NOAA to End Paper Charts

NOAA Charts

NOAA will cease the printing of traditional paper charts in April 2014. Photo: NOAA

WASHINGTON — NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, which creates and maintains the nation’s suite of over a thousand nautical charts of U.S. coastal waters, today announced major changes ahead for mariners and others who use nautical charts. Starting April 13, the federal government will no longer print traditional lithographic (paper) nautical charts, but will continue to provide other forms of nautical charts, including print on demand charts and versions for electronic charting systems.

“Like most other mariners, I grew up on NOAA lithographic charts and have used them for years,” said Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey in a pres release. “We know that changing chart formats and availability will be a difficult change for some mariners who love their traditional paper charts, but we’re still going to provide other forms of our official charts.”

Since 1862, those lithographic nautical charts — available in marine shops and other stores — have been printed by the U.S. government and sold to the public by commercial vendors. The decision to stop production is based on several factors, including the declining demand for lithographic charts, the increasing use of digital and electronic charts, and federal budget realities.

“With the end of traditional paper charts, our primary concern continues to be making sure that boaters, fishing vessels, and commercial mariners have access to the most accurate, up-to-date nautical chart in a format that works well for them,” said Capt. Shep Smith, chief of Coast Survey’s Marine Chart Division. “Fortunately, advancements in computing and mobile technologies give us many more options than was possible years ago.”

NOAA ENC

The future: A NOAA ENC chart display. Photo: NOAA

Remarking on a change in technology that dates back to the time of Prince Henry the Navigator, Mystic Seaport Vice President for Collections and Research Paul O’Pecko observed, “Charts have not only directed sailors to their next port, but kept them safely off of rocks and shoals, told them probable wind and current directions and the likely locations of whale populations, and more. As with books, hundreds of years of tradition will pass in the blink of an eye to digital, mechanized formats for the sake of ease of use. Will that-chart reading ability, like handwriting, become a lost art? Time – digital of course – will tell.”

NOAA will continue to create and maintain other forms of nautical charts, including the increasingly popular Print on Demand (POD) charts, updated paper charts available from NOAA-certified printers. NOAA electronic navigational charts (NOAA ENC®) and raster navigational charts (NOAA RNC®), used in a variety of electronic charting systems, are also updated weekly and are available for free download from the Coast Survey website. NOAA will also announce a new product full-scale PDF (Portable Digital Format) nautical charts, available for free download on a trial basis online.