Over the past few decades, mariners have witnessed the rapid development, reliability, and availability of e-navigation components, such as the global positioning system (GPS) and electronic chart display and information systems (ECDIS). These systems, and other technology, have fundamentally changed mariners’ reliance on traditional navigation services. In addition, the ability to manage data and information provided to the mariner through the automatic identification system (AIS) and cellular service has enhanced the interconnectivity between shore side information providers and shipboard users. These technological advances and data flow will help the mariner receive data, transmit data, and generally improve bridge resource management, situational awareness, and navigational safety.
These fundamental changes present the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey with an opportunity to take the next steps in modernizing federal navigation services. Technology development compels these federal agencies to optimize the current aids to navigation, other maritime information systems, and nautical charting.
We want to hear from you, as we develop a federal development portfolio that will provide coordinated and timely delivery of navigational information and services. We invite you to attend one of our listening sessions, to tell us your emerging requirements for navigational information and service delivery systems in an eNAV environment.
Juneau, Alaska: 1 May, 1600-1700 hrs, Prospector Hotel
New Orleans, Louisiana: 7 May, 0900-1130 hrs, Port of New Orleans Auditorium
Honolulu, Hawaii: 19 May, Harbor View Center, 1129 N. Nimitz Hwy.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida: 22 May, 1700-1900 hrs, Embassy Suites, 110 SE 17th St.
Hampton Roads, Virginia: 22 May, 1700 hrs, Renaissance Hotel and Waterfront Conference Center, 425 Water St., Portsmouth
Boston, Massachusetts: 3 June, 1000-1200 hrs, Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, 55 Broadway, Cambridge
Seattle, Washington: 3 June, 1800-2000 hrs, Downtown Seattle Public Library
New York, New York: 10 June, 1000-1200 hrs, Alexander Hamilton U.S. Customs House, 1 Bowling Green, Manhattan
This week, NOAA’s National Ocean Service is inviting you to explore #Data4Coasts that NOS provides to the public, to researchers and decision makers, and to the many industries involved in coastal resilience and maritime commerce. Much of Coast Survey’s data for the coasts is easily accessible by downloading or by using a web map. Other products, like our beautiful printed nautical charts, are available for purchase – as they have been since the mid-1800s – from chart agents.
We’ve been making charts for a long time – and we’ve never been more excited about it! A quickly evolving (r)evolution is transforming the way we plan voyages and navigate, and Coast Survey is reconstructing our nautical product line for the millions of boaters and commercial pilots who are catching the new digital wave.
IMPROVING NAUTICAL CHARTS
Keeping paper charts more up-to-date Everyone recognizes the comfort of using paper charts. They are reliable, easy to use, and incredibly informative. They are undeniably beautiful. However, with the bulk printing process we’ve used for the last 150 years, paper charts were often out of date on the day you purchased them. Sometimes they were way out of date, and you would have to spend hours manually applying critical updates. With the vast improvements in digital technology, we can now offer paper charts that are printed-on-demand – delivered where and when you want them ‒ with the critical corrections already incorporated into the charts.
Improving shoreline and feature accuracy The U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, one of NOAA’s predecessor organizations, established the geospatial foundation of America, with surveyors setting the grid, so to speak, by triangulating their way down the coasts and across the continent. Now we have GPS. We find that although the manual positioning was incredibly accurate for its time, remote sensing by NOAA LiDAR systems can produce a correction of 10 meters or more for feature positions on charts at the 1:15,000 scale. Those are vital corrections for precision navigation by vessels that can exceed a thousand feet long. The National Geodetic Survey’s Remote Sensing Division is flying the missions and gathering the precise data that we apply to our charts, to improve chart accuracy and update the ever-changing coastline.
GETTING MORE NAVIGATION INFORMATION INTO BOATERS’ HANDS
Adding free PDF charts to the product line Nearly 2.3 million charts were downloaded within 90 days of last autumn’s beta release of NOAA’s new free PDF nautical charts. To us, that represents more than two million opportunities to avoid an accident at sea. So we decided to keep the thousand free PDFs as a permanent NOAA chart product. (Find and download your chart from Coast Survey’s interactive chart catalog.)
The PDF charts are exact images of NOAA’s traditional nautical charts. It’s important to remember, though, that printing PDFs may alter a chart’s scale, color, or legibility. Ships that are required to carry a navigational chart published by the National Ocean Service should obtain up-to-date printed charts from chart agents.
