Whether navigating an oil tanker, cruise ship, fishing vessel, sailboat, or any craft, the mariner requires a suite of navigation charts that are consistent and easy to use. The public feedback we received to the National Charting Plan regarding the “sunset of paper” charts (p. 26) highlights two navigation products in particular, NOAA paper nautical charts and raster navigational chart (RNC).
We recognize the continued popularity and dependence of many of our users on our paper and raster charts, and NOAA will continue to update these charts with all critical information. Despite some reports to the contrary, the draft plan does not offer a timeline for ending the production of NOAA paper charts or RNCs. We expect this process may take decades to complete, as user communities continue to adopt electronic navigation and our production system and products continue to improve. However, we do want to start the conversation and solicit feedback to focus our improvement on electronic navigational charts (ENC). In response to a surge of interest in the past few weeks, although the official comment period ends June 1, 2017, as stated in the Federal Register Notice, we will continue to accept comments on the National Charting Plan through July 1, 2017.
The ENC vector chart is still relatively new and needs some improvement. We recognize that in many cases, the ENC is not as easy to use as its paper equivalent, even though it satisfies all requirements for safe navigation. The long-term goal at NOAA is for ENCs and charts derived from them to surpass paper charts in all categories and for all mariners to prefer them to paper.
The Merrimack River (US5MA1AM) provides an example of how a new NOAA ENC® fulfilled a local request for larger scale data. Historically, charts did not depict the river from Newburyport to Haverhill, MA, at an appropriate scale for recreational boaters to navigate safely. NOAA created a robust 1:12,000 scale ENC (without corresponding large-scale paper and RNC charts) to allow recreational boaters to navigate safely on the river. NOAA intends to increase its large-scale coverage in recreational areas but does not believe that it is always practical to offer corresponding traditional paper chart coverage. Large-scale data across large areas is better suited for use in electronic navigation systems for both regulated and recreational mariners.