Coast Survey issues new Arctic Nautical Charting Plan

In June 2011, Coast Survey issued the first edition of the Arctic Nautical Charting Plan, a major effort to improve Arctic chart coverage that is inadequate for modern needs. After consultations with maritime interests and the public, as well as with other federal, state, and local agencies, we have issued the updated Arctic Nautical Charting Plan: A plan to support sustainable marine transportation in the Alaska and the Arctic.

“Maritime challenges are increasing in the Arctic. As multi-year sea ice continues to disappear at a rapid rate, vessel traffic in the Arctic is on the rise,” said Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, Coast Survey’s director. “This is leading to new maritime concerns, especially in areas increasingly transited by the offshore oil and gas industry and cruise liners.”

“Given the lack of emergency response infrastructure in remote Arctic waters, nautical charts are even more important to protect lives and fragile coastal areas,” Glang points out.

Commercial vessels depend on NOAA to provide charts and publications with the latest depth information, but many regions of Alaska’s 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.

“Ships need updated charts with precise and accurate measurements,” explained Capt. Doug Baird, chief of Coast Survey’s Marine Chart Division. “We do not have decades to get it done; ice diminishment is here, now.”

We appreciate the perspectives offered by Alaska’s mariners in response to the 2011 Arctic Charting Plan. For instance, feedback called for adding a large-scale inset to the layout for the “Kotzebue Harbor and Approaches” chart, which we published as the first plan-inspired new chart, in April 2012.

The 2013 plan specifies 14 additional new charts, to complement existing chart coverage. Seven of the charts will fill gaps in medium-scale chart coverage from the Alaska Peninsula to Cape Lisburne at the edge of the North Slope, for coastal transits along the west coast of Alaska.  Larger scale charts will provide for safer passage though the Etolin and Bering Straits, or for entry into harbors such as Barrow, the northernmost town in the United States.

Arctic Chart Plan

The revised plan also adds NOAA chart numbers for all of the 14 future charts, and provides updated information and graphics describing the infrastructure and data needed to compile the charts.

The charting plan continues as a “living document,” as new concerns and challenges emerge. Anyone can submit comments through the Coast Survey Inquiry and Discrepancy System.

Hydro survey plans coming together for 2013

Survey ships and contractors are preparing for NOAA’s 2013 hydrographic survey season. Operations are tentatively scheduled for maritime priority areas from Maine’s Penobscot Bay, down the coast to New York and Rhode Island, and further south to coastal Virginia and approaches to Chesapeake Bay. In the Gulf, current plans are for surveying approaches to Mississippi Sound, Barataria Bay, and the Louisiana coast. Pacific Northwest surveys include Strait of Juan De Fuca and offshore Oregon and Washington. Alaskan survey plans include numerous locations, from the extreme southeastern canals, through the islands, and up to Port Clarence, Red Dog Mine, and Point Barrow.

Additionally, Coast Survey’s navigation response teams are lined up to survey in Panama City, Jacksonville, and St. Augustine, Florida; Galveston and Sabine Pass, Texas; Eastern Long Island Sound; and San Francisco Bay.

The preliminary stages of preparations remain flexible as NOAA analyzes recently budgeted post-Sandy survey needs along the NY/NJ coastline.

NOAA prelim 2013 survey plans - CONUS

NOAA prelim 2013 survey plans - AK

Recreational boaters get – and give – free nautical information

Getting free information

One of NOAA’s handiest navigation products, especially for recreational boaters, has been Coast Survey’s experimental BookletCharts™ — nautical charts that are easy to download and print from home computers. We have now moved the BookletCharts from experimental stage into official production.

BookletChart 12225Nearly a thousand newly updated BookletCharts are available free on the Web. The BookletCharts, which cover the 95,000 miles of U.S. coastline and the Great Lakes, are smaller scale than our traditional paper charts, but they contain most of the information found on a full-scale nautical chart. They are in an 8 1/2 x 11 inch PDF format for home printing.

