U.S. Coast Pilot goes interactive

Coast Survey published its earliest version of the United States Coast Pilot in 1858, as Appendix No. 44 in Coast Survey’s Annual Report. The publication, organized into nine regional volumes, provides navigational information that can’t fit on nautical charts.

The U.S. Coast Pilot has gone through many iterations over the last 158 years. In the last century, we’ve added more information and added color to the historically black and white copy. More recently, we began posting book files on the web for easy download. We have now taken the next major step, enabled by interactive digital technology, to give boaters an enhanced and more accessible product. (Please note, the improved version is not mobile-friendly. You should use a tablet or larger screen.)

Breakthroughs in digital editing and publishing have allowed us to produce the U.S. Coast Pilot in a digital format called extensible markup language (XML). People won’t notice a difference from the original format — it looks the same as the paper copy — but the online version has some neat interactive features. To find them, go to the U.S. Coast Pilot, select your volume, and then click on a chapter in the left hand HTML column.

This new version of the U.S. Coast Pilot is formatted for reading on the web. Certain place names and objects, highlighted in green, are now directly view-able on a nautical chart and linked to entries in the official U.S. Geographic Names databaseSome other features include:

  • images that embiggen when clicked;
  • an interactive table of contents for each book; and
  • raster nautical chart links (highlighted in light blue) that can be viewed with each section in the book.
This screen grab of Coast Pilot’s HTML version shows the links to nautical charts, geotags to place names, and links to federal regulations.

Coast Survey updates the Coast Pilot weekly, and now readers can see where we made changes. The system automatically highlights changes (in gray), and retains those highlights until the next annual version is published. (The print-on-demand paper copy contains all updates made up to the time of printing.) The annual versions are published on a staggered yearly schedule.

Contact coast.pilot@noaa.gov with any questions or comments about the Coast Pilot, the format, downloads, or XML code.

Coast Survey improves the U.S. Coast Pilot by providing geotags

The U.S. Coast Pilot, the supplement to raster navigational charts (NOAA RNC®) and electronic navigational charts (NOAA ENC®), now provides geotagged reference points. A geotag is simply geographical location information assigned to a type of media. In this case, a geotag conveniently assists mariners with landmark positions and displays the associated nautical chart inset in the HTML version of Coast Pilot. Currently, 75 percent of the nine Coast Pilot volumes have been geotagged, with more points available each week to the mariner. Coast Pilot is updated and available for download weekly, and can easily be used on mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets. To access the geotags, select a Coast Pilot book and click the HTML hyperlink adjacent to each individual chapter of the book.

Access to the HTML version of Coast Pilot, where the geotags are located, can be found within each Coast Pilot Book webpage.  This image shows the location of the HTML link for Coast Pilot Book 2.
Access to the HTML version of Coast Pilot, where the geotags are located, can be found within each Coast Pilot Book webpage. This image shows the location of the HTML link for Coast Pilot Book 2.

Geotagged places will appear in bold green within the HTML version of the chapters.

Portion of the HTML Coast Pilot chapter and geotagged features in bold green.
Portion of the HTML Coast Pilot 2 (Chapter 4) and geotagged features in bold green.

Clicking on a geotag will prompt a small window with an appropriate interactive chart (RNC or ENC) along with a blue dot indicating the geotagged point with its latitude and longitude.

Chartlet with geotagged feature (includes zooming capabilities).
Chartlet with geotagged feature (includes zooming capabilities)

Also conveniently available to the mariner in the HTML version of Coast Pilot is the Code of Federal Regulations (text highlighted in dark blue) and the entire nautical chart (chart heading of each paragraph in royal blue). The geotagged Coast Pilot project is a collaborative effort between Coast Survey and the USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS). The GNIS is the official database of geographic names used by the federal government as well as information regarding specific geographical positions. As digital cartography evolves, having geotagged products opens up the door for potential future uses.

Is your boat is ready: Remember your nautical chart

Ah, the boat is ready, the safety vests are stowed on board, the sky is blue, and the water beckons… But hold on a sec, sailor! Where is your nautical chart?ChartDefinitionTransparent

A terrific t-shirt is sold in tourist shops at some of our nation’s harbors. It has a “definition” of a nautical chart splayed across the front: “chärt, n: a nautical map that shows you what you just hit.” It’s funny… but unfortunately, too true too often.

