SAN DIEGO— Inside Seabreeze Books and Charts, a nautical establishment near Shelter Island, owner Ann Kinner plucks an oversized chart from an adjacent cubby hole and unrolls it on the viewing table.
“You see that little sign there,” said Kinner, as she points to a note that says ‘Paper Charts Need No Batteries.’ “It is there to point that out to people, because all these electric devices have a problem at some point with power. If you have paper charts and do old fashion navigating you can solve that problem.”
Kinner’s store, which opened in 1980 to supply nautical books, navigation charts and tools to the boating community, serves commercial boaters, researchers, military members and recreational users six days a week.
In recent years, boaters have adjusted to new technology, investing their trust in GPS devices, chart plotters, specialized websites and application-based software to navigate the waters. Some have even decided to travel without the once essential paper chart.
A New Type of Chart
In April 2014, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) stopped printing traditional lithographic nautical charts. To supplement the change, the Office of Coast and Survey has started to offer a print-on-demand service, which allows users to print updated paper charts in various formats, such as PDF or standard size, printed by NOAA-certified printers.
“When I started working for NOAA back in 1975, it would take 10 years to update a chart to get a new one out there,” said Gerald Wheaton, NOAA’s California Regional Navigation manager. “That meant that any paper chart they had, they had to correct. They may have 100 corrections on that paper chart. With the new technology that we have, we’re actually turning it around in two weeks. I think that’s an absolutely tremendous way to do business—to make sure and support safe navigation for the maritime community in the United States.”
Wheaton said the print-on-demand service is user-friendly, allowing customers to select an agent to print their desired chart to meet their specifications. According to NOAA, since 1862, lithographic nautical charts have been printed by the U.S. government and sold to the public through commercial vendors. Wheaton added that the transition has been well received.
“I like it very much, because we distance ourselves from the lithograph charts which were sold as is,” Wheaton said. “I think they’re getting a much, much better product by going print-on-demand…When traveling, I recommend they have the item that they are most comfortable with.”
With the somewhat recent revolution in navigational philosophies, Kinner said she has been very selective in what traveling aids she sells at her location. When she became owner of the store in 2004, she started selling electronic charting devices and tested the market for specific mapping software.
“I knew we needed to get into that business,” she said. “You’ve got to go to Marine Exchange or somewhere else to buy it [the hardware.] I sell the software that goes on the laptop.”
While her online business deals primarily with the distribution of charts and study guides for commercial licenses, she has been a large proponent of Nobeltec, a high-end navigation program run through a computer, which offers NOAA raster and vector charts, 3-D data for U.S. waters and a C-Map database.
Kinner personally uses a Garmin handheld device, a passive GPS receiver, which establishes an independent source of GPS information, Smartphone applications and tablet software while boating.
But she said the paper chart is her key source.
“The International Maritime Association requires paper charts on all respective vessels, including all large yachts,” Kinner said. “There isn’t one professional captain that I know of who will go someplace or hasn’t been before without paper charts, as well as whatever toys he has.”
As navigation aids continue to morph, Kinner outlined a commercial requirement called Bridge Resource Management, which teaches travelers to implement every available resource during critical operations.
“Here’s the picture: The pilot on a large vessel navigating out of San Francisco Bay runs the ship into a bridge abutment, because someone isn’t looking out the window,” Kinner explains. “They’re looking at their iPad. They’re looking anywhere but out the window. Point being, electronics will fail. It’s not if. It’s when.”
Embracing the Old and New
Still, many boaters are relying on Smartphone and tablet-based applications to pilot the waters. Applications such as Navionics, iNavX and Transas iSailor allow users to access raster and vector charts, view waypoints, routes, tracking, points of interest and latitude and longitude with a simple stroke of the touch screen.
Tim Sanders, a yacht captain in San Diego who has more than 200,000 miles at sea, uses Navionics while transporting boats from port to port.
“If I’m talking to someone on how to get from one place to another and I couldn’t remember the exact mileage, I could quickly look it up on my phone and put it together,” said Sanders, who sails a Catalina 25 around Mission Bay. “It’s helpful for filling in the blanks.”
Sanders will also use Nobeltec for the system’s functionality and user-friendly capabilities.
“I think that everybody has the technology in their hand right now,” Sanders said. “You can actually go on the web through your telephone and you can look up a chart. That capability is a safety feature that I think is important. Not only can you do it through your telephone, you can do it through your iPad. Whatever you have, that technology is there.”
Such organizations as the Bay Foundation have created interactive boater’s guides for Southern California travelers. The Bay Foundation’s e-book provides comprehensive information for each harbor up and down the southern and central coast of California, focusing on features like how to acquire a guest slip, water disposal, fueling locations and more.
But while some boaters are embracing the technology, others still rely heavily on the more tried and tested approaches. Capt. Holly Scott, owner of Charlie’s Charts—an online store specializing in cruising guides for areas throughout the western coast—said the demand for print literature, in a navigational sense, is still thriving.
“I think they’ve finally figured out that you can’t look at a chart and look at an app and figure where you are going and have it work out,” she said.
Scott’s tools inform boaters of detailed hazards, services, inshore and onshore routes, weather and more. Newer editions of her guides also provide QR codes, allowing readers to scan pages with their smartphone to gain additional information.
“If you use an iPad to navigate, the charts are fantastic,” Scott said. “It’s a great planning tool, but in real life, out on the water—especially if you’re some place where it’s hot—the poor iPad gets so hot that it has a meltdown and it cuts off right in the middle of where you need it.
“You’ve got the issues of waterproofing and glare on the screen and not everyone has the luxury of having someone that knows what they’re doing sitting down below,” she added.
Sanders, who said he learned to navigate before electronic devices were cheap enough for every boater to buy, believes physical charts are necessary backups unless a boater is negotiating a route in which they are completely familiar with.
“Whenever I go to a new place, I study the charts like crazy,” Sanders said. “I’m talking about I lay down on the floor in the living room with the chart open, look at my course and where I want to go and just get to know what I’m looking at. You can’t do that as well with electronics. You can’t put a big chart out in front of you on a desk or a floor and really get to know the place you’re going or the track.”
Scott, who teaches a navigational course at USC, said her students understand the importance of learning how to maneuver the waters with paper charts. Equating the lessons to teaching math without a calculator, Scott said a chart is an essential safety tool.
“I look at them and say ‘Has your phone ever died?’ Or ‘Have you ever lost it overboard?’” she said. “We navigate our way across from Long Beach to Catalina and back again the next day. I never let the students look at a GPS other than to show them what they look like.”