Commerce Secretary Pritzker attends Hassler change of command   1 comment

On July 21, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker attended the change-of-command ceremony for NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler, one of NOAA’s hydrographic survey vessels that collect data for creating the nation’s nautical charts.

At the ceremony, Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Jaskoski assumed command from Lt. Cmdr. Briana Welton, who served as Hassler’s third commanding officer and will become the chief of Coast Survey’s Atlantic Hydrographic Branch. Jaskoski previously served as executive officer for NOAA Ship Fairweather.

Sec. Pritzker’s remarks highlighted Hassler’s contributions since its commissioning just over four years ago, including its completion of 46 hydrographic surveys and the ship’s contribution to re-opening East Coast sea traffic after Hurricane Sandy. She also reminded the officers and crew of the legacy they honor in their contributions to our nation’s coastal intelligence.

“On this day in 1807, President Thomas Jefferson approved the plan of a mathematics professor at West Point to conduct a survey of our new nation’s coastlines. That professor was Ferdinand Rudolph Hassler. He would go on to become the first superintendent of the Coast Survey – a position he held until the day he died.

“His commitment to our coasts continues today through your service. Whether it is assessing damage after a hurricane or discovering new insights submerged deeply along our coastlines, our country is better off thanks to the commitment of the men and women who serve on this remarkable ship.

“Ferdinand Hassler’s legacy of exploration and scientific discovery will continue on under the capable leadership of Lieutenant Commander Jaskoski, just as it has under Lieutenant Commander Welton. To all of you, the men and women who chart the uncharted while protecting lives, property, and the environment: thank you for your service.”

Secretary Pritzker and LCDR Jaskoski

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker with Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Jaskoski onboard NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler

Captain Eric Berkowitz, chief of Coast Survey’s Hydrographic Surveys Division, also offered appreciation for the leadership provided by Secretary Pritzker, and for the dedication of Hassler’s officers and crew. We share his comments here:

Thank you, Lt. Cmdr. Kuzirian. Good afternoon to you all. On behalf of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, and our director, Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, I thank you for the warm welcome extended to the officers and crew of NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler.

I’d especially like to thank Secretary Pritzker for her strong leadership at the Department of Commerce. Secretary Pritzker developed the “Open for Business Agenda,” a bold strategic plan and policy blueprint that focuses on expanding trade and investment. It seeks to unleash more government data for economic benefit – something that NOAA and our survey ships do for all of the maritime industry. We appreciate your vision and backing of NOAA’s survey and charting mission.

Today I want to offer some remarks on why this ship is so important to the goals of the Department of Commerce, and how Hassler’s personnel meet these goals by carrying on the legacy of the ship’s scientific namesake, Ferdinand R. Hassler.

As the first superintendent of the U.S. Coast Survey, in the 19th century, Ferdinand Hassler did more than survey the coast. He was a scientific pioneer who elevated the status of science in government and American society. He developed a thriving organization of mathematicians, geodesists, topographers, hydrographers, instrument-makers, engravers, and printers who worked in concert to create our nation’s nautical charts. As the leader of the federal government’s first scientific agency, he set the government’s foundation for acquiring and using data.

In approaching his mission, the survey of the coast, Hassler imbued the U.S. Coast Survey with unswerving devotion to accuracy, precision, and scientific integrity. These values continue to define NOAA’s navigation services to this day.

NOAA Ship Hassler’s mission is no less important than her namesake’s mission was in 1807. Thomas Jefferson asked for the survey of the coast to ensure the safety of maritime commerce. We ask the same of Hassler today.

This vessel is one of four dedicated NOAA survey ships that acquire the data to produce the nautical charts that are the foundation of our nation’s marine transportation system. Every ship has its own character, and every commander has their own challenges, but the commanders of NOAA’s hydrographic survey ships have astoundingly high bars to reach in what we demand of them.

I know that sometimes it seems the bar keeps getting raised higher, just out of reach. It’s not your imagination. Hassler’s crew and officers have faced some difficult hurdles in bringing this relatively new ship into its full potential. During these last couple of years, first as the executive officer and now as the commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Welton’s leadership has been truly noteworthy.

The writer William Arthur Ward once said: “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” You have constantly adjusted the sails.

It has also been said that what you do has far greater impact than what you say. Lt. Cmdr. Welton, you have, as the commanding officer, successfully dealt with multiple drydock and dockside repair periods over the course of your command. As we all know, a ship and her crew are meant to be at sea. Being alongside or in extended repair periods can be some of the most challenging times for any command. You did not complain; instead, you remained focused on the long-term health of the ship and her crew to set her up for future success and we thank you for this.

