Archive for the ‘Nautical charts’ Category

NOAA releases 2017 hydrographic survey season plans   Leave a comment

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey maintains the nautical charts and publications for U.S. coasts and the Great Lakes. This is over a thousand charts covering 95,000 miles of shoreline and 3.4 million square nautical miles of waters. Measuring depths and determining new dangers to navigation in this large area is a monumental job given the seafloor is constantly changing.

One of NOAA Coast Survey’s biggest tasks during the winter months is to plan hydrographic survey projects for the coming field season. Survey planners consider requests from stakeholders such as marine pilots, local port authorities, the Coast Guard, and the boating community, and also consider other hydrographic priorities in determining where to survey and when.

This year, Coast Survey has compiled a “living” story map outlining these plans. The story map will continually be updated as progress is made with each project.


Story map of planned NOAA hydrographic survey projects in 2017.


2017 planned survey projects:

  • Approaches to Savannah, Georgia, survey project will update nautical charting products in the approach to the Savannah Outer Harbor Channel, to allow for deeper draft ships and to address concerns about migrating sand shoals.
  • Approaches to Jacksonville, Florida, is in need of updated survey data to meet the needs of larger, fully loaded ships (e.g. NeoPanamax ships) transiting into the Port of Jacksonville.
  • Approaches to Houston, Texas, survey project will address the numerous wrecks and obstructions with their positions reported as approximate on the chart. This poses a danger to navigation particularly for the large traffic volumes in this area of high oil production activity.
  • Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, California, is a collaborative survey effort among Coast Survey’s Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping Program, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, and partners. The data from this project will provide seafloor habitat information to support fishery and resource protection mandates and to update nautical charting products within the area.
  • Puget Sound, Washington, needs updated survey data in areas with primary traffic lanes for the large, deep draft vessels transiting to and from the region’s busiest ports–Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett.
  • West of Prince of Wales Island, Alaska, needs updated survey data to ensure safe navigation for smaller vessels that use the Televak Narrows as an alternate passage during foul weather. These waterways are also economically significant to the coastal delivery of goods to the nearby towns and villages, and also important to recreational boaters.
  • North Coast of Kodiak Island, Alaska, will have another year of a multi-year surveying campaign in this critical area for increasing fishing and tourism.
  • Approaches to Yukon River, Alaska, area has not been surveyed since 1899 and is the most cost effective route to deliver goods to coastal and inland villages of Western Alaska. Although satellite data was used to update the shoreline, the entrances and mouth of the river need to be surveyed to modern standards to provide safe navigation options to vessel traffic.
  • Yakutat Bay, Alaska, survey project will update the area adjacent to the famous Hubbard Glacier, a popular cruise ship destination. Updated survey data will benefit Safety of Life at Sea concerns of visiting tour boats and cruise ships, and researchers studying the advancing glacier.
  • Lisianski Strait, Alaska, survey project will update this navigationally complex inlet that is heavily trafficked by passenger vessels, smaller tug and tow traffic, and recreational boaters. The current survey vintage dates back to 1917, when data were acquired using lead line instrumentation.
  • Tracy Arm, Alaska, is regularly transited during summer months by smaller commercial cruise ships and sightseeing vessels. New survey data will address the hazards that have been reported near the retreating Sawyer glacier, especially within the uncharted area at the glacier terminus.
  • Deer Passage, Alaska, is used by the fishing fleet in Bristol Bay and the Bering Sea and by tug and tow traffic delivering goods to the Aleutian Islands, western Alaska, and the Arctic. This project will update survey data from 1911 and 1941.
  • Port Clarence, Alaska, survey project will update depths in one of the only safe refuges from the famous storms of the Bering Sea. This area has also been identified as a major development priority for Alaska and the Arctic region.

The 2017 field season will begin in April. That is when NOAA’s four hydrographic survey ships–Thomas Jefferson, Ferdinand Hassler, Rainier, and Fairweatherand private survey companies on a 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.

Posted February 23, 2017 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in Nautical charts

Do you need a new chart?   1 comment

New update information service makes decisions easier

NOAA privatized printing of paper nautical charts in 2014 and, in the ensuing years, focused on modernizing chart compilation and production. Those recent changes allow us to update both paper and digital charts on a weekly basis. However, mariners still have had to deal with a cumbersome Local Notice to Mariners process to get important (or less than important) updates to the charts that they already own. Coast Survey is now making life a little easier for chart users.

