NOAA navigation response team locates sunken vessel before nor’easter strikes

On March 12, 2018, NOAA Coast Survey’s navigation response team 5 (NRT5) located the T/V Captain Mackintire, an 80-foot towing vessel that sank off the coast of Kennebunkport, Maine. The U.S. Coast Guard requested assistance finding the vessel, citing concerns of environmental hazards due to an unknown amount of fuel remaining onboard.

While being transferred from Maine to New York by the smaller tug, Helen Louise, Mackintire‘s seaworthiness became questionable. The crew aboard the Helen Louise contacted USCG Sector Northern New England for support. The USCGC Reef Shark patrol boat assumed towing responsibility of Mackintire and around 2 a.m. on February 22, the Reef Shark cut the towing line as Mackintire sank.

T/V Captain Mackintire in front, with Helen Louise in the background towing. Credit: USCG Sector Northern New England

As soon as NRT5 received the USCG request to locate the Mackintire, the team—Lt. j.g. Dylan Kosten, Michael Bloom, and Eli Smith—departed from their homeport of New London, Connecticut, for Kennebunkport. 

Surveying in a small vessel in Maine during March is highly restricted by cycles of low pressure, known as nor’easters, which in some cases create 100 mile per hour winds, coastal flooding, and blizzard conditions. Recognizing a narrow window of opportunity before the next storm hit, NRT5 amended their existing plan—to begin survey post nor’easter—and instead launched immediately upon arrival. Accompanied by Lara Herrmann, USCG, the team headed offshore to begin their search.

Multibeam Imagery of the vessel
Multibeam imagery of the T/V Captain Mackintire.

Within 15 minutes of initiating survey operations at the location provided by the USCG, the team found the tug using multibeam sonar imagery. Upon inspection, they determined the vessel is laying on its starboard side in 45 meters of water, 300 meters to the southwest of its last known position. With survey operations completed, the team opted to remain in Kennebunkport to weather the storm before returning to New London.


Take a 360 tour of NOAA Ship RAINIER

In celebration of 50 years of survey and service to the nation, NOAA ships Rainier and Fairweather—two of NOAA’s hydrographic survey vessels—will be opening their doors and hosting public ship tours. Since we understand that many of you are unable to be in Newport, Oregon, the afternoon of March 22 to take a tour in person, we are bringing the tour to you! The following 20 images offer a 360 degree view of the interior and exterior of NOAA Ship Rainier. The images were taken last field season on the survey operations mission to Channel Islands, California. From the crew mess and engine room to a view from the bow, we have captured it all.

The crew mess


Wardroom lounge


Laundry room

Ocean lab

Survey plot room

“Holodeck” (aft survey plot room)




Infirmary (med bay)

Cold stores

Central engine room control

Engine room


Boat deck



View of fantail from boat deck

NOAA RNC Tile Service displays first ENC-only product

NOAA Office of Coast Survey released its 1:12,000 electronic navigational chart (NOAA ENC®of the Merrimack River, Massachusetts, in the RNC Tile Service. This is the first time a navigational chart—created solely as ENC product—is included in the tile service. The tile service renders a traditional depiction of the nautical chart for use with GPS-enabled electronic chart systems or other “chart plotter” display systems to provide real-time vessel positioning for recreational mariners. This chart is included in the single chart tile sets and the quilted tile sets both in the online and offline versions.

The Merrimack River, located in Massachusetts, is just south of the New Hampshire border.The single chart tile set is named​ 13274K0000_1.
The Merrimack River, located in Massachusetts, is just south of the New Hampshire border. The single chart tile set for this area is named​ 13274K0000_1.

The tile service version of the Merrimack chart retains the look of a NOAA paper chart but is derived from the ENC charting database. This gives users the opportunity to use ENC-only data with a traditional NOAA chart feel. NOAA intends to incorporate all future charts that are produced only as ENCs into the tile service (ENC-only charts are outlined in the National Charting Plan, page 25).

“This release represents a major milestone in nautical charting,”  said Rear Admiral Shepard Smith, the director of Coast Survey.  “This is the first chart that was digital from its inception, breaking with the longstanding practice of digital charts based on paper charts.”  

For professional mariners, it is important to note that there is no paper chart equivalent, and that this chart will not be served by the Notice to Mariners systems provided by the U.S. Coast Guard and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.  Updates will be made as necessary by NOAA weekly.  Customers with compatible applications will get the updates automatically.

