Archive for the ‘Nautical charts’ Category

NOAA’s paper nautical charts are here to stay   3 comments

New certified printing agents bring buying options

It won’t be long before mariners and the boating public will have a wider choice of options and special services when they purchase NOAA paper nautical charts, thanks to NOAA’s expanded “print-on-demand” chart production and distribution system, Coast Survey officials announced on April 4. Coast Survey recently certified new print-on-demand chart printing agents, and gave them the flexibility to offer different color palettes, various papers, a cleaner margin, and a range of services.

Rear Admiral Gerd Glang and Capt. Shep Smith inspect sample charts submitted by new print agents.

Rear Admiral Gerd Glang and Capt. Shep Smith inspect sample charts submitted by new print agents.

NOAA has now authorized seven companies to sell NOAA’s paper nautical charts that are printed when the customer orders them — or “on demand.” The information on the charts is still maintained by NOAA, and the charts are corrected with Notices to Mariners up to the week of purchase.

“Last October, we announced that NOAA would stop using the government printing and distribution system we originally adopted in 1861,” explained Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. “We asked private companies to help us transition from the government-run system to a robust and competitive market for paper nautical charts, and we are pleased with the results.”

Five companies have now joined the original “print-on-demand” distributor OceanGrafix and the more recently certified East View Geospatial. The newly certified companies are Frugal Navigator, Marine Press, Paradise Cay Publications, The Map Shop, and Williams & Heintz Map Corporation.

Glang is confident that the expansion of the print-on-demand program will lead to new options for all who purchase U.S. nautical charts. As a premium service, for example, print agents are authorized to customize charts with user-specified overlays.

“With more chart printing agents, we hope to encourage competition and ensure fully up-to-date charts are widely available. Buyers can shop around and find different types of paper, or choose between traditional or new color palettes. Our printing agents can offer delivery or in-shop service, and customers can have their navigation track lines or other information printed as overlays on their chart,” Glang pointed out.

Rear Admiral Glang certified one of the new printing agents for NOAA's paper nautical charts.

Rear Admiral Glang certifies one of the new printing agents for NOAA’s paper nautical charts.

“All charts sold by NOAA-certified printing partners are NOAA charts and fully meet navigational requirements.”

For the last 150 years, the federal government produced nautical charts using lithographic printing presses. Although chart-making techniques advanced from the 19th century’s delicate hand-applied etchings on copper plates to a process that is now completely computer-based, the system remained based on printing large volumes of charts, then selling them from stock for years. Charts for sale were gradually more and more outdated until a new edition was printed. The print on demand system allows the changes made by Coast Survey cartographers to reach mariners much faster.

Coast Survey continues to examine applications from additional companies wishing to become certified as NOAA chart printing agents. The examination process includes testing of applicants’ sample charts, to make sure they stand up to normal onboard usage conditions.

The paper charts sold by the NOAA-certified printing agents meet carriage requirements for ships covered by Safety of Life at Sea regulations, specified in Title 33 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

Coast Survey unveils NOAA ENC Online enhancements   Leave a comment

In November 2013, we introduced NOAA ENC Online – a continuous viewer for our electronic navigational charts. You can click on the web map and zoom to selected features or locations, to see the information contained in over a thousand electronic charts of NOAA-charted waters. Each zoom moves you through an ENC depiction that takes into account the ENC scale and other attributes that are encoded in the ENC, allowing features to become visible or invisible as you seamlessly zoom in and out of the data.

NOAA ENC Online is based on Esri’s Maritime Chart Server.

Now this latest release of NOAA ENC Online lets you:

  • Set a shallow and deep depth contour, which changes the shading to those parameters
  • Set a safety contour (In electronic charting systems, the safety contour is set based on the ship’s draft changes the depiction of rocks, wrecks and obstructions to isolated dangers depending on if the water is “safe” or “unsafe” for vessel navigation.)

ENConline Safety contour

  • Change between S-52 simplified and S-52 traditional symbols


  • Change the background colors of the display based on the S-52 color palette for different light conditions on the bridge of a ship

ENConline color palette

  • Turn off certain features based on different categories such as buoys and traffic routes

ENConline layers switching on and off

NOAA ENC Online is not certified for navigation. It does NOT fulfill chart carriage requirements for regulated commercial vessels under Titles 33 and 46 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

Catch the digital wave in NOAA navigation products #Data4Coasts   1 comment

Navigation manager Kyle Ward explains some of Coast Survey's new products at the Savannah Boat Show.

Navigation manager Kyle Ward explains some of Coast Survey’s new products at the Savannah Boat Show.

This week, NOAA’s National Ocean Service is inviting you to explore #Data4Coasts that NOS provides to the public, to researchers and decision makers, and to the many industries involved in coastal resilience and maritime commerce. Much of Coast Survey’s data for the coasts is easily accessible by downloading or by using a web map. Other products, like our beautiful printed nautical charts, are available for purchase – as they have been since the mid-1800s – from chart agents.

