Next April 13 will mark the end of an era for nautical navigational charts. On that date, the lithographic NOAA Navigation Charts, which have been printed by the federal government since 1862 for sale to mariners and fishermen, will no longer be printed and distributed.
The decision to stop production was based on several factors, including a declining demand for lithographic charts, the increasing use of digital and electronic charts and a smaller budget for the department.
NOAA's Office of Coast Survey, which creates and maintains the nation's suite of more than 1,000 nautical charts of U.S. coastal waters, recently announced major changes ahead for mariners and others who use nautical charts. In place of the large paper charts, they will be offered in electronic Portable Document Format (pdf) files. The PDF format charts can be printed or viewed electronically. For those vessels required to carry paper NOAA Navigation Charts, only those printed by NOAA Certified Print-On-Demand partners will be accepted.
NOAA lists five key features of the PDF nautical chart.
* Updated Weekly. PDF charts are up-to-date with critical corrections from Notice to Mariners.
* Available Immediately. New PDF chart editions are available two to eight weeks sooner than traditional NOAA paper charts have been.
* Enhanced Readability. These charts are printed in brighter colors, so they are easier to read. Additionally, the files are high resolution, at 400 dpi.
* Printable. Most charts can be printed from any plotter capable of plotting 36” width to achieve 1:1 scale.
* Easy to view. PDF files can be viewed with free PDF readers such as Adobe Reader. If you do not already have this viewer installed on your computer, you may obtain it at no cost from the Adobe Reader webpage. Other free PDF readers can be found by searching the Internet.
The most current versions of the PDF format charts can be downloaded from the NOAA Nautical Charts website, www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov.
The new NOAA PDF format charts will be offered as free downloads for a pilot program that began Oct. 22 and will run through Jan. 22. That program is already on-line at www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/pdfcharts/. The NOAA Nautical Charts website has an on-line chart viewer that allows mariners to view and select the charts they need.
The future of this program depends of feedback from mariners and fishermen. NOAA will be gauging public interest and use of these new products, and those using it are asked to please provide comments on this new service. There is a link for comments at www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/pdfcharts/.
"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 the 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 charts, which will be available from NOAA certified partners. NOAA electronic navigational charts and raster navigational charts, which are used in a variety of electronic charting systems, are also updated weekly and are available for free downloads from the NOAA Office of Coast Survey website.