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.

Call for articles! Hydrography: it’s more than charts   Leave a comment

In 2005, the International Hydrographic Organization established World Hydrography Day, celebrated annually on June 21. To observe this year’s World Hydrography Day, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey is calling for articles for an e-publication dedicated to this year’s theme: “Hydrography: It’s More Than Charts.” Hydrography is the science upon which nautical charting is based, but, as this year’s World Hydrography Day theme conveys, researchers and planners use hydrography in a range of activities that benefit the coastal environment and the marine economy.

Survey ship using mutibeam echo sounder

A NOAA survey ship uses its multibeam echo sounder to conduct hydrographic surveys

This e-publication will bring the world of hydrography to non-hydrographers who don’t know what they’re missing! By publishing a variety of short, enlightening articles that describe the many beneficial uses of hydrographic data, we hope to inform – and inspire – policy makers, coastal planners, future hydrographers, and industries that benefit from a vital ocean economy. Let’s share some coastal intelligence.

This call for contributions is open to the public, to researchers, and to people at all levels of local, state, and federal government. International participation is encouraged. We welcome submissions of interesting, original articles discussing the use of hydrographic survey data beyond creating and updating nautical charts. We are particularly interested in case histories of creative approaches and partnerships that solved a problem. Submissions describing visionary concepts for future activities, especially with projects that strengthen smart ocean use and planning, or that contribute to the growth of the ocean economy, are also welcome.

Possible topics may include, but are not limited to, use of hydrography and hydrographic data in:

  • port operations
  • coastal planning and development
  • legal dispute resolution
  • geographical boundary establishment
  • alternative energy siting
  • fisheries management
  • habitat mapping
  • coastal modeling
  • marine resource conservation
  • storm surge forecasting
  • extended continental shelf determination
  • military/naval operations
  • hazard mitigation (e.g., to initiate oil spill trajectory models, or to assist in predicting where spilled oil will go)



Please email proposals of your article, and a brief CV (no more than 100 words), to by 12 pm EST, March 2. Proposals should not exceed 250 words. Provide a synopsis of your topic, with an outline of your projected content.

No later than March 10, Coast Survey will notify authors who are selected to submit full articles. Selected authors have until May 16 to submit articles up to 1,500 words. (Failure to submit articles by the deadline may result in elimination from the publication.)

Each author whose article is selected for publication will be required to verify in writing that his/her submission(s) is an original work of authorship. In addition, the author of each submission grants to the U.S. Government a royalty-free, irrevocable license to reproduce, distribute, create derivative works from, and publicly perform and display such work in any form or medium, including print or electronic, without geographic limitation.

This publication is meant to be an easy and enjoyable reading experience for people who are not necessarily experts in hydrography, so keep your article clear and concise. (Authors may find the federal government guidelines for plain language useful.) Always explain abbreviations, acronyms, and technical terms, if you must use them. For questions on grammar, punctuation, usage, and journalistic style, please refer to the Associated Press Stylebook.

After acceptance, Coast Survey editors will edit articles for grammar and readability, but authors will have authority over final content of their articles.


The text of the article must be submitted in Microsoft Word format. All images must be submitted as separate electronic files, accompanied by a caption. Do not include images in the text of your document.

Headline: Maximum five words

Subhead: Maximum ten words

First Paragraph: Tell the reader what the article is about. Give them a reason to keep reading. Limit the first paragraph to 100 words.

Body text: Try to organize your article into sections of no more than 200 words each. Use subheadings that describe the content of that section. Do not use footnotes, endnotes, headers, footers, or page numbers.

Graphics: Provide photos, maps, figures, or charts that illustrate the point of your article and inspire curiosity. Use the highest resolution that you can achieve. We will credit the author of an image whenever and wherever it appears in the publication, so there’s no need to watermark photos. Do not include caption in your images, as captions will be added in the editing process. Additionally, skip the frames and artistic borders supplied with some editing apps.

If you have questions, contact Coast Survey communications specialist, Dawn Forsythe, at or use this form


NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey is the nation’s nautical chartmaker. Using NOAA vessels and private contractors, Coast Survey conducts and manages hydrographic surveys that acquire data to create charts, map seafloor terrain, and improve modeling.

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

Tagged with

Great Lakes mariners get new NOAA nautical chart for St. Mary’s River   Leave a comment

Vessel operators transiting St. Mary’s River, between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes, have a new nautical chart to help lessen the dangers inherent in this narrow and complicated waterway. The first edition of Chart 14887 (St. Marys River – Vicinity of Neebish Island) is available this week as a paper print-on-demand chart, PDF, and raster navigational chart. The electronic navigational chart will be available by March, in time for the beginning of the shipping season. (UPDATE, 2/12/14: NOAA ENC US5MI50 is now available.)