Providing format choices for the United States Coast Pilot There are literally thousands of pages of navigation information that we can’t fit on to the charts. Nine volumes of the United States Coast Pilot® provide information on navigation regulations, facility locations, weather, and more – and now you have a choice of formats. If you need information for a specific bay or harbor, you might want to download a chapter. If you’re planning a longer voyage, you may want to keep an entire volume handy – so you should order it from a print-on-demand chart agent. Either way, with the U.S. Coast Pilot, you’ve got authoritative information.
MAKING DATA MORE ACCESSIBLE
More forecast information from nowCOAST For the past 11 years, Coast Survey’s nowCOAST, a GIS-based web-mapping portal, has provided the coastal community with near-real-time surface observations, analyses, forecasts, model guidance, and selected warnings. Soon, nowCOAST will ask the public to test a new interactive map viewer that allows animation, and provides a suite of new “time-enabled” web map services.
ENC data available for viewing without a specialized system Coast Survey provides free electronic navigational charts (NOAA ENC®) to the public, but you need a specialized chart display system to use ENCs for navigation. Coast Survey recently introduced NOAA ENC Online, so you can view the data without the system. (IMMEDIATE CAVEAT FOR NAVIGATION: You still need a specialized display system to use the multi-layered functional data that makes ENCs so valuable.) Since NOAA ENC Online is web-based, there is nothing to download. Users can click on the web map and zoom to selected features or locations, to see the information contained in over a thousand ENCs of NOAA-charted waters.
ENC data available in GIS/CAD formats While NOAA ENC Online lets you see the charted data and use it as a basemap, ENC Direct to GIS is a product for GIS experts who want to extract sets of features or themes for use in GIS analysis. Coast Survey has translated the electronic navigational chart data from S-57 format (the standard set by the International Hydrographic Organization) to a GIS-friendly format.
BUILDING ENCs FOR THE FUTURE
The International Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) requires ships to carry to up-to-date nautical charts and publications for the intended voyage. Beginning in 2012, certain classes of vessels are required to use an Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS). The adoption of ECDIS is on a transition schedule, under U.S. Coast Guard regulations for ships in U.S. waters. Coast Survey is aggressively enlarging our suite of over a thousand ENC charts, as indicated by the recent addition of ENCs for the St. Lawrence Seaway. Coast Survey also worked with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to make their digital Panama Canal charts available as ENCs.
Why ENCs? They are the chart of the future, giving ships real-time navigation tools to avoid collisions and groundings. The navigation system software can continuously monitor the ship’s position relative to all of the features contained in the NOAA ENC, whether displayed or not, and sound alarms if it detects a hazardous situation. Similarly, the software can check that planned routes will provide safe passage for the vessel by checking for proximity to dangers and crossing areas with insufficient depth.
MyNOAACharts app popularity leads to better charting service for private innovation As good as current electronic charting systems are, future possibilities hold even greater promise. While Coast Survey looks inward to build better ENCs, faster, we also look to the innovative power of private enterprise. We learned some productive lessons during a recent beta test of a limited (and very popular!) mobile app, MyNOAACharts. Coast Survey is removing the app from the Google Play Store on March 29, but cartographers are already working on the next level of innovation in the private mobile app and chart plotter markets. Our goal is to provide all mariners with access to the most updated charts and publications.
Tile services coming to application developers Coast Survey is planning several initiatives to improve interfaces between charts and mobile apps. This summer, we plan to announce a new raster tile service that will make it easier for app developers to use NOAA charts in their products. By providing tilesets (both single chart and quilted) and metadata, we will bolster the new wave of digital charting services and products. And it’s just the beginning…
Today, we have good news for boaters with electronic charting systems that use NOAA raster navigational charts (NOAA RNC®): your charts are going to be easier to read.
The NOAA RNC is a geo-referenced digital image of the traditional paper chart. When it comes to digital graphics, higher resolution is generally better than lower resolution. Dots per inch (dpi) measures the image resolution: the higher the dpi, the better the resolution, the clearer the image. Today, cartographers at Coast Survey are busy improving the resolution of NOAA RNCs, increasing the chart images from the current 254 dpi to 400 dpi. This change improves the clarity, readability, and aesthetics of this highly popular digital charting product.
Coast Survey maintains over a thousand RNCs that are available as free downloads. Our Marine Chart Division is transitioning the entire suite, updating and checking quality on all the charts, and we expect all RNCs to be upgraded to the 400 dpi by January 2014. Don’t worry, we aren’t taking anything offline. You won’t even notice that we’re changing the RNCs, except that you’ll see clearer images after your chart has been changed to 400 dpi.
This improvement in RNC clarity will make it easier and faster for mariners to interpret the information on the chart. Less time puzzling through ragged graphics means more time to increase situational awareness.
