NOAA's Office of Coast Survey produces nautical charts for the U.S., Great Lakes, and U.S. terriorities.
Nautical charts show what is in, under, and around the water, to help mariners transit our waters safely. The time it takes to develop a new nautical chart varies and it depends on the intensity of the ship travel in the area and the availability of resources to develop the new chart.
For example, if a new nautical chart is needed in an area that has current survey data, a new chart can be produced in six to 12 months. In a more remote area such as the north slope of Alaska, a new chart may take several years to develop because of the amount of survey work that needs to be done.
Another consideration in developing new nautical charts is the length of the survey season in different locations. The survey season is the time available to collect the data needed to develop a new chart. The survey season in Alaska is only a few months each year so it may take several years to collect the necessary data to develop a new chart. The Gulf of Mexico, on the other hand, can be surveyed during almost any time of the year.
It is easier to update existing nautical charts, but these updates can still be time and labor intensive. An estimate to complete an update for an existing chart is three to four weeks. Ports with high shipping activity, such as the Port of Long Beach or New York Harbor, may be updated as frequently as two or three times per year because of the intensity of traffic and the high value of cargo in these areas.
For more information:
Office of Coast Survey
A History of Charting America's Waters, NOAA 200th Anniversary Web Site
Diving Deeper Podcast, Episode 5 (Mar. 23, 2009) - What is a nautical chart?
Nautical Charts: A Message in a Bottle, NOS Education