NOAA Proposes Elimination of Paper Charts

Photo by NOAA’s National Ocean Service, Flickr.com

The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) plans to cease support for producing the 1,000-plus NOAA paper charts that millions of boaters rely on for safe navigation.

NOAA decided to privatize the printing of NOAA paper charts several years ago by certifying private companies to print official NOAA paper charts. However, in 2017 NOAA released a National Charting Plan that calls for ceasing production of the images used to print the charts.

NOAA’s raster PDF images are the source for publishing print products that are widely used by coastal recreational boaters, such as waterproof charts, chartbooks and cruising guides. NOAA also proposes to eliminate the electronic raster nautical chart (also known as BSB) files used by many software systems and navigation plotting systems.

According to a press release issued by Maptech, producers of second-party nautical charts and chartbooks, the change sought by NOAA is due to its use of Electronic Nautical Chart (ENC) data, which consists of layers of vector data designed for use in expensive commercial Electronic Display Information Systems (ECDIS). “The ENC database is designed for commercial use and does not contain all of the detail available in NOAA paper charts or raster nautical (RNC) charts in areas that are not frequented by commercial vessels,” reads the Maptech release.

Maptech also points out that prudent mariners typically carry a set of paper charts in case of a power or equipment failure, and that “virtually all boating safety and captain training schools teach plotting skills using paper charts in order to ensure safe navigation.”

The public is urged to review and comment on the National Charting Plan. The plan may be downloaded from the Office of Coast Survey website.

Public comment on the National Charting Plan can be made through NOAA’s Nautical Discrepancy Report System.