“It is especially appropriate that we unveil these easy-to-use nautical charts as recreational boaters begin to think about their boating adventures for 2013,” explained Capt. Jon Swallow, chief of NOAA Coast Survey’s Navigation Services Branch. “NOAA’s nautical charts help to protect lives and property, and boaters should take advantage of these free nautical products.”

“Many boaters don’t use nautical charts, trusting local knowledge or their memories. But that can be dangerous, as seafloors constantly shift, shorelines erode, and dangers to navigation are discovered,” Swallow said. “BookletCharts will tell a boater about these developments, and will help ensure a safe voyage, whether it is around the bay or down the coast.”

Getting boaters to recognize the importance of carrying charts is an uphill climb. A tourist shop in Charleston recently offered (an admittedly funny) t-shirt for sale. It had a “definition” of a nautical chart splayed across the front: “chärt, noun: a nautical map that shows you what you just hit.”

Of course, smart recreational boaters know that a chart is more than that. It is the first line of defense for the lives of boaters. Hundreds of boating accidents happen because boaters are inattentive or unaware of the environment around them – underwater obstructions or shoals, for instance, that are depicted on a nautical chart.

As your boating experience bears out, the bottoms of our waterways and oceans change from the effects of storms, accumulation of sediment, and debris. Our shorelines are in a state of change, from natural powers or because of human development. And that brings up another important safety issue: Coast Survey, as the nation’s nautical chartmaker, is responsible for updating the nation’s nautical charts, to reflect those changes.

Regular readers of this blog see the fantastic work done by NOAA’s four survey ships (Fairweather, Rainier, Thomas Jefferson, and Ferdinand R. Hassler), our survey research vessel Bay Hydro II, our six navigation response teams, and independent survey contractors. They face a huge challenge: the U.S. has nearly 3.5 million square nautical miles of coastal waters, and surveying those waters, relying solely on current NOAA resources, would take 545 ship years and $5 billion just to acquire the data.

Giving free information

Fortunately, thousands of citizen volunteers in this nation’s nautical community are committed to helping us ensure safe navigation. Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, Coast Survey’s director, recently met with many of them at the U.S. Power Squadrons annual meeting in Jacksonville. The meeting was a tremendous occasion, as NOAA and the USPS renewed a 50-year commitment to a cooperative charting program that facilitates updates to the nation’s charts.

RDML Glang and Chief Commander John Alter
U.S. Power Squadrons Chief Commander John Alter (right) presents Rear Adm. Gerd Glang with an honorary USPS membership at the ceremony for renewing the 50-year Cooperative Charting Program.

As Glang explained in his remarks at the USPS meeting, “Coast Survey is a small program with a very large mission. Our few hundred people dedicate themselves to protecting people who venture on the water for their livelihood, for the nation’s defense, or for enjoyment.” He was quick to point out, however, that we also count on the U.S. Power Squadrons and the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary members who scrutinize their local charts for accuracy and report discrepancies to us.

Coast Survey and the U.S. Power Squadrons formalized the voluntary program by signing an updated Memorandum of Agreement. Under the MOA, members of the U.S. Power Squadrons look for changing conditions that could be reflected on NOAA nautical charts and submit their reports online. Coast Survey cartographers review and incorporate changes to charts and the United States Coast Pilot.

Over the last ten years, volunteers have submitted over 28,000 corrections to NOAA’s nautical charts and the Coast Pilot. More than 4,000 USPS members submitted reports, adding their particular local knowledge to NOAA’s national effort to keep navigation materials accurate.

“Sailors must be able to trust their nautical charts,” Glang pointed out. “Since charting began, cartographers have tried to capture the ocean depths at a moment in time, so we can depict them with accuracy and precision. You and I know, however, that what is precise and accurate today may be inaccurate with the passing of a single storm. So our job never ends.”

You don’t have to belong to a Power Squadron or the Coast Guard Auxiliary to give us a chart update. Anyone can report a charting discrepancy, any time. NOAA – and recreational boaters – will thank you!

Updated nautical charts help recreational boaters stay safe.
Updated nautical charts help all recreational boaters stay safe.