We’ve been making charts for a long time – and we’ve never been more excited about it! A quickly evolving (r)evolution is transforming the way we plan voyages and navigate, and Coast Survey is reconstructing our nautical product line for the millions of boaters and commercial pilots who are catching the new digital wave.


Keeping paper charts more up-to-date
Everyone recognizes the comfort of using paper charts. They are reliable, easy to use, and incredibly informative. They are undeniably beautiful. However, with the bulk printing process we’ve used for the last 150 years, paper charts were often out of date on the day you purchased them. Sometimes they were way out of date, and you would have to spend hours manually applying critical updates. With the vast improvements in digital technology, we can now offer paper charts that are printed-on-demand – delivered where and when you want them ‒ with the critical corrections already incorporated into the charts.

Improving shoreline and feature accuracy
The U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, one of NOAA’s predecessor organizations, established the geospatial foundation of America, with surveyors setting the grid, so to speak, by triangulating their way down the coasts and across the continent. Now we have GPS. We find that although the manual positioning was incredibly accurate for its time, remote sensing by NOAA LiDAR systems can produce a correction of 10 meters or more for feature positions on charts at the 1:15,000 scale. Those are vital corrections for precision navigation by vessels that can exceed a thousand feet long. The National Geodetic Survey’s Remote Sensing Division is flying the missions and gathering the precise data that we apply to our charts, to improve chart accuracy and update the ever-changing coastline.


Coast Survey's map-based interactive chart catalog makes it easy to find and download your pick of over a thousand charts.

Coast Survey’s map-based interactive chart catalog makes it easy to find and download your pick of over a thousand charts.

Adding free PDF charts to the product line
Nearly 2.3 million charts were downloaded within 90 days of last autumn’s beta release of NOAA’s new free PDF nautical charts. To us, that represents more than two million opportunities to avoid an accident at sea. So we decided to keep the thousand free PDFs as a permanent NOAA chart product. (Find and download your chart from Coast Survey’s interactive chart catalog.)

The PDF charts are exact images of NOAA’s traditional nautical charts. It’s important to remember, though, that printing PDFs may alter a chart’s scale, color, or legibility. Ships that are required to carry a navigational chart published by the National Ocean Service should obtain up-to-date printed charts from chart agents.

Providing format choices for the United States Coast Pilot
There are literally thousands of pages of navigation information that we can’t fit on to the charts. Nine volumes of the United States Coast Pilot® provide information on navigation regulations, facility locations, weather, and more – and now you have a choice of formats. If you need information for a specific bay or harbor, you might want to download a chapter. If you’re planning a longer voyage, you may want to keep an entire volume handy – so you should order it from a print-on-demand chart agent. Either way, with the U.S. Coast Pilot, you’ve got authoritative information.


More forecast information from nowCOAST
For the past 11 years, Coast Survey’s nowCOAST, a GIS-based web-mapping portal, has provided the coastal community with near-real-time surface observations, analyses, forecasts, model guidance, and selected warnings. Soon, nowCOAST will ask the public to test a new interactive map viewer that allows animation, and provides a suite of new “time-enabled” web map services.

NOAA ENC Online lets you see the ENC data without a specialized system.

NOAA ENC Online lets you see the ENC data without a specialized system.

ENC data available for viewing without a specialized system
Coast Survey provides free electronic navigational charts (NOAA ENC®) to the public, but you need a specialized chart display system to use ENCs for navigation. Coast Survey recently introduced NOAA ENC Online, so you can view the data without the system. (IMMEDIATE CAVEAT FOR NAVIGATION: You still need a specialized display system to use the multi-layered functional data that makes ENCs so valuable.) Since NOAA ENC Online is web-based, there is nothing to download. Users can click on the web map and zoom to selected features or locations, to see the information contained in over a thousand ENCs of NOAA-charted waters.

ENC data available in GIS/CAD formats
While NOAA ENC Online lets you see the charted data and use it as a basemap, ENC Direct to GIS is a product for GIS experts who want to extract sets of features or themes for use in GIS analysis. Coast Survey has translated the electronic navigational chart data from S-57 format (the standard set by the International Hydrographic Organization) to a GIS-friendly format.


The International Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) requires ships to carry to up-to-date nautical charts and publications for the intended voyage. Beginning in 2012, certain classes of vessels are required to use an Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS). The adoption of ECDIS is on a transition schedule, under U.S. Coast Guard regulations for ships in U.S. waters. Coast Survey is aggressively enlarging our suite of over a thousand ENC charts, as indicated by the recent addition of ENCs for the St. Lawrence Seaway. Coast Survey also worked with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to make their digital Panama Canal charts available as ENCs.