The original 1:12,000 ENC of the Merrimack River was released at this time last year. Recognizing the need for a more detailed chart, a group of local and state stakeholders concerned with the economic revitalization of the area contacted NOAA to create a new, larger-scale chart. The new, larger-scale ENC was compiled using U.S. Army Corps of Engineers data, NOAA lidar data, and privately funded survey data. When shown in detail, the combined data provides mariners with a clearer picture of the overall conditions and dangers to navigation. The availability of this chart in the RNC tile service provides mariners greater flexibility in viewing the chart.

This update to the RNC tile service also includes the ArcGIS Tile Metadata Service, adding support for source chart metadata from within ArcMap and other GIS applications. Instructions for loading the tile metadata into ArcMap have been added to the developer’s website.

Instructions for loading tile metadata into ArcMap are available from the tile service website.

The ArcGIS Tile Metadata Service can be accessed from a web application, as shown below in our ArcGIS sample viewer for the quilted tile set.

ArcGIS sample viewer for the quilted tile set.



NOAA surveys for recreational boat traffic safety in Tampa Bay

NOAA’s navigation response team 2 (NRT2), homeported in Fernandina Beach, Florida, conducted a survey around the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which spans Tampa Bay. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and additional members of the Tampa Bay Harbor Safety Committee requested the work and expressed interest in establishing alternate routes for recreational boating traffic. Alternative routes will alleviate increasing congestion where the main ship channel passes beneath the bridge. This area is naturally restrictive to navigation and, as a result, there have been multiple accidents and near accidents here in the past.

Multibeam echo sounder coverage. Credit: NOAA
Multibeam echo sounder coverage. Credit: NOAA

Lt. j.g. Patrick Debroisse from NOAA Research Vessel Bay Hydro II installed a topographic lidar system on NRT2, which marked the first time a lidar system was employed from an NRT boat. The lidar system enabled 3D data to be collected for those portions of the bridge that are above water line. NRT2 collected lidar data for associated bridge protective structures and two fixed light range towers in addition to the bridge and bridge supports.   

The accurate positional and dimensional information gleaned from this data will be used to compliment extensive hydrographic sonar data collected beneath the surface. Together, the complete data set will enable full consideration of area features, both above and below the water line, in determining the placement of alternative routes.


The center spans of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge (left) were successfully captured from lidar data (right). Photo credits: NOAA
The center spans of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge (above) were successfully captured from lidar data (below). Credits: NOAA

A USCG approval decision is anticipated in the spring. If approved, the chief of the cartographic team will work to have the alternate routes added to all affected NOAA charts.

The NRT2 team consists of James Kirkpatrick (team lead), Lucas Blass, and Howie Meyers. NOAA’s NRTs operate trailer-able survey launches to provide time-sensitive information during emergency response and maritime incidents such as vessel groundings, sinkings, or cargo loss. The launches are equipped with multibeam and side scan sonar, which can help identify navigation hazards and mitigate risk to life and property.

The largest scale raster navigational charts of this area, charts 11415 and 11416, are available online.

NOAA releases 2018 hydrographic survey season plans

NOAA hydrographic survey ships and contractors are preparing for the 2018 hydrographic survey season. Operations are scheduled for maritime priority areas around the country and are outlined in Coast Survey’s living story map.

Story map of planned NOAA hydrographic survey projects in 2017.
Story map of planned NOAA hydrographic survey projects in 2018.

2018 planned survey projects:


  • North Coast of Kodiak Island – Last surveyed in 1932, this survey project focuses on areas inadequate for safe navigation, particularly along the corridor of vessel traffic transiting from Kodiak.
  • West of Prince of Wales Island – These complex waterways are critical to the economic success of local coastal communities on Prince of Wales Island. This survey project updates previous surveys dating back to 1916.
  • Tracy Arm Fjord – Frequently visited by cruise ships and tourist vessels, modern surveys will increase maritime safety and address the needs of the maritime pilot community.
  • Lisianski Strait and Inlet – This navigationally complex area experiences a large volume of marine traffic, with the vast majority of the inlet last surveyed in 1917. This project provides contemporary surveys for the area.
  • Southwest Alaskan Peninsula – This survey project updates nautical charting products to support the increase in vessel traffic in Unimak Passage. Fishing fleets in Bristol Bay and Bering Sea frequent this area.
  • Morzhovoi Bay – With parts of the bay last surveyed in the 1920s and 1950s, this survey project focuses on  areas inadequate for safe navigation.
  • Point Hope and Vicinity – Vessel traffic is increasing each year as sea ice recedes. Seventy percent of the area remains unsurveyed.

