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What is a nautical chart?

Nautical charts are key to safe navigation.

nautical chart image

NOAA's Office of Coast Survey, part of the National Ocean Service, is the nation's nautical chartmaker.

A nautical chart is one of the most fundamental tools available to the mariner. It is a map that depicts the configuration of the shoreline and seafloor. It provides water depths, locations of dangers to navigation, locations and characteristics of aids to navigation, anchorages, and other features.

The nautical chart is essential for safe navigation. Mariners use charts to plan voyages and navigate ships safely and economically. Federal regulations require most commercial vessels to carry electronic or paper nautical charts while they transit U.S. waters.

Since the mid-1830s, the U.S. Coast Survey (a NOAA predecessor agency) has been the nation’s nautical chartmaker. NOAA's Office of Coast Survey is still responsible for creating and maintaining all charts of U.S. coastal waters, the Great Lakes, and waters surrounding U.S. territories.