Diving Deeper: Nautical Charts (audio podcast)
The Office of Coast Survey faces the 21st century challenge to acquire more hydrographic data to satisfy a growing universe of stakeholders. The U.S. has nearly 3.5 million square nautical miles of coastal waters. To maximize limited resources, Coast Survey works with state officials, marine pilots, port authorities, the U.S. Coast Guard, and researchers to set surveying priorities for critical areas. Using three NOAA ships equipped with small boats for near shore work, six 28-foot survey boats, a 57-foot research vessel, and private contractors, Coast Survey acquires hydrographic data that can update the nation’s nautical charts with the accuracy and precision that is essential to maintaining the public trust in navigational products.
Did you know that 1.3 billion tons of cargo, valued at $1.4 trillion, traveled by ship in 2010? Each of the ships carrying these goods needs NOAA’s navigational charts to transit America’s ports and coastal waters.
The Office of Coast Survey is the nation's nautical chart maker, providing traditional paper charts as well as the charts used by commercial electronic navigational systems. The suite of nearly a thousand nautical charts covers 95,000 miles of U.S. coastline.
Coast Survey’s multipurpose hydrographic surveys makes efficient use of limited resources. For example, surveys may collect information for fish habitat research or tsunami modeling, while acquiring data for chart making. Survey teams also help speed the re-opening of ports and channels after hurricanes and other emergencies by searching for submerged debris or other dangers to navigation.
Once hydrographers acquire the data, it must be checked for accuracy. Coast Survey strives to reduce processing time while maintaining strict quality controls, in order to provide the nation’s mariners with accurate information, quickly.
Coast Survey cartographers use the data to maintain the accuracy of paper charts, which are available from chart agents in traditional form or in an updated “print on demand” format. They also produce and update the electronic navigational charts and raster charts used by all U.S. commercial chart software products.
Innovations and technical achievements have been the hallmark of Coast Survey since its beginning as the government’s first scientific agency, established in 1807. Today, Coast Survey continues to lead, adapting or developing technology to improve data acquisition and speed the delivery of maritime products to the nation.