Prior to 2014, when the government printed paper charts, it was easy to decide when to purchase a chart: when NOAA issued a “new edition.” Until that new edition came out, users just penciled in the updates as provided in the Local Notice to Mariners. Now, however, we are updating the actual charts before issuing new editions, on a weekly basis. Obtaining the latest updated chart, either by downloading a digital/electronic version or by purchasing a new paper chart from NOAA-certified vendors, is much easier. But is it necessary? Do the chart updates justify a cash outlay for the latest version?

How do you know when it is time to get a new chart?

Coast Survey is making a fundamental change in how we inform users about chart updates. The idea is to give users the ability to visually identify where all changes are occurring on their charts each week. With that information, you can make your own determination about when you may want to purchase an updated paper chart or download an updated raster or electronic navigational chart.

The new weekly chart updates webpage provides users with weekly information about specific changes in water depths, shoreline, obstructions, or other features on NOAA’s nautical charts.

One glance will tell you if the chart in your area has been updated. Click on the red dot for more info, and scroll back through the weeks to see prior changes.

One glance will tell you if the chart in your area has been updated. Click on the red dot for more info, and scroll back through the weeks to see prior changes.

Progressing past the legacy

This improvement reflects a basic shift in how we update the charts and how the public learns about those changes.

Since the mid-1850s, Coast Survey would collect updates for each chart, for one, five, or ten years, and would then create a new edition of that chart. Hundreds or thousands of copies would be printed and shipped out to sit on the shelves in boat shops and marine centers – until the next edition came out in one or five or ten years.

Now, Coast Survey constantly applies updates to the charts, and those updated charts are issued and available for sale on a weekly basis.  They are not “new editions,” however. Constantly issuing “new editions” would force commercial mariners to constantly purchase the editions (since many mariners are required to carry the latest edition on their voyages). We needed to hit the happy medium.

Although we are moving past the legacy of “new editions,” Coast Survey has developed an algorithm that periodically will identify a chart that meets the basic criteria for issuance as a new edition, which we post at weekly chart updates along with our normal notification in the DOLE.  This service allow users to see both LNM-based chart updates (for critical information) and non-LNM-based chart updates (which are non-critical).

Basic instructions

When the interface comes up, enter a chart number or an ENC cell number. As you begin to type a number in the box, you will be able to access a drop down of applicable charts or ENCs. 

The program allows the user to view data in one-week increments, and you may begin at any week. You can cycle through, week by week, by clicking the up or down arrows next to the date in the “week ending” box.

The right side of the screen shows the list of charts with corrections for the selected week. The first number is the number of LNM (critical) corrections, and the second number represents chart updates that were made but do not appear in the LNM. Red dots represent critical items while brown polygons show the limits of non-critical updates.

Clicking on any chart in this list will open that chart. Clicking on those dots or polygons will provide information about the correction itself.   

Currently, an item may fall in both the critical and non-critical categories if the LNM was originated on the NOAA side (i.e., if NOAA evaluated and compiled a piece of information and then provided the information to the U.S. Coast Guard for publication in the LNM).

You can create a csv file for corrections on any week. Use the download icon next to the question mark icon (info).  When you click on the downloaded file it will default to open in Microsoft Excel.

Posted February 14, 2017 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in Nautical charts

It wasn’t just Jefferson. Congress initiated Coast Survey legislation, approved #OTD 210 years ago   1 comment

On this date in 1807, President Thomas Jefferson approved an act to provide for surveying the coasts of the United States. NOAA has long honored Jefferson — but what of the legislators who saw the need, wrote the bill, and sent it to the president?

On December 15, 1806, Samuel W. Dana (CT) introduced a resolution instructing the House of Representatives’ Committee of Commerce and Manufactures to “inquire into the expediency of making provision for a survey of the coasts of the United States, designating the several islands, with the shoals and roads, or places of anchorage, within twenty leagues of any part of the shores of the United States.” Dana was joined in debate by Jacob Crowninshield (MA-2), the chair of the Committee of Commerce and Manufactures.

Samuel Dana (left) represented Connecticut in Congress from 1797 to 1821. Jacob Crowninshield, of the famed American maritime family, chaired the House Committee on Commerce and Manufactures in the 9th Congress.

Samuel Dana (left) represented Connecticut in Congress from 1797 to 1821. Jacob Crowninshield, of the famed American maritime family, chaired the House Committee on Commerce and Manufactures in the 9th Congress.


