In a press release issued yesterday, October 22, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, which creates and maintains the nation’s suite of thousands of nautical charts, announced that it will no longer print traditional lithographic (paper) nautical charts. The release went on to say that NOAA will continue to provide other forms of nautical charts, including print on demand (POD) and 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. “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 will continue to create and maintain other forms of nautical charts, including the increasingly popularPrint on Demand (POD) charts, updated paper charts available from NOAA-certified printers. NOAAelectronic 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.
The world of navigation is benefiting from advances in technology, Smith explained. He said that NOAA will consult with chart users and private businesses about the future of U.S. navigation, especially exploring the use of NOAA charts as the basis for new products.
The Bottom Line
It seems clear that NOAA isn’t making enough income off of paper. So they are moving towards more lucrative delivery systems.
This is good news for trailblazers like ActiveCaptain, the first to market with a crowd-sourced, electronic navigation product and the only Interactive Cruising Guidebook online. Since then, ActiveCaptain has been integrated with top e-nav systems across all platforms, like Garmin’s BlueChart Mobile, Navimatics Charts & Tides, Polarview, SEAiq, Jeppesen’s C-MAP, MaxSea, Nobeltec, and more.
Stop the Presses!
With all these choices available to everyone’s price-range, it’s no wonder NOAA has made the decision to stop the presses.
Paper charts will ultimately go the way of the Newspaper. As the developer of ActiveCaptain put it, “ I think that’s a big announcement and is just one more of a series of nails in the coffin of paper charts. It acknowledges what has happened in every other industry which has experienced similar technology changes. In this case, it’s the chart image, not the media, that’s important.”
It probably bodes well for cruising guide publishers like On The Water ChartGuides. Publisher Mark Doyle learned early on that if you’re going to compete in the digital navigation market, you’ll need to update often. His Intracoastal Waterway CruiseGuide and other guides come with free daily updates and alerts via Facebook, Twitter, RSS, and even text or email. As people find it too expensive to purchase charts Printed On Demand, they will want to turn to these comfortable chart books for detailed information and charts of US waterways.
FREE CHARTS! (For a Limited Time)
For a limited time, NOAA is offering its entire suite of charts in PDF file format. For the three-month trial period, you can download about a thousand high-resolution printable nautical charts – almost the entire suite of charts. These PDFs are exact images of the traditional charts we have come to love, currently printed by lithography. They are available now! Go to: http://www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/pdfcharts/ for info and to download the PDF charts. You’ll need to have their Chart Viewer to choose which numbers you want.
So whether you decide to give up your paper charts and go solely digital or hold out for another year, keep in mind that if you are using paper, you’ll have to check Local Notice to Mariners for updates – a time-consuming job, for sure!
Check out the discussion (it’s a lively one!) on ActiveCaptains eBoatCards Discussion Group. It’s free to join.
Lastly, if you’re thinking about tossing your paper charts, consider giving them a second life by donating them to a local sailing group. Or send them to me and I will up cycle them into something very cool!