From the Editor: Paper Yields to Pixels

The news that NOAA was going to stop offering printed nautical charts was hardly a surprise, but all the same it hurts to see the end of an era. All we boomer types who spent our formative cruising years frowning over dog-eared paper charts, stamped with coffee cup rings, crisscrossed by part-erased pencil lines and dotted with semi-legible scribblings, will feel a warm fuzzy pang of sentimentality at the news.
Author:
Publish date:
Many sailors still prefer paper charts. Photo by Mahina Expeditions

Many sailors still prefer paper charts. Photo by Mahina Expeditions

The news that NOAA was going to stop offering printed nautical charts was hardly a surprise, but all the same it hurts to see the end of an era. All we boomer types who spent our formative cruising years frowning over dog-eared paper charts, stamped with coffee cup rings, crisscrossed by part-erased pencil lines and dotted with semi-legible scribblings, will feel a warm fuzzy pang of sentimentality at the news. Because—let’s be honest now—when was the last time any of you sailed a passage with a paper chart spread out on the nav table, as your one and only guide?

I consider myself one of the guardians of the True Faith—i.e., old-fashioned pilotage—but even I have become a lazy sod over the last few years. I have any number of paper charts on board and (in my defense) I often plan passages with a look at my old Maptech chartbook of the New England coast, but generally speaking, it’s the electronic charts in my plotter and in my iPad that are my first line of reference when I’m sailing close to shore.

I’ve seldom bothered to update my paper charts via Notices to Mariners, figuring that coastlines don’t change short of volcanic activity, in which case I’d be sailing in the opposite direction as quickly as possible anyway. Of course, it’s much easier to get your electronics charts updated, though to be honest I’ve yet to get around to that either.

I once guided a cruising boat into Bermuda at night after its electronics had gone on the fritz with a 20-year paper chart and a depth sounder. Similarly, I took a boat all the way into Key West after dark using a paper chart that had never even been opened before, after our plotter expired in a kaleidoscope of jumbled pixels 60 miles out. So, yes, I know it’s good to have some paper charts on board, although I’d just as soon have a spare plotter. When my elderly Navman chart plotter turned up its digital toes one afternoon, the first thing I reached for was not my paper charts, but my iPad/Bluetooth GPS head combo with its full charts/navigation suite.

Does anyone recall the headshaking among the hardcore bluewater cruising fraternity when GPS first became an affordable extra? All those who vowed that the little box of tricks would be acquired merely as a backup, switched on only when it wasn’t possible to take a sun or star sight? Yeah, right. There’s nothing so seductive as convenience coupled with accuracy, at least when it comes to navigational devices.

So farewell, NOAA charts; well, not quite, because the agency still offers print-on-demand charts, and I’ll be availing myself of those when the time comes. You see, I am not ready to totally dispense with paper charts just yet.

Peter_Nielsen2011-thb95x120

Peter Nielsen isn’t ready to go fully digital

Read Lauren Saalmuller's NOAA to Stop Printing Paper Charts. Here

Related

IMG_0173

Electronic “Flares” for Cruisers

The United States Coast Guard requires that all boats operating in coastal waters or on the high seas carry a selection of visual distress signals. Almost invariably, such signals include the pyrotechnic type, either handheld or fired from a flare pistol, but surely there are ...read more

M2-HOOK-TOP-AND-CHAIN-1

Gear: M2 Chain Hook from Mantus

Stay Hooked Chain hooks on anchor snubber lines tend to fall off when you least want them to. Not so this latest example from Mantus. The M2 Chain Hook is secured to the chain by a simple elastic strap, so it won’t come off when the snubber loosens. Made from corrosion-resistant ...read more

shutterstock_349918991

Successful Surf Landings with Wheels

“Ready to take the dink ashore?” Never had those words invoked as much anxiety as when my husband, Jeff, and I first moved to the Pacific Coast. Why? Because we had exactly zero experience with dinghy surf landings, and the possibility of being flipped upside down along with our ...read more

Sail2010_597

How to: Find Good Values on Charter Vacations

So, you want to find a great deal on your next charter vacation? Sure, you can scour the internet, hope for Black Friday deals or ask friends. But an even better way to find good prices on charter boats is to go to a boat show. Not only do charter companies like The Moorings, ...read more

leadphoto

Know How: Dinghy Modification

The rigmarole of stretching a cover over a dinghy in choppy water prior to hoisting it on davits can become a very wet business if you’re not careful. Leaning right over either end, trying to stretch a cover over the bow and stern pods can quite easily result in a head-first dip ...read more

25980

Catnapped Aboard a Racing Multihull

It was after midnight when I realized my daysail with Tony Bullimore aboard his giant record-breaking catamaran, Team Legato, was not going to plan. The big cat was en route for a December dash from England across the Bay of Biscay to Barcelona and the start of a drag race ...read more