We have been lucky to have Lt. Cmdr. Briana Welton as the commanding officer of Hassler. We are lucky again with Lt. Cmdr. Matt Jaskoski as the new CO. We welcome Lt. Cmdr. Welton as she moves to her new position as the chief of Coast Survey’s Atlantic Hydrographic Branch, and we give our promise of support to Lt. Cmdr. Jaskoski as he assumes command of Hassler. You both have some challenging times ahead, as you will throughout your careers.

But, since it is the set of the sails, not the direction of the wind that determines which way we will go, we have great confidence that we will all reach the destinations charted by your leadership.

LCDR Welton and LCDR Jaskoski

Lt. Cmdr. Briana Welton and Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Jaskoski at the change of command ceremony for NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler

NOAA hosts international “Chart Adequacy Workshop”   Leave a comment

Cartographers and hydrographers from twelve countries gathered in Maryland last week to participate in a three-day NOAA workshop on evaluating the adequacy nautical charts. During the workshop, they learned techniques to evaluate the suitability of nautical chart products using chart quality information and publicly available information. The participants then generated key layers in adequacy assessments:

  • Using automatic identification systems (AIS) information to classify navigational routes, they generated a vessel traffic layer.
  • Comparing satellite-derived bathymetry or other surveys of opportunity with the existing chart, to identify areas that showed significant bathymetric changes, they generated a bathymetric difference layer.
  • Classifying chart quality information, they generated a hydrographic characteristics layer.

By involving the guest cartographers and hydrographers in hands-on layer development and use, instructors demonstrated that the procedure is a low-cost tool that can help any hydrographic office assess the adequacy of its charts.

Participants came from Barbados, Brazil, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Peru, Russia, Vietnam, Netherlands, Mexico, and Thailand. Instructor presentations and GIS laboratory exercises were provided by Dr. Shachak Pe’eri and Lt. Anthony Klemm.

Coast Survey is planning another workshop training session in July 2017.


NOAA Chart Adequacy Workshop participants and instructors

Updating digital nautical charts is faster and easier   1 comment

Coast Survey introduces new service for downloading raster chart updates

We click on our smart phone map app, and we can immediately see any place on land. We turn on our boat’s navigational system and a nautical chart appears. Where do the apps get their maps and charts, and how often are they updated? Let’s look deeper into the chart services…

Recreational boaters use chart plotters and computer-based navigation systems, including tablets and mobile devices — at last count, there are over 60 mobile apps — as well as web mapping applications. These commercial products often use privately produced charts derived from official NOAA raster navigational charts (NOAA RNC®). In recent years, larger manufacturers have switched to using NOAA raster charts themselves. Until recently, the systems had to work through a major problem: each of NOAA’s thousand charts is a huge file that takes bandwidth and time to upload. So the entrepreneurs developed work-arounds, especially when they needed to update the charts. Many of them cut NOAA chart files into more manageable “tiles.” Many didn’t update these chart tiles for months, or sometimes even up to a year, despite NOAA issuing updates weekly, often because of time and storage space problems.

chart tile logoCoast Survey listened to the navigation electronics industry, and we collaborated with them to create new chart tile products and services. In December 2015 we announced a prototype of the NOAA Chart Tile Service, which — because of the smaller file size — allowed commercial web mapping applications to quickly access official up-to-date NOAA tiles (sections of nautical charts) while online. The prototype was an immediate success, with the tiles garnering 7.3 million hits in the first three weeks of availability (compared to 1.4 million RNC downloads for the month.) The chart tile service proved so popular that we made it official in April 2016.

Things are now getting even better. On July 15 we introduced an offline tile service, which will enable chart users to quickly download and update only the chart tile sets that have recently changed and use the tiles without having to be online. This will dramatically reduce the bandwidth needed for vessels to keep their chart suite up to date. Maybe more important than reducing bandwidth is having the tile charts available where there is no bandwidth at all. Having the tile charts in your device’s memory means you can use them where you have NO internet connectivity (i.e. no cellular G3 connection).


Release 1.0 was released December 7, 2015 with the following features.

Online single chart tilesets

Provides the following capabilities:

  • Generates geo-referenced single chart tilesets from NOAA BSB files. The tileset represents a single NOAA chart at multiple zoom levels.
  • Provides a description of all available tilesets.
  • Demonstrates single chart tileset compatibility with popular mapping APIs.
  • Supplies source code describing tileset integration with each API.
  • Provides a searching capability for kaps/tilesets with a zoom to tileset feature.

This service facilitates production of small- and large-scale development projects and is not intended for navigational purposes.

Online quilted tileset

Provides a unified display of multiple charts. The charts are quilted together to provide a seamless view.


Provides WMTS, TMS and TileJSON metadata describing each tileset. In addition, a JSON-formatted UTFGrid metadata file is provided as a companion to each quilted tileset tile.

Release 2.0 released July 15, 2016 with the following additional features.