We’ve included a 400 dpi test dataset on the NOAA RNC webpage, so RNC users can give it a try. The test dataset includes BSBs for Detroit, Long Island Sound, Puget Sound, and Tampa Bay. We hope that users and developers will let us know if you discover any problems with the test dataset. (Submit comments here.) We’ve listed some frequently asked questions below.
Does this change the actual format of the RNC? No. The only change is the resolution of the chart image.
Will higher resolution files have bigger file sizes? The average increase in file size is around 50 percent, but that is easily handled by today’s computers, mobile apps, and display systems.
When will all the high-resolution RNCs be available for public download? If the transition goes as planned, NOAA expects to upgrade all RNCs to 400 dpi by the end of 2013.
I currently use the NOAA RNC suite in my chart plotter. Will the high-resolution RNCs work as well? We expect no compatibility issues in this upgrade. If you do have technical problems with this upgrade, contact your software provider for technical assistance. We encourage software providers to let us know of any difficulties during the testing period. Submit comments and questions to NOAA’s Nautical Inquiry & Comment System.
It was only ten short years ago that NOAA began issuing electronic navigational charts (NOAA ENC®) as official products. As we look back, the promises of a product that emerged a decade ago continue to beckon, with even more uses and greater usage.
“We still make the traditional paper charts that mariners have depended on, but the world of navigation is changing, and Coast Survey is helping to lead that change,” explains Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. “Increasingly, mariners use – and soon will be required to use – electronic systems and displays to view and manage the safe navigation of their ships.”
The initial focus of Coast Survey’s ENC program, as the effort began in 1997, was to provide electronic chart coverage of the nation’s 40 major commercial port areas. Coast Survey first issued provisional ENCs in July 2001, and asked the public to evaluate the new product. Two years later, after a million downloads and with strong approbation from the maritime industry, Coast Survey removed the “provisional” designation. It wasn’t long before Coast Survey started extending the program to smaller scale coastal ENCs that connected the ports.
Within six months of “officialdom,” Coast Survey had produced 364 ENCs. Today, Coast Survey has 995 ENCs, with more in the pipeline.
Usage continues to surge. As recently as five years ago, we were averaging about 900,000 downloads a month. Now we average more than 9 million downloads a month – all of them free to any user, anywhere in the world. Granted, it is so easy to download our entire suite of charts that many users simply hit “all” for downloads – while they walk away to get a cup of coffee – and, by the time they return to their computer, the ten or twenty charts they really wanted are easy to pick out from the suite. That ease of downloading adds to the usefulness of ENCs.
The U.S. Coast Survey, our predecessor agency, published our first paper nautical chart – the Map of New York Bay and Harbor and the Environs – in 1845. In 1990, we began producing raster charts for use in electronic navigation systems. Raster navigational charts are digital pictures of paper charts, with geo-referencing and other digital data added. ENCs are also digital, but they contain data rather than simple pictures. Creating an electronic chart from a database of objects and their attributes gives users the ability to turn the objects on and off when the chart is displayed on a computer screen.
For the 65 years since the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey issued the first edition of U.S. Chart No.1 in 1948, mariners have had a standard guide for understanding the symbols, abbreviations and terms used on paper nautical charts. In a major step forward, a new edition of that guide also describes the symbols specified by the International Hydrographic Organization for the display of electronic navigational charts (ENC) on Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems (ECDIS).
Several maritime nations produce their own versions of Chart 1. The U.S. Chart No. 1 describes the symbols used on paper nautical charts produced by NOAA and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). The new U.S. Chart No. 1 is the first “Chart 1” produced by any country to show paper and electronic chart symbology side by side.
“Navigational charts moved to electronic format more than 15 years ago, and downloads of NOAA ENCs® now far outpace sales of paper charts,” explains Commander Shep Smith, division chief of Coast Survey’s Marine Chart Division. “Most of the symbology used to display ENCs is intuitive to the experienced mariner, but caution tells us that mariners will be safer when U.S. Chart No. 1 explains the symbols that appear on their electronic displays.”
They’ve set up a unique online site to facilitate the conversation, and they invite anyone with an interest in the U.S. marine transportation system to join the discussion. (Deadline for comments is February 28.) For background, you might want to read the committee’s e-Navigation Strategic Action Plan.
As defined by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), e-navigation is “the harmonized collection, integration, exchange, presentation, and analysis of maritime information onboard and ashore by electronic means to enhance berth-to-berth navigation and related services for safety and security at sea and protection of the marine environment.”
The committee’s e-Navigation Integrated Action Team will consider your comments as they develop their work plan and recommendations. They will also provide an analysis of all of the feedback this spring or early summer. We will let you know when the analysis is posted, or you can monitor the CMTS website.