The contemporary report of the House debate gives us some understanding of the act’s provisions. (From the History of Congress, H. of R., pages 151 and 152)

Mr. Dana, of Connecticut. – In 1802, an act was passed, authorizing a survey of Long Island Sound. In pursuance of that act, the Secretary of the Treasury caused a survey to be taken by two men, who appear to have been, what the act intended, intelligent and proper persons. And there has since been published a chart of the Sound, handsomely executed, on a large scale, which must, I presume, be regarded as convenient and valuable by those concerned in that branch of navigation.

At the last session of Congress, an act was passed for another survey. It made provision for surveying the coast of North Carolina between Cape Hatteras and Cape Fear, with the shoals lying off or between those capes. I understand that measures have been taken for executing this act, but that the vessel employed in the service, and all the papers respecting the survey which had been made, had been lost near Ocracoke Inlet, in one of the desolating storms experienced on the coast in the course of the present year.

The surveys, which have thus been authorized, were perhaps of the most urgent necessity; but other surveys of the coast are desirable. What has already been done may be regarded as introductory to a general survey of the coasts of the United States under authority of the Government. With a correct chart of every part of the coast, our seamen would no longer be under the necessity of relying on the imperfect or erroneous accounts given of our coast by foreign navigators. I hope the lives of our seamen, the interest of our merchants, and the benefits to the revenue, will be regarded as affording ample compensation for making a complete survey of the coasts of the United States, at the public expense.

The information which may be obtained will also be useful in designating portions of territorial sea to be regarded as the maritime precincts of the United States, within which, of course, the navigation ought to be free from the belligerent searches and seizures.

It is proposed to extend the survey to the distance of twenty leagues from the shore. This distance is mentioned with a view to the second article of the treaty with Great Britain in 1783, which describes our boundaries as “comprehending all islands within twenty leagues of any part of the shores of the United States.”

The resolution, which I propose for the consideration of the House, is expressed in these words:

Resolved, That the Committee of Commerce and Manufactures be instructed to inquire into the expediency of making provision for a survey of the coasts of the United States, designating the several islands, with the shoals and roads or places of anchorage within twenty leagues of any part of the shores of the United States.

[end Dana]

Mr. Crowninshield, of Massachusetts, was very glad to see the resolution offered, but he should like it better if it were more extensive. He believed there were many shoals on the coast lying at more than twenty leagues distance from the shore. Among others, St. George’s Bank was at more than this distance. He wished that the resolution might be varied so as to comprehend all the shoals on the coast, from St. Croix to the southern extreme of Louisiana.

Mr. C. had always thought it important that an accurate survey should be made of our coast. Holland’s chart, though the best, is very inaccurate.

Mr. Dana accorded with the chairman of the Committee of Commerce and Manufactures (Mr. Crowninshield) in respect to the utility of an accurate survey of the shoal which he had mentioned, but was against altering the resolution so as to include any islands at a greater distance than twenty leagues from the shore. The treaty of 1773 (sic) authorizes us to consider islands within that distance as appertaining to the territory of the United States. There is, therefore, peculiar propriety in extending the proposed survey to the distance of twenty leagues along the whole of our coast. If any shoals at a greater distance from shore are to be surveyed, special provision for this purpose may be made in the details of a bill which the committee may report. It would be more convenient to specify the details in a bill than in a general resolution for inquiry.

Mr. Crowninshield then moved to strike out twenty and insert fifty in the resolution. He was confident that there were shoals lying more than twenty leagues distant from the shore, and he thought it important to have them surveyed. It might be that there are no islands beyond that distance. He was not certain in regard to them, but he was sure that there were extensive shoals.

Mr. Dana suggested that the gentleman (Mr. Crowninshield) might designate, by way of amendment, particular shoals which he wished to be surveyed.

Mr. Cook, of Massachusetts, doubted whether all of St. George’s Bank was within even fifty leagues of the shore. If it were in order, he would move to strike out twenty and insert seventy.

A division of the question on striking out twenty and inserting fifty was called for.

Mr. Crowninshield at length withdrew his motion, and it was agreed that the resolution should lie on the table.

Dana’s resolution was referred to Crowninshield’s committee the next day and, on January 6, 1807, the committee introduced H.R. 21, authorizing and requesting President Jefferson to “cause a survey to be taken of the coasts of the United States.” After some amendments, the House passed the bill on January 20, and sent it to the Senate. The Senate also had some amendments, which the House concurred with. Both Congressional chambers approved the final bill on February 9, and the bill was “laid before the President of the United States.”