Offline chart tilesets

Provides single chart and quilted tilesets that are bundled in a single file to facilitate offline use. Offline tilesets are packaged as MBTiles. Additionally, sample mobile app code and developer guides are provided for Android and iOS.

Delta updates

Provides updates to MBTiles that include only the tiles that have changed or been added. Delete tiles are posted as a json file.


(App developers, see the updated requirements specifications.)

Coast Survey research vessel helps Coast Guard re-establish normal ship traffic in the Chesapeake   Leave a comment

Coast Survey’s research vessel, Bay Hydro II, was diverted from its regular hydrographic mission this week to help the U.S. Coast Guard determine if there was a new danger to navigation in the Chesapeake Bay.

On June 13, 2016, U.S. Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads was notified that the barge WEEKS 179 lost a large portion of its cargo near the Virginia-Maryland line, in a charted traffic scheme area that takes ships around Smith Point in the Chesapeake Bay. The WEEKS 179, carrying construction materials to New Jersey, lost approximately 25 concrete beams and bridge deck pieces, ranging from 10 ft. to 15 ft. long. While the Coast Guard diverted ship traffic around the area, Bay Hydro II deployed to the site, to establish the cargo’s exact position and determine if it posed a hazard to navigation.

By early the next morning, Bay Hydro II was conducting the search. The survey technicians used side scan sonar to locate the sunken cargo, and then followed it up with their multibeam echo sounder to collect bathymetric data over the field of debris. (While the side scan sonar is typically a better search tool for locating objects in large areas, the multibeam is best for obtaining precise position and depths over the items so the hydrographers can determine if dangers to navigation exist.)

Within hours, the Coast Survey vessel had located the cargo and, even better, had determined that the beams were so deep that they did not pose a danger. The Coast Guard was able to use Bay Hydro II’s information to quickly re-establish normal shipping patterns through the area.


Beta test of crowdsourced bathymetry holds promise for improving U.S. nautical charts   8 comments

We are on the verge of acquiring a significant new source of data to improve NOAA nautical charts, thanks to an enthusiastic industry and mariners equipped with new technology.

By Lt. Adam Reed, Integrated Oceans and Coastal Mapping (IOCM) Assistant Coordinator

The United States has about 3,400,000 square nautical miles of water within our coastal and Great Lakes jurisdiction. Coast Survey, who is responsible for charting that vast area, averages about 3,000 square nautical miles of hydrographic surveying each year. The data collected by those surveys update over a thousand NOAA charts. However, hydrographic surveys are expensive and laborious, and so Coast Survey directs them toward the highest priority sites, which leaves many coastal areas without updates for many years.

Coast Survey may soon get new sources of information, provided voluntarily by mariners, which will alert cartographers to areas where shoaling and other changes to the seafloor have made the chart inaccurate.

Rose Point Navigation System beta tests new crowdsourcing database

Technology has reached the point where any boater can buy an echo sounder kit, add a GPS system, record depth measurements, and make their own geospatial observations in a common reference frame. The question then for hydrographic offices (who are concerned with improving nautical charts for safe navigation) becomes “how do we take advantage of that?”

Rose Point Navigation Systems is working with system developers at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) and with hydrographic experts at Coast Survey and others who are collaborating on an international effort to maintain crowdsourced bathymetry. In a beta test released on May 13, 2016, Rose Point has added a new feature to Coastal Explorer that gives users an option to send anonymous GPS position and soundings data to a new international database managed by NCEI. After getting permission from users, Rose Point systems will generate data log files of positions, depths, and time, and automatically transmit the files to the data center, where Coast Survey can pull the data to compare it to nautical charts.

Crowdsourced bathymetry is an international project

Using data from private sources is not new for Coast Survey. Private interactive cruising guides and other internet-based enterprises have set up services that allow commercial mariners and recreational boaters to share information about navigation hazards they see (or experience) while on the water. The United States Power Squadrons and the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary have a decades-long tradition of sharing updates through our cooperative charting programs. But the lack of appropriate software and integration between sources has hampered efforts to use the information to its full potential.

Hydrographic offices around the world are re-thinking crowdsourced bathymetry. In October 2014, Coast Survey led the U.S. delegation to the Fifth Extraordinary International Hydrographic Conference, with Rear Admiral Gerd Glang at the helm. At this meeting, the U.S. and France jointly proposed an initiative (see Proposal No. 4) that introduced crowdsourced bathymetry as a recognized source of data for nautical charts. One of the results of that initiative was the formation of the IHO Crowdsourced Bathymetry Working Group (IHO CSBWG) that set out to develop crowdsourcing principles and guidelines, and then offer a platform for sharing best practices around the world.

Working hand-in-hand with NCEI, the working group has developed a database that can receive volunteered bathymetric data. Data can come from anyone in the world, and everyone can access it.