Why ENCs? They are the chart of the future, giving ships real-time navigation tools to avoid collisions and groundings. The navigation system software can continuously monitor the ship’s position relative to all of the features contained in the NOAA ENC, whether displayed or not, and sound alarms if it detects a hazardous situation. Similarly, the software can check that planned routes will provide safe passage for the vessel by checking for proximity to dangers and crossing areas with insufficient depth.


MyNOAACharts app popularity leads to better charting service for private innovation
As good as current electronic charting systems are, future possibilities hold even greater promise. While Coast Survey looks inward to build better ENCs, faster, we also look to the innovative power of private enterprise. We learned some productive lessons during a recent beta test of a limited (and very popular!) mobile app, MyNOAACharts. Coast Survey is removing the app from the Google Play Store on March 29, but cartographers are already working on the next level of innovation in the private mobile app and chart plotter markets. Our goal is to provide all mariners with access to the most updated charts and publications.

Tile services coming to application developers
Coast Survey is planning several initiatives to improve interfaces between charts and mobile apps. This summer, we plan to announce a new raster tile service that will make it easier for app developers to use NOAA charts in their products. By providing tilesets (both single chart and quilted) and metadata, we will bolster the new wave of digital charting services and products. And it’s just the beginning…

NOAA navigation response teams improve charts for ships transiting Miami and San Francisco   Leave a comment

Coast Survey’s navigation response teams, which are 3-person hydrographic survey teams on small boats, have made a fast start on this year’s survey season.

In Florida, where Coast Survey is preparing to issue a “new and improved” Miami Harbor Chart 11468 to alleviate vessel congestion at the Port of Miami, a navigation response team finished final hydrographic surveys to ensure the new chart has the latest and most accurate depth measurements around several areas identified as critical within the port. In just ten days, team members Erik Anderson, James Kirkpatrick, and Kurt Brown acquired, processed, and submitted the multibeam survey data covering 64 nautical miles.

NRT2 Miami survey

NOAA Navigation Response Team 2 just finished up this survey in Miami

The Biscayne Bay Pilots and others requested the new chart, which is reconstructing old charts in order to provide large-scale coverage of the entire precautionary area where vessels congregate to await pilotage and commit to an approach course to the channel. Updating the chart information and expanding chart coverage will alleviate a navigation safety risk for the world’s busiest cruise port, and will protect endangered coral reefs from inadvertent anchorages.

One interesting side note on the Miami survey… The team found a sunken car, which a Miami Police Department Marine Patrol/Underwater Recovery Detail dive team subsequently investigated. It appears to have been there for approximately 20 years, divers said. We understand they retrieve around 50 cars a year, but have never seen one this old. They plan to raise it later this month. Any bets on make and model?

NOAA navigation response team found this submerged auto at PortMiami

NOAA Navigation Response Team 2 found this submerged auto at Port of Miami

Meanwhile, in San Francisco Bay, another navigation response team is planning a special hydrographic survey to update NOAA charts 18656 and 18657. The action comes as a follow up to a July 2013 grounding by a tug and a barge carrying 80k barrels of crude oil in Benicia Anchorage 22, near Carquinez Strait, San Francisco. After the accident, team members Laura Pagano, Ian Colvert, and Edmund Wernicke conducted a reconnaissance hydrographic survey to determine if an uncharted obstruction caused the grounding. The survey determined that shoaling was the culprit and the evidence indicated that a charted shoal has been creeping through the Benicia Anchorages towards the federal shipping channel at Carquinez Strait. Last month, the U.S. Coast Guard requested an extensive survey to determine the extent and significance of shoaling in the Benicia Anchorages, and the team is planning to conduct the survey shortly.

NRT6 survey

NOAA Navigation Response Team 6 conducted a recon survey of area where a tanker barge went aground

NOAA navigation manager Gerry Wheaton suspects heavy sediment runoff from rains over the years have altered the sea floor in navigable areas near the Strait. While the initial NOAA recon survey provided information to notify mariners of the dangers, conducting a full bottom survey to update NOAA nautical charts will provide additional detailed depth information necessary to safely navigate the area.

NOAA Coast Survey to improve “magenta line” on Intracoastal Waterway nautical charts   2 comments

The rebuilt "magenta line" will be a directional guide to help assure navigation safety.

The rebuilt “magenta line” will be a directional guide to help assure navigation safety.

The Office of Coast Survey announced today that future editions of nautical charts of the Intracoastal Waterway will be updated to include an improved “magenta line” that has historically aided navigation down the East Coast and around the Gulf Coast. Additionally, Coast Survey will change the magenta line’s function, from the perceived “recommended route” established more than a hundred years ago, to an advisory directional guide that helps prevent boaters from going astray in the maze of channels that comprise the route.

