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NOAA to Stop Printing Paper Nav Charts

posted: 11/7/2013
WASHINGTON, D. C. -- NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, which creates and maintains more than 1,000 nautical charts of U.S. coastal waters, has announced major changes ahead for boaters and others who use nautical charts.            
Starting April 13, 2014, the federal government will no longer print traditional lithographic (paper) nautical charts, but will continue to provide other forms of nautical charts, including print on demand charts and versions 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.”            

Lithographic nautical charts -- available in marine chandleries and other stores -- have been printed by the U.S. government since 1862 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 cutbacks, according to Coast Survey.            

“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 popular Print-on-Demand (POD) charts, updated paper charts available from NOAA-certified printers.            

NOAA electronic 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. NOAA will also announce a new product full-scale PDF (Portable Digital Format) nautical charts, available for free download on a trial basis online.            

The world of navigation is benefiting from advances in technology, Smith said. 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, he added.            

“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.”            

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, originally formed by President Thomas Jefferson in 1807, updates charts, surveys the coastal seafloor, responds to maritime emergencies and searches for underwater obstructions that pose a danger to navigation. For more information, visit noaacoastsurvey.wordpress.com.


Frequently Asked Questions

I buy my nautical charts at my local boating store. Why should I care whether the government prints NOAA charts?            

The federal government prints the NOAA lithograph nautical charts, and then sells them to commercial chart agents who sell them to the public. As of April 13, 2014, these charts will no longer be printed. 

Why won’t the government print nautical charts after April 13, 2014?            

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey and its predecessor agencies have been printing lithograph charts since the Civil War. Taking the long view, over the last decade NOAA has been building the systems, products, partnerships, and distribution system to support the industry’s evolution from stock paper charts to digital files.             

In 1999, NOAA formed its first partnership with a Print-on-Demand (POD) chart distributor to print nautical charts that are up-to-date at the time of printing. Since that time, most non-government customers have switched to POD for printed charts, and even more customers are using charts digitally. The tradition of lithography is no longer justified as a use of tax dollars, NOAA has determined.

Are federal budget constraints factors in the decision to end lithograph charts?              

This change has minimal budget impact on NOAA. NOAA’s lithographic charts have been printed by the Federal Aviation Administration, and the FAA decided to stop printing nautical charts “as a direct result of the federal government’s constrained fiscal environment and the FAA’s need to reduce all avoidable or unnecessary costs to the agency.”

-- Source: NOAA Office of Coast Survey 

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