Coast Survey will use crowdsourced bathymetry to assess chart accuracy

Crowdsourced reports serve an important role in focusing attention on trouble areas. The data helps cartographers determine whether a charted area needs to be re-surveyed, or if they can make changes based on the information at hand. Even with very sparse data, cartographers can make improvements to nautical charts.

Agreeing in principle to use crowdsourced data is much different than applying the system to the vigor of data transmission from moving vessels, however, so Coast Survey experts contributed hydrographic expertise and system testing. Using Rose Point’s Coastal Explorer, Coast Survey Research Vessel Bay Hydro II transmitted “crowdsourced” data using log files that were automatically produced by the electronic charting system software. (Bay Hydro II is Coast Survey’s primary platform to test and evaluate new hydrographic survey technologies.)

BHII bathymetric data collection

Coast Survey Research Vessel Bay Hydro II collected about 123,000 soundings, over 12 days, to pre-test the efficacy of Rose Point beta test for bathymetric crowdsourcing.

“When you aggregate crowdsourced data, we can expect to see trends develop where the seafloor has likely changed from charted data,” explains Lt. Anthony Klemm. “Using Bay Hydro II data transmissions, we saw such trends indicating shoaling near the Patuxent river entrance. Similarly, in the approach to Solomons harbor, trends displayed depths deeper than charted.”

It is important to emphasize that Coast Survey does not necessarily make changes to any significant charted feature based on crowdsourced data alone. That data, however, is about to become a major factor in making charts better.

How NOAA updates nautical charts with high-tech tools   Leave a comment

From a NOAA National Ocean Service podcast…

Boaters rely on NOAA’s nautical charts for depth measurements so they don’t accidentally ground on sandbars or other underwater obstructions. See how NOAA updates nautical charts with high tech tools —including new experimental ocean “robots” that are small enough to survey the nation’s shallowest coastal areas.


Transcript available.

Be sure to get the latest nautical charts!   3 comments

Hope springs eternal. Or maybe, given the cold and dreary May (at least on the East Coast), the adage should be re-phrased a bit, as we have “eternal hopes for spring.” In any case, boaters still have time to get their updated charts as boating season starts in earnest.

Coast Survey is constantly improving the nation’s nautical charts, giving customers a greater range of products and services. Which products work best for you?

If you use a paper chart, you have a couple of options.

Using a paper chart

Paper nautical charts are the original risk management tools at sea. Photo credit: Tim Osborn, NOAA

For official NOAA charts, updated to the time they are printed “on-demand,” you should check out the list of 19 NOAA-certified printers. To ensure the integrity, authenticity, and responsiveness of NOAA chart distributors, NOAA certifies these agents to sell official up-to-date NOAA charts. (NOTE: NOAA will revoke distributor status when the agent does not perform up to its terms of service. Effective April 26, 2016, NOAA has revoked the authorized distributor status of Bellingham Chart Printers.)

If you like to keep the latest chart handy for recreational use, and you want to print it at home, check out the NOAA BookletChart, in 8 ½ x 11” PDF format. Select which BookletChart you want, then download, print, and keep it on your boat. (We hear that some boaters put the pages into notebook sleeve protectors, to keep the pages dry.)

NOAA charts are also available as free PDFs. These PDFs are the same size as the traditional charts, so you will need to arrange for professional printing, or you can crop, save, and print only the section you need. (More info on the introduction of the PDF versions is at NOAA nautical charts now available as free PDFs.

If you use electronic systems…

NOAA has two types of charts that are popularly referred to as “digital.” Raster charts are geo-referenced digital images of the traditional chart. They are static. Electronic navigational charts, or ENCs, are produced from a vector database and are much more intelligent, with layers of data and interactive features.

App uses RNC

Mobile apps using NOAA raster charts are increasing popular with recreational boaters.

NOAA raster navigational charts (NOAA RNC®) are available for free download from the Coast Survey website. Chart plotters and computer-based navigation systems often use commercial charts derived from official NOAA RNCs; in recent years, a number of the larger manufacturers have switched to NOAA raster charts themselves. These navigation systems, which also include tablets and mobile devices – at last count, there are over 60 mobile apps – as well as web mapping applications, increasingly use Coast Survey’s new chart tile services to update their data. These tile sets are updated weekly with the latest Notice to Mariners, as well as any other changes to the charts that are made that week.

NOAA electronic navigational charts (NOAA ENC®), produced from a vector database of features, support real-time navigation as well as collision and grounding avoidance. ENCs are used by ECDIS and other electronic navigation systems. ENCs are available for free download from the Coast Survey website, or the data may be viewed as a single, continuous webmap at ENC Online.

For more information…

…and to find the right chart in the format you need, bookmark Coast Survey’s interactive chart catalog.

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