 Pacific Coast and Puget Sound

  • Puget Sound, Washington –This moderate to high traffic density area includes several ferry routes. Current surveys of the area consist of partial bottom coverage and in some areas, lesser coverage.
  • Channel Islands and Vicinity, California – This survey project provides data for crucial nautical chart updates and also generates backscatter data used in habitat mapping in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

 Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi River

  • Chandeleur, Louisiana – This survey area includes active oil and gas exploration areas and future state-leasing waters and is also shoaler than 20 fathoms throughout. This survey will identify hazards and changes in bathymetry.
  • Mississippi River, Louisiana – The ports of the southern Mississippi River represent the largest part complex in the world and one of the most heavily trafficked waterways in the United States. This survey project supports new, high-resolution charting products for maritime commerce.
  • Louisiana Coast – This survey project addresses concerns of migrating shoals and exposed hazards in the vicinity of the Atchafalaya River Delta and Port of Morgan City.
  • Approaches to Houston, Texas – The current chart coverage of the area between Galveston Bay and Sabine Bank Channels shows numerous reported wrecks and obstructions. This survey will identify changes to the bathymetry and resolve position uncertainty in known hazards.
  • Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Florida – This survey project provides updates to nautical charting products of the area and supports marine habitat research projects through the National Center for Coastal Ocean Science and the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

 Atlantic Coast and Puerto Rico

  • Approaches to Chesapeake Bay – This multi-year survey covers the approaches to Chesapeake Bay to support the safety of commerce and monitor the environmental health of the region.
  • Approaches to Jacksonville, Florida – The Port of Jacksonville entrance channel is in need of updated charts to meet the needs of larger ships.
  • Puerto Rico – NOAA will return to the island of Puerto Rico and conduct surveys to update the nautical charts in critical need of revisions following Hurricane Maria.

The 2018 field season will begin in April. That is when NOAA’s four hydrographic survey ships–Thomas JeffersonFerdinand HasslerRainier, and Fairweatherand private survey companies on contract with NOAA will tackle their assigned survey projects.

The NOAA ships are operated and maintained by the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, with hydrographic survey projects managed by the Office of Coast Survey.

The second launching of the first Coast and Geodetic Survey ship PATHFINDER

Today the NOAA Central Library unveiled the newly restored painting, Pathfinder, painted in 1899 by renowned maritime artist, Antonio Jacobsen. Included as part of the NOAA Central Library Rare Books collection, the painting is the oldest extant painting of a NOAA ancestor ship in the possession of NOAA.

Capt. Skip Theberge, NOAA ret., Rear Adm. Shepard Smith, NOAA, and ear Adm. Tim Gallaudet, USN ret.,
Capt. Skip Theberge, NOAA ret., Rear Adm. Shepard Smith, NOAA, and Rear Adm. Tim Gallaudet, USN ret., unveil the newly restored Pathfinder painting.


Craig McLean, director of the Office of Oceans and Atmospheric Research, Rear Adm. Shepard Smith, director Office of Coast Survey, Rear Adm. Tim Gallaudet, NOAA assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, Cheryl Oliver, director of NOAA Preserve America Initiative, Deirdre Clarkin, director of NOAA Central Library, and Capt. Skip Theberge, NOAA ret.


The Pathfinder vessel was one of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey’s early ships, in service from 1899-1941. The history of the Pathfinder is unique, as its career spanned 40 years charting Philippine waters before its loss in the early days of World War II. In addition to helping open the Philippine Islands to then modern ship-borne commerce, its pre-war work was instrumental for both strategic and tactical purposes in the retaking of the Philippine Islands during World War II.  

At the ceremony, Rear Adm. Tim Gallaudet (USN, ret.), NOAA assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, described the importance of hydrography to the nation, and the importance to preserving NOAA heritage. Rear Adm. Shep Smith, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, offered appreciation for the officers on board the Pathfinder, their mission, and the ship’s legacy. The ceremony was sponsored by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey Heritage Society.

Restoring the painting

Prior to coming into possession of the NOAA Central Library around 2007, the Pathfinder painting suffered damage during the mounting process and was not properly stored in a climate-controlled environment. This resulted in paint loss, bubbling at the surface, and torn edges. Although once heavily restored in the mid-20th century, it was time for the painting to be restored once again. The NOAA Central Library consulted with the Smithsonian Institution Lunder Conservation Center and obtained guidance and the conservation steps necessary to assure the painting will be available to future generations. The library received a grant from the NOAA Preserve America Initiative to have the painting cleaned, restored, and reframed by John Hartmann of Hartmann Fine Art Conservation Services, Inc.

Amber Kerr of the Smithsonian’s Lunder Center examines the Pathfinder painting.


Schuyler Miller of Hartmann Fine Art Conservation Services, Inc.
Schuyler Miller of Hartmann Fine Art Conservation Services, Inc., works on restoring the Pathfinder painting.


