Electronic navigational charts are increasingly popular with commercial pilots around the world.
NOAA's Office of Coast Survey, which creates and maintains the nation's suite of a thousand nautical charts of U.S. coastal waters, has announced major changes ahead for mariners and others who use nautical charts. Starting April 13, 2014, the federal government will no longer print traditional lithographic (paper) nautical charts.
Most mariners now use Print-on-Demand nautical charts that are up-to-date to the moment of printing. These charts will continue to be available from NOAA-certified printers.
Since 1862, those lithographic nautical charts—available in marine shops and other stores—have been printed by the U.S. government and sold to the public by commercial vendors. The decision to stop production is based on several factors: the declining demand for lithographic charts, the increasing use of digital and electronic charts, and federal budget realities.
"With the end of traditional paper charts, our primary concern continues to be making sure that boaters, fishing vessels, and commercial mariners have access to the most accurate, up-to-date nautical chart in a format that works well for them," said Capt. Shep Smith, chief of Coast Survey's Marine Chart Division. "Fortunately, advancements in computing and mobile technologies give us many more options than was possible years ago."
NOAA will continue to create and maintain other forms of nautical charts, including the increasingly popular Print-on-Demand (POD) charts, updated paper charts available from NOAA-certified printers. NOAA electronic navigational charts (NOAA ENC®) and raster navigational charts (NOAA RNC®), used in a variety of electronic charting systems, are also updated weekly and are available for free download from the Coast Survey website. NOAA announced a new product as well: full-scale PDF (Portable Digital Format) nautical charts, available for free download on a trial basis.
The world of navigation is benefitting from advances in technology, Smith explained. He said that NOAA will consult with chart users and private businesses about the future of U.S. navigation, especially exploring the use of NOAA charts as the basis for new products.
NOAA's Office of Coast Survey is the nation's nautical chartmaker. Originally formed by President Thomas Jefferson in 1807, Coast Survey updates charts, surveys the coastal seafloor, responds to maritime emergencies, and searches for underwater obstructions that pose a danger to navigation.