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A Farewell to Paper Charts

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It’s goodbye to the paper chart, at least those produced by NOAA. The agency’s Office of Coast Survey is soliciting comments on plans to completely phase out the production of paper charts and associated products within five years.

Its tighter focus on ENCs (electronic navigation charts) means the agency’s cartographers will no longer produce its suite of more than 1,000 paper nautical charts, its raster charts (RNCs), its full-size chart PDFs and its small-size BookletCharts; although these are no longer printed by NOAA, they have been available as print-on-demand products through third parties.

Although the raster charts use the same base data as the ENCs, they take a considerable amount of extra time to refine into the printable paper versions, time that could be spent on the ENC library. The demand for ENCs has increased since 2016, when the Coast Guard permitted their use on commercial vessels making domestic voyages. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) mandates that international shipping traffic must use ENCs, and most leisure sailors and powerboaters now use them primarily or exclusively. Since 2008, sales of ENCs have increased fourfold, while paper chart sales have dropped by half.

NOAA’s program will see some 1,200 ENC cells, each covering a defined area and compiled in up to 130 different scales, replaced by a standard gridded layout with only a dozen standard scales. This will improve the consistency and detailing of the ENCs as well as the number of cells, which will eventually reach around 9,000.

The phase-out of the raster charts will start this spring and will be completed by 2025. However, the agency plans to still make its cartography available to end-users by allowing them to compile and print their own charts using ENC data via a new NOAA Custom Chart (NCC) application. The app is still under development, and the agency is seeking input from the public on its final format. You can try the app at devgis.charttools.noaa.gov/pod, and provide feedback through the ASSIST page at nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/customer-service/assist

February 2020

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