar, depth sounders, GPS , radios, etc. and adding an on board navigational computer won't be strain on the generator. How much of a strain on the pocket book will vary by owner. But a lot of vessel owners both commercial and recreational with vessels under 65 feet just don't have the on board power, not to mention willingness to undergo the expense. There will remain a large market for paper charts. The NOAA charting effort remains available, downloadable and in the public domain. There is no doubt that private industry will make all sorts of paper charts available but the prices will be a lot more than cost, which is what NOAA charged.

 The public will have to get over the warnings that will appear on these charts once reproduced by private industry, most will carry the warning "NOT FOR NAVIGATIONAL PURPOSES".(See editors belated note above)  Its a liability thing, the charts will be no less reliable than if you downloaded them yourself from the NOAA site where they would not carry that warning. If you don't update them regularly and pay attention to matters of scale they will be just as unreliable as if you purchased them directly from a NOAA Chart vendor and then failed to either up date or otherwise mis-navigate. In short the available paper charts will be as reliable as the navigator who uses an updated chart as one tool in a larger tool box for safe navigation. This doesn't represent any kind of change except with a corporate printed distributor between the chart consumer and producer there is the typical corporate self protective disclaimer to avoid liability. You remain responsible for safe and accurate navigation, you always were. 

 Mean while don't throw out those old navigation charts distributed by NOAA, over the coming years they will become valuable collectors items. Did you know that the American artist Whistler of "Whistler's Mother" fame was a draftsman for while working on producing navigation charts for the old Coast Survey, ancestor of the modern NOAA Corps? For more information click here:

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