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NOAA to Stop Printing Paper Charts

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has announced that it will no longer print traditional paper nautical charts come mid-April of this year.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has announced that it will no longer print traditional paper nautical charts come mid-April of this year.

Although the discontinuation of traditional paper charts is not unexpected given that many mariners rely on GPS, print-on-demand (POD) charts, plot charters and other navigation electronics, the decision marks the end of a 151-year-long tradition of government-printed charts. In 1807, Thomas Jefferson requested a survey of the U.S. coastline, and the first map by the Office of Coast Survey dates back to 1862.

The decision was made by the Federal Aviation Administration, which took over federal chart making in 1999, in order to cut federal costs. Sailors need not worry, however, as NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey will continue to survey and chart waters, as well as distribute nautical charts in PDF and other digital formats.

“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’s electronic charting systems, for instance, are updated weekly and can be downloaded for free from the Coast Survey website. NOAA is also providing free downloads of approximately a thousand high-resolution chart PDFs over the course of a three-month trial period that began on Oct. 22. After the trial, NOAA will evaluate user feedback to decide whether to continue the service.

According to Smith, NOAA will explore more technologically advanced options. “Customers frequently ask us for special printed features, such as waterproof charts, special papers, or chart books containing additional information,” he said. “We are investigating new opportunities for companies to fill these market niches, using the most up-to-date information directly from NOAA.”

Private printers, who will rely on NOAA data, are likely to provide any gaps in charts resulting from the discontinuation of NOAA’s paper charts.

Read Peter Nielsen's From the Editor: Paper Yields to Pixelshere

Photo courtesy of NOAA

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