Resolve to get your nautical chart this year and consult it before you hit something. Advancements in Coast Survey’s digital processes now allow us to review and update charts weekly, and get them to boaters’ fingertips faster − and with less expense − than was possible years ago.

So, what product is best for you? Check out the options…

Paper nautical charts, printed “on demand.” Coast Survey maintains 1,025 nautical charts and provides the digital chart images to NOAA-certified agents, who print the latest version (incorporating weekly updates) when you order it. Order from any of our print agents – several with distribution to local marine shops – that offer different papers and optional premium services.

Free PDF nautical charts. Almost all nautical charts are available for download from our map-based interactive chart catalog or the numbered list. Crop, re-size, print or display them. (Just don’t use them for navigation if you are a SOLAS vessel, since regulated vessels need charts from NOAA-certified printers.)

Free BookletCharts™. For easy printing at home, choose NOAA BookletCharts. These PDFs have the same information as the regular paper charts, but they are sliced and diced into 8 ½ x 11” pages, so you can keep them in a regular notebook. Some boaters like to slide the pages into sheet protectors to protect them from the spray.

Free raster navigational charts. The NOAA RNC® is a geo-referenced digital image of the paper chart, used in a variety of commercial electronic charting systems.

Free electronic navigational charts. The NOAA ENC® is produced from a vector database of features. It supports real-time navigation as well as collision and grounding avoidance. ENCs are used by many computer navigation programs and mobile apps, as well as ECDIS.

Free historical charts (in jpg). Reflecting Coast Survey’s beginnings as the first scientific agency in the U.S. government, the Historical Map & Chart Collection has nearly 35,000 images of nautical charts, topographical maps, sketches, and more.

Okay, you’ve decided which product you want. Now, what chart do you need?

Coast Survey’s map-based interactive chart catalog makes it easy to find and download the chart(s) you need.

Chart catalogs are handy to have around. (Note: Coast Survey is transitioning from the large format to an easier 8½ x 11″ PDF catalog that you can print at home. Some of the catalogs are beginning to appear on Coast Survey’s website now, with all five catalogs scheduled for completion by the end of June.)

More information is available to make your trip more enjoyable.

The United States Coast Pilot® is a nine-volume book series (geographically based) that contains a wealth of information: regulations, facilities, weather, prominent features, radio procedures, currents, small-craft facilities, and more. They are now available as free PDFs, or you can purchase hard copies from NOAA-certified print agents.

nowCoast is a map-based portal that provides one-stop access to coastal observations and forecasts.

Coast Survey’s wrecks and obstructions database provides latitude and longitude on thousands of wrecks along U.S. coasts and in the Great Lakes, along with some historic and descriptive details (where available).

Does a chart have wrong or outdated information? Report discrepancies.

Seafloors, channels, shorelines, and aids to navigation are constantly changing. Coast Survey applies corrections to charts and the Coast Pilot every week, but we need the public’s help pinpointing changes in the 3.5 million square nautical miles of U.S. charted waters. Report charting discrepancies.

Have a happy and SAFE boating season!

Boaters! Get free NOAA nautical products for fun and safety…

Coast Survey’s mandate is to provide nautical products that help make maritime transportation safe. As we develop and improve navigational products for commercial mariners, we also look for opportunities to serve the recreational boating community. All of the products listed below are available as free downloads.

BookletCharts™ are nautical charts in booklet form, downloadable for printing from home computers. People like to put each page into a sheet protector, and keep the updated notebooks on their boats.


For the tons (and tons) of useful information that can’t be put on the nautical charts, check out the United States Coast Pilot®, nine volumes of supplemental information important to safe and enjoyable navigation.


What’s happening on the water? nowCOAST is a web mapping portal to real-time coastal observations and NOAA forecasts, helping boaters stay aware of the ever-changing marine environment.


U.S. Chart No. 1 is the guide for understanding the symbols, abbreviations, and terms used on nautical charts.


It’s fun to learn the history of where you’re sailing, and studying old charts sometimes reveal histories you never suspected. Our Historical Map & Chart Collection has over 35,000 images, covering offshore and onshore sites. They include some of the nation’s earliest nautical charts, bathymetric maps, city plans, and even a special collection of Civil War maps, charts and sketches.