Public Acts of Congress, Annals of Congress, 9th Congress, 2nd Session, pages 1254 and 1255

An Act to provide for surveying the coasts of the United States

Be it enacted &c., That the President of the United States shall be, and he is hereby, authorized and requested to cause a survey to be taken of the coasts of the Untied States, in which shall be designated the islands and shoals, with the roads or places of anchorage, within twenty leagues of any part of the shores of the United States; and also the respective courses and distances between the principal capes, or head lands, together with such other matters as he may deem proper for completing an accurate chart of every part of the coasts within the extent aforesaid.

Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That it shall be lawful for the President of the United States to cause such examinations and observations to be made, with respect to St. George’s bank, and any other bank or shoal and the sounding and currents beyond the distance aforesaid to the Gulf Stream, as in his opinion may be especially subservient to the commercial interests of the United States.

Sec. 3. And be it further enacted, That the President of the United States shall be, and he is hereby authorized and requested, for any of the purposes aforesaid, to cause proper and intelligent persons to be employed, and also such of the public vessels in actual service, as he may judge expedient, and to give such instructions for regulating their conduct as to him may appear proper, according to the tenor of this act.

Sec. 4. And be it further enacted, That for carrying this act into effect there shall be, and hereby is appropriated, a sum not exceeding fifty thousand dollars, to be paid out of any money in the Treasury, not otherwise appropriated.

Approved, February 10, 1807



Posted February 10, 2017 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in History, Nautical charts

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NOAA homeports navigation response team at Stennis Space Center, Mississippi   Leave a comment

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey announced that they will homeport one of their six navigation response teams at the John C. Stennis Space Center, Mississippi. The team will be co-located with NOAA’s National Data Buoy Center (NDBC) and adjacent to other federal and state partners involved in seafloor mapping and unmanned hydrographic survey systems.

“Coast Survey strategically places navigation teams around the country, and having a team permanently based at Stennis will speed our response to navigational emergencies in the Gulf,” said Rear Admiral Shepard Smith, Coast Survey director. “We are also looking forward to potential collaboration on emerging hydrographic technologies with our partners there.”

NOAA plans to grow the navigation response team at Stennis initially to include five people and a suite of mobile survey equipment, including unmanned systems, that can perform a variety of coastal mapping missions and respond to urgent hydrographic survey needs.


Helmut Portmann, director of the National Data Buoy Center, and other NDBC staff provide Rear Admiral Shepard Smith and Lt. Cmdr. Jason Mansour a tour of NDBC at Stennis.


“The NOAA Data Buoy Center sees value in collaborating with Coast Survey’s navigation response team as the center is interested in broadening its activities from predominantly moored buoys to all manner of ocean observation tools, including maritime unmanned systems,” said Helmut Portmann, director of NDBC.

This long term facilities arrangement at Stennis will support the team’s basic operations and will also be conducive to the research, development, and implementation of unmanned systems. The use of these systems greatly increases survey efficiency, and their flexible deployment options make them a valuable tool for marine incident response.


NDBC staff demonstrate hourly buoy observations and other system capabilities at the center to Rear Admiral Smith and Lt. Cmdr. Mansour.


“Coast Survey has over a decade of experience working with unmanned systems, using both small and large vehicles – underwater and on the water’s surface. We are working toward increasing this capability with our navigation response teams,” Smith said.

In addition to the synergies with the NOAA’s Buoy Center, the Navy has unmanned maritime systems operations based out of Stennis, and the University of Southern Mississippi is developing unmanned systems training classes.

“Placing NOAA’s Coast Survey Navigation Team at Stennis strengthens the expertise and partnership that already exists between NOAA, Navy and the University of Southern Mississippi,” said Deputy Commander Bill Burnett, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command.  “Obviously, Stennis is the place you want to be as they continue to lead the nation in the employment of unmanned systems to conduct hydrography.”

In the years since Deepwater Horizon, the Gulf coast has emerged as a regional unmanned systems hotspot, with several commercial companies designing and manufacturing unmanned maritime systems.

NOAA’s navigation response teams, part of Coast Survey, survey the seafloor in ports and harbors that have undergone infrastructure updates, shoreline alterations, or seafloor changes. They measure depths and look for underwater hazards that could endanger vessels, to update nautical charts for commercial and recreational mariners.

Posted January 4, 2017 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in Nautical charts

NOAA survey ships adopt laser scanners to improve safety at sea   6 comments

How tall is that rock, really? Is that islet charted correctly? Mariners will have greater confidence in the location and height of charted features as NOAA’s hydrographic ships increase their use of newly adopted laser technology to measure and locate topographical features like rocks, islets, and small islands.

Recently, Lt. j.g. Patrick Debroisse, junior officer on NOAA Ship Fairweather, trained his NOAA Ship Rainier colleagues on how to use the topographic laser that they will soon be receiving.