Coast Survey has built the chart from original sources, providing the highest standard of accuracy for hydrographical and topographical features and aids to navigation. The chart provides large-scale (1:15,000) coverage of the up bound and down bound channels of the St. Mary’s River – one of the busiest waterways in the nation. Over 4,100 transits of commercial and government vessels move about 75 million tons of cargo through the 300-day shipping season.

Corrected shoreline, chart 14883

The red lines show the shoreline as depicted before the updates. NOAA cartographers are applying the corrected shoreline and feature positions to the new chart and new editions of current charts in the Great Lakes.

Chart 14887 uses updated shoreline data, collected with NOAA’s high tech remote sensing planes. (See National Geodetic Survey’s shoreline data viewer.) At the 1:15,000 scale, the positions of many of the features were corrected an average of ten meters from positions in prior charts, a vital correction for precision navigation by vessels that can exceed a thousand feet long.

Coast Survey also plans to issue new editions of the current four largest scale charts of the St. Mary’s River in late January. Charts 14882, 14883, 14884 and 14962 will have all new shoreline, updating the locations of features and aids to navigation. These updates for the St. Mary’s River follow 21 new editions for Great Lakes charts from Buffalo to Thunder Bay Island, around the Lower Peninsula to Milwaukee Harbor and Ludington. More updates are slated for 2014 and 2015.

Chart 14887 was compiled by Nathan Burns and reviewed by Laurie Bennett, under the direction of Marine Chart Division branch chief Andy Kampia.

Iron ore shipment on Lake Superior

Updates to NOAA’s Great Lakes nautical charts will benefit ships like this one, carrying iron ore on Lake Superior. Photo courtesy of Carolyn St. Cyr.

Happy holidays to chartmakers in the U.S. and around the world   2 comments

Holiday card 2013

NOAA’s paper nautical charts get a needed update – literally

Paper nautical charts hold a special spot in a sailor’s heart – and in the chart table. The October announcement that the federal government will stop bulk lithographic printing of nautical charts brought some understandable angst to boaters – but fear not! NOAA may be changing the chart production process but we will NOT stop the production of paper charts. We are working with private companies to make them better: printed in brighter colors and available for fast delivery to your door. Most importantly, they are up-to-date to the moment you order it. These improved paper charts are NOAA-certified print-on-demand (POD) nautical charts, created by NOAA Coast Survey cartographers.

While the lithographic paper charts will go away in 2014, anyone can order almost* any printed NOAA chart any time, from the comfort of your home, office, or boat. Just bookmark to find the NOAA-certified chart seller who will print your chart “on demand” and ship it to you. 

The great lithographic chart tradition answered a country’s need

For more than 150 years, the traditional paper chart that we all know and love has been printed in bulk on government printing presses, using the lithographic process. Lithographs were the latest and greatest technological achievement in the early 1850s, when Coast Survey superintendent Alexander Bache ordered Coast Survey personnel to explore the potential applications of lithography for printing maps cheaply and easily. Since the charts could be printed on cheaper and far thinner paper, lithographic copies could be folded, which was strategically important as the nation prepared for Civil War.

The new lithography helped the federal government speed the production of the thousands of charts needed for the war effort. According to contemporary reports, Coast Survey organized the “lithographing” division in 1861 “in order to aid the regular copper plate printing department in supplying speedily charts for the great demand made upon the office by the existing exigencies of the naval service, and also to afford the means of printing (under due supervision) a set of descriptive memoirs and sailing directions for the coast, for the use of the naval and military commands.”

Two lithographic presses were set up in the Coast Survey office and, according to Bache in his annual report, “an aggregate of more than two thousand copies of maps and charts were printed from them” in the first year of operation. The presses were set up, Bache says, “in order to meet the call for charts from the Naval Observatory to supply national vessels.”

The impact that lithographic printing process had on chart production is measurable. In 1844, before lithography, Coast Survey made 169 copies of its nautical charts. By the end of the Civil War in 1865, we were churning out more than 50,000 copies annually, and by 1900 we had amped up to 100,000 copies a year. With 20th century improvements in the lithographic presses and processes, Coast Survey produced over 100 million maps and charts for the Allied Forces in World War II.

The lithographic printing presses in 1908 hadn't yet reached the speed and efficiency that would be needed for time of war.

The lithographic printing presses in 1908 hadn’t yet reached the size, speed and efficiency that would be needed during wartime.

During World War II, Coast Survey's map folding room was a busy place.

During World War II, Coast Survey’s map folding room was a busy place.