Historical Maps & Charts emblem

If you’ve got an Android tablet, don’t forget our beta test of a new app. MyNOAACharts allows users to download free NOAA nautical charts and editions of the U.S. Coast Pilot for easy use in trip planning and while sailing.


Do you want to teach kids about nautical charting? Explore these educational activities and videos, including the animated primer on nautical charts, Travel the Seas.

Travel the Seas

Finally, this reminder: Coast Survey is the nation’s nautical chartmaker, responsible for charting 3.4 million square nautical miles of U.S. coastal waters and the Great Lakes. We need your help. While we use four NOAA survey ships, six 28-survey boats, a 57-foot research vessel, and private contractors to acquire hydrographic data to update charts, it isn’t nearly enough to keep up on changes of the seafloor and coasts. We need you to report discrepancies between what’s on your chart and what’s in the water. Report charting discrepancies online or call 888-990-6622.

And have a fun (and safe) time on the water!

NOAA’s latest mobile app provides free nautical charts for recreational boating

UPDATE: the beta testing period for MyNOAACharts has ended 

Public is invited to try beta version of MyNOAACharts

As recreational boaters gear up for a summer of fun on coastal waters and the Great Lakes, NOAA is testing MyNOAACharts, a new mobile application that allows users to download NOAA nautical charts and editions of the U.S. Coast Pilot. The app, which is only designed for Android tablets for the testing period, was just released.

MyNOAAChart, which can be used on land and on the water, lets users find their positions on a NOAA nautical chart. They can zoom in any specific location with a touch of the finger, or zoom out for the big picture to plan their day of sailing. The Coast Pilot has geo-tagged some of the major references and provides links to appropriate federal regulations.

MyNOAACharts on tablet
MyNOAACharts, a mobile app beta test for Android tablets, can easily integrate the user’s location, the nautical chart, and all the navigational information from the U.S. Coast Pilot.

Easy and workable access to nautical charts is important for boating safety, says Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director of NOAA Office of Coast Survey. He recalls a funny, but poignant, reference to charts.

“A popular t-shirt has a ‘definition’ of a nautical chart splayed across the front: ‘chärt, n: a nautical map that shows you what you just hit,’” Glang explains. “As creative as that is, a boating accident can kill. Keeping a nautical chart on hand – before you hit something – can save lives.”

The beta test for MyNOAACharts will end on Labor Day, September 2, 2013. Coast Survey will then evaluate usage and user feedback, which will be pivotal in any decision to move forward.

“Expanding the app across a multitude of platforms, ensuring easy accessibility to over a thousand charts and nearly 5,000 pages of U.S. Coast Pilot, will take considerable resources,” Glang notes. “We truly want users to let us know if the app meets their needs.”

Boaters who don’t have an Android tablet shouldn’t despair. The Office of Coast Survey provides free BookletCharts, which are 8 ½” x 11” PDF versions of NOAA nautical charts that can be downloaded and printed at home. The U.S. Coast Pilot is also available in a free PDF version.

Important notice for commercial mariners: The mobile app MyNOAACharts and the BookletCharts do not fulfill chart carriage requirements for regulated commercial vessels under Titles 33 and 46 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

NOAA and American Pilots’ Association sign Memorandum of Agreement to advance safe navigation

Capt. Michael Watson and Dr. Kathryn Sullivan with the new memorandum of agreement

Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation & Prediction, signed an agreement today that recognizes the longstanding working relationship between marine pilots and NOAA’s navigational services. Coast Survey has a long-term working relationship with the American Pilots’ Association, whose members include virtually all of the 1,200 state-licensed marine pilots working in the 24 coastal states and the Great Lakes. This agreement updates an earlier collaborative agreement between APA and NOAA.

Dr. Sullivan and Capt. Michael Watson, APA president, signed the MOA this morning, during the APA annual meeting.

The MOA lays out specific cooperative activities to promote safe navigation. Among a wide range of provisions, it encourages the 57 APA-member pilot groups to provide information to update NOAA’s nautical charts and the U.S. Coast Pilot. The MOA will also facilitate timely investigations of apparent discrepancies between actual and charted features, which could pose dangers to navigation or adversely affect shipping efficiencies.

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.