The decision comes on the heels of a year’s investigation into problems with the magenta line. In early 2013, after receiving reports of groundings by boaters who followed the line into shoals, Coast Survey started to remove the magenta line from Intracoastal Waterway nautical charts.

“We cannot deliberately include chart features that we know may pose a danger to navigation,” explained Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. “The problems of the magenta line’s misplacement, which had been developing over the past seven decades, were aggravated when some boaters assumed that the line indicated a precise route through safe water – although it actually went over land, shoals, or obstructions.”

Chart 830 - 1938

This 1938 Coast Survey chart shows the Intracoastal Waterway Route after it was updated using funds from the New Deal’s Public Works Administration.

The U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, a NOAA predecessor agency, first installed the line on nautical charts in 1912, when the advent of motor boating produced a demand for charts of the inland waters and shallower waters along the East Coast. The magenta line on Intracoastal Waterway charts received major updates in 1935, thanks to an influx of funding from the Great Depression’s Public Works Administration projects. Charts rarely recorded updates of the magenta line in the ensuing 70 years.

Boating public wants directional guidance

In 2013, while Coast Survey cartographers were removing poorly placed lines from charts that were undergoing regularly scheduled updates, Glang ordered a cartographic review of the magenta line’s function and maintenance. Simultaneous with an internal review of the issues, Glang issued a Federal Register Notice asking for public comments. Almost 240 individuals and organizations offered comments, saying that the line helped safe navigation on the Intracoastal Waterway.

“We asked Intracoastal Waterway users to let us know if they need the route designated on nautical charts, and the response was 99.9 percent in favor of keeping it on charts,” Glang said. “Many of the commenters explained how the magenta line saved them from dangerous or costly navigation errors. They also confirmed that we need to clear up any misunderstanding about what the magenta line is – and what it isn’t.”

The internal review and public comments confirm that the magenta line needs to be removed where it poses a danger to navigation, rebuilt to avoid shoals and other dangers, and reinstated to all the Intracoastal Waterway nautical charts. Importantly, Coast Survey will add notes to the Intracoastal Waterway charts, emphasizing that vessels transiting the waterway should be aware of changing conditions and always honor aids to navigation.

Improvements will take years to fully implement

“Today’s decision to reinstate the magenta line is not a quick fix,” cautions Captain Shep Smith, chief of Coast Survey’s Marine Chart Division. “It will take at least three years to fix problems that were 70 years in the making.”

Of Coast Survey’s 1052 nautical charts, 52 depict the magenta line. As charts are rotated through the update process, Coast Survey will evaluate and update the magenta line using charted information. When no depth soundings are on the chart, the line will generally be positioned in the centerline of dredged channels and natural waterways, avoiding shoals or obstructions less than the controlling depth. When the chart data is insufficient for determining the line’s preferred route, Coast Survey will attempt to gather additional data from partner agencies and reliable crowdsourcing.

“Most of the magenta line can be re-drawn by using the charted information, and we hope to get it done by mid-2015,” Smith explains. “On the other hand, resolving discrepancies between charted information and the line will require research, and new data acquisition and processing, with support from other federal agencies.”

Resolving chart discrepancies is a longer-term challenge, Smith says, and can conceivably take up to five years, or even longer. In cases where information is lacking and the line depiction can lead to risky navigation, Coast Survey will remove the line.

Background on the Intracoastal Waterway

The Intracoastal Waterway, extending about 3,000 miles, is essentially two waterways along the Atlantic and the Gulf Coast.

The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (AIWW) extends 1,200 miles from Norfolk to Key West, and is home to ports, Coast Guard bases, and a dozen military facilities. Plied by tugs and barges, passenger vessels, maritime businesses and recreational boaters, the waterways consist of a series of artificial canals and natural waterways. The AIWW will be the center of Coast Survey’s initial focus.

The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association estimates that the AIWW generates billions of dollars of commercial, recreational, and personal income annually. According to a 2006 report to the North Carolina Sea Grant Program, the AIWW produces $257 million in annual sales, over 4,000 jobs, $124 million in wages, $35.6 million in federal taxes and fees and $21.4 million in state taxes and fees in North Carolina. A similar survey in Georgia claims $33 million is total revenue generated by the AIWW. A study by the Florida Inland Navigation District shows $18 billion total economic output attributed to the AIWW.

The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) is a 1,100-mile-long shallow draft man-made protected waterway that connects ports along the Gulf of Mexico from St. Marks, Florida, to Brownsville, Texas. The Texas Department of Transportation reports that the GIWW is the nation’s third busiest inland waterway, with 91 percent of the cargo classified as petroleum and chemical related products. According to Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s Center for Ports and Waterways, 90 percent of Gulf Intracoastal Waterway barge traffic consists of petroleum products and petrochemical-related materials.

Posted January 14, 2014 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in History, Nautical charts

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