A brief history of the ship

The Pathfinder was originally built for surveys of the Bering Sea and maritime approaches to the Klondike and Nome gold fields up in Alaska. Because of its projected working areas and mission, it was designed to be a particularly sturdy little vessel at 196 feet long and with a breadth of beam of 36 feet 6 inches. Although built for Alaskan service, the Pathfinder only completed two missions there when they received orders directing the ship to the Philippine Islands.

U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey ship Pathfinder.

This was a time when the U.S. military presence had increased in the Philippines. In the decade following the Spanish American War—after Spain had ceded the Philippine Islands to the U.S.—many in the Philippines had hoped for independence. This  ultimately led to the Philippine Insurrection. Inaccurate and inadequate charts of the area caused frequent groundings of U.S. military vessels operating in the Philippines. The Navy lost the USS Charleston when it struck an uncharted rock. In response to defense needs, the Army and Navy called for hydrographic surveys by the U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey.  

The Pathfinder never returned to the United States and remained in the Philippine Islands, surveying its waters for the next forty years. As with the Coast & Geodetic Survey headquarters building located in Manilla, the Pathfinder met its end at the beginning of World War II. The headquarters was bombed on Christmas Eve 1941 and Pathfinder endured bombing raids over the next few days and was ultimately destroyed.

“Transcending the story of the Coast Surveyors is the sum total of their work,” Capt. Albert “Skip” Theberge (NOAA ret.) said while speaking at the ceremony. “Besides helping open up modern commerce and increasing maritime safety, the charts and surveys produced by the Coast and Geodetic Survey were an invaluable aid to the armed forces of the United States during General Douglas MacArthur’s campaign to retake the Philippine Islands during the second World War.”   

Culture and legacy

For many of the officers on board the Pathfinder, the Philippines was an exotic and exciting place to explore.  The ship’s crew was comprised of officers from the United States with much of the crew being native to the Philippines. They used cutting edge technology for the time and prided themselves on accuracy, precision, and integrity while conducting their work through language and cultural barriers. Coast & Geodetic Survey officers trained generations of Filipinos to conduct survey work from the most basic labor to highly skilled geodesists, topographers, and hydrographers.

Mapping shoreline topography with plane table and alidade.
Mapping shoreline topography with plane table and alidade. Because of crocodiles, working in water was particularly dangerous.

Before the Pathfinder was lost, it was briefly renamed the Research, and served as a training ground for native cadets of the Philippine Coast & Geodetic Survey.  Following the war, this work was continued by the Coast & Geodetic Survey until turning over the work completely to the Philippine government in 1950. Then named the Bureau of the Coast & Geodetic Survey, today it is part of the Philippine National Mapping and Resource Information Authority. This early contribution of the Coast & Geodetic Survey to nation-building is a virtually unique cultural achievement.

Learn more

NOAA Central Library has created a webpage providing an extensive history of the ship including highlights from launching during the era of the Spanish American War to ultimate loss in the Philippine Islands in the early days of World War II.  The page provides a bibliography for further exploration.  

Coast Survey thanks the NOAA Central Library for contributing the content of this blog post.

Introducing New Gulf of Maine Operational Forecast System

This month, NOAA unveiled the new Gulf of Maine Operational Forecast System (GoMOFS). This system provides users with real-time and forecasts of surface water levels, 3-D fields of water currents, water temperature, and salinity out to 72 hours. GoMOFS predictions support safe and efficient marine navigation, allowing mariners to plan their routes and avoid accidents. The system’s nowcasts and forecasts can also aid in emergency response, ecological applications, coastal management, and harmful algal bloom forecasts.

Sample display of the Gulf of Maine Operational Forecast System.
Sample display of the Gulf of Maine Operational Forecast System’s nowcast output of the surface current field (white arrows) and water levels (background color) on 12:00 UTC, January 10, 2018.

The system domain covers the Gulf of Maine region, including eastern Long Island Sound, Georges Bank, and the coast of Nova Scotia. GoMOFS uses the Regional Ocean Modeling System developed by the ocean modeling community and supported by Rutgers University as its core hydrodynamic model. The system is able to resolve coastal ocean hydrodynamic features as fine as 700 meters.

The development and implementation of GoMOFS is the result of over three years of collaboration among offices within NOAA. The Office of Coast Survey led model development while the Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services tested the model and transitioned it to operations. National Weather Service’s National Centers for Environmental Prediction Central Operations hosts and operates the system.

GoMOFS outputs are accessible to public users and will also be available on the nowCOAST web mapping portal.