The United States Coast Pilot, with one of the Nation’s longest publishing records, gets better with age

The United States Coast Pilot®, originally called the American Coast Pilot, has been published for over 200 years. This set of sailing directions for U.S. coastal waters has kept millions of mariners safe from perils at sea. Last week, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey unveiled yet another improvement to the nine-volume set geared to modern mariners who need updated information as soon as it becomes available.

Anyone can now access PDF versions of the United States Coast Pilot that are updated weekly. The volumes, and the list of corrections or updates applied each week, are available for free on the NOAA Coast Survey website. For those who don’t want to print corrected pages (or the entire volume!) on their home printer, the most up-to-date volumes are also available as Print-on-Demand products from some commercial vendors. (The traditionalists among us will still be able to purchase the hard copy printed annually.)

Coast Pilot has one of the longest publishing records in U.S. history.

Edmund March Blunt published the first American Coast Pilot in 1796. Blunt’s Coast Pilot was not the first book of sailing directions, or even the first such book concerning American waters. However, it was the first book of American sailing directions published in the United States.

The U.S. Coast Survey, an early predecessor to NOAA, had the knowledge, the capacity, and, one could argue, a responsibility to ensure the timeliness and accuracy of sailing directions for U.S. coastal waters. The agency published its version of sailing directions in George Davidson’s Directory for the Pacific Coast of the United States, as Appendix No. 44 in the 1858 annual report of the Superintendent of the Coast Survey Showing the Progress of the Survey.

Notes on the Coast - South Carolina
From Notes on the Coast of the United States, Coast of South Carolina, page 14.

In 1861, as the federal government prepared for naval action for the Civil War, the U.S. Coast Survey assembled the Notes on the Coast of the United States, secret documents used by the Union Blockade Board. The 1857 edition of the American Coast Pilot was available for the war effort but, as John Cloud points out in The U.S. Coast Survey in the Civil War, it “assisted the mariner in getting from here to there. The Coast Survey needed a guide detailing why one would want to go there in the first place, and what the strategic significance of there was.” The Notes series, covering the Delaware Bay to the Mississippi Sound on the Gulf Coast, contributed to the efficacy of the Union blockading squadrons. The volumes were handwritten, in an effort to avoid disclosure to any Confederate sympathizers who may have been working with the printing presses.

In 1867, the United States government bought the copyright to Blunt’s American Coast Pilot, then in its 21st edition.

U.S. Coast Pilot modernizes its update capabilities.

Fast forward through the next 145 years. Today, United States Coast Pilot users can be their own printers if they wish, and they have an easier way to keep track of changes. The “Weekly Record of Updates” (now preceding the index) provides a quick reference and cumulative listing of all affected paragraphs revised at the time of download. It also serves as a record for future hand corrections. To serve you better, we have also made it easier to self-correct the printed Coast Pilot. In the past, updates identified only those lines of a particular paragraph that required revision. Now, we will replace the entire paragraph that contains the change, as explained here.

To increase efficiency and timeliness, Coast Pilot updates will only be posted here on the Coast Survey website. They will no longer be included in the Coast Guard Local Notice to Mariners.

Coast Survey has thoroughly tested this new Coast Pilot update system. While the changes are substantial improvements for navigation safety, we realize that customers are accustomed to the traditional books and updates. If you have questions or comments, we’d like to hear from you.

This blog is monitored during regular working hours (8 am to 5 pm, ET), and we will moderate comments as soon as possible. Approval of comments offered during evenings or weekends may be delayed.

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