Today’s digitally-produced paper chart reduces risk for maritime commerce, fishing, and recreational navigation

Coast Survey cartographers apply tens of thousands of changes to NOAA charts every year. Some changes are minor, but many are critical to safe navigation. While lithography was valuable in its day, it can take years before a new chart edition is printed with those updates. Advances in digital technology can now deliver charts that have been updated within the week.

Much of NOAA’s chart information is now delivered electronically to chart display systems, as either NOAA RNC® or NOAA ENC®, but we can also harness digital images for mariners who prefer to keep a paper chart, for primary use or for backup. This digital process gives boaters ready access to updated NOAA-certified paper charts that are printed on demand.

As of today, NOAA has agreements with two companies –  OceanGrafix and East View Geospatial, with their local partners – to print and deliver paper print-on-demand nautical charts. We are working with a dozen other companies that have expressed an interest in becoming a NOAA-certified POD partner, and we will keep the vendor list updated at

Commercial mariners can be assured that NOAA-certified POD charts meet the requirements for the mandatory carriage of nautical charts.

Whether the paper charts are printed using lithographic printing presses or after transmission of digital images, Coast Survey’s mission is and remains the same: to produce the nautical charts that protect life and property. That is a mission that never needs to be updated.

(*”Chart books” of some areas in the Great Lakes are not yet available as POD charts. Watch for updates.)

NOAA and Coast Guard work together to get more surveying done in the Arctic   1 comment

By Ashley Chappell, Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping coordinator

With 3.4 million square nautical miles of U.S. waters to survey and chart, Coast Survey is up against some big challenges in keeping nautical charts current. A complete survey of those waters would require over 500 ship years and $5 billion ‒ just to acquire the data. It is no wonder that we put substantial effort into a program known as integrated ocean and coastal mapping (IOCM), where trusted partners can provide high quality, standards-compliant hydrographic survey data for a multitude of uses, including chart creation.

One of our biggest challenges is in the Arctic. Whether you knew it or not, the U.S. is an Arctic nation thanks to Alaska, and this formerly frozen region is becoming more accessible to ship traffic as sea ice melts. But much of our Arctic coastal areas have never had full bottom bathymetric surveys, and some haven’t had more than superficial depth measurements since Captain Cook explored the northern regions in the late 1700s.

So NOAA has a dilemma: how do we survey and chart an ice-diminished Arctic when we have limited resources and limited seasonal access? We assessed data age and quality, we reviewed our chart coverage, and we developed the Arctic Nautical Charting Plan for where we would improve chart coverage if we get new data. But our resources for ship and contract surveys can only do so much, and we need more data…

Monitors on SPAR

Hydrographic survey monitors were installed on the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Spar.

Enter our maritime partners, the U.S. Coast Guard. Since 2008, NOAA has been working with the U.S. Coast Guard in Alaska to improve shipping safety. For instance, the Coast Guard buoy tenders, that set buoys and dayboards used to mark the safe passage through waterways throughout Alaska, were finding that some of the natural channels moved from year to year, and so they started using single beam sonar to find the channels. Seeing a way to support this effort, NOAA experts joined U.S. Coast Guard buoy tenders as they headed into the Bering Sea, helping to train Coast Guard personnel to set the buoys safely, quickly, and accurately.

We also started exploring the possibility of the Coast Guard collecting hydrographic data for nautical charts. In 2012, Lt. Cmdr. Mark Blankenship was NOAA’s lead on a joint NOAA/USCG Arctic hydrographic project aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Hickory from Homer, helping to develop an operational procedure to get Coast Guard survey data to NOAA. This year, we are happy to see that professionalism, enthusiasm, and teamwork has resulted in Coast Guard Cutter SPAR providing Bechevin Bay data that will help guide our decision-making for survey priorities.

SPAR commanding officer Lt. Cmdr. Michele Schallip signed the data set on September 10, and highlighted the contributions of Boatswain Mate 1st Class Michael Cobb, who spearheaded the project, with the assistance of NOAA chief survey technician Tami Beduhn, navigation manager Lt. Matt Forney, and Lt. j.g. Jon Andvick.

With the Alaskan coast comprising 57% of the U.S. navigationally significant waters, a multi-agency partnership for hydro survey data is necessary for maritime safety. This year’s successful SPAR survey is an important step in that effort. We look forward to continuing this work with our fantastic Coast Guard partners, and we hope to expand the IOCM concept to other vessels that have survey capability in the Arctic.

Alaska and CONUS

Size comparison of Alaska and the contiguious states. The blue areas depict the extent of navigationally significant areas for surveying purposes.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,311 other followers