Fairweather used this laser throughout this past season for feature attribution, and I was tasked with creating the procedures and training other ships,” Debroisse reports. “Rainier will be the next ship to receive the lasers, followed by the East Coast ships [Thomas Jefferson and Ferdinand R. Hassler].”

laser image of NOAA ships

Laser image of NOAA Ships Fairweather, Rainier, and Shimada moored at Marine Operations Center – Pacific, acquired during training


NOAA charts features such as rocks, piles, islets, kelp beds, and buoys, to give the mariner a clear picture of the dangers that could be in the area. Along Alaska’s and Maine’s rocky shores, for instance, features can be especially important because the tide ranges can be large. It’s especially important to accurately measure a rock at low tide, so a mariner will know its depth when they can’t see it at high tide.

Features on chart 16604

This area on chart 16604 illustrates features that could use the precision of topographic laser scanning.


Charted features are also used for visual points of reference during navigation.

Until recently, hydrographic ships’ launches were used to locate the features. To get a reasonable location, the launch would carefully approach the rock or other feature, and “kiss” it with their bow. They would then add the five feet from the boat’s GPS unit to the feature, and mark it on their field hydrographic sheets for use by the cartographers. If the seas are too heavy, or the area too rock-strewn, the surveyors stand on the ship or shore, and use a hand-held laser range finder to measure the height and distance of the feature, and then note the time so it can be corrected for the tide.

One of Rainier's four launches at work in Uganik Bay.

One of Rainier‘s four launches at work in Uganik Bay.


This laser technology will be safer than using a launch, and more precise than is possible with the human eye. The laser uses focused light to find and place objects accurately, similar to the way sonar is used to find the seafloor. The laser head produces sixteen laser beams, which reflect off the target object and are received back by the laser head. The computer then uses that data, along with precise positioning and attitude (roll, pitch, and yaw — or orientation) data, to determine the height and location of the object.

These infrared lasers are invisible and completely safe to the eyes of humans and any animals in the area. Also, unlike airborne lidar units that obtain shallow water bathymetry, the ships’ laser cannot penetrate the water.

Fairweather worked with the Coast Survey Development Lab to test this laser scanner, to determine its feasibility as a topographical tool in the Alaskan environment,” Debroisse says. “We found that this laser method increased the speed and accuracy of data acquisition, and increased the safety of the boat crews completing these surveys.”

And safety, after all, is important for everyone from the NOAA charting teams to the millions of chart users.

Season’s Greetings   1 comment


Illustrated by Kristen Crossett, NOAA Office of Coast Survey

Posted December 20, 2016 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in Nautical charts, Poster

Fast chart update of navigation danger protects Georgia boaters   Leave a comment

Thanks to a combination of determination and technical advancements, Coast Survey was able to locate, report, and chart a danger to navigation within two weeks – a major improvement over the three-to-ten-year chart update protocol of only a few years ago.

On Monday, November 14, a Coast Survey navigation response team hit the waters of St Simons Sound, off the coast of Georgia, when the U.S. Coast Guard asked us to find a sunken fishing vessel. By the next morning, the team of James Kirkpatrick and Kyle Ward (who augmented on the project, from his normal duty as navigation manager in Charleston), reported to the Coast Guard, noting that the wreck is very shoal. They also observed recreational vessels transiting the area every 10 to 15 minutes. Coast Survey quickly issued an official Danger to Navigation Report.



Location of the wreck


Wreck as seen with multibeam echo sounder


Wreck as seen with side scan sonar


The team’s hydrographic data determined a least depth of 0.4 meters (1.3 feet) at position 31-07-34.41N// 081-25-15.88W. The vessel appears to be lying on its port side with the bow pointing in an approximate SE orientation with the stern slightly higher than the bow. The least depth appears to be on some type of rigging or fishing gear protruding from the midship area.

Recognizing that a boat could easily hit the submerged wreck, the navigation response team asked Coast Survey cartographers to quickly add it to the charts. The cartographers acted immediately, applying the wreck symbol to paper, raster, and electronic charts of the area. The cartographers, working with branch chief Ken Forster, will publish the updated charts with the next cycle of weekly updates, scheduled for Wednesday, November 23.


Coast Survey is updating charts 11506 and 11502, and ENCs US5GA13M and US4GA11M


Finding and charting dangers to navigation are our highest priorities. We encourage mariners who suspect dangers, or who want to report any chart discrepancy, to file a fast and easy report on our website.

Posted November 18, 2016 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in Nautical charts

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