April 13 marked the end of an era. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stopped printing the giant heavy-paper lithographic nautical charts that mariners have relied on for 152 years. In 1807, Thomas Jefferson asked for a survey of the US coastal waters and, ever since, the Office of Coast Survey in Silver Spring, MD, has taken on that task. The printed maps produced by the government date back to 1862.
Although most printed charts used currently are now done on-demand from up-to-the minute data, the legacy charts printed by NOAA have a long tradition of guiding sailors to their destinations. According to Sailing World, in the recent movie All Is Lost, Robert Redford's character relied on only a sextant and nautical maps to chart his way back to civilization after a lost shipping container collided with his 39-foot yacht disabling his modern navigation equipment and radio.
NOAA sells 60,000 of the 4x3 foot lithographic maps annually at the same cost it takes to print them. The top-selling charts include: northwestern Washington/Vancouver Canada; the Detroit area; Prince William Sound in Alaska; Casco Bay in Maine; and Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island. The Federal Aviation Administration took over federal chart production in 1999 and is closing the printing operation as a cost-saving measure.
NOAA's Office of Coast Survey will continue to chart 95,000 miles of US coastline for hazards like rocks and shipwrecks, but sailors will have to rely on electronic maps or on-demand printing by NOAA-certified sellers of paper charts to see the data. NOAA spends approximately $100 million each year to chart the nation's waters and creates 200-300 new chart editions each year when important navigational changes occur.
NOAA Electronic Navigational Charts (ENCs) are part of a vector database supporting real-time navigation with real-time tide and current display capability. NOAA ENCs comply with international exchange formats. NOAA began building its ENCs in 1997, parallel to its 1,000 printed charts. By 2013, 965 NOAA ENCs were available for download into Electronic Chart and Display Information Systems (ECDIS). All major ports and coastal areas near these ports have been completed.
The PortVision Connection
PortVision combines NOAA ENCs with the existing PortVision map display to give users the flexibility to view real-time and historical vessel movements in a more “maritime” context. Users have the ability to switch between standard, satellite, and (NOAA) chart views to derive additional local and regional context for ship tracking activities. PortVision renders vessel positions on these map layers for AIS transmitting vessels around the world. PortVision mapping includes additional value-added content such as weather data.
NOAA has played (and will continue to play) a key role in providing the mariner and shore-side maritime professional with important products and services that increase safety of navigation on the water, while also increasing the effectiveness of maritime personnel on land.